Salento: Mirador Alto De La Cruz

Yesterday I did a physically intensive hike so today I am taking it easy my last full day in Salento Colombia. I finally took advantage of the nice breakfast at my hotel. I’ve also walked down to the bus station to ensure I have a bus ticket for tomorrow. Tomorrow evening I travel to Cartagena by plane. Salento has no airport so I need to ensure I have a bus ticket to the nearby town with an airport – Pereira.

Salento bus station

I don’t have much planned today but I know I want to take the stairs up to the Mirador Alto De La Cruz, a place to get a nice view of town. I walk toward the stairs.

There are a series of colorful steps that take you up to the top.

view of the town
view outside the town

I descend down the stairs and decide to stop at a nearby bar to have a daytime cocktail (the same bar that the dog had taken up seats for previously).

Kafe del Alma

After my drink I walk around and appreciate town. Stopping to shop or lounge at another bar. I again appreciate how nice it is to be able to travel to smaller towns. The bus rides are long but they are so worth it.

My bus ride out of town isn’t until later the next day. I leave my bags at the hotel lobby and order a pizza at a nearby restaurant, because pizza.

Piccola Italia

I arrive at the bus station in time for my ride to Pereira. Once I arrive at the bus station in Pereira I still need to catch a taxi from there to the airport. It isn’t clear where the appropriate place is to catch a taxi. Taxi drivers tell me it is illegal to pick up passengers in areas not designated as a taxi pickup area. I wander around the bus station and eventually I am able to flag a cab down that will pick take me to the nearby airport. The cab driver misunderstands me and doesn’t drop me off in the correct place at the airport. I find myself walking pretty far to find the correct terminal – which sounds odd since it is a pretty small airport. I believe I am dropped off at the international terminal when I am flying domestically. Pereira airport is currently under construction. From the outside appearance it seems like the new airport will be pretty nice when it is complete but for now it is a small and confusing airport.

Waiting area and food court before going through security

At the airport I wait in the main waiting area for a while not knowing what to expect after security. I eventually cross security and there is a narrow walkway between the gates. I notice a small bar along the walkway so I decide to squeeze in and order a beer while I wait for my flight to board. The bar overlooks planes that are boarding. I must mention that the gate area is totally open air to the outside. This means that basically someone can just hop over the ledge and head out to a plane. Security is so much more relaxed here compared to what I am used to in the USA.

Nothing but a low concrete barrier between me and that plane
time to board

The flight to Cartagena is decent – no complaints here. Once in Cartagena there is an expensive cab ride to my hotel from the airport. It is late so I figure a cab ride is the safest approach to get to the tourist areas. Luckily Cartagena is a night city and there is a hotel clerk available at check in. I’m tired so I’ll have to experience the city tomorrow.

Hotel 3 Banderas is the hotel I booked for the couple days I am traveling alone. The options in Cartagena seem to much pricier than I’ve experienced in other towns and not as nice. My hotel is satisfactory but I don’t like not having a real window in my room and it does get damp in my room with the air conditioning running (at one point I had a puddle of water on the floor). The hotel reminds me of my stay in Saigon.

Hotel on a beautiful street (one with flags outside)

Salento: Valle de Cocora

One of the most popular things to do in Salento is hike in the nearby Cocora Valley (about a 30 minute jeep ride from town). Two options exist: a loop hike which is about 12km and a shorter up and back hike (about an hour or so). Both hikes will give you a view of Cocora Valley’s iconic palm trees. The long hike is rumored to be amazing so I am planning on doing the whole loop today.

I start off early today because I know I am a slow hiker. I inform my hotel I am missing breakfast again and they instead provide me a lovely fruit platter and orange juice to take on my journey. I also stop at the shop on the corner to order a coffee, empanada and some other breads to take with me (one being my new addiction of sausage stuffed rolls – these are amazing when they are fresh). I also carry lots of water.

To arrive at the start I hire a jeep from town square in the morning. They say they leave once an hour but they really leave once they fill up. Mine left 15 minutes early. Luckily I showed up early for the 7:30 am ride.

Made sure to note jeep ride times

The jeep drops us off on a dirt road I am assuming is nearby the trail entrance. There is really no instruction of where to start, I just know that I should start “off to the right” for which direction I plan to go. I should have followed the crowd as the jeep emptied but I decide to try to use the nearby restroom before I start my journey. By the time I got out of the restroom there is no one really to ask which way to go.

I wander around for a bit up and back on the dirt road. The entrance I am looking for should be to the right of the road.

view from the road

I look down at maps.me on my phone and I think I discover the correct way to the start.

I chose doing the loop going counter-clockwise to avoid crowds. Also the journey across the waterway is beautiful early in the day and the inclines are more gradual in this direction.

I head down into the valley and I eventually reach the trail entrance where I pay an admission charge and receive a wrist band.

I pass a small bridge and stop to say hi to some cows.

Entrance to first part of the path.

I start my hike trough a narrow trail in the middle of a meadow. There are cow pastures on the sides of the path. Vibrant green grass blankets the meadow. The weather is slightly cool. It is a beautiful day.

At the edge of the meadow I stop and eat my fruit before I carry onto the next part of my journey.

Fruit box from my lovely hotel

I start the stream-jumping section of the path. The second part of the trail is basically a series of rocky paths that wind around a stream with frequent bridge crossings. The bridges get progressively more scary: meaning the further you go the less maintained the bridges seem to be (I read where one called them the Indian Jones bridges).

This is another amazingly beautiful part of the trail. I enjoy hearing the stream of water while I hike.

Leaving the waterway behind I start climbing uphill towards a hummingbird sanctuary, a pit stop on the trail. I intended to visit the sanctuary but the climb is making me tired. I recall the advice I was given from other travelers a couple days ago and decide to turn back and forgo the visit. I have much further to go and I want to make sure I have energy to complete the loop. I did read reviews later that were favorable but nonetheless I am glad I skipped it because the trail continues uphill in the intended direction and I need all the energy I can conserve.

While on the trail I encounter signs of the different wildlife I may see along the way.

I hope I don’t run into one of these guys
Getting closer to the top
Bamboo shaded rest area

The terrain is changing again and I end up on a sandy path. It is challenging and uphill. I hear the sounds of doors creaking in the trees. I look up and see no birds so I can only assume what may be making those sounds.

I finally reach what I understand to be the highest point. I take the slow zig zags uphill. I stop on the bright green meadow “walls” to lay down and rest because it looks so comfortable.

At the top of the switchbacks

At the top there seems to be a café but it looks like they are only serving a specific tour group. It may be private property but they don’t mind that others are hanging around and resting on the nearby benches. I find Finca La Montaña a place to catch my breath and snack on my breads before moving on. I learn later that it is a coffee farm.

I am past the halfway point now I think.
I watch a dog watching people walk downhill (doing the trail loop clockwise)
Finca La Montaña

As I leave Finca La Montaña I walk by quite a few people going in the opposite direction. It appears the Finca La Montaña I have just arrived at is the final spot at top for those doing just the shorter hike. Unfortunately those walking toward the finca look tired since the journey is mostly uphill and it is now the hottest time of day. I chatted with a few hikers caught off guard with the uphill challenge. My hike is challenging as far as inclines go but at least the uphill parts are broken up by horizontal parts. I am excited to learn the rest of my hike will be mostly downhill.

I walk by some lovely tall pine trees.

only 4.2 km to go. mostly downhill from here.

I notice more beautiful views hiking down. Soon I reach another section where someone is collecting admission to the observation area where I can finally view the tall palms – El Bosque de Las Palmas. I receive another wrist band.

This map makes the path look very simple but it didn’t feel very simple while I was hiking.

Downhill path. It is now hot and sunny so I am thankful.

Finally I reach the upper level of the mirador or viewpoint of the lovely palm trees. It is incredibly windy today.

I walk out a down a series of sandy terraces, each giving a distinct viewpoint of the area.

Entrance if you are entering the trail from the opposite direction. Some people just visit this portion of the area and skip the long hike.
Chill out areas with great views
Tried to follow my location via maps.me. Not sure really how helpful it was.

I head back down what I believe is the street I arrived at this morning. I see a meadow where jeeps are parked. This must be where I catch my return trip to town. I wait for a jeep to become available and hop in the back. Luckily I am sitting inside (even though it is crowded) and not hanging off the back like other adventurous travelers.

Ride back into town

The journey today was long and exhausting but it was highly rewarding. I am adding this hike to my list of memorable hikes.

Jardín to Salento

Jardín

My last hours in the town of Jardín are nice. I spend my time wandering around and relaxing at tables spread out in the square. I’ll grab a beer or two and people watch during the day but this behavior doesn’t seem to be normal. Not many people are day drinking and the ones who do are mostly males; most people drink coffee or other beverages during daylight hours.

I tried to connect to the public WIFI a number of times but I am never successful.

I finally wake up early my last morning to take pictures in town. My photos aren’t the greatest but at least I don’t have all the shadows of the daytime. I enjoy watching the town wake up. The garbage collectors are out and they have a trail of dogs waiting for trash to spill out along the way.

I make one last stop at a cafe to get a coffee and a pastry before it is time for my bus to leave.

I loved my stay in Jardín but I must be moving on. I have one more small town to visit before I go to Cartagena to meet my friend in a couple days. Right now I am heading to the town of Salento.

When I booked my bus ticket I was under the impression that I would be taking a fun chiva part of the way. However the bus company I chose uses regular coaches for the journey. I am disappointed but I did learn that the chiva buses are quite uncomfortable so maybe I did make the correct choice.

chiva bus
chiva bus

This is my actual ride….

The bus ride is relatively comfortable. I mostly have the row to myself but occasionally have to let another passenger sit next to me. A man enters a bus with a burlap-like sack tapered at the top. I hear a loud qui-qui-ri-qui coming from the bag (Spanish for cock-a-doodle-doo). We are sharing the bus with a rooster – well a rooster in a bag. He is very vocal today, as heard in the video below.

One of our rest stops

Today is a long journey of two bus rides. The first bus travels from Jardin to Riosucio on a 3-4 hour journey (with a couple health stops).

We have a bit of a layover in Riosucio. Luckily there are other friendly travelers taking the same journey. I am able to leave my bag with them to go buy a snack. It is nice to have a few people to trust enough to leave your heavy bag with; I of course return the favor. From the nearby café I pick up some empanadas, cheese bread, and the most amazing pastry called Pasteles de Arequipe (Dulce de Leche Turnovers). Sounds like a healthy lunch to me!

Bus number 2

The second bus ride is another long journey (3-4 hours). I nap a bit but I do enjoy the scenery on the way. There is no rooster on this leg of the journey!

I finally arrive in Salento. The bus station is at the bottom of a hillside. According to my map my lodging is not too far away. I walk a little uphill and a couple blocks over to my hotel Casa Olier Hotel which is more like a bed and breakfast that has its own chocolate factory! I picked a great place to stay. Again it is a little more than I would normally pay but since it is my last month traveling why not?

View from my window

After my hotel check in I walk to the town center. The town is built on hills so there is much walking up hill during my visit. I head to the town square and order dinner. I have a dog companion waiting for his share.

Salento, Colombia
The signature dish of Salento, Colombia, is trucha con patacones— trout with mashed, fried plantains
Feed Me Please!

I wander around the lively town at night. I tried to have a cocktail at one bar but some rude dog is hogging the seats.

It is a long travel day so I head back to my hotel. Tomorrow I visit a finca or coffee plantation.

Salento Streets at night. Things seem pretty safe here.

Medellín To Jardín

Town of Jardin

For the next part of my Colombia travels I want to experience small town Colombia. In the interest of time I have chosen two towns to visit: Salento and Jardín. Today I am heading to Jardín.

As I stated previously I attempted to follow the usually very good RometoRio app for directions to the town of Jardín. However the app this time tried to send me to the wrong terminal in Medellin and on a bus to the wrong city. My hotel concierge helps me determine there is a direct bus to Jardín from the south terminal of Medellín.

The journey is three hours and the roads vary from highways to bumpy and curvy mountain roads. Early on the ride there are many stops to pick up additional passengers. Vendors also periodically board selling plantains, chips, cookies, beverages, fresh cut fruit and ice fruit – this is totally normal for Colombia. I can’t resist buying some plantain chips.

People get on and off our bus at various points. At one point we picked up about 15 school kids catching a ride home.

View along the ride

Once I arrive in Jardin I am greeted by colorful buildings with large hills as the backdrop. The town definitely has its charm. I walk a couple blocks to my hotel Hotel La Casona.

Hotel La Casona

My hotel is adorable and I enjoy the included breakfast in the courtyard that my room overlooks.

View from my room
View from my room

Rooms are simple and contain an ensuite bathroom.

I spend my first afternoon wandering around town. I find a café to order a drink (or two). I want to order food to dine al fresco but it appears they have rules about dining outside. My waitress instructs me to go inside once my pizza is ready to eat it. I never had the reason explained to me but I am assuming there is some sort of no outdoor dining ordinance. The town center is full of lovely colorful tables; they must not want the clean up and mess for the courtyard.

I hang out here my first evening
Main town church

Colorful buildings on my walk around town.

Views of the hillsides…

I once again sit at an outside table and people watch as the sun sets.

I have a moment of bliss. This town and this travel style is exactly the type of travel I love. I am glad I booked multiple days here.

Medellín: Botanical Garden and the Metrocable

For my second day of sightseeing in Medellín I decide I head down to the Jardín Botánico (Botanical Garden). I like Medellín but it is busy and there is pollution; I am craving some nature today.

I walk from my hotel Diez Hotel Categoría Colombia down to the metro station of El Poblado. It is a 20 minute walk but it is all downhill. Even with the downhill walk it gets hot walking to the station since it is pretty warm outside.

Along my walk to the metro
Active streets today

Once inside the station it takes me a little while to get the confidence to purchase a ticket and determine which direction I should go on the metro. I finally figure things out (note: There is no electronic ticket booth to purchases passes. You must visit the attendant at the ticket booth who speaks no English.). I purchase a pass with a balance on it. It is hard to determine how much I should initially put on the pass and they attendant isn’t much help (the line is long so I don’t want to hold up everyone else asking many questions). The balance enough for the current ride so everything is fine for now.

The metro system so far seems to be efficient and clean. I later learn that the metro is a huge thing of pride for the city. Other parts of the city may occasionally get destroyed but NO ONE messes with the metro. Building this train was a public works project when things were still so grim for the city. One can say it represents a beacon of hope.

It is pretty easy to reach the botanical garden once I exit the metro. I am happy to discover the garden is free to the public.

First thing I notice some of the same plants that grow pretty well where I live. It makes sense because we have a similar climate back home.

One thing we don’t see in central Florida is iguanas randomly walking around.

We do see many of lizards of the smaller size back home, like this one.

The butterfly garden is closed for some reason.

I basically wander through the park and admire all the plants.

Gardens

I finish out my visit with the succlents.

It isn’t the best botanical garden I’ve visited but it is good that it is free. It appears like some of the bigger exhibits are closed during my visit.

When I leave the botanical garden it is still early so I try to visit a sculpture park – Parque de Las Esculturas Cerro de Nutibara. The sculpture park is supposed to contain interesting sculptures and a charming replica town among other things (according to descriptions). I map out a route for a metro/bus to what I thought was one of the main entrances. I get dropped off in a quiet industrial area on one side of the hill. This area does not seem like the correct place. I wander around trying to find a park entrance and I come up with nothing. I search on my phone and it appears that where the entrance should be is blocked off due to construction. If I want to visit the park I am going to have to try to get to the other side. The problem is at this point that I am tired, not familiar with the safety of the area, and not even sure it is feasible to get there by foot. I give up and take the metro back to my hotel area.

Once I get to my metro stop it is a long, hot walk uphill. I make lots of stops to catch my breath.

More street art
Street performers

Instead of going back to my hotel I hang out in a park for a little bit. This area is quiet now but I know it gets busy in the evening. I end up calling early night once again.

The following day I decide to try at nature once more. Today I want to visit Arvi park. According to my research all I have to do is take the metro to the Acevedo station (on line A) and take the metrocable (K-Line Metrocable).

The metrocable gives me an arial view of town.

I arrive to the top of the line where I am supposed to switch to the L that will take me to Arvi Park. The only problem is the L line is closed. There is no reason posted. My only choice now is to wander out into an unknown neighborhood to find a taxi or take the cable line back down the way I came. I end up taking the line back down. I wish I would have known the line was closed so I could have arranged another form of transport. At this point a good amount of the day has passed so I decide to just go back the neighborhood I am staying in. Hopefully I have time to visit the park on my next visit to town.

View from metro

Once back at the hotel I do research on how I am getting to my next town tomorrow. I have been using the app Rome2rio the past couple months for travel research and up until now it has been pretty reliable with routes and time frames. The app is not accurate in Colombia. I tried using it to plan my travel to Jardin tomorrow. It is completely wrong. First it has me leaving from the wrong bus station; there are two bus stations in Medellin (north and south) and it is very important to be clear on what station you need to leave from. Secondly the app routes me through the wrong town. Luckily I discuss my travel plans with the concierge at my hotel prior to leaving. I would have had a very unhappy travel day tomorrow.