I’m still in Colombia, but it feels like a completely different country. I turned out that I have no classes for a week, so I used the free time to spontaneously fly to the coffee region. Since last Thursday, September 18th, I am visiting some friends in Pereira, using their flat as a home base for further excursions. There will (probably) be a post coming soon about my general impressions of the Zona Cafetera, about its beautiful colonial style villages and the diverse mountainous landscapes all around. But today I have to write about the Valle de Cocora, which is definitely worth an article all on its own.

On September 23rd, I went on what might be the most marvelous one-day hike in this quite amazing country. A new Colombian friend joined me, and together we went by bus from Pereira to Salento, a small town located close to the southwestern end of the National Natural Park Los Nevados. From there, we took one of the second world war jeeps that seem to comprise a major form of transport in this region, and which in our case easily fitted fourteen passengers, six of us standing. After a slightly bumpy but beautiful ride through avocado plantations and forest-covered mountainsides, we finally reached our destination, Cocora valley. The morning sun shone warmly on the green pasturelands around us, and the surrounding slopes of the Andes were bathed in light. In a region usually known for its cloudy skies, we could not have had more luck with the weather.


From our starting point, we followed a small path deeper down into the valley. We passed by cows and horses lazing around in the sun, and admired the first majestic Cera palms in the distance. And then, suddenly, we stepped into the jungle.

Just around the corner from the well-maintained agricultural pasture lands, we entered a bosque bursting with life. Once more I found myself amidst a maze of ferns and trees and other plants of every form and feature. We had reached the Rio Quindío, a small stream that would eventually grow into a river large enough to lend the entire municipal its name. Entering deeper into the Andean jungle, we followed its course upstream, several times crossing it on small suspension bridges. As the surrounding slopes grew steeper, the cold clear water frequently formed cascades and little waterfalls, an enchanting sight amidst this dark green scenery.


When we finally left the river, our path took us further up into the mountains. We were heading for the Casa de Colibris, a little guesthouse located in the nature reserve Acaime. For a small entrance fee, visitors were offered either hot or cold beverages as well as the fantastic option to take photos of feeding colibri birds.


After a refreshing rest at Acaime, we headed up to the highest point of our journey: la Finca de la Montaña. With every few meters we ascended, the landscape kept changing. Step by step, the jungle was transformed into bosque de niebla, the Colombian cloud forest that can only be found at the highest altitudes. Just to make true its name, the weather was changing as well, with some first cotton-like clouds slowly descended from the surrounding mountainsides. It was quite a mystical moment, watching wafts of white vapour closing in around us. The murmuring noise of the river was no longer to be heard, and even the insects had stopped their concert for once. Only occasionally, a strange birdsong broke through the the silence. Besides that, the cloud forest stood soundlessly still, misty and mysterious.


When we finally arrived at the viewpoint of the mountain farm, the world around us was hidden behind white veils. Yet as we waited, the clouds passed by, and the Andes arose amidst them. Where there had hardly been a silhouette visible before, majestic mountain peaks now proudly pierced the sky. That, too, was a magical moment.

The most beautiful part of our path, however, was the following descend. We walked right amongst the wax palms, the giant Palmas de Cera which are not only the national plants of Colombia, but also the largest palm trees in the world. Up to 60 meters high they rose from the soft green grass of the valley, a wonderful sight. They flanked the majestic slopes of the mountains around us, towering high around and above us. Behind them, the valley opened into a dream of green and blue.


If you ever happen to visit the Colombian coffee zone, make sure not to miss this marvelous hike. There might not be many places on Earth offering such an exquisite selection of astonishing ecosystems within just a few hours of walking. As for me, I am just slowly starting to realize how incredible diverse this country is. Welcome to Colombia!