This is a very simple question: My favourite one is the hidden jewel with the wax palm forest in La Carbonera! It might be possible that you have not even heard about this undiscovered treasure as everyone just talks about the famous Valle del Cocora – but I can tell you that these two places can not even be compared! Both places can easily be reached from the colonial town Salento.
The famous wax palm is the national tree of Colombia and actually there is a huge danger of extinction! These wax palm trees can reach up to 70 meters but they grow very slowly with about 3cm per year! The wax palm forest of Valle del Cocora has become very famous during the last years and in every travel guide book you will find the recommendation to go there! It is also the gate to the Nevados National Park which means that you can do a small hike for a couple of hours or also for a couple of days sleeping in different farm houses! It is about 20 minutes drive in a typical Jeep Willys from the colonial town Salento! But I have already told you about this great place in a previous blog!
Now I need to tell you about a truly hidden jewel which I must admit is much more impressing and overwhelming with thousands of wax palms and actually woods of wax palm trees: La Carbonera! With a 2-hour drive by Jeep Willys from Salento, it takes much longer to get here but it is definitely worth it! You will cross different beautiful landscapes starting at 2.000m of altitude and getting to 3.000m once you arrive at La Carbonera – many photo stops along the way are a must! You can observe many flora and fauna with many different bird species! Don‘t miss to do this visit with the fantastic guide Nestor (unfortunately he only speaks Spanish – but you can always take a translator) – he grew up in this area and will tell you many great stories about his life there! In the past the mountains of La Carbonera were also home to the FARC guerillas, so he tells you also anecdotes about this history! Nestor is a great caracter and will make this trip even more special for you with his interesting stories and special laugh!
Once you get to La Carbonera, you will hike through the amazing landscapes of the huge wax palms and you will probably not stop making pictures of the beautiful surroundings! I must admit it has become one of my most favourite places and is one of the most impressing and wonderful places I have seen in my life!
At the end of the hike you will enjoy a typical hot sugarcane tea or hot chocolate with cheese at a local farmers house! Here you can also observe many hummingbirds and will probably be surprised about the variety of different species! This is a great place to get a great picture of the hummingbirds! If you want more adventure, you can also take a mountain bike tour to or from La Carbonera and there are also different possibilities of hikes going back to Salento town!
Afterwards you will enjoy a delicious picnic surrounded by the beautiful landscapes of the wax palms before heading back to the town of Salento! Of course, you shouldn‘t miss to visit this cute colonial town with its colorful houses and maybe have a delicious cup of coffee in Café Jesus Martin or play the typical Colombian game Tejo!
I can highly recommend to stay at the hotel Gran Azul which is just 10 minutes walking distance from town! It has beautiful big rooms with an amazing view and the spanish owners are very friendly! Here you can also practise some yoga, if you like!
So my recommendation is definitely to take the longer ride to the hidden jewel La Carbonera instead of the famous Valle del Cocora! I must admit when I got there the first time I was actually in shock and was wondering why do they promote Valle del Cocora so much if there is another place so much more beautiful closeby?! Come and visit these beautiful places and let me know what you think :)!