Valle del Cocora is among one of the most visited regions in Colombia, due to its stunning landscapes, covered in a beautiful mountain mist almost all year round.
Just 3 hours from the warm climate of Cali, Valle del Cocora feels like another country and has the unique characteristic of being almost always covered in “cloud forests’, a mist that covers the tops of the mountains and often slides its way down the sides to lower altitudes. The valley is also part of the Los Nevados National Natural Park.
Like the nearby small town of Salento, it rains almost everyday in the valley, however we were lucky to escape the rain almost entirely during our trip there. It was very cold during the evening and night; so don’t forget to bring warm clothes and hiking shoes and clothes if you are visiting the area.
The drive from Salento to Valle del Cocora is stunning and the landscape gets more and more beautiful the closer you get to the Valley. On entering, you are surrounded by the famous wax palms, the national tree and symbol of Colombia, rolling green hills and deep mountain valleys with rivers and waterfalls. Once you arrive you can choose a campsite and set up your tent. We had the help of a local boy who clearly had a lot of experience in helping visitors put up their tents.
That night we tried to light a campfire…with very little success…in fact with NO success. We spent about two hours embarrassingly trying to light a fire with all the fire gadgets and loose wood we could find. Eventually two guys from the Colombian army saw our pathetic attempts and came over to help us. Within a few minutes they had chopped a huge pile of wood and started the fire…obviously they have had army training in outdoor survival skills…just saying.
And so the army guys, complete with massive machine guns proceeded to roast marshmallows with us around the campfire until they had to go hide from their boss!
The next day we got up early to go horse riding up the mountain to the Fundación Herencia Verde (Green Heritage Foundation), known for its many hummingbirds fluttering around at the top and the tough but worthwhile trek to the top. I recommend going by horse as it’s a pretty tough climb for about an hour and a half uphill and the terrain often involves climbing and descending steep rocks. I was very excited (and nervous) to get on our horses, as I hadn’t ridden a horse since a traumatic horse experience when I was around 12 years old.
Another Indiana Jones moment for me in Colombia as we crossed numerous fast flowing rivers, climbed slippery rocks and walked along steep cliffs all on the back of our trusty steeds.
At the top, we had to pay a $3,000 COP ‘entrance fee’, which was clearly just a way to disguise the fact that you are actually paying for the ‘free lunch’…a not so pleasant bowl of ‘agua de panela’ and a stick of rubbery cheese.
Apart from looking at the hummingbirds and eating a stick of cheese, there is really not much to do at the top. The views are nicer on the way up and the signs posted all around the shack at the top make it clear that they have a bad perception of foreigners with English signs reading “If you go for a second bowl, you pay for a second bowl”.
It is better to leave early for the trip, preferably around 8am, as we barely encountered any other people on our way up, however on the way back down we met numerous people on foot and on horse starting their journey to the Fundación Herencia Verde. We were back down at our campsite by 12 noon.
We wanted to leave early to get back to Cali before dark so we packed up our stuff and had a quick lunch at the campsites (expensive but homely) restaurant, complete with open fire!
Although we only had one night in Valle del Cocora, it was totally worth the 3-hour journey. Colombia is so diverse and the Valle shows a whole new side to the country with its colder climate, unique landscapes and the unexpected combination of palm trees and on cold mountainsides!
Along with the nearby picturesque town of Salento and the fun National Coffee Park, it can make a great weekend trip from one of the nearby cities or the perfect stop on a backpacking trip around Colombia. Go there, experience one of the most famous places in the country and see for yourself the process of coffee making from start to finish.
For more travel photos from Valle del Cocora visit our set on Flickr here.