We started early, leaving at 7:00am right from the front door, courtesy of small, yet spacious private bus. The drive to Salento is peaceful and picturesque. I was surprised at all the cyclists already up and taking on mountainous roads!
Driving through the narrow, colorful streets of Salento gave a quick overview of the town. It seemed quaint, and calm despite it celebrating its establishment of 174 years that week Perhaps, everyone was asleep due to the festivities in night that carried into the early hours of the morning? At this point, our guide explained the history of the town briefly and the region of Quindio. Next, we had the option to go eat something before we started our long day hiking.
After breakfast, we all piled into the bus and set off to the gateway to the Cocora Valley, which is within the Los Nevados National Natural Park. We were to complete a 4-6 hours loop with some substantial elevation change. Winding through and up from the valley floor, I was blown away at the odd and unique landscape we were witnessing. The wax palms have extremely slender trunk relative to the immense height they reach. These characteristics of disproportion are what makes this landscape seem so abnormal. The value of this area of land has been recognized by the government, and is now under protection to stop any further development. Agricultural, religious, and industrial practices have decimated the wax palm population. However, the ongoing sustainability and conservation will ensure the valley continues to be preserved and a top tourist attraction. This was evident by the costs, included at various points, to fund the protection and maintenance of the park.
As we continued up the side of the mountain we breached into the cloud forest. An environmental ecosystem where specialized structures in the trees can extract water from the atmosphere. At some points on the trail beautiful vistas of the valley were on display. But you must be quick before the mist rolls in, which is so common in this environment. Continuing, we passed through pine forests and eucalypts, both of which have bene introduced. A house, La Montaña, a wax palm nursery sits at the top of the trail before descending through some more Pine forest. Reaching the Valley floor we met a junction, and proceeded forward towards Acaime Natural Reserve to go view the Colibri. The Colibri sanctuary admission, included in our tour price, allowed us to view the agile and colorful birds fluttering all over the place. The admission also includes a free drink too! I opted for the hot chocolate with cheese, a delicacy common in Colombia!
Setting off for the last leg of our hike back to the gateway the clouds opened up and we were caught in a tumultuous downpour. The path became muddy and slippery. I found this rather fun and challenging. Some river crossings over swaying bridges added to the excitement. But after a few hours and, admittedly, falling down a few times, I was joyous to reach the bus. One of the girls on the tour became unwell, for whatever reason; the altitude, low blood sugar, heat exhaustion etc. So she had to be picked up on a horse and rode back to the bus. I later found out this is covered under the hostel’s insurance. Maybe next time I will fall sick so I can ride a horse back. Remember to be prepared; proper footwear, wet weather gear and mosquito repellant. I was surprised to see how many people were wearing sandals and jeans with no rain jacket.
We were meant to return to Salento to eat lunch, however, after the extra time taken to complete the hike due to the rain we all decided we would prefer to head straight back to Pereira to have a hot solar powered shower and something to eat. The owners of the hostel were kind enough to shout us some pizza to help bring up our spirits after being soaked for the second part of the hike. Undoubtedly, a spectacle that one shouldn’t miss. The tour provided by the hostel was organized well, from start to finish, and met expectations with an informative, bilingual, and stunning experience.