Central Colombia, Part II: Wax Palms and Giant Car Crashes

We rolled into a hostel in the sweet little town of Salento. It was pouring buckets and the camping area was about 6″ deep in standing water. Dude, we are from SEATTLE; this doesn’t bother us in the slightest. We popped the top of the camper and the kids happily played with legos while we tried to eek out a wifi signal. Chris also took the shortest shower in the history of mankind because the temp started out hot and then dropped at lightening speed.


And all that rain pays off in a big way:

This is a pretty typical established campsite for us in South America: a grassy parking lot with nearby bathroom (and occasionally shower) buildings. This one was actually part of a larger hostel that served breakfast. Fancy!

And no place is complete without a resident rooster. I like them, but not at 3 am. That has definitely been a tough adjustment throughout Latin America: at what point does your body automatically tune out the roosters? One wakes me up in the middle of the night and I lay there for hours listening to my family blissfully snoozing away. Earplugs have helped a bit, but I’m still a touchy sleeper and the avian alarmcalls aren’t helping the situation.
Salento is known for its Valle de Cocora, the home of the impossibly spindly wax palm. It’s the tallest palm in the world and Colombia’s national tree. Good pick, Colombia, that is one fabulously wacky tree.

You can do a five hour trek (or a horseback ride) but we opted for the short and sweet version (also known as the lazy man’s route). We’ve had a significant lack of on trekking on this trip; give us ten years and we’ll turn these kids into gonzo hikers. Hopefully. 🙂


We met this delightful Colombian couple, Gloria and Fernando, and had a lovely afternoon talking with them while walking among the slim trees. It required a bit of tricky walking as the area was littered with giant, mucky cow pies. #WatchYourStep






Later that day we left Salento and drove across some fantastically tall mountain passes as we continued southeast. It was clearly the truck route and represented some of our most intense driving to date.

At the top it was a free-for all across four lanes of traffic with cars weaving in between trucks willy nilly.



And then we stopped dead for three hours, thanks to this poor truck driver that tipped his load on the very last bend in the road before the broad river valley. Rough day.


Hey, hey, look who’s driving! Full confession: I really don’t like driving the rig. Why drive when there are so many things to see out the window!? (I sound like a five year old). But it actually works well for us: Chris drives, I navigate. 

Emma finds canine friends everywhere. 

Ben has turned into a pretty mean dishwasher. He was asking around for ways to fund his HotWheels obsession and I’ll do anything to get out of dish duty. We haven’t been good about setting chores on this trip; mostly the kids are tasked with the neverending job of Lego-pickup but they haven’t been pulling their weight in other areas. The ninos, of course, are perfectly content with this arrangement.


My buddy Rebecca posted an article on FaceBook about an app called iNaturalist that allows you to upload pictures of plants and animals to a platform that then assists in identification. I gave it a test run with this falcon that we spotted outside of Neiva, Colombia. 

Tentative identification: yellow-headed caracara (Milvago chimachima). A new educational toy! Prepare yourself for a massive influx of (newly identified) animal photos.


But first: Our adventures in the Tatacoa Desert. Which, as every guide book notes, is not really a desert. Stay tuned.





Recommendations – Central Colombia


La Serrana – near Salento, Colombia
This is a backpacker hostel/campground set overlooking an impossibly beautiful green valley. A little pricey but they did serve breakfast and they had the most gorgeous bathroom that we’ve seen in our entire trip (copper sinks, shower cubicles!), despite the cold water in the shower. The camping spot is a bit small but there was only one other rigs visiting while we were in residence so it wasn’t a problem.


Altimira – Ibague, Colombia 

After our harrowing four hours on the highway dodging crazy truckers and waiting for the giant crash to be cleared, we arrived at this campsite after dark and completely beat. The road up with exceptionally narrow and we thought the place was abandoned when we finally pulled through the gates. Fortunately we found a kid that gave us the green light for camping and the morning sun revealed a pool with a gorgeous view down into the valley. I have reservations about this place given the tricky access road but otherwise it was lovely. Fine for anybody in a normal car/SUV/truck – not recommended for anything bigger or wider.



Valle de Cocora
You can catch cheap jeep rides up to the valley that leave from the middle of the town square; however, they often pack 16 tourists/jeep. So not recommended for kids or for people that don’t like being squished. We drove up the road in our own vehicle. It’s a pretty drive over small streams and through pastureland. There are several (paid) parking lots; our advice it to keep going up the main road until a somewhat official guy tells you it’s as far as you can go (the pavement ends). They allowed us to park on the side of the road for a small fee. Continue walking down the same road, following the hordes of tourists and horses until you come to a small turn-off on your right, about 20 minutes in. Here a farmer charges people a few bucks to take a shortcut across his property and up into the valley. Another 20 minutes of walking and you’ll be in palm heaven. Bring a picnic lunch and don’t step in the cow patties. Five hour treks are available, as are horseback riding excursions.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *