On my wonderful Easter trip to the Quindío department of Colombia I was taken to visit Salento and the close by Cocora valley.
Salento is gorgeous.The main square is peppered with traditional coffee shops, artisan handicraft stalls and all in a setting of beautiful traditional bahareque style architecture with the vibrant, colourful surrounding that that entails. The gem in the crown of the Colombian coffee region Salento has, in recent years, become one of the important spots on the Colombian backpacker trail. Its incredibly easy to see why. The town serves up an impression of traditional Colombia with painted buildings and tiny coffee shops, traditional food and relaxed restaurants all presented on a stunning backdrop of rolling green hills and untouched forest. Its a stunning place with an amazing atmosphere and lots to pull in the tourist crowd wanting a break from the increasingly cosmopolitan cities such as Bogota.
From Salento we took the 11km ride in a Willys Jeep to get to the close by Cocora valley. The Willys are a source of local pride and while being the cheapest and most convenient way of getting to Cocora they are an attraction in themselves. The area even holds an annual festival to celebrate them. Originally American military vehicles, after WW2 and the Korean war the USA found themselves with a jeep surplus and began to sell the jeeps. With the steep terrain they were a perfect fit for the Colombian coffee region and have become a big symbol of coffee culture in Colombia.
The Cocora valley is stunning, genuinely stunning. Its hard to explain because it’s the pure scale of it that doesn’t come across in pictures. It looks fresh, so green and juicy with towering trees that you can just imagine being shoved down by a passing stegosaurus. That’s it, it was prehistoric seeming. I had the Jurassic park theme in my head for at least the first ten minutes of being there. It felt like we were in a different time. Well, it did until you saw the people selling ponchos and candy floss around you.
We decided to rent horses (is that the right word? Do we rent horses?) to go into the valley and see some more of this incredible scenery. Its really easy to rent (rent!?) horses in Cocora. We found a decent looking outfit, with healthy looking horses and for just $22,000 (about £7 or $11) spent an hour and a half exploring the valley, forest and riverside.
I was pretty excited to ride again, its been a pretty long time since Id been on a horse. It was not really riding, My horse Bruno knew his shit. He does this walk every day of his life and the whims of some silly tourist trying to use reigns to actually tell him what to do was not happening. It was nice, like riding but without having to do anything or make any choices. Bruno took all decisions out of my hands as soon as I accepted that it was all well and good, it made it easier to chill out, ignore steering entirely, leave it up to my boy Bru and take some pictures.
Salento was beautiful and the Cocora valley is like nowhere I’ve visited before. I would definitely recommend a visit to either of these places. I really would love the opportunity to return and spend some more time exploring the valley, eating trout and drinking exceptional coffee.