Photo Essay: The Formidable Beauty of the Valle de Cocora

by Ekua on February 1, 2014 in captured on memory card,Colombia,solo travel,the natural world,why i travel

It’s 6am when I go to Salento’s main square to catch a jeep to the Valle de Cocora. I’m surprised to see that they’re already full… or so I think. Once all the seats inside the jeeps are taken, there is still space. You can stand on the back ledge and hang on. I’d rather not, so I’m grateful when a French guy offers to trade me his seat for my standing room only spot.

I meet some new people in the jeep, but when we reach the entrance, I decide to hang back while the crowd thins out. Wearing rubber boots I rented from my hostel, I stomp along the trail on my own, looking forward to the scenery and blissfully ignorant about what else is ahead.

Valle de Cocora, Colombia

My whole trip to Colombia began with an image of Valle de Cocora. I was fascinated by a photo of the impossibly long-limbed wax palms rising out of a hillside. The image inspired me to look into this place and the rest of the country. Now a few years later, I’m here.

Valle de Cocora, Colombia

Valle de Cocora, Colombia

Valle de Cocora, Colombia

Valle de Cocora, Colombia

On many of my bus rides, I’ve seen how Colombia constantly defies the boundaries of the color green. It’s wonderful to finally walk through it and immerse myself in the intensity of it.

Valle de Cocora, Colombia

Valle de Cocora, Colombia

The path is only a little muddy at first, but it gets worse. It’s slippery and the only thing to hang onto is a barbed wire fence. At times, I’m in mud up to my ankles. I’m glad I rented the boots. Aside from the mud, there are other obstacles on the trail, such as cows that just won’t move.

Valle de Cocora, Colombia

I climb up a rocky hillside and find that the trail gets even wetter. I walk through streams and cross a series of bridges.

Valle de Cocora, Colombia

Some bridges are wobbly.

Valle de Cocora, Colombia

Some are narrow. They are fun to cross, but all of them seem like they can use some maintenance.

After there are no more bridges, I come to a fork in the road. I’m not sure which way to go so I consult my guidebook for advice. While I’m checking, I see my bus buddy from my Medellin to Salento journey hiking with two new friends. I think I should go left, and they join me.

Valle de Cocora, Colombia

Even after the ankle deep mud and precarious bridges, this is the most challenging part of the hike. We’re already at a high altitude and it’s a steep climb to the top of the mountain. They are walking briskly, so I let them charge ahead while I take my time. In the final stretch, a dog barks wildly at me as I approach the misty mirador.

Valle de Cocora, Colombia

The group wants to linger at the summit and I decide to resume my solo hiking. The hardest part is over. The trail is now wide, clear-cut, and downhill the rest of the way.

Valle de Cocora, Colombia

I hike for a while through a pine forest before I finally see the wax palms again. Fog engulfing the palms creates a beautifully incongruous scene.

Valle de Cocora, Colombia

Light, poetic rain begins to fall as I approach the most stunning views of the Valle de Cocora. With the difficult hike behind me and this gorgeous view in front of me, rain feels perfect for this moment.

Valle de Cocora, Colombia

Valle de Cocora, Colombia

There’s hardly anyone around. There’s a resurgence of the emotions I felt in Parque Nacional Tayrona, the “Holy crap, I can’t believe I’m in this place right now!” feeling.

Valle de Cocora, Colombia

I’m simultaneously in disbelief at what I see and completely in the moment.

Valle de Cocora, Colombia

Valle de Cocora, Colombia

Valle de Cocora, Colombia

Valle de Cocora, Colombia

As I reach the end of the trail, I notice that all the backpackers are traveling the same direction as me while most of the Colombian families are coming up from the opposite direction.

Valle de Cocora, Colombia

You could easily avoid hiking the big hike and just enter at the end of the loop where the best views are. But roughing it for a few hours probably makes those final epic views a little sweeter.

Valle de Cocora, Colombia

Valle de Cocora, Colombia

Valle de Cocora, Colombia

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Rachel M February 9, 2014 at 8:00 pm

Wow what a beautiful scenery! I am especially fascinated by the wax palms, do they specifically grow in high altitudes?

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Ekua February 9, 2014 at 10:51 pm

Thanks. Yup, these wax palms specifically grow at a high altitude in the Andes. I think most people associate palm trees with balmy weather and sunny skies so it’s pretty fascinating to see super tall palms in a perpetually foggy mountain region.

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Rachel M February 10, 2014 at 1:34 am

I love palm trees, and in my country palm trees mainly grow at the coast where the weather is balmy. Interestingly my parents have a farm located in a high altitude area (above 2500m), so if I ever visit Colombia, i’l probably sneak some seedlings of wax palms and plant them in my parents place :).

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Brandon October 28, 2015 at 4:04 am

I made this hike. Man, that last “hill” was tough! I was in fairly fine shape after hiking in South America for 6 months, but that mountain kicked my butt. These are super photos of Cocora. Though, a picture can never capture the majesty and serenity of being there. The air was so crisp and clean. The grass is so green it seems to glow, like neon. I’m definitely going back. Although I don’t relish the thought of that climb again. :/ cheers! -Brandon, Mississippi

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