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Salento, Colombia is without doubt one of the main locations in Colombia. It’s a small city in Eje Cafetero, Colombia’s picturesque espresso area, positioned just a few hours west of Bogota because the bus drives (OK, so extra like 12 hours). The area is well-liked as a result of in it grows one of many world’s hottest medicine: espresso. The city of Salento has quite a few espresso farms – together with our favorite, Ocaso – nevertheless it additionally has loads of beautiful and picturesque hikes. None of these hikes are as notable or as well-liked because the well-known Valle de Cocora hike (In any other case often called the Cocora Valley hike).
We had seen postcard-perfect photographs of the towering wax palms and vivid inexperienced hills, which satisfied us – newbie hikers although we’re – that we would have liked to do the Valle de Cocora hike! We arrived in Salento bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, able to deal with the Valle de Cocora.
What we didn’t understand was that the Cocora Valley hike is as tough and probably harmful as it’s stunning.
Flash ahead to us climbing the Valle de Cocora. My pants are coated in mud. My sneakers are soaked. My wrist is killing me from a fall earlier. My poncho is a sweat lodge. Lia is flirting with demise as she slides down a mountain almost in tears and I believe, “The place was this shit in Lonely Planet?”
My pricey reader, please permit me to fill you in on the REAL Valle de Cocora hike in Salento.
Psst: We’ve obtained a ton of different assets for Colombia that you just’ll wish to have a look at earlier than your journey!
Ideas for Climbing the Valle de Cocora
Right here’s what we want we knew earlier than climbing Valle de Cocora. You’ll discover out why shortly.
- We didn’t make it as much as Primavera, which has essentially the most iconic views. Because it seems although, there’s a shortcut. We took the great distance. Oops.
- You possibly can rent horses to take you thru the hike. Nonetheless, the path isn’t good for them, they’re not taken care of effectively, they usually’re not good for the path circumstances. So we don’t advocate it.
- We had been informed it’s simpler to do the total hike within the reverse of our directions, as a result of the uphill will probably be on highway and the downhill is path.
- Begin early. Rain is unpredictable and the extra horses that undergo, the extra beat up the path will get.
- Don’t overlook: the final Willy (that’s the public transportation in Salento) leaves at 6pm. You have to end effectively earlier than then to keep away from post-hike panic and a really lengthy hike again into Salento.
What to Pack for the Valle de Cocora Hike
Pack rigorously for the when making ready to go to the Cocora Valley! Right here’s what we advocate.
- 50-100oz of water: Now we have a Camelbak Hydration Pack that matches 100oz of water, snacks, AND has some room for gear, too.
- Trekking poles to assist with the deep mud. We introduced our Black Diamond trekking poles with us, folded down and tucked right into a aspect pocket of our backpacks, for our total 5 months in South America they usually had been SO helpful on hikes.
- Rain Gear: We love our Extremely-Gentle Packable Rain Jackets (His & Hers) and we advocate Waterproof Socks to put on underneath our Path Runners for river crossings & moist mud puddles.
- Climbing Footwear & Socks: We each hike in Trail Runners reasonably than heavy obligation climbing boots – they’re light-weight and journey pleasant, extra versatile and comfy, they usually dry tremendous shortly when it rains or after a water crossing, so your ft will keep toasty and take a look at. Pair them with well-made wool socks. Our favourite wool sock model is Darn Tough: smooth, sturdy, and they arrive with a lifetime assure within the occasion of holes (that’s how you understand it’s actual). When issues begin getting moist, pull your waterproof socks on over prime of your wool socks to maintain your ft dry and blister-free.
- Climbing Garments: We choose wool climbing gear due to its potential to chill you down within the warmth and hold you heat within the rain – each of which you’ll encounter on the Valle de Cocora hike. You’ll wish to deliver layers: it’s scorching initially of the hike within the valley, however up within the cloud forest it’s chilly and wet. Additionally ensure you deliver garments which are secure to get muddy and can wash off simply, particularly your climbing pants. We’ve tried quite a lot of totally different climbing clothes over time, and these are our favourite tried and true picks.
- Snacks: You need one thing nutritious, with a very good combine of advanced carbs, fat, protein, and electrolytes to gas your physique. My favourite climbing snacks are peanut butter stuffed pretzels, dried fruit (like apple rings or dried mango), and almonds. Hit up a mercado to choose up some dried snacks on your hike.
- Sunscreen and a Hat or Sun shades: The first a part of the Valle de Cocora hike is sunny and vivid. Deliver sun protection!
- Digicam: Valle de Cocora is gorgeous, so don’t overlook to pack a digicam! Most of my greatest pictures had been taken with my tiny little GoPro – the huge panoramic angle is ideal for the sweeping insanely tall palm timber of Valle de Cocora. An ideal light-weight, hike-friendly digicam that takes superb photographs whereas nonetheless becoming comfortably into your pocket is the Canon Powershot. We used this digicam completely throughout our 5 months backpacking South America and had been extraordinarily happy with it.
- Money & Small Payments to get your self house after your hike! The ATM in Salento is unreliable at greatest. As in it was each empty AND the ability in the whole city was out on the day of our hike.
The best way to Get from Salento to the Cocora Valley
Every single day, hikers converge on Salento Plaza in the course of city to seize a jeep to the Cocora Valley.
Salento doesn’t have moto taxis or yellow cabs; they’ve Willys. Willys are jeeps that may maintain as much as 15 individuals and the driving force. I say “maintain”, and never “seat,” as a result of 5 of these fortunate individuals stand on the bumper and maintain on for pricey life.
It sounds sketchy, however it’s a must to attempt it. It’s a lot enjoyable! Learn extra concerning the ridiculous and nerve-wracking transportation in Colombia in our transportation guide!
Willys go away for the Cocora Valley each hour from 7:30 AM till 2:30 PM.
The beginning of the hike is about 5 miles out of city, so you don’t have any selection: it’s a must to take a Willy (until you like your hikes with an additional 10 miles, through which case, that is in all probability not the weblog put up for you). Fortunately, they’re low-cost; Lia and I paid 3.400 COP (about $1 USD) every.
Getting into the Cocora Valley
As soon as you’re dropped off on the entrance of the Valle de Cocora hike, you can be immediately handled to superb views. The Cocora Valley is lush – the hills are a vivid, unbelievable inexperienced – and at sure occasions of the day, the cloud forests within the mountains entice a low-lying fog which solely serves to boost the surroundings.
One factor you’ll discover instantly is the first purpose that the hike is so well-known: the large Colombian wax palms. They’re extremely tall, skinny palm timber that develop as much as 180 ft tall! They appear to be they’re straight out of “The Lorax.” In addition they occur to be Colombia’s nationwide image.
Along with the engaging rolling inexperienced hills and large palms, there are a few little retailers that promote snacks, espresso, tea, water, and loo admission.
When you’re able to get transferring, we’re informed, head up the hill. As quickly as you cross the final constructing, you’ll see a vivid blue gate on the fitting. Undergo and also you’re off!
And so off we had been…
The Starting of the Valle de Cocora Hike
The primary hour or so of the Valle de Cocora hike is extraordinarily simple, and extremely stunning. Lia described it as Wales meets South America.
1000’s of wax palms dot the tops of mountains. In every single place you look are vibrantly inexperienced hills with farms nestled all through the valley. On the farms, joyful livestock graze on grass and observe passers by (I even made a few cow pals).
As you hike, teams of households on horseback tromp previous, which sounds much more pastoral than it’s, as a result of the horses look depressing and have a tendency to splash you with mud. However throughout you is magnificence. You’ll want to take a number of photos. Each view is healthier than the final.
Relying on what number of photos you stopped for, about an hour in, you’ll attain the top of the valley and the beginning of the cloud forest coated mountain. That is the place the Valle de Cocora hike modifications from stunning and straightforward…. to beautiful and insanely tough.
Getting into The Cloud Forest within the Cocora Valley
Instantly upon getting into the cloud forest, you’re engulfed in jungle. It’s truly fairly surreal – one minute you’re in a sunny valley, the following you’re out of the blue climbing straight uphill in a thick, misty cloud forest.
Right here’s the factor concerning the path circumstances: they suck.
The individuals at Acaime – the reserve which takes care of the Valle de Cocora hike – do what they’ll to take care of the path, however after frequent rain and fixed horse trampling, the path turns into rivers of thick mud blended with manure by the top of the day.
And I don’t simply say this simply because it’s icky and I need you to be mentally ready to finish up coated in manure; it’s the kind of mud that may be very harmful. It’s slippery and thick, and may simply throw off your footing or eat your shoe. Select your steps very rigorously and take your time.
Trekking poles had been extremely useful in differentiating between “12 inches of mud” and “a rock I can kind of stability on.”
It was at this level, selecting our approach via knee-deep mud, that we discovered ourselves transferring slower and slower. Uh oh.
The Valle de Cocora Waterfall
About 200 meters into the forest, the path makes a sudden left flip. On the flip, you’ll discover a gnarled department that’s used to tie up horses.
Upon first look it appeared like a bizarre spot to tie them up. Nonetheless, if you happen to look to the left, you’ll see the tiniest path, winding via the jungle and previous a small cave. Observe this path and also you’ll be rewarded with an incredible view of a waterfall.
Right here’s what we want somebody had informed us earlier than we hiked the Valle de Cocora. For these of you who’re quick on time (or are sluggish hikers, like us), or don’t wish to get extremely soiled, or are vulnerable to falling when issues get muddy and slippery, that is the place it’s best to flip round.
The remainder of the path is an uphill slog via mud and tiny, rickety bridges over a dashing river – and there’s a shortcut to get to the top of the path anyway.
If you happen to flip round now, you’ll have seen the bests components of the hike and have loads of time to go bathe off the mud. The valley and the waterfall within the cloud forest had been our private highlights on the Valle de Cocora hike.
However in fact, we didn’t flip round. We stored climbing upwards via the mud.
The River Crossings on the Valle de Cocora Hike
If you happen to’re persevering with previous the waterfall, you’ll head again to the principle Valle de Cocora path and see the primary of a number of forks. You need the one on the fitting.
For future reference, if you happen to see a fork that isn’t marked, don’t fear. If you happen to take the flawed path, you’ll shortly attain a river and be compelled to show round anyway.
The explanation for that’s the horses go straight via the river, and the opposite path is for people and results in a bridge. I say “bridge” however that’s truly fairly beneficiant.
Quickly you’ll attain a rickety , extremely sketch “bridge” with an indication warning you to take it one individual at a time. Don’t fear. If you happen to fall, it’s solely like 100 meters down river till you’re tossed off a waterfall onto some rocks. Needs to be fantastic.
I hope you loved this bridge, as a result of this hike has EIGHT of these sketchy river crossings. To make it extra attention-grabbing, 3 of these river crossings are simply logs thrown throughout the river!
They usually’re all moist and muddy! And there’s nothing to carry onto! Journey.
The path continues for about one other hour, relying in your pace (our tempo, as all the time, could be very sluggish). All through the path, you’ll be preventing your approach via quite a lot of mud. Like…greater than you truly consider. We’re speaking Powerful Mudder ranges of mud.
The horses trotting previous (which often fling mud at you whilst you stand balancing precariously to the aspect) churn the mud right into a thick, viscous sludge. Your pace will probably be compromised as a result of it’s a must to hop from rock to rock so that you don’t get caught within the knee-deep mud.
The Mud on the Valle de Cocora Hike
I do know what you’re pondering: “um, you warned us concerning the mud already, dude.” However this bears repetition and emphasis: the mud on the Cocora Valley hike is freaking insane.
As you’re crossing the river
18 thousand occasions there are just a few components of the path which are straight up harmful. The primary half that made us legitimately concern for our security comes after the fourth bridge and is a steep downhill that’s akin to a mud slide (however not the enjoyable attractive school variety, sadly. Though we tried to look as attractive as attainable whereas slipping and falling).
This quick 50-meter stretch took us ages as a result of we needed to rigorously audition every step, like an previous woman with a not too long ago damaged hip. To make issues worse, this stretch is uncharacteristically devoid of tall rocks to face on (or maybe they had been simply too deep mud to seek out).
And as if the path needed to actually stick it to us for pondering we may deal with the Valle de Cocora hike, there’s a handrail … nevertheless it was constructed with out helps. So it would as effectively be a backyard hose. Thanks a lot for this floppy railing, menacing mud-jungle. We get it, we’re completely out of our league.
At one level, Lia had the sensible concept to really stand on the sagging handrail and kind of scoot down it. That may be your greatest wager. I made a decision to hurry via, and consequently I slipped and landed with my hand bent backwards, shrieking in ache.
millionth seventh “bridge,” you’ll attain the La Montana junction. If in case you have time, take the fitting to Acaime, which is about 1km away.
When you’re previous the junction, you solely have yet another “bridge.” Bridge can be a stretch for this one: it’s truly simply logs thrown throughout the mud with a lone wire to hold onto. However like, thanks for the wire, I suppose?
After the “bridge,” there’s one other steep mud slide. That is one other one in all the harmful stretches I discussed. It’s all uphill and there may be NOTHING to carry onto. Good luck!
Sliding again down this stretch and making an attempt to not tumble face-first down the mountain on our return journey to civilization was the purpose that had Lia almost in tears and me cursing and shaking my limp, injured wrist at each weblog put up that didn’t point out the madness we had determined to undertake on the Valle de Cocora hike.
Contemplate your self duly warned!
Acaime: Scorching Chocolate & Chill
When you defeat the mudslide from hell, you’ll see a junction with indicators for Acaime. Take the steps up (screw you, mud-slinging horses! So lengthy!) and proceed on for twenty minutes uphill till you attain Acaime.
You would possibly discover indicators for La Estrella de Agua as effectively. I haven’t heard anybody say it’s definitely worth the detour. Actually, I’ve solely heard dangerous issues. However hey, hike your individual hike.
We arrived depressing and defeated from slogging via the mud and rain (though it wasn’t raining after we began the hike, the additional up you go, the rainier it will get – cloud forests will try this). Acaime is a neat little home within the hills, run by the reserve that maintains the Valle de Cocora hike.
Right here, you pay 5.000 COP ($1.66 USD) and also you’re handled to scorching chocolate, espresso, or tea. In addition they have water, a toilet, and meals (restricted provide…we didn’t get any. I nearly cried). Across the property are a bunch of hummingbirds so that you can get pleasure from.
There’s even a pet coati (intently associated to a raccoon however roughly 40 occasions cuter)! It’s a pleasant reprieve from the mud, sweat, blood, and tears of the cloud forest.
Lia and I’ve this factor (sort of like a curse, or only a shared character flaw) the place we all the time begin hikes too late, don’t give ourselves sufficient time to complete them, and find yourself scrambling to get again earlier than darkish – or on this case, earlier than the final Willy leaves from the Cocora Valley to Salento (6 pm).
To make issues worse, we had run out of water, which is a demise knell for Lia – she drinks water like a dehydrated camel at any time when she hikes. So after we lastly arrived eventually at Acaime, we may barely speak – a lot much less in Spanish.
We breathlessly flomped down on a bench and after a mug of watery scorching chocolate, we felt a lot better and had been capable of talk about our sport plan.
Ending the Valle de Cocora Hike … Type of
After Acaime, there are two choices, they usually each take about two hours: return the best way you got here, or go up additional into the cloud forest, which – after some much more strenuous climbing – reveals some unimaginable views.
We thought of our time limitations: the final Willy leaves at 6, it was 4, and we’d already been climbing for five hours. Clearly, time estimates imply nothing for us.
Given our typical tempo of very, very sluggish, we didn’t actually stand a lot probability of creating it again in time to catch our solely transportation choice. So, sadly, we determined to surrender on the gorgeous views and the additional uphill climb, and attempt to make up time on the best way again down.
Notice: If you happen to select to finish the hike, you’ll return to the junction and head uphill for so long as you’ll be able to. You’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of Valle de Cocora from above. After you’ve drained your digicam battery, take the highway down the hill and also you’ll find yourself the place you began!
Heading again down
Having made our choice to show again, we circled and slipped and slid again the best way we’d come. At this level it was much more moist and muddy, and every river crossing was increasingly more slippery than earlier than.
Going downhill was simply as tough as uphill, and we took our time and tried to not fall as a lot as we may. By some means, miraculously, we made it out of the cloud forest in precisely 2 hours, regardless of it taking us so lengthy to climb up.
Rising from the forest into the marginally extra sunny valley, with its rolling inexperienced hills and mooing cows, we felt gentle on our ft.
We laughed at tiny mud puddles which had slowed us down on the best way in – each of us had been coated in mud from the neck down at this level anyway.
We skipped via the valley in precisely an hour and caught the final Willy at 5:59 PM again to Salento. I even obtained to be one of many individuals standing on the again all the best way to city, which is the BEST.
Leaving the Cocora Valley
Timing had labored out completely, and we rode the excessive of our good luck for the remainder of the evening. Even after we realized we had been utterly out of money, after which the whole city of Salento suffered a mysterious energy outage inflicting all the ATMs to cease working, every little thing appeared like it will by some means work out.
We had been experiencing that really Colombian vibe: tranquilo. The motive force took us house and waited whereas we searched our hostel for spare change to pay him – tranquilo.
We made it again to our hostel quarter-hour earlier than the family-style dinner by candlelight was served. We had been famished, and it was magical and scrumptious. We made new pals, chatted by firelight, ate chocolate cake, and completely loved ourselves (learn extra about our amazing hostel in Salento).
It was such a very good feeling that even an ice-cold bathe at the hours of darkness (thanks, energy outage) to clean off our mud couldn’t deliver us down!
What an unimaginable hike. It’s true what they are saying (or, effectively, even when *they* don’t, it’s what *I* say): the more durable the hike, the higher the meals and bathe feels afterward.
All in all, it was definitely worth the stress, mud, and exhaustion. I simply want we had been higher ready, and had began earlier. Be taught from our errors!
Psst: We’ve obtained a ton of different assets for Colombia that you just’ll wish to have a look at earlier than your journey!
In case you are in search of extra tour suggestions throughout your go to to Colombia the superb guys over at ViaHero will join you with an area one that will share all their juicy information and make it easier to plan your good itinerary. Check it out here.
So, reader, get out into that cloud forest, however know what to anticipate! Someday we’ll be again to complete the second half of the Valle de Cocora hike….
What do you suppose, does climbing Valle de Cocora sound price it, or would you reasonably take the shortcut for a photograph op?
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