Salento and the Valley

When Tyson and I arrived in Salento, we stood behind the desk of the hostel and listened to the coffee-hyped, European hostel owner tell us that we were in the most important tourist destination in Colombia.

“The Valle de Cocora,” he told us, as he pointed out Salento’s wonders, “that’s a can’t miss!”

This we knew. Although, we hadn’t told the hostel owner, this was our second trip to Salento. A few weeks earlier we had explored the hilly, colourful streets, tried the coffee and tasted the pink fleshed fish Salento was famous for.

On the morning we had planned to get up and trek the valley though, it was pouring down rain and we were fated to another pleasant day coffee shop hopping and snapping shots of the streets before we headed back to Pereira for work on Monday morning.

After all the hype we had heard about the trek, we decided we would have to come back and see for ourselves what all the fuss was about.

The Valle de Cocora

A few weeks later, after waking up early to clear skies, we packed the camera and the raincoat and headed to flag the bus to Salento, in order to walk the valley that morning.

After more reading more about Cocora, it became clear that rain was more often than not. It was best to start trekking as early as possible in order to beat the rain that rolls in on most afternoons.

The savviest travellers take to the trail with waterproof bags, umbrellas, spray jackets and even gumboots. We however, rarely savvy, had one raincoat between us and not even a plastic bag for our valuables.

By the time we arrived in Salento’s main square it was almost 9am. We crammed in the jeep that takes you out to the start of the walk and tried to sneak peeks at the already incredible scenery around us.

The start of the trek was sun-soaked, scenic and pretty easy going. A little way in we came across the point to pay the 2000 COP entry, from which the trail turned to mud. We slipped and sludged along until we hit the mountain, which we followed up, to the first major stopping point Acaime.

Known for the hummingbirds that are lured in for the tourists, Acaime is a pleasant, and often busy, spot for trekkers to stop for a drink or lunch halfway along the trail. Here we sipped hot chocolate and coffee and then picked ourselves up and left the crowd, to find the turn off to La Montaña, the next stop off on our walk.

Near the entrance to Acaime is the start of the trail to Estrella del Agua. I had read about this track and whilst it was supposedly beautiful, it was also meant to be a steep and difficult walk. As the clouds were already rolling in we decided to head straight up the walk to La Montaña.

Unexpectedly, the short walk through the pine forest up La Montaña was also fairly steep and difficult. Luckily we found plenty of logs to rest on, on the way up and happily let other, more athletic trekkers take the lead.

By the time we reached the top the mist had settled around the bottom of the mountain giving us an eerie, spectacular view above the clouds.

From here we started our decent down the mountain and tried to catch glimpses of the wax palms which occasionally revealed themselves through the mist.

We arrived at a clearing which, looked over the valley and across the palms. We sat here for a while, amazed by the trees that stretched over us. The bizarre palms sprung from nowhere and it seemed as though they belonged somewhere else.

The promised afternoon rain soon got us moving again and we made out way out across the valley, walking amongst the wax palms. We walked out of the park soaking wet and smiling and made our way back to the crowded little jeeps.

The five hour walk through the Valle de Cocora was beautiful from beginning to end. It’s no wonder that so many people come to Salento to walk it. The little European hostel owner was right, the Valle de Cocora: it’s a can’t miss.