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.
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.
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.
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.
I climb up a rocky hillside and find that the trail gets even wetter. I walk through streams and cross a series of bridges.
Some bridges are wobbly.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’m simultaneously in disbelief at what I see and completely in the moment.
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.
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.