Hiking in the Valle de Cocora from Salento

My last stop in Colombia before an epic 17 hour bus trip to the Ecuador border was Salento – the coffee region of Colombia. The area is situated high up in the mountains and the cool temperatures are perfect for growing coffee. The mountainous landscape makes it a great place to hike too.

Getting to Salento is easy enough from Medellin. Travellers really have 2 options:

  1. Catch a bus from Medellin to Armenia, and once in Armenia, transfer onto another bus to Salento. Easy enough but potentially time consuming with the transfer. Cost wise, you’re looking at around the COP 40,000 mark all in.
  2. There is a little known direct bus from Medellin directly to Salento run by a company called Flota Occidental. The ticket costs COP45,000 and will get you there in about 6.5 hours. We opted for this route and it went smoothly, with the occasional regret when the bus driver thought he was Lewis Hamilton around the mountainous bends!
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Your typical street around the Plaza in Salento. Many of these small Colombian towns look so similar with their brightly coloured walls and flower boxes.

Salento is small! Like most little Colombian villages and towns, all the action is concentrated around the central Plaza. Hostel wise, they’re scattered everywhere. Hell, our first hostel was 2km’s down a dirt road outside town. Nice enough place but we did hear about a German tourist getting mugged on the road in broad daylight so be wary when booking far flung hostels.

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Learning about Colombia’s coffee-production history.

The first thing to do was find ourselves a coffee tour and see what all the fuss is about. We chose a farm and tour called El Ocaso which comes highly recommended. The tour is exactly what you think it’ll be like – the history of coffee, the different kinds of beans, the harvesting and roasting process, and so on. I learnt a thing or 2 and certainly have more of an appreciation for the effort that goes into it. The tour finishes off with a cup of the farms home-brewed coffee, which was different to what I’m used to, but good nonetheless. A coffee tour is definitely something you need to do when in Salento.

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Back in the day, this machine was the bees knees in separating a coffee bean from it’s ‘fruit’. Now, most of this process is mechanised.

The next big thing here is going for a hike in the Valle de Cocora – a protected mountainous area a 20 minute jeep (they’re called Willy’s here) ride from the town – the ride will set you back COP3,800 one way (try and stand on the back of the jeep – it’s more fun).

When you arrive, you literally follow the path for 16 odd km’s (will take you 4 or 5 hours)  through the valley – all very beautiful and dotted with Colombia’s national tree – the wax palm, they grows to ridiculous heights.

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Gigantic wax palms in the Valle de Cocora.

We didn’t follow the traditional route, however. We planned to but somehow (based on some potentially dodgy advice from a local woman) ended up going over the mountain instead of around it! It’s an uphill slog for an hour and a half but the views and relatively undisturbed scenery make it worthwhile.

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The cherry on the cake for me is when the mist rolls in and creates an airy backdrop against these incredibly tall wax palms. It makes the landscape look slightly jurassic/alien.

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Mist rolling in through the valley.

It rains a lot here in the mountains so if you decide to hike, make sure you do it pretty early in the mornings otherwise you’re virtually guaranteed of getting soaked!

When you’re not hiking or having your fair share of coffee, Salento is a great town in which to relax and do nothing. There are many cheap spots for lunch and if you have a sweet tooth, this is the place you want to overindulge in. I found a place called Summer Cafe and smashed my way through the best coffee/snickers milkshake I’ve ever had.

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He looks so sad – I had to stop and give him a tickle.

If you’re looking for a hostel to stay in, I stayed in Hostel La Floresta and would recommend the place – cheap, clean and comfortable.

Colombia has been a great country and a little different to what I was expecting. I’m looking forward to the change that Ecuador will bring, especially the introduction of more mountains and volcanoes to explore.

Cheers for now.

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