After a couple of days in Guatapé I headed back to Medellín to plan my next move. I decided to head to Salento next. This is the closest town to the famed Valle de Cocora (Cocora Valley). You’ve probably seen pictures of those lush green hills littered with tall palm trees— that’s Valle de Cocora. From Medellín it’s easy to get to Salento. First, head to the Terminal del Sur. My Colombian friend recommended me to take a Flota Occidental bus. There are three buses heading to Salento daily with a quick stop at Pereira. These leave at 9 AM, 11 AM, and 2 PM. A single journey ticket costs 49,000 COP (about 14.50 USD). These didn’t quite fit my schedule so I just took a bus to Pereira since there’s one leaving every hour. My Colombian friend assured me it’s easy to catch a bus to Salento from Pereira anyway. A single journey ticket to Pereira costs 47,000 COP (about 14 USD). If you’d prefer to take the bus that goes directly to Salento, since there are fewer buses heading there daily it would be wise to buy online a couple of days in advance via the Flota Occidental website.
I was told the journey would last for more or less 7 hours. That’s a lie. lol. Because of all the road work only a single lane was open on multiple points. It actually took 11 hours. This was in late February. If your schedule isn’t that flexible and you plan on taking a bus, ask around first if there’s still a lot of roadwork going on. Good thing the seats in the Flota Occidental buses were comfy. They provided a drink too, and there’s free Wi-Fi.
If you’d rather save time and fly, the nearest airport is the one in Pereira. If you don’t mind having a fixed schedule then purchase a ticket several weeks in advance. You’re bound to score a one way ticket for around 30 USD.
Once I arrived at the Pereira bus terminal, I asked where I could buy a bus ticket to Salento. The locals were very helpful and pointed me in the right direction. I just got a bit annoyed when two policemen approached me and searched all my bags for God knows what. I don’t mind being searched and I don’t mind security officers searching my bags— after all it’s for the safety of everyone and I had nothing to hide. What I hate is being singled out. There were so many people with huge backpacks walking around, both locals and visitors, and I was the only one they searched. I wanted to ask them what was it about me that made them suspect I was hiding something, but I just chose to shut up.
So anyway, from Pereira there are 6 buses heading to Salento daily. One leaves every 2-3 hours. I could have caught the 4:30 PM bus but it was already full, so I bought a ticket for the last bus which leaves at 6:30 PM. A one way ticket costs 7,000 COP (about 2 USD). It’s actually a mini bus that can only fit around 20-30 people. The journey lasts for about an hour. I didn’t even realize it took that long because I kept admiring the view from the window. The bus dropped us off at the main square. Take note that when you leave Salento you’d have to catch a bus at the bus station located at the northern edge of town. It’s easy to find. Just keep heading north on Calle 6. At the end you’ll see a path heading downhill. Head down that path and you’ll see the bus station on your right.
Salento isn’t a huge town. In fact you can walk from one end to the other in less than 30 minutes. That means you can practically stay anywhere and it would still be somewhat central in location. And although it’s close to a popular attraction, it never gets as crowded as Guatapé. It’s your typical small town, it’s very ideal if you’re looking for some peace and quiet. There’s a bit of night life but it never gets rowdy. Spend at least half a day walking around town. Keep walking east and you’ll end up at Mirador de Salento, a viewpoint offering fantastic views.
From Salento, it’s real easy to get to Valle de Cocora. First head to the main square. Here you’ll find a small ticket booth selling tickets to those Jeeps parked along the square. If you’re facing the church, you’ll find this ticket booth somewhere on the left. A number of those colorful jeeps would head to Valle de Cocora. A one way journey costs 4,000 COP (a little over a dollar). Strictly speaking, jeeps leave every 2 hours starting from 7 in the morning. But since this is a very popular route, there seemed to be one Jeep leaving every 30 minutes or so. About 8 people can fit inside each, and a couple more can just stand on the back while holding on to the roof rack. Once 8 people are inside, the driver will ask everyone if anyone would like to stand on the back. If no one wants to, they’d be on their way. I along with two other guys volunteered. It’s only a short ride anyway— Valle de Cocora is only 30 minutes away. It’s actually pretty cool— as long as it’s not raining. You’d see more of the view this way, you won’t see much if you’re inside the Jeep unless you’re seated in front. Also the cool breeze felt great. Parts of the road are really bumpy though, so it’s best to keep holding tight.
Once you arrive, there are two ways to do the hike. You can either go clockwise or counterclockwise. The clockwise loop is easier, and this way you’ll see the wax palms first. The counterclockwise loop is harder because parts of the path are on a steep hill. If you do the hike clockwise, this part is all downhill. Some people choose to hike counterclockwise so they’d see the wax palms at the end. Kind of a reward after overcoming something difficult sort of thing. We were having none of that sh*t lol. The jeep dropped us off at some parking lot and everyone turned left on the dirt road. Eventually we saw a blue gate on the right. This is the entrance to the counterclockwise loop. If you’re not planning on doing things the hard way, keep walking straight and eventually you’ll see a ticket booth. From here you can actually see the wax palms so you can choose not to enter if you just want to take a few photos from afar. The entrance fee is only 3,000 COP though. It would seem silly to go all the way here and balk at 3,000 Colombian Pesos— that’s not even 90 US cents!
It’s an easy trail with a gradual incline and it’s clearly marked. Just keep walking on the wide trail and you won’t get lost. The view keeps getting better and better as you get higher uphill. Those wax palms look really beautiful against the lush backdrop, no wonder they’re Colombia’s national tree. There are a number of viewing areas, make sure to stop by each one. Soon we ended up on another metal gate manned by some cowboy. This marks the end of the Cocora Valley. Don’t worry. If you’re doing the clockwise route and passed through Cocora Valley first you don’t have to pay more, he’ll let you pass through. He’s there to collect money from those who are doing the trail counterclockwise. A couple of folks went back the way we went once we reached the gate. This is the short version of the hike that you’ll hear people talking about. The long one is doing the full loop which takes 5 hours on the average. The short hike is just walking through the trail along the Cocora Valley then heading back once you reach this gate. This short hike only takes about an hour on the average.
The part of the trail after the gate is pretty generic. There are a number of smaller trails on the left side. We decided to check one out which basically led nowhere lol. Once the trees clear up a bit, you’d see more a the view that gets better and better. Eventually you’ll reach some sort of a small farm. This is Finca La Montaña, often referred to as the halfway point of this hike. This is a great place to relax a bit because the view from here is breathtaking.
From Finca La Montaña, the trail continues on a steep path downhill. This is the most difficult part of the trail if you choose to do it counterclockwise and it’s easy to see why. In this part you’ll encounter lots of people taking a breather. Lots of people kept taking endless pictures, while others were too tired and simply chose to sit still. Looking at them, we were kinda glad we chose to do the trail clockwise. A lot of people were clearly exhausted while we were basically zipping through this part of the trail.
Eventually you’ll reach the entrance to the Acaime La Casa de Los Colibris— the hummingbird sanctuary. There’s no way you’ll miss it, there’s a huge sign. This is completely optional. If you’re not interested in hummingbirds just continue downhill on the path to your right. It costs 5,000 COP (about 1.50 USD) to enter, and that price includes a hot drink. To be honest if you’ve seen a hummingbird out in the wild before it’s nothing to write home about, but it’s pretty interesting if you’ve never seen one. From here you need to head out the way you went in and continue downhill toward the rest of the trail.
You’ll see a couple of creeks on the rest of the trail and you’d cross a number of wooden bridges. The rest of the trail is very easy. At Finca La Montaña we were able to talk to a couple of people who were doing the trail counterclockwise and they told us we’d have to pay an additional 2,000 COP somewhere downhill because the trail cuts through a private property. We didn’t encounter anyone collecting money though. I dunno, maybe he had to take a short break for a snack or he had to do a number 1 or a number 2. heh. Just take note that you may or may not pay another 2,000 COP. Eventually you’ll reach the blue gate again. From here simply head back to where the jeep dropped you off. When we got there, there was an incredibly long line. I guess a lot of people finished the hike at around the same time (this was around 3 PM). We had to wait for almost an hour before we managed to hop on a jeep. It was just in time too. After 5 minutes it rained real hard. The parking area was just one huge open space, all those people in line surely got drenched. Well we got drenched as well because we chose to stand at the back of the jeep again, but at least we were on our way back to Salento. I’ve been told this happens a lot in this area. A sudden downpour frequently occurs without warning. It’s advisable to always have an umbrella or a raincoat with you when you’re on these parts, even if it’s all sunny when you leave town.
This is the coffee region of the country by the way, so there are many coffee related activities in the region. I wasn’t keen on doing a tour, but I did join one coffee tasting activity even if I’m not a coffee person. On a short hike from Salento though I saw some farmers picking coffee fruits. I had no idea coffee fruits looked like cherries, I was embarrassed by my ignorance when they told me what those fruits were lol.
This part of Colombia is simply amazing. The views are breathtaking, it’s mostly laid back, and the people are very hospitable and friendly. Anyone who’s visiting Colombia should make it a point to stop by this region. The more famous parts of the country are characterized by frenetic energy. These parts would show you another side of Colombia, one that is characterized by subtle beauty.