Imagine if Indiana Jones got stuck on the set of Jurassic Park. That’s pretty much what it’s like to hike through the Valle del Cocora in west Colombia. Minus the dinosaurs.
Traveling through Colombia’s coffee region to reach the valley isn’t too bad on the eyes. The road between the town of Salento and the entrance to the Valle del Cocora winds through rolling hills painted a luscious patchwork of greens. Rain hangs gray in the air. The bumpy 20 minute jeep ride passes quickly.
The entrance to the trail is muddy. Very muddy. It coils through the grassland like a thick brown snake. The mud is knee high in sections and gumboots are advisable. Horses trudge along the trail, heads bowed, loaded down with goods or people. Their hooves churn up the dirt, which mixes with the recent rainwater and slowly turns the whole path into a giant, slippery mud bath.
After 40 minutes or so of trudging through mud you reach the edge of the cloud forest. The trail twists through the a tangled mess of curling vines and tree branches which shut out the sky. Every so often it descends abruptly down to and crosses over the Quindio river. Your options are to wade thigh-high through streams of icy water or to slowly shuffle over tree branches flung across the river. At one point there’s even a slouchy suspension bridge that only holds one person at a time. Indiana Jones hat and whip optional.
The trail continues uphill and it’s a serious slog. Finally you reach the top of the mountain and can look down on the tree tops below. The air is crisp and refreshing but it gets chilly if you sit long enough to watch the rainbow of hummingbirds flitting around. You can warm up with a traditional snack of crumbly pungent white cheese dipped in hot chocolate.
Back on the trail again and it’s another 40 minutes down and then back uphill. The trail climbs higher and higher and a grey mist of clouds swirl around you. As the climate changes, so does the landscape. Suddenly you round a corner and the whole valley is laid out before you. The undulating green grasslands are punctuated by pin thin wax palm trees, Colombia’s national tree. Some grow to be 60 meters tall. They tower over the grasslands like prehistoric giraffes on a diet. Black and white cows graze at their bases. You won’t see anything like it in Colombia.
The trail descends downhill again, curving around the edge of the valley and providing panoramic views of the palms. Another 30 minutes walk out of the valley and you’re back in civilization.