Note: This article is an informative addendum to our vacation blog post about our visit to Salento and the Cocora Valley. In it we include photos of the wax palms other sights you’ll discover on the trail. We recommend reading it in conjunction with this article.
Let’s Start With Salento…
Salento is a small, sleepy, gateway town to the Cocora Valley. You’ll likely arrive by bus through stomach-churning twists and turns through the mountain. If you’ve been in the Andes before, you’ll recognize that pain as the expected accompaniment to its beautiful scenery. The destination will seem “right around the corner” until you’ve given up hope. Soon afterward, the bus will drop you off at the company’s office six blocks from the square.
The town itself is clean, safe and easy to walk.
Our first stop was the Ciudad de Segorbe Hostel Salento and a 110,000 Peso room. It was also clean with hot, drinkable water and an English-speaking staff who were extremely eager to help. We highly recommend it for affordability and location, although we were enthralled with the reviews and didn’t research anywhere else.
Activities not in the Cocora Valley
Shopping: Immediately, you’ll find that Salento has more bad souvenir shops than you can shake an “authentic Colombian” dreamcatcher at. When in doubt, assume it was made in China. There are a few small stores on the main strip that sell authenticity, but be vigilant. After much searching, we bought what we believed to be a pretty, hand-made, woolen poncho for $50. That’s expensive, but that’s the price one pays for perceived authenticity.
We were told that the best artisan goods were on the SW corner of the plaza in a tiny “mall” of artisan shops.
The Mirador: Go NE on Carrera 6 (the main strip) and at the end you’ll find a staircase up to a lookout. Go an hour before sunset. At the top, go left on a trail to the lookout facing the mountains. The telescopes aren’t useful, but it’s nice. On the way back, enjoy the sunset over the city. On the way back down the stairs, to the left, you’ll see the “adult playground” that piqued your interest on the way up. It’s certainly an odd assortment of things, but we got a couple of beers, pulled a seat up to the fire and chatted with one of the very friendly staff. A perfectly good way to relax after a long day. The playground is very popular late at night.
Another Hike: Our hostel staff suggested we take a hike at the base of the lookout steps. We were hiked-out, but apparently, it’s a great trail that goes as far as you want it to. Tarantulas were mentioned.
Coffee Tour: There is one sanctioned coffee tour that the hostel promotes. We already had a great experience at a hacienda, so we can’t help you here. I remember seeing the materials and thinking it was legit.
Where to Eat
For us, this portion of the trip was about saving money. Below is what we encountered:
- Rincon del Lucy – It’s a small joint halfway to the lookout steps on the strip. On the left. Cheap, good and plentiful Colombian typical food. We could have just eaten there the whole time.
- The pizza place on the corner of the plaza – I don’t remember the name and I forgot the food. It’s fine, tourist pizza. Whatever. There’s a place for that after a week of patacones.
- A small, candlelit cafe a little further up the strip from Rincon del Lucy with amazing, if pricy, Canelazo. Go.
- Camino Real – We didn’t go, but was told it had the best trout. Even the average trout is good so…
In all, the prices are high, but the quality is high. We were there in the off-season of September, so everything closed at 8pm or 9pm. Plan ahead else you’re hoping to find something at the small grocery store on the plaza – if they aren’t closed as well.
Is it Safe?
It seemed safe to us. We had no problems at all. Just don’t be stupid and have three too many Canelazos. Your hostel will tell you not to wander into the back streets and trails at night, but duh. I don’t do that in Chicago either.
Doing the Cocora Valley Hike
- Bring snacks, sunscreen, 3-4 bottles of water, good shoes, a rain jacket/poncho and a camera with an extra battery. There are no bugs on the trail. You’ll think you need a map, but you don’t. I’m not even sure that exists. But, we’ll help you out below.
- Go to the town plaza just before 7:30am. You will see lots of 1950’s Jeep Willys. The drivers will see you and lead you to one. Climb on. They leave when full. A few jeeps leave at 8:30am as well, but go with the early group.
- If you want to do the coolest thing since E.T., ask to ride on the back. You’ll stand on the bumper overlooking the roof, hang on to the luggage rack and thank me later.
- When they drop you off at the trailhead, there’s a store to your right. Buy whatever you forgot.
- Choose a path. If you go on the road straight ahead from the jeep, it’s up and back to the valley lookouts. It’s shorter – about 3 hours. The trail to the right is the popular loop trail. It’s about 5 hours, more strenuous (but not too much) goes through the forest, creeks and the small park of Acaime.
We went right because we wanted to make a full day of our visit.
The trail is clear. You’ll go over a creek or two and come to a big, professional-looking sign that has maps, says Private Property and suggests you pay to get through. You’ll think that’s it’s the wrong way because of this. Keep going. We didn’t see anyone or have to pay. We were told that sometimes people just try to get a few thousand pesos out of tourists. Don’t argue if you do see someone. You can spare a couple bucks.
The trail then winds through a lot of river bridges. Eventually, about two hours in, you’ll come to an obvious fork with signs. LEFT goes to the top of the ridge to the Montaña lodge. It’s shortens the loop and is more strenuous, but the views are incredible. RIGHT goes to the Acaime nature park. It’s the more common trail. We went left and enjoyed every minute of it. At the top, you’ll find a great place to sit and have your snacks.
Both paths meet to go down the ridge through the Wax Palms. Here the trail becomes a road. 20 minutes from the Montaña lodge is the Cocora Valley lookout, complete with 200′ tall wax palms and incredibly soft grass, perfect for a nap. Those who leave the Jeep and go on the road end up here as well.
From the lookout, the road winds down to the bottom of the valley, equally as beautiful. There, you’ll pass another sign that suggests you pay (but facing the opposite way). This time, a local stood nearby, but waved us on.
Returning from Cocora Valley
Get back before 5:30. That’s around when the last jeep returns to Salento. However, I would suggest that anyone with a vehicle near the entrance would take you back for 25,000 Pesos. At the jeeps, you’ll have to wait for one to fill up before it leaves – or – the driver asks if you want to pay a little more and leave with some empty seats. I believe the ride was about 7,000 per person. It takes about 30 minutes, and again, I’d suggest riding on the back if you’re fit.
Photos and More Info
Visit our webpage to read about our two days in Salento.