Bienvenidos a Colombia, Part Tres

Valle del Cocora, Sallento

Everywhere you turn in Valle del Cocora you will find absolute natural beauty.

To round out my Colombia expedition, I couldn’t leave out some of the most breathtaking sights known to man. While my first post is about the Bogota and some tips to getting acquainted to that area, and the my second post is about the amazing Nevado del Ruiz volcano and the Hacienda Venecia coffee farm, this last installment is about a beauty that no photo, no guidebook and certainly no blog post could ever capture.

Salento’ s Valle del Cocora – In a country full of remarkable, near indescribable beauty, some of the finest will be at Valle del Cocora. It’s located in the coffee town of Salento and technically part of Los Nevados National Natural Park that I wrote about in the last post. But you wouldn’t know it from the scenery. Valle del Cocora offers a large contrast to the lunar-like beauty of Nevado del Ruiz. At Valle del Cocora, you have 360-degree views of absolutely plush green, mountainous lands.

Popular excursions include hiking and horseback riding. We only had about 1 hour to enjoy this land, so we hiked up a mountain (actually, we pretty much sprinted up it due to our lack of time), but there’s no doubt in my mind I will return one day to take advantage of a full-day’s hike and majestic nature.

Once you’re at Salento’s city center, there are plenty of Jeep Willys to drive you to Valle del Cocora. A fair warning: They pack you in the Willy, along with the other tourists and adventure seekers, so be prepared for an intimate, tight ride.

Tip #1: Don’t even think about wearing heels. This is flat-shoes country with lots of walking and almost no pavement, and you’ll never survive in anything like heels. Advisable are even hiking boots or shoes. And, don’t opt for open-toed shoes as there are horse droppings everywhere.

Tip #2: Arrive early. Maybe close to 6 a.m. Then you can take advantage of the area’s natural beauty early on. Plus, it gets crowded as the day continues.

Valle del Cocora, wax palm

The wax palm is Colombia’s national plant. At Valle del Cocora, you will be surrounded by many of these tall timbers. Here I am with some newfound Colombian friends, enjoying the view of some wax palms after briskly hiking up a hill.

Valle de Cocora, Jeep Willy

The Jeep Willy, popular in World War II, is the standard mode of transportation to the Valle de Cocora from Salento’s city center.

Valle del Cocora, horseback riding

One fun way to get around is by horse. There are plenty of horse handlers around, so feel free to ask them for rates.

Valle del Cocora, trout

All this hiking will build up an appetite! After coming back down from Valle del Cocora, we stopped by for some famous trout. Salento’s trout is one of the best I’ve ever had. We stopped by a mom-and-pop restaurant that cooked its trout outside on the open grill. Delish!

Valle del Cocora, jumping photo

And yes, Valle del Cocora is a perfect place for a jumping photo.

BONUS INFO

While in Colombia Coffee Region, be sure not to miss out on the natural hot springs. I visited two, both near Manizales:

Termales el Otono: On the property of an upscale hotel that shares the same name, these thermal springs are a popular outing for locals and tourists. You don’t have to be a hotel guest to enjoy the thermal pools. It’s a pretty posh spot in the midst of rugged surroundings along its peripheral property lines. There are three pools adjacent to each other with varying temperatures. It’s definitely a see-and-be-seen place.

Tierra Viva: If Termales el Otono is South Beach, then Tierra Viva is Jacksonville, Fla. It’s a much more subdued, smaller thermal springs spot that allows for more relaxation and a quiet atmosphere. There are two pools with different temperatures. It doesn’t have the ritzy amenities that guests to Termales el Otono might prefer, but the basics are there.

Termales el Otono, hot springs

The thermal pools Termales el Otono are set against a mountainside backdrop.

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