El Eje Cafetero: Salento (part 3)
On our third day in Salento, we decided to do the hike which Salento is famous for: Valle de Cocora. This a moderately difficult hike that ends in Cocora Valley (thus the name) where Colombian wax palms grow. These tall wax palms can grow to up to 200 ft. and are symbolic of Colombia.
After our previous hiking experience, we prepared differently for Valle de Cocora. We rented rubber boots from the hostel and brought food and water with us. We took a “wheely” which is a Jeep to the hiking entrance early in the morning. (These Jeeps are the only taxi-like service available in Salento and there is a schedule for those that go to and return from Cocora). Once we arrived, we began the hike. After about 20 minutes, the trail became very challenging with steep, muddy inclines that sometimes required a great deal of skill to surmount. About an hour in, we began to wonder if the route we had taken was the correct one (the Cocora trails are more or less unmarked although they are well traveled). We had seen no other hikers and weren’t confident that we were in the right place. We stopped to rest and discuss this dilemma.
As we were discussing our options, we saw a woman on horseback who was descending. The moment she was within speaking distance, she commented that we were lost. She explained that we had taken the wrong fork and were headed towards another mountaintop which would be a hike of 6-7 hours if we were in top shape. We thanked her profusely and headed back down the mountain. My friends were very patient with me, seeing as this hike down made me really nervous. I did it though, and I felt better for conquering my fear. It was a lot easier in boots with tread and with the ability to go at my own pace.
Once we reached the fork, we corrected our mistake and headed in the right direction. From there it was fairly easy going for a while. There were lots of rickety handmade bridges that we had to use to cross the river (the trail crossed the river multiple times) and a few questionable turns that we figured out. The last kilometer or so to the farm Alcaime (the halfway point if we hadn’t gotten lost) was challenging and I was very happy to sit down and enjoy agua de panela con queso while admiring the many hummingbirds that are attracted to the flowers and hummingbird feeders at Alcaime.
The next stretch of the hike was challenging for me. It was pretty steep for about an hour until we reached the farm La Montaña which was the peak. This farm did not charge us or offer us “free drinks”, but we were able to buy water there and play with the sweet guard dog. This farm also had a ton of hummingbirds that were feeding on the flowers growing there.
The rest of the hike was a smooth downhill. I happened to chat with a fellow hiker who was a military vet from Atlanta. When we reached the valley, we spent some time admiring the view and taking photos. The huge palms were awe inspiring.
The weather then threatened to turn wet so we hurried back to the meeting point for the Jeeps. We made it just in time for that round of Jeeps and also managed to miss the rain. Despite my blisters and sore legs, the hike was more than worth it.