Thinking back on my travels last year within Colombia, I keep going back to a trip I made with three friends to two small towns in the department of Caldas: Salamina and San Felix.
Our main goal? See some of the tallest palm trees in the world in the Valle de la Samaria near San Felix!
You may remember my post about the Cocora Valley – this is the most common destination in Colombia to stand in awe of the waxy giants. But living in Manizales, Caldas, we had heard about a mysterious second place nearby – San Felix – where we could see the same kind of natural beauty (but supposedly, even bigger!).
As we could see on a map, and as we heard from others, the town of Salamina was also close by. Salamina is a “pueblo de patrimonio cultural” – a town of importance for Colombia’s cultural heritage.
So, a beautiful town plus some beautiful palm trees? We were all about it.
How to Get There
We hopped on a bus heading to Salamina from Manizales (no pre-booking needed, just show up and buy your ticket; buses go there frequently.) The trip should take about 2- 2 ½ hours and a one-way trip should cost you between 16,000 and 20,000 Colombian Pesos.
Once there, we could have hopped on another bus relatively quickly heading towards San Felix, but we decided to explore the town a while and grab lunch.
Still, our time was restricted since we were told the last bus to San Felix left at 3:00pm (not sure if it’s like that everyday but this was a Saturday!).
There are also communal jeeps that can take you, if you prefer.
The ride to San Felix takes about another hour, winding deeper through the mountains (take some Mareol with you if you tend to get motion sick).
From San Felix, you can hire a jeep to take you the roughly 7km route to the “Mirador Valle de la Samaria” – from there you will be able to visit the Samaria Valley and stand in admiration of the tall palms!
Of course you can also walk there from town if you feel like a bit of a hike through the country.
We were so glad we stopped for a while in Salamina – it’s a beautiful little town with colourful buildings and built into the mountains. Just walking the streets is fun to do, but we especially loved the pretty town square and the impressive cemetery with a view. Here are some photos:
San Felix is a really small and sleepy town. We arrived in the rain so there was hardly anybody about; it was a bit spooky, really.
We used the bathroom in the pool hall, bought some food in the little tiendas (shops) and asked around to see about the price for a jeep to the Mirador.
However, the following day when we walked back to town, we were greeted by a happier looking town with coloured buildings, although it was pretty empty still.
Camping in the Valle de la Samaria
Our plan for the weekend was to camp among the palms and we didn’t have much of a plan besides that. We were just following some rough advice given to us by another fellow who’d made the trip and hoping for the best.
The campesinos (country people) in San Felix thought we were crazy when we asked them where we could go to camp because it was really cold and rainy that evening. We didn’t care though; we had our tents and sleeping bags, we had tuna, bread, and chocolate bars; we were ready!
Once you arrive in the Mirador Valle de la Samaria, you will find a lovely house there where a really kind family live and operate their tourism business. They have rooms that you can stay in, and they also had a gazebo set up outside for those who wanted to camp in a sheltered area.
We set up our tents there and – though chilly as we’d been warned – it was really awesome. We could have even had a fire had we not been so terrible at starting one! We’d come unprepared in that regard, and there was little kindling around that we could use. Suggestion if you end up going to not end up sad and fireless like us – bring wood!
Waking Up Surrounded by Palms
The morning was spectacular as we woke up to the rolling green hills speckled with the huge palms. And nearby: cows grazing, chickens clucking, dogs running around. It was an idyllic morning. I personally was the last to wake up in typical me-fashion, and went down into the valley to find my friends getting an impromptu lesson in how to milk a cow.
I joined in of course, and milked my first vaca! We even tried the milk right after, when it was still warm. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, it was actually pretty subtle and sweet. However, since I don’t even drink cold milk regularly, I took a sip and that was more than enough for me.
What to Do at Mirador Valle de la Samaria
The family of the house offers guided walking tours of different durations to explore the valley at very economic prices. Our tour guide was a girl who was still just in high school but who was amazingly knowledgeable about the biodiversity of the area!
There are also tours on horseback, and delicious lunches offered at the finca (country house).
In addition to our tour, the father of the family took us into the cornfields to pick our own corn. We then brought it to the house to be roasted right away (delicious!). Afterwards, he took us around looking in the fields for the eggs that the chickens had laid.
He also taught us how they grind dry corn kernels to make the corn paste that is used as a base in some kinds of arepas and other yummy Colombian foods. It’s a strenuous job that requires upper body strength and endurance. No small task, it’s a process that takes a couple hours!
To find out more about what’s on offer at the Mirador, you can go to their facebook page or give them a call at 314-611-5899.
Please note that the valley is actually privately owned so as far as I know, it is not possible to walk around without first stopping at the Mirador.
And of course, you can always comment below, send me a message here or through Instagram, and I will get back to you.