Valle de Cocora

As I mentioned in my previous post, the main reason why most people visit Salento is to hike Valle de Cocora and, once you go there yourself, you will immediately understand why. This spot, that looks like a place straight out of your dreams, is a huge green valley surrounded by incredibly mountains, where you can find the tallest palm trees in the world, reaching up to 60 metres of height.

After a few days volunteering in the region – but I’ll talk more about this in my next post – we decided to head back to Salento to hike the Valle, despite it being rainy season. Our hostel rented us rubber rain boots, which were a life saver, since, in particular in October and November, mud can be up to your knees in certain spots and there is some water streams crossing to do.

To get there, you can walk to the main square in Salento and get a willy, or a jeep, for 15,000 COP. Once you get to the place, you will need to pay a small entrance fee for 3,000 COP. The hike is amazing and, if you do it correctly, it should only take maximum five hours. However, it seems like most people get lost and so did we, so our adventure lasted a bit more!

You can either do the full hike in a loop or go straight up to the palm trees area. If, like us, you choose to do the full loop, the right itinerary to follow is walking all the way up to the hummingbirds house. You don’t need to go in, if you don’t want to (there is an extra fee of 5,000 COP), but it’s a nice spot to take a break and you get a free drink included in your entrance fee. We decided to try one of the typical drinks: chocolate con queso.

In Colombia, people drink hot chocolate with a piece of cheese that you are supposed to drop in your cup to let it melt a bit. I wouldn’t say it’s one of the best things I have had – it makes the chocolate taste kind of oily and the cheese very sweet – but it’s definitely worth the experience. After all, you if you don’t try it, you’ll never know!

After the hummingbird house is where the troubles begin! According to our map and – to what people at the colibri house told us – after you exit this place, you are supposed to continue until you see a sign that warns you about pumas in the area and then turn left. The path is a loop, so you are meant to turn around at some stage. The problem was that the puma sign was probably hidden behind a bush and there isn’t an arrow or any other signs that tell you when you have to turn, so we continued on walking for two more hours, up to reach the signs for Los Nevados, another national reserve with amazing mountains. We only stopped when some people coming down that way – who were lost too – told us it was the wrong way.

We then decided to walk back down and try to look for the right turn, but, after a few attempts and when we almost lost all hopes, we decided to go back down and just re-enter the Valle directly from the palm tree part. Half way down and when we could see the palm trees from the other side of a river, we came across a man working in a field who told us that going down and back up from the other side was going to take almost three hours.

There was, however, a shortcut: we had to cross the river and go up an incredibly steep hill. We decided to take this, to save time and be able to go back to the valley when it was still light out. The river water was absolutely freezing, and the hill was pretty hard and slippery to climb, but eventually we got there. After all these efforts, you might be wondering why I said this has been one of my favourite hikes in South America. Look at it yourself:

The view was simply astonishing, and we made a few friends along the way, with whom we ended up travelling for a while afterwards and we still keep in contact.

It took us eight hours to complete the hike instead of five. On the other hand though, we got to see some of the mountains of Los Nevados, we saw the trees from a different perspective, we had a little adventure and plenty of funny stories to tell and, above all, we met incredibly nice people who we ended up travelling with for the next month or that we still talk to after a few months.

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