Colombia days 10-12: coffee, hiking & horses in Salento + can’t believe I made it

My last few days in Colombia were spent relaxing in a little town called Salento, in the heart of Colombia’s coffee triangle. Like Medellin, Salento was also not originally on my itinerary, but since I was already in the area and I am a huge coffee nerd, I couldn’t say no to visiting. And so, I took a night bus from Medellin, and 9 hours later, I woke up in beautiful coffee country. 🙂

Day 10: Hiking Cocora Valley

I arrived at my hostel at 7am and immediately felt at home. The hostel had breathtaking view of the Salento mountains and I knew I was in for an amazing few days (nature = my happy spot).

I originally was planning on relaxing this first day, but during breakfast at my hostel, what started out as asking someone for directions turned into an hour-long conversation about our travels, and I made a new friend, Gideon from Germany! Gideon mentioned he was planning on hiking Cocora Valley today, which I was planning to do tomorrow, and so I did a simple switch-a-roo with my plans and decided to take on Cocora Valley with Gideon on 3 hours of sleep 😛

We took a jeep from Salento’s town center 30 minutes to Cocora Park – the main way to get around Salento are via these vintage, colorful jeeps, so cute.

When we arrived to Cocora Park, we mapped our trail through their map on the wall that looked like a kid’s drawing :P. Gideon and I are both pretty big hikers and so we just assumed that the map would be accurate and somewhat to-scale…boy were we wrong 😛

As we were hiking, we got lost SO many times! We were out there for a total of 8 hours, 3 of which were spent going back and forth guessing where to turn at every intersection, just to be wrong and having to retrace our steps…the trail was pretty confusing and not well-marked at all! After a few hours of the back-and-forth, we luckily found some locals who had hiked the trail before and stuck with them.

Nevertheless, Gideon and I had so much fun. We didn’t once get frustrated by getting lost because we honestly got lost in conversation ourselves. There was never a silent moment on our trek as we shared about our lives. Every time we realized we were going the wrong way, we just laughed, turned around, and continued chatting away. We also figured that being in the park was better than finishing the hike early and sitting at our hostel…we came to Salento wanting nature and boy did we get it!

It was a pretty strenuous hike filled with river crossings, beautiful views, walking bridges, lots of elevation gain…all while being the perfect hiking climate. We packed some empanadas for lunch.

The best part of the hike, and the reason why people visit Cocora Valley are the famous tall wax palm trees. I didn’t really understand the appeal to these trees until I saw in person. They were breathtaking. They are the tallest palm trees in the world, sticking out in the middle of the lush, green fields – they are quite the natural wonder. The whole park felt like it was taken directly out of Jurassic Park.

The good thing to come out of getting lost was that we made it to the beautiful Cocora Valley right at sunset. It was quite the treat.

After “ooo”-ing and “ahh”-ing and taking our photos, Gideon and I headed back to the hostel and found a group to go to dinner with. Salento is known for their trout and so I ordered a big plate of that. De-lish!

Day 11: We are good at getting lost + coffee farm tour

In the morning, I ran into a friend, Grace, who was part of the big Bogota crew my first day. It was a complete coincidence being at the same hostel, and such a treat seeing her! We had breakfast together and caught up over our past two weeks, and it felt a bit full circle seeing Grace in the beginning and end of my trip. Side note – I’ve run into friends in different cities like this a total of 4 times on this trip – crazy how backpackers all kind of end up in the same places. 🙂

Gideon and I linked up again to do a tour of a coffee farm around 10am tour. I had the brilliant idea of walking to the farm instead of taking the jeeps…but of course, we got lost, AGAIN! Note to self that Google maps doesn’t really work in remote villages…

But once again, this was a blessing in disguise as Gideon and I had lots of time to talk, talk and talk some more. Gideon is the kind of person you instantly feel comfortable with and want to share your whole life story to, and we entertained ourselves all morning chatting on the road, trying to find the coffee farms, and then turning around and giving up – to the jeeps it was!

But first, we needed a break and chilled at Jesus Martin, which is known as having the best coffee in Salento.

Afterwards, we had some time to kill before the next jeep, so we grabbed lunch in the town square, and then walked up to a viewpoint in the corner of town with amazing views of the Salento mountains.

By the time we made it to the coffee farm, El Ocasa, it was the last tour at 4pm – funny that we were planning on doing one at 10am…if there’s one thing that me and Gideon are good at it is getting lost!

The good thing to come out of the taking the last tour was that the two of us got a private tour all to ourselves. It ended up being more like a conversation with our tour guide, with Gideon and I fighting over each other to ask our endless questions :P. The tour guide was great in answering our questions although she laughed at us a few times since we were such eager beavers. We are both huge coffee nerds – I own basically every piece of coffee equipment you can imagine (thanks to my generous brother 😊 ) – and so visiting an actual coffee plantation was a long-time dream come true!

We learned about the entire coffee production process from growing the seeds to exportation. We even got to pick seeds ourselves.

The tour was so eye-opening, learning about the difference in low and high-quality coffee and the proper way to make coffee. I really like this farm because for being such a large operation, they were very eco-friendly, picking every bean by hand, natural fertilizers, even drying their beans in the sun.

The tour ended with a coffee-tasting. I don’t know if it was placebo or what, but it was THE. BEST. cup of coffee I ever had in my life. Seriously. It was so fresh and naturally sweet – our tour guide was a talented barista herself and prepared it perfectly! I was a happy gal.

Gideon and I stayed around the farm afterwards to enjoy another cup of coffee (as if I needed more caffeine :P) and to just relax and watch the sunset. This was one of my favorite moments of the trip…we were both so relaxed, sipping our drinks, enjoying each other’s company, while being surrounded by so much natural beauty. These are the backpacking moments I live for. ❤

Gideon had to catch a night bus to Bogota that evening, but first, we grabbed one last dinner and a drink before saying our goodbyes. I’m so beyond glad I found a friend in Gideon…I think he was my closest friend this whole trip. We shared so many things with each other and made so many memories – it’s hard to believe we only knew each other for two days! Something about meeting other backpackers, especially solo ones, just bring you so much closer faster.

Day 12: Horseback riding

My last full day in Colombia! I had absolutely nothing planned, but a friend who I went paragliding with in Medellin ended up at my hostel, and he along with two girls invited me along for horseback riding.

I had never ridden a horse before, and so I imagined it was going to be a relaxing, leisurely stroll through the mountains. I also, for some reason, thought riding a horse was like driving a car, where you have absolute control over your speed and turns… I was in for quite a surprise…

The four of us saddled up on our horses and right away I could tell mine was a rebel. Maybe I just wasn’t a good instructor but I felt like the horse had a mind of its own – and I was along for the ride. Nevertheless, the beginning was actually super nice and relaxing. We were on the road and going downhill so the horses went slowly. Lots of beautiful views of the mountains.

The horses started going faster at some points, but nothing we couldn’t handle, just a little bumpier. Our group was a fun one, super energetic as we laughed at some of the ridiculous things the horses did. (i.e. My horse was super stubborn and always nudged its way to the front – hilarious.)

At one point, we got to a flat field and the horses started running, and running, and RUNNING. We were going SO fast, as if they were racing each other. The four of us were screaming at the top of our lungs with our butts flying a foot in the air. The horses were literally going their their full speed. Not to be dramatic, but I legitimately thought I was going to fall off and die. I kept telling myself to just hold on tight and wait for this nightmare to be over. It was so friggin’ scary. In Colombia, or anywhere outside the U.S. for that matter, there are really no safety restrictions for riding horses, so that was the one thing I was not prepared for.

After the horses finally stopped, the four of us were just silent for 5 minutes. Catching our breaths, mixed feelings of thankfulness we were okay with also kind of traumatized…but like riding a roller-coaster, after we processed what happened, we were laughing about it and bonding over how we actually kind of liked the adrenaline rush, and we were ready to go again!

After the horses go that out of their system, they went a slower for a bit, phew. We took a beautiful trail that led to a waterfall – so serene.

On our way back, the horses were energetic again. I think they especially like to run uphill. Once again, they ran and ran, but this time we all knew what to expect. I was able to embrace it when my horse galloped and it actually felt amazing! I felt like straight out of a cowboy movie, moving naturally with the horse.

But I did stay on the cautious side since I didn’t want a repeat of the field incident. I kept a tight hold on mine to try and take more control, but like I said, she was super rebellious and the more I tried to control her the more she fought me. Finally at one point, I needed her to stop and she was resisting, we were fighting in the middle of a road and a car hit us…incident #2.

Don’t worry! Me + horsey + car were more than fine. I apologized and we kept going. When made it back, I was so relieved. What an experience!

Me and the horse crew had so much fun that we decided to grab dinner together too. It was my last night and the perfect way to spend it. We had a nice, looong dinner that flew by as we laughed and talked…it all just felt like the spirit of backpacking, being with people you just met but can instantly bond with.

And so, that was my trip! It’s hard to believe it’s over…so much was packed in 2 weeks: seeing and learning so much of Colombia, meeting dozens of backpackers, filling every day with activities, night buses, airplanes, spontaneous detours, living off of no sleep but lots of adrenaline + coffee…what an adventure!

As I’m writing this blog post on my flight home, I have an overwhelming feeling of: “I can’t believe I made it.” For the longest time, I wasn’t sure if I was going to do this solo trip, and up to a week before coming here, I hadn’t even booked a destination. I somewhat randomly chose Colombia and it ended up being the best decision in the world. I’m so glad I followed through with coming here and also deciding where I was going day by day for the first time ever. It opened my heart even more to the entire adventure.

I’m ending this trip emotionally rejuvenated with fresh perspective, but also rather physically destroyed. This trip was just what I needed especially given how I was doing in life beforehand. I definitely have this feeling of a “fresh start” after Colombia…I’m so happy to be taking that with me ❤

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