A Colombian Dream – La Cabaña Eco Hotel – Review

Green Acres is the place to be.
Farm living is the life for me.
Land spreadin’ out so far and wide.
Keep Medellin and give me that countryside.
 
Sometimes you return to a place which you loved, only to find it a disappointment. Perhaps it’s no longer trying so hard. Or maybe it’s under new management. Or, most often, the memory is just somehow better than the reality. This is not the case with La Cabaña Eco Hotel.
You may remember this place from last August when you voted that I visit Colombia. While there, I’d heard about Salento from locals and travelers alike. Still, many of those travelers seemed to be staying at hostels in town and I was looking for a bit of peace. I searched on one of the many online booking sites and found La Cabaña Eco Hotel.
One of the toughest parts of traveling non-stop is the decision-making. Every day, one must decide where to go, how to get there, in what area to stay, which flight to take, which hotel, Airbnb, guesthouse, pension, or other accommodation in which to stay, how to pay, who to trust—oh, so much. This is the reason I appreciate you so much for telling me where to go; one less decision. Because of this, it’s such a great feeling when you realize you’ve made the right decision. This place was one of my victories.
When I found myself back in Colombia, specifically in Medellin, to research an article which I hope to sell, I knew I’d need to find a little peace after a month in my very noisy Airbnb. A month of listening to (or trying not to listen to) the ruckus from the event space and three bars located below my fifth-floor apartment and wafting through the windows, which didn’t quite fit their frames, had me craving the quiet, natural surroundings of Salento. When my work in Medellin was done, I hopped a bus headed for Salento.
Thanks to construction along the way, I arrived in Salento after a six-hour bus ride which took nine hours. Apparently, flag-men make up 60% of the workers in Colombia (don’t quote me on this, as I truly have no idea). When I visited in August, I was dropped on a street corner without any clue how to get to La Cabaña. They’ve now built a bus terminal. Well, it’s actually a parking lot with a few cement buildings selling snacks as well as a kind of cool modern art sculpture. I texted Hector, one of the owners of La Cabaña and, within ten minutes, a dark SUV pulled up with a familiar face behind the wheel.
Main BuildingLess than ten minutes later, we arrived at La Cabaña Eco Hotel. La Cabaña is divided between two red and white wooden buildings situated across the street from each other. The main building, with five Porchsleeping rooms, some with lofts so you can throw the kids up there and forget about them (though you’re required to take them with you when you leave), also houses the kitchen, dining room, and various outdoor seating areas which are nice places to enjoy a glass of wine before dinner or a beer after a hike. Being in the coffee region, there’s River Housecoffee available 24-hours-a-day (also tea).
At my request, my room was not in the main building, but in the River House across the street. I planned to be here for a month and it just seemed as if it might be a bit quieter in the four-room house (five, if you count the couple who works here and lives in the room next store with their two daughters) away from the kitchen. If I chose to cook my own meals, the River House had an outdoor kitchen with a four-burner stove, a full-size refrigerator, microwave, sink, and all of the pots, pans, and accessories you need to cook a fine meal. I just needed to supply the ingredients (there’s a small supermarket and fruit stands in town) and the wine. Always the wine.
ManureAfter driving through the wooden farm gate and up the tracks cutting through the grass we arrived at my building. As I stepped out of the car I immediately landed in a soft pile of cow manure. (TOMS were not made for this.) As Hector apologized, I laugh it off. After all, this is a finca which translates to “farm” in English. To be more specific, it’s a dairy farm, producing approximately 2,000 liters of milk per day and, on a dairy farm, well, shit happens.
I entered my room and though it seemed smaller than the one I’d stayed in previously, with a king-size bed, there was plenty of room for an enjoyable month-long stay.
CowsI awoke the following morning to noise. Sure, I chose to be away from the kitchen, but some things are unavoidable. Approximately 132 different species of birds live in this area and their morning songs created an orchestra filled with a variety of instruments which were joined by the base of the cows mooing while chomping their way through the grass field outside my window. Comparing this to the cacophony coming from the downstairs bars in Medellin might be like comparing Acid Rock to the Boston Philharmonic.
Directly outside my door, the picnic table provided a desk with a beautiful view to sit and work each day (or cruise Facebook and pet dogs). Oh, yes, that brings up Dogthe dogs; Lassie and Bimbo. Lassie belongs to Hector, Lina, Maria Camila, and Alejandra. They’re the family who owns this farm (it’s been handed down from Lina’s family), as well as nearby avocado and coffee farms. Lassie is the most amazing dog I’ve ever known. She’s not just a pet, but a worker; herding cows and horses, and sometimes people. She knows her job and goes to work with no prompting. And when her work is done, she appreciates a good belly rub. (Don’t we all?) Bimbo belongs to the family next door to me. He’s a younger and smaller black and white dog who Other Doglikes to follow Lassie around on her herding chores with the understanding that, as it’s not really his job, he can leave at any time. His favorite hobbies are chasing horses (not herding, just chasing), eating bugs, and biting at my shoelaces as I walk across the street to the main house.
A breakfast buffet is included here. Depending on the day, it may consist of eggs, cheese, toast, cereal, tamales, rice and beans, arepa (a ground corn flour circular-shaped bread), fresh fruit, pancakes, french toast, juice and, of course, coffee (this is the coffee region).
Horseback rideAfter breakfast, you can to go hike in the Cocora Valley (the main reason people come to this area) amongst the Quindio Wax Palms, the tallest palm trees in the world. You may also want to go visit of coffee farm to understand the entire coffee-making process from growing the beans to brewing the perfect cup of joe. Horseback riding is a great option and can be done directly from the farm. The wrangler will take you up into the surrounding hillside or to a nearby waterfall. Another half-day tour will take you by car to the cloud forest where you’ll enjoy the most amazing views of the area, including a forest of Wax Palms, and a visit to a finca where you’ll be served a local, non-alcoholic drink called Agua Panella. This area is a wonderful place to watch the colorful colibríes (hummingbirds) native to this region.
TreesFinally, another option is to simply hike the green hills surrounding the finca. While doing just this, I happened to pass the pasture where the cows were being milked. Stopping to say hello to David who was handling this process, I was invited to do some milking myself. David showed me the pull and squeeze method (wait, that sounds dirty, but you understand) and then held a cup while I milked. He then invited me to drink it and, with some hesitation, I agreed. I’m not sure why I was surprised when it tasted like, well, milk. Nothing like a fresh milk break in the middle of a beautiful hike.
SalentoIf you choose, you can walk the just-over two kilometers into the town of Salento (one of the family members will also be happy to drive you) for dinner and a game of Tejo—what Colombians like to call their national sport—which involves beer and gunpowder.
HammockStill, even with all these activity options, one of the best things to do while staying at La Cabaña is to lie in a hammock and read while listening to the birds and the rushing river in the background. You can also enjoy watching the frenetic flight of the hummingbirds from here.
Should you choose to stay at the finca for dinner, La Cabaña serves a small menu with some traditional Colombian specialties including trout (grilled or in a garlic sauce) and bandeja paisa, what I like to call the Heart Attack Special, which includes rice and beans, chorizo (sausage), chicharron (fried pork belly), fried egg, and patacones (smashed fried plantains). This is Colombia’s twist on the phrase, “To see Paris and die.” There’s also pasta, a nice sandwich, and grilled chicken.
HectorIf you happen to be here during a busy time, you may have the great luck to enjoy their Lomo al Trapo. Hector or Maria Camilla prepare beef and pork loin by coating it with salt and tightly wrapping it in cotton cloth. They then place it in the hot coals of the campfire burning on the front lawn. Dinner is served under a canopy on the lawn with the meat, potatoes, a tomato salad, sauces, and wine (always wine). After dinner, there are marshmallows to roast while Hector pulls out his guitar and serenades the crowd with traditional Colombian songs in a beautiful baritone voice.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I’d planned to stay for a month. Well, we all know how I feel about planning and, as I saw no reason to leave, I stayed for two months, only leaving because, after a total of three months in Colombia, my visitor’s visa was expiring and instead of renewing it I decided it was time to explore more of the world.
When you stay at La Cabaña, you become part of the family.
If you’d like to more information about La Cabaña Eco Hotel, you can visit their webpage at: https://www.lacabanaecohotel.com/, like their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/lacabanaecohotel/, or follow them on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/lacabanaecohotel/
This stay was not hosted and no special rates were provided in exchange for a review. I just really love this place.
 

How Green Was My Valley

Stop what you’re doing! Seriously, stop right now and get on your computer – oh, I guess you’re already on it. Ok then, leave this page and immediately book a trip to Salento, Colombia. You can fly into Periera or Armenia (yes, Armenia, Colombia) or, if you want, you can fly to Medellin or Bogota or Cali and take a long, curvy bus ride.
Still unsure? Here’s a taste of why you should do it:
 
Following the long and winding road I took from Medellin to Salento, and after finally arriving at the Eco Hotel La Cabaña, I enjoy a brie, apple and prosciutto sandwich while sharing a bottle of wine with the French family staying in the room next to me. They’ve also arrived today but, as they came earlier, they’ve taken a dip in the river behind our house. We’re all hungry and the owner’s daughter, Maria Camila, has brought us dinner to enjoy on the porch in front of our rooms where we chat about our Colombian adventures thus far and our plans for the next couple of days.
The Eco Hotel La Cabaña consists of two houses across the street from each other with a combined total of nine rooms accommodating 26 people. As I settle into my room, a few flying creatures welcome me. This is a leche finca or dairy farm, and, though only a five-minute drive from the town, it’s still in the countryside and, though there don’t seem to be mosquitos, there are moths and other random bugs. This is no reflection on the cleanliness of the place, it’s just my room has lights and these types of insects are attracted to them. After unpacking and catching up on the news (yup, it has cable TV), I settle under my down quilt for a good night’s sleep.HotelWhen I  awake in the morning I don’t want to get out of bed. It’s a bit cool, not cold, but after the heat of Cartagena, the change in temperature (low-60’s Fahrenheit in the morning) is a shock. Climbing out of bed, I open the curtains and consider the possibility that my bus through the Andes might not have made it to its destination safely and I may have died and gone to heaven. The daylight allows me to see what I couldn’t last night; large black and white cows roam the pasture just outside my window chomping on perfectly green grass looking as content as I feel.
 
PuppyI dress and walk outside, immediately hearing the splash of the gently rolling river behind the house. I now get my first real look at the two houses of the finca. The white buildings with red trim are built in the local style with railed porches surrounding the entire structure and Dogwhich remind me of the Antebellum homes found in the southeastern United States. Walking over to the main house I say hello to the very friendly and very-well taken care of dogs who belong to the ranch owners and some staff before settling in a seat in the small dining room where I meet some more fellow travelers and staff.
Breakfast is fresh fruit, tamales, eggs, toast, homemade cheese from the cows on the farm (well, the cows didn’t make the cheese, but they did supply the milk and the farm staff made the cheese), juice, yogurt (the yogurt in Colombia is in the form of a drink), and, being in the coffee region, coffee is available 24-hours a day.
During breakfast, I speak with Maria Camila about the options of activities here and, as the weather is nice today, both Maria and I decide it’s a good day to hike the Corcora Valley.
The Corocora Valley is part of the Los Nevados National Natural Park and is known for its Quindío wax palm trees which, growing as high as 150-200 feet (45-60 meters), are the tallest palm trees in the world. It’s also filled with other incredible flora and fauna, as well as lots of mud.
JeepThere are a few ways to see the Corcora Valley. 1) You can drive there and enjoy lunch, coffee, or a beer while contemplating the incredible scenery. Oh, and by drive I mean you catch a ride on one of the many Willys. These Jeeps, which were left over after World War II when the U.S. government no longer had a need for so many, found homes in the coffee region of Colombia. These workhorses are normally outfitted with some bench seats lining the sides of the back and can carry up to 10-or-more people using the front and back seats, as well accommodating four people standing on the back bumper while holding onto Jeep Insidebars on the roof. 2) Grab a Willy to the entrance and take a 2-hour hike into the Valley. 3) Grab that Willy (wow, this is beginning to sound dirty and perhaps you should do that in private) to the entrance and take the 4-6-hour hike through the jungle, up the mountain (up even further if you want to go see the hummingbirds and parrots), and then down into the Corcora Valley. Choosing option number 3, I grab my Willy (wait, do I even have one of those?) and head off.
The first step is to find a Willy. I’m staying just out of town between Salento and the Corcora Valley and most people find their Willy in the town square. (Please excuse me as I need to take a moment to bang on my ear to force the Willy jokes out of my head.)
Okay, I’m better now. On a normal day, I could wave down a Willy with an empty seat, or back bumper to climb on and bring me to the hike. Unfortunately, today is a holiday and many Colombians have come to the area for the long weekend. (I’ve been here for three weeks and this is the second holiday, though I don’t really understand what either holiday has been about.) Maria Camila calls a Willy for me which, as it’s now private, costs me 10-times as much as a shared one would (COP31,000 versus COP3,100 or about US$10.00 versus US$1.00).
I arrive at the park about fifteen-minutes later and find my way through the blue gate to begin my hike. I’m told the hike is well-marked and I shouldn’t have a problem with getting lost. I later find this to be true as I get lost without any problem. Before long, I arrive at a small wooden structure next to which stands a man pointing to a map painted on a wooden sign. He’s giving instructions in Spanish and eight or ten people from various countries who don’t speak Spanish are nodding their heads pretending to understand. The man collects our COP2,000 entrance fee and we move on.

Mud
General trail conditions

I slide along the muddy trail thankful for my waterproof hiking boots yet, as good as the traction may be, I still manage to accomplish pratfalls which leave my pants, shirt, and hands a healthy shade of brown. (It’s my own personal mud bath.) The trail winds through the jungle, up hills, and across a multitude of footbridges made from wood planks and wire which bounce and sway as I walk across. Being sure to wait for the person in front of me to exit before taking careful steps to balance on the wood while touching the thin wire along the side, I quickly learn not to grab the wire as some connecting areas on the bridges and many areas along the trail are linked with barbed Nun Crossing Bridgewire. At the first bridge, I wait for the habit-covered nun in front of me to cross. She stops for a moment before stepping on the bridge. Touching her head and chest, she first crosses, and then she crosses.
I continue on, meeting travelers from all over the world – lots of French and Israelis – slogging through mud, up and down hills (though mainly up), and crossing questionable bridges. I’d already decided not hike up to the birds as I had my fill of Hummingbirds in Minka and, as they surrounded my hotel verandah, I didn’t have to hike uphill for an extra half-hour to see them.
Top of hikeThough I was told the trail is clearly marked, there aren’t really any signs and, at the few intersections I come to, it’s a choice of one muddy trail versus another. Still, hikers help each other along the way to find the correct path. The last forty-or-so minutes are strictly uphill. Eventually, I come to a clearing which allows me to see a series of switchbacks climbing the side of a beautiful green hill. Taking a Flowers Mountain Corcora Valleybreak every twenty steps, I finally crest the hill where I find grateful people happy to have reached the top and enjoying just breathing while sitting on benches or lying in the grass. The sunshine and incredible views give us renewed energy while everyone refuels with snacks they’ve brought. Joining in, I take a half hour to simply breathe.
The rest of the hike is downhill. Along the way, I meet two Italian women who are hiking with a guide they’ve hired. We enjoy nice conversation before coming to the Corcora Valley. Around every bend Corcora Valleywe find unbelievable scenes straight out of a painting. The grass coating the rolling hills is perfectly trimmed and dotted with wax palm trees reaching high into the sky. The guide has us scraping our fingernails on the tree in order to feel the wax coating which indigenous tribes melt and use as a waterproof coating for their legs while crossing the river. She also tells us of the tradition to hug a wax palm and points us to one twenty-feet away on the side of the hill. I and one of the other women go in for the hug while the other lady introduces me to an Italian phrase, “I have arrived,” meaning “I’m done.”
Wax Palm TreesEventually, I do arrive and have a coffee at the small indoor/outdoor restaurant while sitting on a bale of hay and chatting with some locals and travelers. I walk over to the parking area and grab a Willy with one extra spot for me on the back bumper. I stand with three other women and, buzzed on adrenaline, we’re all feeling powerful after our hike and enjoying the wind combing our hair while traveling through the picturesque countryside. Fifteen-minutes later, I jump off the bumper, pay the driver (only 3,100 this time) and head straight to the shower.
Riding on the back of WIllyNow, what the hell are you still doing here? Book a trip to visit this paradise of Salento and the surrounding region right now!