Valle de Cocora, Salento and Pereira – and how arrive on bus from Bogotá

When I had travelled through Colombia at the end of 2018 one of the key places I had missed was Valle de Cocora and the worlds tallest Palm Trees. Instead I took in some more off the beaten track sights such as the Tatoca Desert, Cano Cristales and the white peaks at El Cucuy. So when I found out Colombia had lots of holiday weekends coming up I thought this was a great time to go.

To get to the Valle de Cocora you need to go via Salento which is the main tourist town and you can get to Salento from Medellin, Cali or Bogotá via Pereira or Armenia. We opted to stay on Pereira as Angela’s uncle had a place there for us to stay. For a full travel guide scroll to the bottom of the post. Otherwise stick around for the photos.

I wanted to travel by bus which I prefer for several reasons, less carbon footprint and you get to see the scenery. Avid blog fans will know I’m not a fan of night busses because I don’t personally sleep, you can’t see anything out of the windows and you can’t see the scenario change. Nothing disorientate me more then getting to you destination at 4am and then having to wait around in the hostel for the room to be ready. But sadly as the journey takes 9 hours and I’m no longer travelling for 10 months where the days no longer matter I had to suck it up and take the overnight bus as Angela suggested. We did compromise for the journey back as I wanted to see the mountains.

So we arrived at the main bus terminal at around 8am on the Thursday evening for our 8:30 bus which cost $53000. Most on this route were around $70000 but this time was cheaper for some reason. It took around 2 hours to leave the city due to traffic during which time these two guys came on board selling everything you would never think of and I ended up buying a LED camp light-don’t ask. Soon we were winding our way along mountain roads, but in the dark, and Angela and I soon fell asleep. A further problem with mountain roads is that they are really windy so you roll about a lot. It wasn’t the worst overnight bus I’ve taken and soon we were being woken in Pereina at 4am.

Tired and knowing there was no transport we jumped into a cab and arrived at Angela’s Uncles house. I was tasked with moving a cuckoo clock, which apparently didn’t work again and I locked it in the master bedroom. Best not for me to achieve tasks at 5am after being on a night bus. After I had failed miserably we went to sleep for a few more hours.

Having woken tired but hungry we decided to head into town and jumped on the first bus that passes our building. This took us towards the centre and after passing a mercado we decided to jump out and try some local food which meant a large breakfast for both of us was $10000. It was hot and we were tired so we grabbed some supplies and headed back to the apartment complex as it had a pool. What we didn’t realise is that the pool came with a no fun policy and we didn’t have the card to enter. Angela managed to talk our way in but we have to leave all the supplies outside. Despite being hot, and I was so happy to get some warmth after several weeks in Bogotá, the water was freezing.

I had to finish some work in the afternoon so after a few hours of work we decided to head to a mall to get some food. We found Frisby Chicken which is a Colombian version of KFC where the chicken tastes good and the prices are reasonable. The food court gave us panoramic views of the mountains and I started looking at all the ones I wanted to climb. Sadly for me on this trip it would be none.

We jumped on another random bus and headed into town managing to find the main plaza this time. After a little wondering and buying some hiking supplies for the next day we grabbed a taxi back to the apartment. I got to meet Angela’s fabulous Aunty for the first time who saved my evening by going out on her motorcycle to pick up a large pizza, which no one would deliver despite being close. We has an early night as had decided to head to Salento early in the morning.

For some strange reason upon reaching the bus terminal I decided to speak in Spanish for the day. It’s not been repeated yet but I managed to ask where the counter was. Busses leave for Salento on the hour starting around 5am with the last one leaving around 7pm. The same is true for the return journey. The tickets cost $8000 each, one way. The bus was about to leave so we headed to the platform and jumped in joined by a mix of Gringos and locals. This place is firmly on the trail.

If you want to head straight to the Cócora Valley then head to the main plaza where there are jeeps that will take you to the valley, 11km away. There are a handful of shops and restaurants in the valley but if you want to stock up this is the place to do it. Also bare in mind that the drivers in this region have a tendency to pile as much on to their keeps as they possibly can. This includes people. So you might be coerced into holding on to the back. It seems unfair that these passengers are charged the same and Angela had no interest in doing it. Colombia is not known for its road safety so if a Colombian won’t do it then there is no way I am going to!

The journey is not shout either, I’d guess around 30 minutes which is a long time to be hanging off the back of a moving car. But we arrived and there was a smattering of blue sky and straight away you can see the Palm Trees. When you get dropped off there are a few restaurants and shops which are expensive. My advice is to move on to the next lot which are a little cheaper.

I stopped to take a few photos and Angela had some tinto before we set off. There are a lot of people taking horse rides, mostly without helmets. I’d suggest you avoid these and follow my suggestion as it will really take you away from the rest of the tourists.

We started by following the main track with everyone else and were treaded to some great views of the valley.

Then there was a sign pointing to a “Parque”, which turns out to be private property and a charge of $4000 pesos to enter and climb the hill. Angela didn’t want to pay and although my preferred Maps.me route was this way there were other paths mapped out so we followed one down to the river.

When you get there don’t try and cross on the road, slip on the moss and nearly dive head first down a waterfall like I did, just because you are feeling cocky wearing waterproof boots. No look for the actual path and cross the river using the completely totally 100% safe bridges.

Following the track you will find a lot of people on horseback but when you reach the river and take the path then you will be away from everyone. The path is a 4km route over a mountain ridge and back down again into the valley but it was good fun and gets you away from the crowds.

We met some butterfly friends.

After about 1.5km the path splits. The main path goes left and towards a waterfall and maybe even Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados. There is a much smaller more overgrown trail that leads to the right. We took that one.

Although we had met three people on the path they had turned back and we were now alone. I wouldn’t recommend hiking this by yourself as although it’s perfectly fine and the path is well trodden I’m not sure how often it was trodden.

The path is steep and fairly punishing, to which you can add the heat but it’s more that it’s a constant uphill with no flat parts.

But soon we reached the crest for a well earned break and from here it was all down hill as Angela painfully found out when she kept falling over.

We descended into the Cócora Valley and although it had turned a little grey we had some beautiful views.

As you get lower the path opens out to grassland and we soon rejoined the main track. We were unable to decide if we should turn right and pay the entrance fee or turn left and take a longer walk though the valley. Some hikers came down the road and I asked them where they had been. It seemed they had followed the path to the left that I wanted to take which was mostly in Cloud Forrest. So we decided to try and get in and see the famous views.

Despite being the quieter side of the park there were people ready to take our money and we continued our descent along the track. By the time we reached some of the photo spots the cloud had descended but it gave us some mysterious views.

And then we took some photos of ourselves, just to prove it was us.

And continues our journey down to the valley floor.

I really like here how you can see the cloud roll over the mountain.

We finally exited and had completed our loop so we headed back to the jeep drop off point with the hope of finding our way back. Some giant birds flew overhead so I did a photo shoot from the ground.

The jeeps leave as soon as they are full and we all piled in for the journey back. I’d booked the bus for 6pm which wasn’t too late so we had time for dinner. Angela wanted chicharrón so we found a local restaurant and I had pork covered in a sweet and sour esq salsa. It was huge and after a tiring hike we washed it all down with several beers before getting the bus back to Pereira. And before we go here are some shots of Salento.

We headed back and had the pregnant to ourselves but were tired and headed straight to bed.

The following day we decided to try and visit Filandia local town but the roads were closed due to a cycle race. Instead we chose to visit Santa Rosa de Cable, which sounds more beautiful than it actually was. I wouldn’t overly recommend taking the trip although the region is known for its chorizo and we had some good sausage. We couldn’t stay long as we were due to visit Angela’s aunt that afternoon in Vierbo. The bus had a fun gear stick warmer and it was nice enough but nothing spectacular to recommend to tourists-unless you want to see a small town set in a valley surrounded by huge mountains.

Back at the house we were treated to a traditional lunch of Sancocho and I conducted a photo shoot with some perritos before we headed back to Pereira.

Upon arrival Angel’s other uncle had arrived so we sunk some beers before heading to bed and getting the bus back to Bogota the next day. This time I had opted for a day bus which was 9 hours so I could see the mountains. The most interesting thing that I was was a half built and long deserted road that would replace the main highway. It was crazy to see how much work had been completed with miles of bridges and tunnels having been dug but look long since abandoned. Around lunch time we did stop off for an hour and had some delicious pollo, con papas, con arroz con fréjoles.

How to get to Valle de Cocora from Bogotá

Unfortunately there are no direct busses from Bogotá, so you need to travel to either Pereira or Armenia via Salento. There are more busses to Salento from Armenia.

You will need to get a bus from the main Southern Terminal in Bogotá, Terminal de Transporte Salitre. Busses leave frequently throughout the day and there is no need to book, you can just turn up. Expect to pay between $50-80,000 one way.

We went to Pereira and paid $50,000 booking in advance via Expreso Bolivariano. You could also try Fronteras, Flota Magdalena and Expreso Palmira. For Armenia you could try Expreso Palmira, Velotax and Fronteras. Both journeys take between 9-10 hours depending on traffic.

When you arrive in the terminal at Pereira busses leave for Salento every hour from 5am until 6pm. There is only one company that takes you there, Expresso Alcala, and the journey is around 45 minutes and costs $8000. The office is downstairs in the terminal near the main stairs leading to the upper floor.

From Armenia busses leave from 5:30am to 8pm every 20 minutes and the journey time is also around 45 minutes and the price is around $6000.

When you reach Salento the bus should drop you off near the centre of town. Head to the main plaza and you will find jeeps taking you to the valley for $4000 per person. They pile people into these jeeps and I’d advise that you skip hanging off the back as the journey is 20-25 minutes.

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