Hiking Salento’s Valle de Cocora
Visiting Salento was high on my list of things to do in Colombia, mostly for the stunning Valle de Cocora. The valley offers a great hike that you can do easily from town. A new friend and I woke up bright and early, walking up the hill to Salento’s one and only main square, where all of the Willy’s (jeeps and the town’s main form of taxi) are lined up eager to be filled with the absolute maximum capacity of people wanting to drive into the valley.
GETTING TO THE VALLE
The Willy’s that I mentioned are the only way to get to the valley. About 3,000 COP per person, the jeep needs at least six people before they leave for the trek but often times, there were about 11 of us crammed in there. If you can, stand on the back of the truck and hang on – it makes for a really fun ride and you have beautiful views of the countryside the entire way.
HIKING THE VALLE: YOUR OPTIONS
Once you reach the valley, you have two options for hiking: the five hour loop or the one (ish) hour loop that takes you only through the valle de cocora itself. To get there the easy way, follow the main road straight, slightly uphill and keep following until you see the palms (if you end up in a field with no palms directly in access, you’ve gone the wrong way and you should turn around unless you’re prepared to hike 5 hours and up a mountain).
To get started on the five hour hike, take a right off the main road. You’ll pass a trout farm on your right and eventually will reach some fields that begin the hike. We opted for the 5 hour loop and it was fantastic! We set off on foot, beginning in farmland off the side of the road and before long we found ourselves inside the jungle – the temperature dropped thanks to no longer being out in the wide open, lush green vegetation surrounded us and we followed the Quindio river for about two hours. Along the way, we zig-zagged across the river over rickety wooden bridges, some that were nothing more than logs somehow held against the side of a rock.
Eventually, we came upon a fork in the road. To the right, you hike steadily uphill until you reach the hummingbird house. If you’ve never seen hummingbirds before, this could be a good stop for you. I had seen hummingbirds before but we decided to go check it out anyways and, much to our delight, the ladies at the top make hot chocolate and cheese for a post-trek snack. To the left of the fork in the road, you hike steadily uphill La Montana – the mountain. Unfortunately for us, my friend and I were both a little terrible with directions and we never figured out which trail was the one for La Montana. Instead, we ended up hiking all the way back the way that we came. So I can’t really talk from personal experience but from what I was told, the trek up La Montana was extremely difficult but also very, very worth it. Once you reach the peak, you walk a bit more and are rewarded with the main attraction: Valle de Cocora.
THE VALLE DE COCORA!
The Valle de Cocora was every bit worth the hype – the wax palms stand tall into the clouds, looking like something out of a Dr. Seuss book, so evenly spaced out that they almost look as if they’d been planted that way, but they haven’t been! Cows graze happily in the fields and the entire snapshot is surrounded by lush green mountains, the clouds settling over their peaks. It looks like a scene straight out of Jurassic Park. You know that feeling you get when you’re experiencing something for the first time? Where it’s only you and you’re standing there, it’s right in front of you, but you can hardly even believe you’re seeing it? That feeling where total awe and pure happiness just seems to take over? Yeah, that’s how I was feeling. So if you’ve been thinking of skipping this on your trip to Colombia, just don’t.
A FEW THINGS TO MAKE NOTE OF:
- When I was there, in February, there was a high chance of rain. It rained nearly every day. The valley itself is often wet, I believe, so be prepared. Pack a raincoat and rubber boots (or else good, waterproof hiking boots).
- There is one restaurant right at the entrance of the valley. You also get some hot chocolate and cheese if you visit the hummingbird sanctuary. It’s a good idea to pack enough water and some snacks if you plan to do the five hour hike.
- Bring a little cash. I had read that you could do the 5 hour hike, starting through the finca, without paying a fee. But there was a man there collecting a small fee to everyone passing by. Whether this was legit or not, I don’t know, but he didn’t charge us very much. If you go up to Acaime, the hummingbird sanctuary, you’ll have to pay a 6,000 COP entrance fee. If you only plan to do the valley of wax palms itself (the short trail), you will be asked to pay a 3,000 COP fee to enter.