On Monday, June 4th, sometime in the afternoon I arrived in Manizales. I was expecting a small town, but it turned out to be quite a big city. Who knew?
From the terminal I took a cable car up to the centre of town and from there, I walked around 10 minutes to my hostel. On my way, I saw the main square where many people were enjoying the sunny day (it was some Catholic holiday, so people didn’t have to work). The centre of Manizales was quite nice, with lots of churches.
My hostel, the Golden Frog Mountain Hostel, was very nice. Rooms were very spacious, beds large, common areas very cosy and there were lots of nice quiet corners for reading and hanging out. Everything was very clean, kitchen well stuffed and breakfast was good. In addition to that, the staff there could not have been more welcoming and helpful. I wanted to do a 1- or 2-day tour to Los Nevados National Park, but unfortunately there were not enough people for the 1-day-tour and there was no 2-day-tour coming up in the next 2 days… The staff tried everything to find a solution for me, but it didn’t work out.
My next (and last) rabies vaccination was up, so I went looking for the vaccination centre and, on my way there, I met Gabo who works for the hostel as a tour guide and who helped me find the vaccination centre. Since it was a holiday, the centre was closed. So, Gabo took me around the centre and showed me a very lovely viewpoint, made me try obletas (2 thin huge biscuits with a cream called “arequipas” in between) and he showed me the illuminated cathedral. On top of the cathedral is a cross that looks like it’s falling down any second. Gabo told me there are some legends about why it’s this way but I’m not sure if it’s true or if he made it up.
Back at the hostel I had dinner and spent the night reading. Unfortunately, nobody else signed up for the tour the next day and so it was cancelled. I decided then to go to Salento the next day where I would meet up with Agim.
The next morning, I went again to the vaccination centre where I was told they didn’t have any rabies vaccination and where they gave me the name of a different place. That one was over half an hour walking, so I just took a taxi. It was pretty easy to find and people there were very helpful. Unfortunately, since I didn’t have any prescription from a Colombian doctor but only the one from Panama, I had to pay for the vaccination. Since all the last one’s had been for free, I didn’t have enough money with me and I had to go back to the hostel to get my credit card – I never carry it around; I always leave it in a locker at the hostel in case my wallet gets stolen. So, I went back to the hostel, got all my stuff, did the check out and took another taxi back to the vaccination centre where I finally got my last rabies shot. I’m so happy this is over and I won’t have to find another vaccination centre in a different city any time soon. It wasn’t that bad, just very annoying and always related to a lot of stress.
From there, I took a taxi to the bus terminal and went to Salento. It was only a 3-hour bus ride to Salento and so arrived around 1PM.
In my hostel in Manizales, they had warmly recommended going to the Yambolombia Hostel in Salento and so Agim had gone there in the morning and booked a nice big private room with 2 beds for us – cheaper than a dorm room and more space. Before going there, I had some nice veggie curry in town because the hostel was a 20 minutes’ walk from town (or in my case 5 minutes by taxi). My taxi ripped me off, making me pay 10.000 pesos instead of the normal 8.000, but that’s always how it is if you don’t know the prices yet…
The Yambolombia hostel was awesome! Gabriel, the owner, was super welcoming and friendly and had good tips for us on where to go and what to do. The rooms were very nice and spacious, everything was clean and the atmosphere in the hostel was really good. The view from the garden on the valley was beautiful and, in the night, there were countless fireflies and you could see the stars beautifully. There is always free tea and coffee and I can only recommend you go there some day; it really felt like home! ❤️
I thought Agim would be out when I arrived because he had wanted to go on a bike tour, but he was already back; he had had an accident with his bike and had hurt his shoulder and scratched his body pretty badly… I had just wanted to stay 1, maximum 2 nights, but I wanted to give him the chance to recover a bit and go to Valle del Cocora with me, so I changed my plans in order to stay a bit longer.
After having a shower and talking for a bit, we walked back to town and looked around the beautifully coloured streets and the cute small houses. There were – of course – many tourist-trap shops and Agim got pushed into buying some super expensive ice cream. I only bought a lulada – a juice of the lulo fruit, something very typical in this area – and that was just so delicious that I had one every day I while I was in Salento.
We shopped for some food and had a beer on the marked square where we met Sarah and Philippe, a couple from Switzerland (German speaking) who were also staying in our hostel. Philippe just finished studying engineering and she’s a confectioner. They were super nice and we had a good time with them. 🙂
We spent the night cooking, watching fireflies and stars and drinking some wine.
The next morning, Agim was in a lot of pain, almost couldn’t move his shoulder and barely could move. He spent the day in the hostel recovering while I went to the Ocaso coffee farm and to the Santa Rita waterfall.
The Ocaso coffee farm was a 15 minutes’ walk from our hostel and was a beautiful place. During the 60-minute tour I took with a German girl (weird girl, full of make-up but badly put…), we learned all about how to make organic coffee, what different types of coffee plants there are and why the Colombian coffee is the best in the world. Only Brazil produces more coffee than Colombia, but the quality of their coffee is a bit lower since they use big machines to collect the coffee beans while in Colombia they are collected by hand. I tried their coffee (and their delicious chocolate cake) and it was really good!
Afterwards, I walked to the Santa Rita waterfall. It was about 1 hour to get there, but the landscape was absolutely beautiful, so I enjoyed it immensely. At the waterfall, there was a 5000-peso entrance fee and the owner of this land was very friendly. I told him my mum is also called Rita and that that’s why I have to visit the waterfall and he encouraged me to go see if the waterfall is just as beautiful as my mum (of course not! 😄). The hike in this park was about 1 hour and I had the best time. I was all alone, no other tourists, just sometimes a person working a field. The hike was not difficult but a bit adventurous since I had to go through caves and trails; I felt like Indiana Jones! Halfway there was also a swing for children and I just sat down and swung for 15 minutes, enjoying the sun and life. The landscape there was amazing and if you’re ever there, don’t miss out on it!
Just when I came back to the entrance, it started raining and so, I got a nice hot coffee (full of sugar) from the owner. He was really sweet and we talked for some time until the rain stopped. Then I went back to the main road and took a collectivo back to town, where I met up with Agim. But before he arrived, I went shopping in the souvenir shops and found myself some very nice (and cheap) copper earrings and necklace; I’ve been looking for copper jewellery for quite some time. Later, with Agim, we went to a few pharmacies to get something to fixate his arm (couldn’t find it though) and then had dinner in town. We both hadn’t eaten anything except for breakfast and were too hungry to cook on our own. We had pizza – not good, but cheap – and met in this restaurant 2 men from the States and a Colombian woman who lives in the States. They were very nice people and we talked a bit about their work, Colombia and Belgium; one of the guys had been there a few times, his brother had lived in Brussels.
We spent the night talking to other people to the hostel and to Gabriel, but went to bed early, Agim tired from pain and I tired from hiking.
On Thursday, Agim was not feeling significantly better and so I went to Valle del Cocora alone. At the marked square in town, I had to wait half an hour to get a taxi to the valley since the first taxi only left at 7:30. There, I met Chelsea and Stijn from Oostende in Belgium. They were really nice, but just like every Flemish person I have met, they immediately assumed I would speak Flemish. Well, I do a bit, but I haven’t spoken it in a long time and it took me a lot of effort to speak it again. They were quite patient with me though and even said my Flemish was quite good (very flattering, but untrue). They also spoke some German and we switched between both languages so that I could practise my Flemish and they their German.
We didn’t walk together all the time, I was mostly behind them because I took a lot of pictures, but we always met up again at the next viewpoint.
The Cocora Valley is without a doubt the most beautiful place I have been to in Colombia! It had everything a great hike needs: walking through the valley with mountains all around, different kinds of forest (rain forest, pine forest, palm forest), half of the way was steep uphill and very exhausting, not too many tourists. In addition to that, there is a “casa del colibri”» (hummingbird house) on the way, where you can see hundreds of beautiful hummingbirds. 6 different kinds have been seen around the house and in the forest live about 12 different kinds. Apparently, the altitude and humidity in this place are perfect for hummingbirds.
They tell you that the park is for free and that there’s no entrance fee, which is true, but all parts of the trail are private grounds and so, you have to pay in total 5.000 pesos (+ 5.000 pesos for the hummingbird house). It’s absolutely worth it, though!
On top of the mountain, at the finca de la montaña, I met Daniel from Barcelona. We had met almost 3 months ago in Flores, Guatemala, and hadn’t seen each other or talked since then, so it was a big surprise for both of us to see each other there. He had 3 friends staying at my hostel and so he promised to come over later for a couple of beers. 🙂
There were also lots of Belgians (all Flemish except for me) in this park. You never see Belgians anywhere except for the places where there is good hiking. It’s quite funny actually. 😄
I had enjoyed the Cocora Valley very much; it’s a very beautiful place with stunning views and we had been very lucky with the weather. Like I said, my favourite place in Colombia! ❤️
Back in Salento, I went to the shop, bought some food in the supermarket and then walked back to the hostel. I wanted to cook lunch, but Gabriel insisted I should eat some lentil soup and rice with him and it was really good. After lunch (at 4PM) I cooked some tomato sauce for later that night and I spent the rest of the afternoon outside writing.
Agim came back around 5 or 6 PM, but he was quite tired after having been to the coffee farm and to the waterfall and he was in pain…
Around 7PM, Daniel and his friends came to our hostel. He had brought some wine that we shared and we ate the pasta I had made. We had a very nice and fun night together and it was really good to get to know Daniel better.
And that was it, my last night in Salento before going to Cali, and I was quite sad, I had loved Salento and Yambolombia; I could have stayed there for much, much longer! ❤️