South America is a continent known for its impressive hikes. You have the W trek in Patagonia, the Santa Cruz trek in Peru and the Cotopaxi Volcano climb in Ecuador. While they’re all incredible in their own ways, none impressed me more than the Cocora Valley, near Salento in Colombia.
HIKING IN THE COCORA VALLEY
The Cocora Valley is a really popular place for hiking. A well-trodden path winds through rolling green hills, over hanging bridges and along a ridge covered with giant wax palms.
The walk begins alongside a river, which winds its way through lush green fields in a valley with sporadic farm houses.
After about an hour, there’s a gradual climb through cloud forest.
As you make your way higher into the dense forest, there’s plenty of wildlife, including a wide variety of butterflies and some impressive wild birds like the toucan.
The Cocora Valley loop works its way up a steep slope towards La Montane Ranch, but before you attempt it you have the option of a small detour to a hummingbird cafe.
There’s a small fee of £3000 COP to enter the premises, but this includes a free drink. This is a great opportunity to try Aguapanela con queso, a traditional beverage.
Daily jeeps known as ‘jeep willies’ head out of the centre of town, dropping hoards of backpackers off at the start of the hike.
These vehicles carry up to 10 tightly squished tourists, occasionaly with a few locals hanging off the back. They depart daily at 6:10, 8:30, 9:30 and 11:30 am, returning to pick up weary walkers between 2:30 and 5 pm.
The wax palms of the Cocora Valley grow to 70-metres in height. They have thin, bare trunks the whole way up, with huge palm fronds poking out through the mist. This creates mystical silhouettes akin to something from the Lost World.
At times it can get quite muddy, especially after heavy rains. The mountains attract a lot of mist, which condenses and leaves you feeling a little soggy too.
If you don’t have purpose-built walking boots, you can hire wellies from some of the hostels in town. We were staying at Tralala Hostel on Calle 7 and they had a wide selection of different sizes.
There are many opportunities to meet fellow hikers in Salento. It’s a small town and the chances are high that virtually every traveller you meet intends to do the hike at some point in the next few days.
If you don’t meet people in your hostel, you should be able to strike up a conversation with someone as you wait for the jeep willies, or on your way to the hike.
If you don’t, don’t be disheartened. It’s a reasonably easy route to follow, and the Cocora Valley might be best appreciated in solitude. Either way, visiting Salento and not hiking in the Cocora Valley would be like seeing Paris but not the Eiffel Tower. It simply has to be done.
OTHER ACTIVITIES NEAR SALENTO
Salento is located within Colombia’s Coffee Triangle, and another popular pastime for tourists is to go on a coffee making tour.
The landscape all around Salento lends itself very well to hiking, horseback riding and cycling. In the evenings, don’t miss the chance to try out a game of tejo – a national sport in which players throw heavy metal disks down an alley with the aim of hitting small exploding targets filled with gunpowder!