A trip to Colombia wouldn’t be complete without checking out the Zona Cafetera, Colombia’s coffee region, and after a few days taking in the hustle and bustle of Colombia’s massive capital city, Bogotá, it was time to make the transition to Colombia’s countryside.
As some background, I’m traveling through South America with my boyfriend, Dani. We plan to go from Colombia to Bolivia over the next couple of months, staying at backpacker’s hostels along the way. The night before we left for Salento in Colombia’s coffee region, we met a lovely human named Josh from Australia who decided to join us for a part of our trip through Colombia. So now you have it! The Three Musketeers voyaging through Colombia with backpacks, a faithful red hat, and a contagious sense of adventure.
We arrived at Bogotá’s main bus terminal where the city’s chaos continued. Imagine walking into a busy airport and every employee runs up to you in absolute panic, trying to convince you to buy a ticket to an arbitrary destination. This is how it goes at most bus terminals in South America. Aggressive and chaotic, but also quite helpful.
“Cali, Cali, Cali, ticket a Cali, compra, compra, Cali, ahora, sale en diez minutos,” they yell. I blink. They try another destination.
“Medellín, Medellín, señorita, quiere comprar un boleto a Medellín?” asks an overweight middle aged man with sweat rolling down his forehead.
I manage to form a response, “Salento?” They usher me to a man who ushers me to an unamused woman behind a counter. She announces a price and five minutes later, I’m sitting on a huge, brightly-colored bus with wifi and A/C.
Well, that was intense.
Eight hours later, and the bus clunked to a sputtery stop in Salento’s small town square. We took a few minutes to adjust to this new world we just stepped into. Various vendors with fresh juice and empanadas. Bachata music blaring in tiny bars. Kids running around while parents socialized. There was a lot to take in. We were just about to steal wifi to find a decent hostel for the night when a deafening siren sounded throughout the town. Locals went about their evening as normal. I jumped for the bushes. Earthquake? War zone? What’s going on?!
I asked a 80-year-old local and he smiled, kindly explaining that it was the 9 p.m. curfew for the local kids to go home. We got back to our search and found a really nice hostel for only $10 per night, breakfast included.
I woke up the next morning to the sound of roosters crowing and horses trotting along the pavement. I walked out to the balcony that was only pitch blackness the night before and was greeted with endless mountain views and lush farmland. Yes. Life is good.
Later that morning, we set out for a five-hour hike through Cocora Valley, which is home to hundreds of wax palm trees growing up to 60 meters tall. To get to Cocora Valley from Salento, there are Jeeps that leave from the town square every 20 minutes or so. For a total of 3,400 pesos, about $1, you can get a ride 20 minutes away to the starting point of the hike.
The scenery throughout the hike was unreal. Farmland with cows and donkeys slowly transitioned into a flourishing cloud rainforest. We walked along the muddy path, crossing Indiana Jones bridges that looked as if they could break at any moment. Halfway through the hike, we heard loud footsteps behind us only to discover five mules obediently carrying sacks of food to the top of the mountain. We waited for them to pass, expecting to see a farmer or someone behind them, but no, they were just trained to walk through the rainforest until they got to the restaurant at the top. I found this strangely fascinating.
A few hours into the hike, we reached the small restaurant where we had lunch, and for around 5,000 pesos (less than $2.00) we could enter the hummingbird reserve. It was a nice place to relax and take in the scenery. On the way back to the village, we hiked even further up to a finca perched on the mountainside. From the top of the mountain, it felt as if we were in the middle of the clouds with misty views of the green countryside all around us.
I highly recommend this hike to those of you planning on traveling to Colombia! It’s a great way to get in touch with the natural beauty Colombia has to offer.