Salento's Valley of Palms
Upon arrival from Medellín I was taken back at how remote Salento feels. The bus dropped us off on a deserted street in town. Up and over hills, I dragged my luggage to the edge of town where I found Coffee Tree Boutique Hostel behind a tall wooden gate. After checking in I went for a bite with a fellow traveler I met on the bus. Dinner was tasty but stay away from touristy spots - they're pricey!
Day 1 | Hike the Cocora Valley
At 7:30 a.m. the next morning, I met up with my new friend. We enjoyed a quick breakfast at the hostel and walked to the main square to catch a ride to Cocora Valley. The hostel offered a $2 packed lunch for our hike, as well as rain boots for rent and a hand drawn map. Super cute.
I will say, catching a ride to Cocora Valley was stressful. It was Sunday and tons of tour groups were looking for rides. There were only a limited number of jeeps for the day and their guides were grabbing them up quickly. Eventually, we got so frustrated we decided to approach a driver directly rather than work through the middlemen organizing the rides. He agreed to give us seats in his jeep so we quickly hopped in.
The two of us used the hand drawn map our hostel provided and began the long difficult hike into the valley and through the mountains. It's essentially a loop; you can choose to start at either end. We chose the "easier" route which was still really difficult. For this route, begin at the tall palms and follow the path toward the right. This path keeps you from having to climb the steepest part of the mountain.
As you enter Cocora Valley, the landscape is overwhelming. The palms are insanely tall (nearly 200 feet), cows peacefully graze in the valley and hikers on horseback are rare sightings.
We began the hike up a smooth steep path and continued for nearly two hours. It was definitely a struggle with the high elevation and I nearly passed out. I'm not much of a hiker but the altitude was killer (2,400 meters / 7,900 feet at it's highest point).
Near the halfway point of our hike clouds rolled in and swirled about - the cool mist tickling our faces. What an incredible thing to see.
At the tippy top of the mountain my hostel mate, Geetu, and I stopped to eat our packed lunches and take a much needed rest. Then it was time for our descent. The second half of the trek was really sloppy and wet from the recent rains. It was tough to stay on your feet. Thank goodness for my rain boots.
Some visitors rode the trail on horseback and would pass occasionally, squeezing through the tiny pathways. We continued the hike through rivers, across bridges and over piles of horse poo.
The Acaime Hummingbird Sanctuary was slightly off path but we decided to follow the signs and check it out. Upon arrival we were offered a cup of hot chocolate covered with cheese, a local treat. I decided to skip the cheese.
After watching the colorful hummingbirds buzz around the sanctuary, we began our hike back down the mountain through the mud. The stop was definitely worth it.
The end of the hike was just as gorgeous as the beginning and with a total of 25,000 steps I was ready to collapse (that's almost 13 miles). Emerging from the mountains felt like it would never happen. We finally made our way back to the pick up spot. Last call for rides was around 4 p.m. In total, the hike took us about five hours. What an amazing journey. I was dead but super thankful for the experience.
Day 2 | Tour Ocaso Coffee & Lunch at El Rincon de Lucy
The next morning started slow, beginning with breakfast at my hostel. I took off in search of a coffee tour and on the way bumped into a friend from my last hostel in Medellín. About 30 minutes later we arrived at Ocaso Coffee Tour.
The coffee tour began with introductions and a walk through the grounds. The tour guide explained how to tell if a coffee bean is ripe enough to pick. He challenged us with finding ten ripe coffee beans. It was much harder than I imagined.
I learned the average wage in Colombia is about $8 a day. Picking coffee, you can earn up to triple that amount but it's grueling work. It also takes three years before coffee seeds produce a cup of coffee so enjoy your next cup thoughtfully.
After picking our beans we got to see what happens next in the process.
These are dried coffee beans. After beans are harvested they go through the first round of separation, first class from second class. The "slime" (sweet coating) is removed and they are dried. A final separation occurs for the finest beans. They are packed and exported BEFORE roasting.
Colombia is the third highest exporter of coffee in the world and the first of the Arabica blend. They only export first class coffee and drink the second class locally, called Tinto.
As the tour came to a close we sat for a tasting and lesson on brewing. We weren't allowed to add milk or sugar to the coffee so it was tough for me to finish as I like my drinks sweet.
I learned much about coffee making. First, add water to the coffee grounds slowly BEFORE it begins to boil. Do not flood the coffee. Pour in circles. Never pack or smash the coffee grounds. Let them breathe. Do not put your coffee in the fridge or freezer. Use an air tight container. I was doing it all wrong!
After finishing up, one of the guys mentioned a great spot in town to grab a meal so we made our way to El Rincon de Lucy.
El típico in Colombia consists of trucha a la plancha (fried trout), plantains, potatoes, rice, arepas (grilled cornmeal patties), salad, beans and cornbread balls (my name for these delicious nuggets). The meal also comes with soup and a local sugar cane and lime drink (guarapo costeño). All this for 7000 COP, just over $2. A must visit if you find yourself in town.
Saying farewell to Salento was tough. I fell in love with the tiny little town but it was my last evening before I began my long journey to Quito, Ecuador.
Days 3 & 4 | Journey from Salento, Colombia to Quito, Ecuador
The following morning I checked out of Coffee Bean and began the two day trek to Quito. I had no other choice other than to travel over land because flights were insanely expensive (we're talking $600+).
My two day bus journey from Colombia to Ecuador (one nights stay in Popayán):
At least the countryside was insanely gorgeous.
Originally, I was worried about so many bus transfers in order to reach Quito but it ended up being pretty simple. I did have one mishap though and hopped off the bus one city too early and had to buy a new ticket to get back on my way.
Each bus was comfortable and stopped for bathroom breaks and snacks along the way. Popayán was a middle point so I checked into a hostel there for the night. It's a cute little town but didn't seem like much was going on and I wasn't impressed with the hostel. I arrived in Quito super late and was dropped off on the side of the freeway. The last bus was so packed you couldn't even see out the windows so I missed my stop. I hailed a taxi and went straight to my hostel, Mogens Pod Hostel.
Salento, Colombia @ Coffee Tree Boutique Hostel
I really really loved this hostel and the vibe of the entire town. I've never seen anything like it. The Coffee Tree Boutique Hostel feels more like a lodge than the typical hostel. The location was a bit of a trek from the center of town but scenery-wise it was perfect - incredible views.
Rooms are spacious and individual style bathrooms are always a plus. Everything was clean and comfortable. Breakfast in the morning was very delicious but isn't complimentary (they will add it on to your room).
Staff had great recommendations for the most part and were very helpful. I did find some of the restaurants they suggested to be too touristy as I prefer a more authentic experience. Coffee Tree offered a few services I've never seen which were really helpful - a packed lunch and rubber rain boots. Totally worth it if there's any rain!
If you find yourself in Salento hike the Cocora Valley and visit the Ocaso Coffee Tour. Also, eat at El Rincon de Lucy in town - delicious cheap food.