I’ve done some pretty good day hikes since I started my trip back in March, but my visit to Salento in the Zona Cafetera (the main coffee-growing region of Colombia) unexpectedly gave me my most enjoyable so far, on a walk into the Valle de Cocora.
Neither too strenous nor too easy, about the ideal length, with a great group of friends (Rob & Vicki, who I first met in Guatemala and then bumped into again in Cartagena, with their mate Becky), and with several new experiences made it pretty much the perfect day hike.
The Jeep that took us on the half hour journey from Salento to Cocora only sat eight people, and so Rob & I ended up sitting on the roof all the way. Not the most comfortable ride I’ve ever had by all means, but with perfect weather and great views it was certainly a fun way to travel.
One of the main claims to fame of the valley is that it is the home of the Wax Palm, Colombia’s national tree and the tallest palm tree in the world, growing up to 60m high. The valley is full of them, and on arriving in Cocora they were a pretty impressive sight, towering above the valley and all the other vegetation, on think trunks that make them look like it would only take a moderate gust of wind to blow them over.
The hike itself sets off through the valley, running along the banks of the river and criss-crossing it at regular intervals on rickety ‘bridges’ (which mostly consisted of a couple of tree trunks lain across the water), and all the while gently ascending through the forest.
After a couple of hours we made it to our first stop, a little finca called Acaime, that’s most notable for its large population of hummingbirds. At the finca they have various feeders set up, filled with sugar water to attract the birds. The feeders meant we were able to get really close to them – and they make a pretty stunning sight, especially for a European like me who’s never seen them in the wild before this trip. While we were there we got to see six different types, ranging from brightly coloured green and blue ones through to ones with unusually long tails and another that was jet black with a white breast. We sat there for ages, amazed at the sight of them hovering in mid air whilst feeding, and listening to the loud hum as they hurtle past you at high speed. Definately my best wildlife experience so far.
After our stop at Acaime, we were faced with the one steep climb of the day, a half hour ascent of the rather unimaginatively-named La Montaña. The whole way up the mountain was shrouded in fog, so we were a bit pissed off we were going to miss out on the views, but it turned out our luck was in. Just as we made it to the top, the clouds cleared for just long enough for us to to get a good view of the mountain opposite and snap a few photos, before it clouded over again, which was a signal for lunch.
Ever since reading Jillian & Danny’s description of Hot Chocolate a la Colombiana, I’d been dieing to try the unusual local combo of hot chocolate with cheese, so we were delighted when the woman running the finca at the top of the mountain apologised when she told us that was all she had to offer us to drink. Jillian & Danny’s description is pretty perfect, so I won’t repeat it, but I have to agree that what sounds like a rather unpleasant combination turned out to be absolutely delicious, and the perfect reward after a steep climb.
After that, it was a gentle walk back down the valley taking in the views of the palms along the way, before heading back to pretty little Salento to relax and recover with a cool beer on the coffee finca we were staying on, and then dined on trout farmed in the very valley we’d just walked through. I really can’t think of a much more pleasant way to spend the day.