Salento and the Cocora Valley: Exploring Colombia’s Coffee Zone
My dad once told me that when I became a man I’d start drinking coffee (or maybe it was the other way around). Well, at the age of 30 I think it might have finally happened. I tried some good quality coffee in Salento, Colombia and really enjoyed it. Maybe it’s no longer my destiny to grow old as an immature hot chocolate drinker after all.
We spent a few days in Colombia’s coffee zone recently, including a day trip to the unique Cocora Valley and a tour around a local organic coffee farm. We chose Salento, a colourful colonial town set amidst emerald green hills, as our base for exploring this scenic region of Colombia.
The Cocora Valley Hike: Wax Palms, Hummingbirds and a Cloud Forest
According to Tripadvisor (and me, now that I’ve done it), the 6 hour Cocora Valley hike is known as one of the best things to do in Colombia. We jumped on a jeep in Salento’s main square to the start of the trail, where you can either do a long loop or head straight up the road to the wax palms. Definitely do the whole walk if you have time. The first section takes you past farms surrounded by jagged green hills; we got a good look at the giant wax palms from there and this part of the walk is really easy and relaxing.
The trail eventually leads into a muddy cloud forest where you’ll have to cross several shaky bridges. It’s common to ride a horse on this trail and it looks like a lot of fun, although it’s kind of annoying having to get out of their way all the time while walking. We made a short detour to Acaime, where we paid $5000 for a hot chocolate and a slice of cheese. This strange food/drink combination wasn’t the highlight of Acaime though; it was the fact that we were surrounded by dozens of hummingbirds that really made it special. They have set up feeders for the hummingbirds; it gives you a chance to see these amazing creatures up close and makes it easy to get a good photo.
After relaxing with the hummingbirds for a while we pushed on towards the famous wax palms, but first we had to tackle a steep hill. Gia was still feeling the effects of her illness and really struggled but we eventually made it to the top, and from there it was a relaxing walk down to the Cocora Valley. We walked through a field full of the towering wax palms; they filled the sky and made for some really unique photos. The wax palm is native to this area of Colombia and can grow up to 60 metres, making it the world’s tallest palm tree. The day trip to the Cocora Valley was rewarding and surprisingly cheap – there was no entrance fee and the jeep ride was around $3500 COP each way.
A coffee tour
There are lots of different options for coffee tours near Salento. We chose Finca Don Elias as it’s a small, locally run farm and the guide speaks English. It’s interesting to see the coffee producing process and thankfully the tour wasn’t too long (I have a short attention span). The tour only cost $6000 COP and came with a free (small) cup of coffee. I’m no expert but I’m guessing coffee doesn’t get much better than this. We hitched a ride to Finca Don Elias and walked back to Salento – the rolling green hills and rows of coffee trees took our mind off the dusty road we were walking along.
Further reading: Check out this article if you’re interested in the history of coffee in Colombia
Salento: A colourful Colombian town
Salento is the best place to base yourself when exploring Colombia’s coffee zone. It’s close to both the Cocora Valley and various coffee farms, but the town itself is also an attraction worth seeing. The streets close to the main plaza are lined with old buildings splashed with colour, most featuring tiny balconies. Salento comes alive during the weekends, the adrenaline hit is provided by hundreds of local tourists from the nearby cities. The streets are full of music, clicking cameras and children enjoying old fashioned, hand powered fairground rides. We stayed in a small hotel a block down from the square called Casa Borbón (www.casaborbon.com). It’s a comfortable, just-above-budget option with great views from the balconies; check it out if you’re planning a trip to Salento (Gia wrote a full review of Casa Borbón over at mismatchedpassports.com, check it out!).
Getting to Salento
Salento is firmly on Colombia’s backpacking trail, meaning it’s both easy to get to and popular with foreign tourists. We took a mid morning bus from Medellin to Armenia and, after changing buses a few kilometres outside of Salento, arrived in town at around 5 pm. You can walk to the coffee farms outside of town and there are always plenty of jeeps around to take you to the Cocora Valley and beyond.
We had a great time exploring Colombia’s coffee zone, the definite highlight being the hike to the Cocora Valley. I also learned to appreciate coffee, but that might be a bad thing since it’s going to be hard (or expensive) to get my hands on proper Colombian coffee – I can’t settle for the cheap stuff now!
Have you been to Colombia’s coffee zone? Which country do you think produces the best coffee? Let me know!