Cocora Valley: Extreme Horseback Edition


The Cocora Valley, or Valle de Cocora was where we decided to take a day off of the bikes. As an ironic twist, we were still in saddles on this given day, trading our bicycle saddles for horse mounted ones.

Three cyclists pretending to be cowboys.

The Cocora Valley is home to Colombia’s national tree, the wax palm.  These trees are the tallest palm trees in the world.  They reach heights of 65m, and only grow one metre every four years.  The tallest ones are 260 years old, and look as if they are literally touching the sky. I had seen pictures before coming here, but the pictures truly don’t do justice to this mystical place.

Yup. . . Spectacular Colombia.

Our chosen method of touring the wax palms and surrounding cloud forest was to go by horseback. We took a jeep up from Salento, which takes about 20 minutes. At the  trail-head there were horses and guides that you could hire for the days excursion. We walked up, said that we wanted to go for about 3.5hrs, paid the money, and were off to explore the stunning Cocora Valley.

The Valle de Cocora or Cocora Valley.

When I think of horseback riding I think of a very tranquil, easy-going day, pretty scenery, and not too much to worry about. Well this wasn’t what we encountered. The trail into the cloud forest was extremely rutted out, and then once we got into the rainforest it was a steep, slippery, and rocky route for the horses. This was a little unsettling for myself, who has not been on a horse much since childhood.

All Marlboro manesque, minus the Wranglers and cigarette.

To top it off my horse, Pan Duro, or Hard Bread, was not the most agreeable of the four.  He was constantly looking to bite his compatriots, cause trouble, or just generally make life for myself and the guide uncomfortable. It was a little unsettling, but I seemed to keep him under control as best I could.

Me, mis amigos, and Hard Bread riding into the sunset . . . clouds.

Our guide, Fernando, was an interesting character in horse training.  He was walking beside us, and constantly whistling or “tapping” the horses on the ass with his stick.  I told him to chill out with the whistling and “tapping”, and he responded with “they’re going too slow.” I told him we weren’t pro horseback riders, were not looking to win a race, and that their pace was OK with us. This seemed to cool Fernando off a little.

 

Etienne and I standing on the back of the Jeep to return to Salento.

 

By the end of our ride we had ridden through truly amazing rainforest, witnessed Colombia’s national tree on a spectacular day, and survived. All in all, a successful day.

How to Get to the Cocora Valley

From Bogota, Cali, or the south of Colombia go to the Armenia bus depot, and take a local bus to Salento.

From Medellin, and north take a bus to Pereira bus terminal, from which you can take a local bus to Salento.

Or, start cycle touring, and arrive by bike as we did.

Costs

Each horse was 25,000COP ($14USD) for the 3.5hr ride.  Plus you had to pay 25,000COP per a group for the guide.  There was also a 7hr option.  We felt like 7hrs in a saddle would be a bit much for ourselves.

Considerations

-Snacks, there’s a place to stop, but it’s a good idea to bring water and something to nibble on.

-You can also hike.  It’s a challenging hike, with many slippery rocks, big ruts, mud, and uphills.  There’s a hostel in town (Tralala) that rents rubber boots for 3,000COP/day.  I’d recommend doing this if you plan on hiking.

-The jeeps leave town at 7:30, 8:30, 9:30, and 11:30, and return at 3:00, 4:00, and 5:00 for 3,000COP each way.  If you miss the collective jeeps, it’s 24,000COP to hire one to take your group up there.

-The weather in the valley is perfect for growing tall trees, and lush rainforests.  Read: it rains.  It is very likely that you will hit a day that is less than spectacular.  Try and arrive early, this is when the best views will be available.

-The horseback riding is quite intense.  It may be unsettling for many people.  There were points where I did not feel comfortable.

-I’d highly recommend refueling after your trip at the restaurant at the trail head! Amazing food, with a clear view of the Cocora Valley!

-Enjoy!

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