Valle del Cocora Colombia

Colombia’s Dreamlike Valle del Cocora

I knew from the moment my plane began descending over Colombia’s Eje Cafetero that the so-called “coffee triangle” would be unlike any place I’ve ever visited in my life, let alone in Colombia.

The hue of the jagged, towering mountains was as impossibly emerald green in color as the sky (the little I could see of it once the Avianca Airbus dove under the thick quilt of clouds that rose about halfway up the mountains, anyway) was a smooth blue that fell somewhere between periwinkle and azure in its own coloring.

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The chilly breeze that kissed my skin as I walked down the stairs and onto the tarmac seemed blown from a different sky that the one I’d fallen out of, one with a sun too weak to shine through a haze blanket the way this one managed to do.

All this, in close proximity to a relatively large city.

To be sure, the deeper into Colombia’s coffee triangle you travel, the more surreal the landscapes, the energy and the experience. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the Valle del Cocora, located approximately one hour from the pueblo of Salento.

Palm trees in Colombia

I caught the first pickup truck of day — 10:30 a.m. — in Salento’s main square and spent the bumpy journey explaining to my fellow passengers, all of whom were Colombian, where in their country I’d been thus far.

When we arrived at the entrance to the valley, they seemed surprised when I walked past the line of horses and guides to the hiking boot rental booth — I guess I came off as a city slicker?


Urban style or not, I was eager to get muddy from the moment I strapped on my thigh-high boots, so eager in fact that I almost opted not to fuel up as I got on my way.

But the bright orange hue of the fruit being sold about 100 meters in was enough to attract me. Although the pale flesh of the fruit wasn’t as sweet or juicy as its tomato-looking exterior suggested, the honey the man who sold the cup of them to me drizzled over the chontaduros proved sufficient fuel for me to begin my trek.

Colombia horseback ride

That one needs to trek to properly see the Valle del Cocora is evident the moment you finally get on your way. There’s simply too much splendor and detail to take in if you’re moving at the quick pace a horse does.

In fact — and this is very meta, I know — seeing the horses themselves traipse over the fast-flowing streams that run through the valley adds its own layer of atmosphere entirely.

Colombia horseback ride

Not to mention the impossibly muddy, uniformly uneven paths, and the thrown-together bridges that connect them over the larger creeks that begin to appear the deeper I walked into the valley, which became less of a valley the deeper into it I walked.

Butterflies in Valle del Cocora

My first sign that the landscape was changing came, as it often does for me, in the form of wildlife. Butterflies that were initially dull-looking and sporadic appeared in increasingly quantity and painted in shades and textures that seemed increasingly at odds with the disappearing valley.

Colombia jungle canopy

The flora of the Valle del Cocora echoed the warning signs of the fauna, with grass pastures and palm trees giving way to taller, fuller trees drooping with fluorescent flowers.

Hiker in Valle del Cocora

Before I knew it, I was in the depths of the jungle, and the open fields and skies that surrounded me at the entrance to the valley were a mere memory. The humidity was higher — and, with the rising elevation, the temperature lower — but my exhilaration and the sheer pace of my movement had me steadily sweating.

Valle del Cocora landscape

My rate of perspiration became especially excessive once I reached the fork in the road — and there is only one — and began ascending to a high summit that would, I was told, lead me back to where I’d started. By then the jungle was even denser. I felt like I was at Machu Picchu!

Colombian wild horses

I arrived to the top to find a seemingly abandoned house (which is not, in spite of how nice it would be if it were, a visitor’s center) and, ironically, a horse, whose cool, calm demeanor as he grazed on the steep hillside brought a smile to my face. Isn’t it usually the opposite way around here? I thought, and imagined well-rested horseback rides climbing off famished horses at the conclusions of their journeys.

Colombian friend trout

And I was famished by the time I arrived back at the entrance to Valle del Cocora, so I rewarded myself with a plate of the region’s famous fried trout, and took in the sounds of a local band as my heart rate slowed from my incredible day in the valley the turns into a jungle and, by way of a hill so large it’s almost a mountain, twists back down into a valley again.

About The Author

is the author of 689 posts on Leave Your Daily Hell. Robert founded Leave Your Daily Hell in 2010 so that other travelers would have an entertaining, reliable source of information, advice and inspiration at their fingertips. Want to travel more often? Subscribe to email updates today!


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  • I’ve heard great things about Colombia’s burgeoning ecotourism offerings, but the only places I’ve been are Cartagena (cool, but not really eco at all) and the Rosario Islands (which were awesome). Valle del Cocora sounds like it might be worth a visit!

  • Yeah it was awesome! The cool thing about a lot of places in Colombia is that, owing to its continued reputation as being unsafe, many of the eco-tourists are local, rather than gringos. I definitely want to go back!

  • I’ve wanted to go to Colombia for the longest time. It looks so beautiful. The landscapes are so weirdly different to what I’m used to in NZ and that’s what I look for when I travel. Your lunch looks darn good too.

  • It was all so good. Colombia is really the hidden treasure of South America, since everyone’s so convinced it’s dangerous. I guess maybe in some ways it kind of is, in the cities, but definitely not in places like this. If you can go, do!

  • Tamara Lowe

    Colombia seems like such a diverse country, which is what I love about it. Really want to go. The pictures look stunning!

  • It is incredible diverse, which is why it’s so great! It’s like the best of South America in one country!

  • Can’t wait to go to Colombia 🙂

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  • Colombia. Medellin is different. Bogota’ is different. London, Milan, San Francisco, LA. The worst guys are from the US, for me. I don’t even pay attention to the guys in Colombia. London I had some great love affairs. The sweetest and most loving and passionate is the guy from Milan, the bittersweet one was in Munster. Tel Aviv, I’m not into that Middle Eastern mentality. So here I am in the most beautiful place on earth for me, Northern California. Yeah American gays can play the game so good. To be here with the beach and peace is fine. I’m off again to Colombia, then Chile, Argentina then I wish I was like I Dream of Jeannie, Normandy, Brittany and Hamburg and back home to England. You can have the jungles and the risky business with men. Now to me guys don’t mean what it use to. Being happy with one self and the world around, even if I won’t go into a jungle, is more important.

  • fincasquindioya

    Thank you Robert for visiting our region and writing this post about your experience there. Sounds like you had lots of fun! And there is one little thing I must add, the Chontaduros don’t come from the wax palm trees in Cocora, They come from another palm from a different region in Colombia. Take care!

  • fincasquindioya

    Well, we are waiting for you 😀

  • fincasquindioya

    It certainly is. From the Amazon to the snow capped mountains to the Colombian wild wild west plains to the coasts on two different oceans!

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  • Esteban

    Hi Robert I’m really impressed with the way you describe the Valle de Cocora I’ve been many times there and can’t imagine share my experience like you, so if you came back let me Know cuz I have other places that you can visit in the coffee region.

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