Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Salento, Colombia: Tallest Palm Tree Valley and Coffee Country

I'm in Colombia!  Which is exciting because every single backpacker you meet here usually says Colombia is their favorite country in all of S. America.  And then they rave on and on about it.

Related note, I've apparently been taking a very common route through South America that is casually nicknamed the "Gringo Route," because so many people do it, or some variation of it (Brazil -> Argentina -> Chile -> Bolivia -> Peru -> Ecuador -> Colombia; or vice versa). And Colombia is an amazing ending to the route because it's cheap and beautiful and clean and put-together and awesome and has so much to do and the best vibes and amazing people.  I'm slowly getting it. I want to stay here forever. 

On a music-related note (I've been on multiple long-haul buses recently, which is why I've suddenly become a music critic), I was listening to that Mike Posner remix "I Took a Pill in Ibiza", and I was like "I like this song! New fave!" - but when I went to download it on my illegal Chinese ghetto music app, only the ballad version (pre-remix) was available. I downloaded it anyway. And then when listening to it on the bus, IT IS BASICALLY THE SADDEST SONG EVER. Has anyone listened to the lyrics!?? It made me really, really sad on a very deep level. I can't believe people are dancing in clubs to this song.  It's like the new-age version of Britney's, "Lucky", which was basically my favorite song from ages 15-20.  I also think I might be the only person in the world who gets affected/touched/the feels about pop music.  

Now that I've been on multiple tangents, onto Colombia!  My first stopover was in a city called Cali, then I headed to Salento, in the coffee region of Colombia.  

What It's All About:
Colombia is super-known for their coffee.  And there's a coffee region in the south of the country, where some adorable little coffee towns are scattered around. Salento is probably one of the best-known ones, just because it's tiny and picturesque, tucked right in the middle of coffee land, and has some gorgeous accessible hikes and scenery.

Salento's tiny, adorable main town square
Views from my hostel patio

One of the highlights in Salento is an area called Valle de Cocora, a breathtakingly green hike about 30 minutes outside of town - I've seriously never seen such lush, unique scenery in my entire life.  It's an absolute must-do.  There are also two well-known coffee plantations in the area that you can go tour.  

Valle de Cocora! With the world's tallest palm trees

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • Getting out of Ecuador took a series of buses: Quito to Tulcán, Ecuador (5 hours), a taxi across the border to Ipiales, Colombia (15 min), and an overnight bus from Ipiales to Cali (13 hours).  Cali is a small town in the south of Colombia, which is a cool little spot that a lot of backpackers hit up because it's known for its unparalleled salsa scene.  Nadine and I only spent a night in Cali, as we used it as more of a stopover point on the way north, so it doesn't get its own post. Sorry, Cali.

One thing I love instantly about Colombia? FRUIT. FRUIT EVERYWHERE. This is a dragonfruit, and we may have gone nuts buying them.

Luci joined us in Cali for a day as well. We seriously ate our weight in dragonfruit (called pitaya here).

  • Luci, Nadine and I spent a lazy day wandering around Cali's streets. 

Why did I take a photo of this

A pretty dollhouse-looking church in downtown Cali

Oh, and a lovely brown river. Clearly our day in Cali was riveting.

  • After a night in Cali, Nadine and I separated the next day (cries).  After over 3 weeks being travel buddies, we were headed separate ways - Nadine headed to Bogotá, which I was skipping because I went with my mom last year, and I headed onto Salento. 

Seriously, I love how bus drivers like using my backpack as an armrest.

  • I arrived in Salento after a couple of hours and a quick bus transfer. In my hostel, I met two other travelers (Maria from Germany, Kenny from Singapore) who were also planning on doing the Valle de Cocora hike the next day - so we made plans to do it together.  Daily trucks frequently run from the main square in Salento to the beginning of the hike - you just show up, and the truck leaves when it's full.  We got to stand on the back of the truck for the entire 30-min hike because the bed of the truck was full - and it was amazingly fun. Like flying.

Beginning of the hike - which takes about 4-5 hours round-trip.

Worst part of the trail was these huuuuuge mud pits. You can rent rainboots to hike this area, but it's not that necessary unless it's actually raining.
R.I.P., pretty new shoes.

Some other parts had these legit wooden footbridges everywhere

Or sketchy logs to walk across. It was like hiking through the jungle

  • After a couple hours, you reach an area called Acaime - a hummingbird sanctuary and where your entry gets you a free coffee or drink.

I had sugarcane juice. Which tasted very weird and Asian-y.

We sat on the patio and watched the hummingbirds while recovering - there are 7 different species that are in this area (out of 163 different species in all of Colombia!).  

I got a photo of a hummingbird with his wings open!

  • On the trail down from Acaime, you take another winding path back that goes up a mountain (the lady at my hostel who claimed this would be a "casual walk" was WRONG) - but over some of the most incredible views of the entire hike.

A giant mountain from the top of the mountain, when we finally reached it.

VALLEY VIEWS. Does this not look like a total postcard?!?!?!

My hiking buddies, Maria and Kenny

How many of these can I post <3

  • Farther on down from the ridiculous views, you got to see some of the HUGE TALL AMAZING palm trees that the area is famous for!  Seriously, I've never seen such amazingly huge palm trees in my entire life. So tall and so super-thin!  I dub these Tay Swift palm trees.


It was even semi-impossible to fit me and the palm trees into the same shot

More valley views through the palm trees

Palm tree valley!  Again, I did feel it was necessary to take 400 photos of these views.

Seriously one of the most unique, stunning places I've ever been. (Don't count how many times I've said that over the past year)

  • 5 hours later, we reached the trailhead/ending of the hike. Which ended at a cow farm, strangely enough.


  • Second day in Salento, Kenny, Maria and I went to go take one of the coffee tours (when in Rome, right?).  The two main coffee plantations in town are called Don Eduardo and El Ocaso - we opted for the hour-long tour at El Ocaso.

El Ocaso was an hour-long walk from town. WITH MORE VIEWS LIKE THIS. Colombia's coffee country is seriously some of the prettiest views I've ever seen in my life.

And this

El Ocaso Coffee Plantation!

Here is our tour guide explaining the very in-depth coffee plantation process.

They let us loose with our own wicker baskets and we got to pick some of the coffee bean fruit things.

Looking right at home as a coffee picker. AND VIEWS.

All the coffee beans are still picked by hand. CAN YOU IMAGINE PICKING ALL THOSE BY HAND??

The workers are paid by kilogram and work 12-hour days during harvest season. A good coffee picker can earn around $15-20/day

Ahhh, the fruits of our labor. A delicious cup of coffee

  • Later that afternoon, Maria and I left Salento to head to Medellín (it takes 6 hours, and there are only 3 direct buses/day).  Bye, Salento! YOU ARE SO PRETTY. NEVER CHANGE.

And there was good enough wi-fi on the bus to FaceTime the niece! I can't resist posting any photos of her because CUTEST.

A gorgeous good-bye Salento sunset

Fun (Coffee) Facts of the Day:
  • There are three types of coffee plants/beans - arabica, robusta, and something else obscure that I cannot remember. Arabica is a sweeter bean and accounts for 78% of the world's coffee production, while robusta is 20% of the world's coffee production.
  • Colombia only grows arabica plants.
  • Coffee grows better under shade (the plants hate direct sunlight!), so they are often planted under the shade of banana trees, etc. to protect them.
  • Light roast has more caffeine than a dark roast (opposite what you would think, yes!?) - but dark roast usually has a stronger taste.

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