Valle De Cocora & Salento, Colombia


“The Earth has its music for those who listen close enough.”

If you were to ask me to describe to you a paradise whose beauty is so strong it makes your heart hurt, to describe a place where serenity meets mystic fog, where coffee is born and raised, and where the river runs so swiftly you forget what city noise sounds like…Valle de Cocora would be it. Located in La Zona Cafetera just 15 minutes outside of Salento, Valle de Cocora is home to the skinniest and tallest palm trees in the world.

You can choose to either hike or ride a horse through the valley and there are several trails that can last anywhere up to 7 hours long. We chose to hike on a misty cloudy day in May through muddy trails and derelict bridge crossings.

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This looked like something straight out of a Dr. Seuss book.

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Sketchy bridge crossing #1.

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Bark so orangish-red it looked like blood. What a contrast against the dark Earth.

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Are we in a fairy tale?

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We stayed at Mocambo Hostel, located just ten minutes from Salento down a windy road into the valley. We had a rental car, but it was still a very bumpy, muddy, rocky dirt road leading up to the secluded property, which was far away from any other civilization. The majority of people who stay here are backpackers and hike in from Salento using a steep trail that starts right in the backyard of the property, which sits on several hectares of land with free-roaming cows, chickens, horses, dogs, cats and butterflies. We were the only people staying in the entire hostel on the first night, so it was extra quiet. We were later joined by other travelers from Germany and Bellingham, WA (what a small world since we lived in Seattle!) Here are some photos of the property:

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Private rooms

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Our room, #7.

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Nightly bonfires are held in the tee-pee every night; just ask a staff to light the fire for you!

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The meditation and hammock veranda.

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Nap spot #1

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Nap spot #2

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Reflection pool with fresh (and cold!) water from the mountain springs.

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The shared area at reception.

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I booked this hostel based on reading plenty of outstanding reviews on Hostel World, Airbnb and Trip Advisor. I saw another reviewer write “it will break your heart to leave this place” and she was absolutely correct. Sasha and I spent three weeks in Colombia and two weeks in Ecuador in some pretty rad places, and this was by far, our favorite accommodation. We rented a private room with our own bathroom, and the first night was rough for me because the mattress was so soft it sunk all the way to the bottom so you could feel the wooden baseboards. I didn’t sleep at all the first night, so I asked the staff if I could try another mattress to see if we could perhaps switch rooms since we were the only people staying in the hostel. They kindly opened up every single room for me to test each mattress and I finally found a firm one that was different from all the others. They were so nice to switch out the mattress for me and re-make the sheets so we didn’t have to move rooms. The mattresses are either too soft or too hard, and a double bed doesn’t quite fit Sasha and me (he is two meters tall!)

The only other complaint I had was the poor lighting and slow Internet speed. Since Sasha and I are both working while traveling, it is important to us to have reliable Internet. However, it’s worth being in such a remote location and a great place to disconnect. The lighting in all the main areas is so dim it’s hard to see.

Other than the small complaints, Mocambo hostel is pure bliss. It rained nearly every day/evening making for a very peaceful sleep. There is no noise from the city, no airplanes passing overhead, and the staff is super friendly (however, they do not speak English so come prepared with your basics!)

Some highlights for us included:

– Brekkie is included! Most mornings we had leftovers from dinner the night before, so we just gave the cook our leftovers and she made us an omelette or scramble using fresh eggs

– Hammocks – there are three; one near the main reception area and two by the pool

– Natural pool (expect it to be brown and murky because it comes from mountain spring water and is therefore cold but refreshing on a warm day)

– The pool is by a lovely cabana further away from the main areas and feels more secluded. This was our favorite place to read a book and take a mid-day nap after eating a giant Mexican burrito or Holy Guacamole Burger at Brunch Diner in Salento

– There are dogs, cats, butterflies, cows and horses roaming freely on or around the property

– The sounds of nature are so calming

And now for the biggest highlight….EDDIE THE HOSTEL DOG!!! Eddie is an adorable black and white pup who will absolutely lick you to death and love you immediately (he doesn’t pick and choose favorites, he just loves everyone.)

fullsizeoutput_46e6fullsizeoutput_46f1DSC_0014DSC_0017Eddie would cuddle up next to me with his head on my lap every evening while the crickets chirped and rain pitter-pattered on the tin roof. Eddie would greet us every time we came home as if he hadn’t seen us in a week, tail wagging, smile on his face, and paws up on our thighs…he was a super good hugger.

One day we hiked up the trail to go to Ocaso Finca for a coffee tour. Eddie led us the entire way up the hiking trail to the main dirt road. I thought he would turn around and come back at the end of the hike, but he led us the entire 3 kilometers to the front doorstep of the coffee farm past aggressive dogs guarding their territory trying to chase him away.

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Little Eddie, our tour guide. I still can’t get over how cute his little wagging butt was!

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Eddie leading the way!

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The hike up from our hostel (pictured down below)

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An aerial view of the property from its backyard hiking trail.

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This photo gives you an idea of how remote this property is.

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Translucent wings!

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There are so many colorful birds here. I found this beauty on the ground. I wish I could have seen what the bird looked like.

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Beautiful vistas on the walk back to the hostel.

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Sasha is so adorable; whenever we hike, he always has some sort of twig or nature element in his hand. He said, “I like this, it’s like a mini tree!”

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Carrying the Pacific Northwest with us wherever we go.

Eddie patiently waited the 1.5 hours curled up by the entrance while we did our tour.

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Eddie waiting patiently.

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Learning about the planting process of growing coffee.

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Coffee “cherries” growing on the plant. They are not ripe for picking until they are completely red.

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Sasha the coffee cherry-picker!

It appears that other hostel dogs accompany their tourist humans as well! Eddie definitely walked the longest distance though.

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Bark from a banana tree.

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We were each given a basket and five minutes to pick as many ripe red cherries as we could. This was my loot.

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This is what a raw coffee bean looks like when it is squeezed out of the cherry. The juice is sweet and you can suck it out.

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Cherries going into a machine to be separated.

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A hand-cranked machine removes the coffee bean from the cherry.

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Once the raw beans are removed, they go into a plant for processing.

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The four stages of a coffee bean. All first grade coffee is exported out of Colombia (with the exception of high-end coffee stores and Juan Valdez Cafe, the Colombia equivalent of Starbucks.)

The tasting room.

DSC_0041When it was clear we were finished with our tour and headed back to the hostel, Eddie jumped up and walked back with us the entire way, running ahead and then waiting for us to catch up. I secretly tried to figure out how I could smuggle him home with us (joking). But really. Dogs are viewed differently in South America because strays are so prevalent. Dogs hump each other all the time and make inadvertent baby dogs, and kids find the puppies in the street, take them home and beg their parents to keep them. The parents agree until the dog gets older (and not as cute), then they get fed up with having to feed the dog because they can barely afford to feed their human families first. So the dogs end up out on the street, skinny and starving. It breaks my heart but I have to remember that it’s the way of life there.

Salento

A tiny but vibrant town, Salento sits on the top of the mountain above the valley, and is filled with artisan shops, restaurants and cafes. There is a mirador (lookout) at the top of the hill that is worth the hike up a long set of stairs. And of course, there is a swing. 🙂

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Not a bad view to do pull-ups 🙂

Window shopping is a must here. I purchased a beautiful green quartz necklace for only $7 USD, and it feels great to know that you are supporting local artists who are making their goods right there in front of you, rather than coming from a factory in China supporting child labor.

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Where to Eat in Salento

  • Brunch Diner – American food run by an older gentleman from Bend, Oregon who moved to Salento five years ago to start his restaurant. Travelers write on the walls with sharpies which gives it lots of character and makes meals quite entertaining because there is a lot of wall-reading material. The staff paints over the walls to start fresh every so often and they are immediately filled yet again with eager travelers excited to spread their message, leave their Instagram tag, leave an inspiring quote or draw a funny picture. This place is known for their home-made peanut butter (the brownie is out of this world and we may or may not have had one every day while we were in Salento – don’t judge us) and burgers using fresh meat from local cows. The Holy Guacamole was our favorite! They give a heaping generous portion of guac atop a juicy burger with grilled onions and mushrooms on home-made bread and special sauce with a side of fries. Have I convinced you yet? Here’s a photo if you need further motivation:
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Holy Guacamole Burger…get ready to slip into a food coma.

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Addiction.

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  • Bernabe – Local fusion cuisine. Outdoor patio and covered courtyard seating available. Lovely ambiance and excellent food! We dined here once for dinner where I ordered two huge medallions of filet mignon for $8 USD…EIGHT DOLLARS!!! The quality of meat was outstanding. You would never find filet mignon in America for under $20. Mind blown. For lunch I ordered the salmon with lime-coffee-triplesec glaze. Food heaven.
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The front-facing facade of Bernabe.

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Inside of Bernabe.

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Outdoor courtyard seating at Bernabe.

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I love this quote so much!

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Starter: grilled chicken and mushrooms atop a toasted bread with mozzarella. Need I say more?

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All this food for only $25 USD for two people.

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Salmon with lime-coffee-triplesec glaze.

  • Jesus Martin Cafe (please try to say this right. I heard so many foreigners say it like a total gringo…hand slap to forehead.) It’s not Jee-zus Mahr-Tin”, it’s “Hey-zoos Mar-teen”. Good coffee but terrible pastries. Don’t order the chocolate cake, it was a disappointment. All their coffee is made from first-grade beans (the highest quality).

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We thoroughly enjoyed our three weeks in Colombia, a resilient country teeming with pride for their cities. The coastal people are vibrant, loud, open and friendly, and the mountain towns are authentic and filled with character and life. Our favorite thing about Colombia was the fresh produce and temperate climate, making way for a very easy pace of life.

We are already thinking about when we can come back to see everything we missed (Tayrona National Park, The Amazon, Los Sierra Nevadas, etc.) but for now, we will cherish the memories and vibrant colorful photos of a place where we left a little piece of our heart.

NEXT UP: LONDON, UK

Categories: Colombia

8 comments

  1. Great adventures, guys! Good luck with your European adventure! 🙂 Cheers!

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  2. Lisa, what a wonderful blog! Great pictures, great descriptions; makes me feel like I’ve been there with you. Good luck on your continued adventure.

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  3. The weather has been beautiful as of late, so yes, getting some much needed vitamin D. I look forward to your next chapter in this wonderful adventure you’re having. I’m really, honestly enjoying all your posting 🙂

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  4. We are currently eating breakfast at Brunch in Salento and saw your note on the wall. We also quit our corporate Seattle jobs to travel! We also lived near Denver for a bunch of years. We’re only going for 14 months though and we have 3 months left. Hope your travels go well! Your blog looks great 😊

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    • Hi Andrew! This is almost an eery coincidence, especially since we have the same last name! 🙂 Glad you found the Brunch Diner gem, we must have eaten there four times! lol and they had just re-painted the wall so we got to be the first ones to write on it! It’s probably well filled already. Enjoy Salento and the rest of Colombia! 14 months is a very long time, good on you guys! Cheers and Aloha.

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