Friday, June 28, 2013

El Eje Cafetero: La Serrana Eco Farm and Hostel

Like I've already said, I came to Salento for some rest and respite and by the end of the trip, forgive me for the clichĂ©, but I felt like brand new. This little godsend along with Valle de Cocora is the reason why. Situated a 15 minute walk away from the town centre, La Serrana Hostel is situated in an idyllic and peaceful setting. For this reason, the hostel might not be up your street if you don't fancy walking but I enjoyed the walk into town every day.

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The views on offer by La Serrana


Rooms are kept spotlessly clean and are spacious. Female-only dorms are available with the added bonus of all the dormitories having en-suite bathrooms. There are three private bedrooms available also. Prices range from 22,000 COP to 65,000 COP a night. There is also the possibility to camp on the sight from 12,000 COP a night. The rates also include a free breakfast with the choice of either eggs and bread or fruit salad with coffee. The onsite restaurant also offers big, family-style meals (11,000 COP) every weekday. The Mexican meal was lovely with the best guacamole. I was also left postively stuffed (a hard task) so value for money is great!

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The hostel is brilliantly run with very personable staff. You will also get to know Pablo, the manic dog, who despite the fact that Jeep taxis come and go every hour, will still chase every single one down.

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The best photo I could get of Pablo


NB. I have in no way, shape nor form been paid to write this review. I highly enjoyed my time at La Serrana and good word should spread, hence why I have written this. Not that La Serrana need my help as they consistently get 4/5 star reviews!

La Serrana, Via Palestina, Salento, Colombia. For booking information, go here. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

How to renew a tourist visa in Colombia

So in between my Salento posts (more to come soon) and ticking off things of my To-Do list, I recently had to renew my Colombian tourist visa. In most cases on arrival to Colombia - cases differ country to country, you can obtain a 90 day tourist visa. In a calendar year (January-December) you are entitled to 180 days on a tourist visa.

Thankfully, the process is relatively straightforward. I used Medellin Living's guide (they regularly update this so it's a good idea to consult this page) to give me a good idea of what I needed. The items required were:
  • A lovely unflattering passport photo of yourself (3 x 4cm)
  • A photocopy of your passport information page
  • A photocopy of your immigration entry stamp page
  • Proof of onward travel (This has changed from before)
  • Contact details of a Colombian contact (both address and phone number required)
You then have to take all this information, your passport and yourself to the nearest Immigration office. There will be one in most big cities. For those in Medellin, the office is in Barrio Belen, Calle 19 #80A-40. Office hours are between 8am-4pm Monday-Friday (excluding national holidays) with a 2 hour break for lunch 12pm-2pm. 

Firstly, you will present yourself to the front gate where security will give you a tag. You will proceed to reception where you will present yourself again and be given an application form to fill out. For volunteers, I have been told it is best to not say you are a volunteer as it brings it into the murky, ambiguous territory of being considering work. Therefore, for the question place of study/work just put N/A. You will then sit in the waiting room until you are called. NB. Phone use is prohibited so bring yourself a book or magazine to keep yourself occupied whilst waiting. 

First stage of the visa renewal is that Immigration will take your fingerprints and have a photo taken for their records. You will then have to wait again until an immigration officer is free to deal with your application. You will asked to pay for the visa renewal which is 76,850 pesos. You have the option to pay by either debit or credit card at the office or you can pay with cash at any Banco Occidente branch (Information for this is on the Medellin Living guide). The immigration officer will then ask you the usual questions ie. why you want to renew your visa, when will you leave Colombia, how do you know your Colombian contact. NB. Language student epic fail, having thought that dueno  meant landlord, I swiftly realised that was not the case when it prompted a few sniggers from the immigration officer. Dueno, my friends tell me, means an actual lord whereas propietario is the word for landlord. Learn from my mistakes, kids.  

All going well, you will receive your freshly stamped passport and you're good to go for another three months! Buena suerte. 

Have you recently renewed your tourist visa in Colombia? How was your experience doing so?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

El Eje Cafetero: Valle de Cocora

Valle de Cocora is the reason I came to Salento in the first place. I had seen the pictures, now I wanted to see if it would live up to the hype.

Did it? Wait and see...

I was told that to make the most of the weather (it usually turns cloudy about 1pmish) I had to be up early. Somehow, I managed to drag myself out of bed, walk into town - although I managed to hitch a lift halfway through - and be in the town square for the 7.30am jeep ($3600 each way) 40 minutes in a typically cramped jeep later and we were dropped off at the starting point of the trek.

There are a few options for the trek: you can do the short route where you just walk up to the viewpoint and back, you can do a circle route (with the added option of going to Acaime) or you can do the considerably longer route which takes in the viewpoint Estrella de Agua. You can also do the trek by horse although this is discouraged due to the impact on the trail. I plumped for the circle route and chose to do Acaime as well.

The terrain starts off pretty easy for the first few kilometres.

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And immediately, you are treated to views such as these:

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About 1 and a half kilometres in, you will hit the forest where you will have many of these to deal with:

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Some of the bridges are surprisingly unstable so take caution if you do do the trek! Eventually, you will come to the junction where you have the choice to either go straight up to La Montana which is about 2 kilometres away or you take a slight diversion and go up to Acaime which is about half a kilometre away. I chose to go to Acaime as it is the only place on the route that offers actual toilets rather than bushes and a chance to sit down with a hot drink. There is an entrance fee to Acaime which $4000 pesos but that includes a hot drink of choice.

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Chocolate con queso


There is also a photo opportunity with the resident hummingbirds although they didn't stick around for long enough/I don't have quick enough reflexes to get a great photo.

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Then back down to the same junction again to begin the ascent to La Montana. It's a fairly steep ascent but it is doable for most. Once, you reach the top, you are treated to views such as these:

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Once I caught my breath, back on the road I went towards Cocora. This part of the trek offers the best views of the famed wax palm trees - pub quiz fact, they are the national tree of Colombia. The part also offers respite as it is just about all downhill too! 

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Awkward, squinting selfie!


I arrived back in Cocora 4 and a half hours later beginning to end. In much need of refreshment, I headed to a little kiosk doing arepas de chocolo (sweetcorn fritters) and other goods. There, I had one of the most amazing drinks ever which was limonada de mango. It is for once not too sweet(a rarity in Colombia), quite tangy and has the added kick of salt to make things interesting. If you make it there, try it and thank me later!


So back to the original question, did it live up to the hype? A resounding yes. My advice is that you go early to ensure the best weather and that you do the hike yourselves without horses. The views are absolutely spectacular especially if you're a shutterbug so go, go, go!

Have you been to Valle de Cocora? How did you find it?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

El Eje Cafetero: Salento

I love Medellin, don't get me wrong, but last week I had Medellin burnout (or more likely Donde Chepe burnout.) Having not left the city since April, I needed some much needed rest and respite. Therefore this Saturday, I headed to the beautiful town of Salento in Colombia's coffee region. Rising early to catch the bus to Armenia ($37,000 pesos 6 hours journey with Flota Occidental) despite the lack of sleep, I stayed wide awake due to the beautiful views on the way. Without any hitches, I arrived in Armenia feeling surprisingly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I pretty much hopped off the bus to Armenia and hopped on the bus to Salento as buses to Salento ($3,600 pesos) are every twenty minutes throughout the day until 8pm. Forty minutes I touched ground in Salento. Whilst, I had been told many great things about the town, I didn't expect to fall in love as much as I did with the place.

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The style of the town reminded me a lot of Cartagena's Old Town but the feel of Salento was a lot more sleepy and subdued than Cartagena. I actually preferred Salento to Cartagena. The town might not be quite as in-your-face stunning but the town's laid-back atmosphere makes it the perfect weekend escape.

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I am a big fan of being able to wander about and Salento had plenty to offer for this, especially with the town's mirador which offers you views such as these:

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I also enjoyed the little details in the town such as the Willy jeep taxis parked in the main square and the wornout patterns on the paving stones:

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And to think, I was only just getting started exploring the coffee region!

Have you been to Colombia's coffee region? How did you find it?