Seeing Salento and the Wax Palms in the Coffee District of Colombia
We read a lot of different blogs about how to hike Valle de Cocora before we arrived... First, that you MUST go early to avoid the inevitable cloudy weather. Next, that although it's difficult, it's worth it to take the full 5 hour circuit (and we can understand why because those final views would be pretty rewarding after a long trek). However, we knew we only had one full day to enjoy Salento AND the valley so we weren't sure about the full circuit.
Luckily, we’d also read that it was possible to skip right to that final viewpoint by going in reverse.
If I’m being totally honest I’m still not sure which way was the correct way… but I know we experienced incredible views (wherever we were). I also know it took us 3 hours to explore the valley anyway because we ended up with perfect weather (as late at 1pm) and we couldn’t stop climbing, wandering around and taking pictures.
So if I were to offer any advice it’s this: You can’t really go wrong no matter which route you take.
AND, in case you don't end up with weather as good as ours… we’ve been told that rain boots are a smart idea... and we thinks it’s almost always better to get started early.
We woke up at 6:30am, had breakfast at 7 and drove 15 minutes to valley. We went in December and we hear that’s kind of the low season, which makes sense because no one else arrived until after 8:30 (we know this because after parking the car, taking a bathroom break and trekking around in the “wrong direction” for half an hour we didn’t actually get started until 8:30 ourselves).
We’d shown up deciding to just skip to the grand finale and give ourselves time for plenty of pictures before the clouds came in. So we followed previous bloggers’ advice to go through the blue gate (and unfortunately this led us astray).
How to FIND YOUR WAY:
Driving in on the main road, you’ll see tour jeeps in parking lots to your left (this is where we parked: $2.50 US for all day). Wander up the road past the restaurants and you’ll see a blue gate off to the right. If you want the full circuit you should go through this gate. Otherwise, stay straight on the gravel/dirt road to get to the valley fastest.
Not long after you begin to see the grassy areas and rolling hills, you’ll be asked to pay 3,000 pesos per person. We’d read in previous blogs that you only have to pay if you take the full circuit… 5,000 pesos at the hummingbird lodge (but that wasn’t our experience and we were HAPPY to pay less than $1 for a chance to catch these views).
Staying left and taking the “shortcut” is still a little bit of a climb and then it’s even higher if you’re like us and you never want to leave, so you just keep exploring.
If you’re walking up at a steady pace it’s probably only 30-45 minutes to one of the highest points with a nice grassy lookout (but we took our time). People said the hike was a bit difficult but with good weather and very little mud, it really wasn't bad. And we imagine the full 5-hour hike couldn’t have been much worse… we’d already seen the first 30 minutes of the “full circuit” when we accidentally went through the blue gate, but please comment if you know more!
A group of fellow travelers hiking the same direction as us (straight to the valley) fell in love with the weather too and continued on until they’d done the full circuit (backward). Back at the hostel, they said they could have done without it (for obvious reasons… we’d all already seen the best part of the valley first).
So if you are trying to decide, I’d go by the weather and how long you feel like being outside. Clouds were rolling in and out the entire time we were hiking, but we ended up with pretty serious sunburns. Nonetheless, we felt it was a pretty perfect day. We had NO rain at all and were back in town by 1:30 eating lunch.
WHERE WE ATE:
Brunch de Salento: This place is a traveler favorite. They're VERY vegetarian friendly, have a large menu with lots of options and the food is international (rather than typical). We ended up eating there twice and loved what we ordered: Philly Cheesesteak, Tuna Sandwich, Black Bean Vegan Burger, Guacamole Burger, a Peanut Butter Chocolate Milkshake and Peach Cobbler. MMMMMMMM.
WHERE WE STAYED:
La Serrana: Such an incredible budget hostel. Situated up on the hills, it's like the perfect little hideaway outside town. With outdoor seating looking over the coffee farms, breakfast in a bright spot with large windows and 2 food selections plus the option to pay for extras, SUCH comfy beds!! and an awesome group of people, we wanted to curl up on the couch with a good book and stay for a week!
If you ARE lucky enough to stay longer, you can enjoy coffee farm tours, horseback riding to a nearby waterfall, and free salsa dancing lessons (all organized by La Serrana at VERY affordable prices). PLUS they make and sell fresh chocolate cake with a yummy chocolate ganache icing :)
See you down the road!
Meg (+ Tyler)