Though hiking the Valle de Cocora was one of the things I was most looking forward to in Colombia, nothing could have prepared me for just how beautiful it would be.
We walked to the square a little past 7 in the morning, looking for a “Willy”, or Jeep, to take us to the valley where we would begin our hike. A man escorted us to a Jeep that was already packed full, and we stared at him blankly.
Does he expect us to sit on these strangers’ laps?
Seeing we were confused, he pointed to a small platform that hung out over the back tires about a foot.
We hopped up along with a Dutch guy and held on tightly to the metal bar atop the vehicle as we sped out of town.
It was at this point that I remembered reading that the ride was not a short one down the block. No, we would have to hang on like this for the next half hour.
Although it didn't seem like it at first, we actually had the best seats – or standing room – in the entire Willy. The ride was exhilarating and we got to see some incredible views as we plunged down into the valley.
Once we finally reached the starting point, we set off on a five and a half hour hike that took us through six distinctly different landscapes:
Part One: Tranquil Valley
The first forty minutes we made our way through a beautiful valley. Rain the night before made the path exceptionally muddy, but walking alongside grazing cattle and lush meadows made up for the squishy journey.
Part Two: Tropical Cloud Forest
Complete with Indiana Jones-inspired bridges, colorful fauna, and moss-covered trees, it was like something you see in movies with fairies frolicking to and fro.
Part Three: Hummingbird Hideaway
We took an optional detour into a hummingbird refuge. Here, we were able to sit and watch the birds flutter and zip around at impossible speeds, all while sipping on hot chocolate and nibbling on hunks of cheese (a common pairing in this region). It was a nice break and a chance to regain energy.
Part Four: Uphill Trek
With zig-zagging trails stretching through a mountainous forest, this was the most strenuous part of the journey, but also had the best views of the landscape below.
Part Five: In the Clouds
Once we reached the top of the uphill portion, we were rewarded with a beautiful mountaintop farm in the clouds. Flowers in all colors and varieties grow alongside vegetables and fruits. After leaving the farm, we walked downhill through low-hanging clouds.
Part Six: Valley de Cocora
Palm trees began to appear one by one through the mist. With clouds hanging heavy, palm trees stretching tall, and wild horses grazing in the hilly valley, it was a scene straight out of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax.
The palm trees in the valley are special. Known as Wax Palms, they are the tallest palm tree in the world and are exclusive to this valley.
It was without a doubt one of the most insanely beautiful places I have ever seen.
I took 431 pictures that day – I just couldn't control myself!
After reaching the end of the hike, our rumbling tummies led us to a restaurant in the valley. We ordered the famous local trucha, or trout, and enjoyed every bite. The coral flesh and taste reminded us more of salmon than trout, but it was delicious. Served atop a giant platano – thinly smashed plantain, with rice and a salad, we were stuffed even though we shared one plate. (The portions here are HUGE!)
After lunch, we tried to catch a Willy back to town. The thing we didn't realize about the Willys is that they only leave once they are completely full. That meant the two of us would have to wait for 6 more people to finish their hike, or we would have to pay for all their fares. Lucky for us, we didn't have to wait long.
This time we sat in the back of the Jeep, and it’s a good thing we did. We didn't just pack it full with 8 people, which would be full capacity. No, our driver was a bit of an over-achiever. We squished that Jeep full of 15 people before embarking on the half hour journey back to Salento.
Read more about our time in Salento: