3 Great Hikes In Lesser Known Regions

I’m a big fan of including outdoor activities and adventures in my travels and hiking is one of my favorites. It’s a great way to explore an area while giving yourself and your camera a good workout. Of course, there are great hikes to be had all over the world, but here are three of my favorite hikes in regions you may not be familiar with. In fact, these hikes can be used as a reason to visit these areas in the first place.

Awright, let’s get to it.

The Cocora Valley in Colombia

The Cocora Valley—or Valle de Cocora—is situated in the coffee growing region of Colombia, south of Bogota. It is known, first and foremost, for its wax palms, the tallest palm trees in the world, which sprout from the scenery and give the place a magical, surreal atmosphere. The valley is shaped very much like a three sided bowl and the hike takes you along the bowl’s edge, offering spectacular views of vibrant green expanses dotted with those famous palms, long and thin trunks stretching improbably high and topped with sharp fronds that look tiny against the sky. The trail leads through pastures, jungle and cloud forests, fog often shrouding the surroundings and only adding to that surreal feel.

You’ve got a few options for your hike. Those who don’t have the time or mobility to do a long hike can begin and end their visit to the Vale de Cocora at the trailhead, walking left for a bit to the main valley—just follow the crowd. And yes, this area can get crowded as it is the most accessible but still photogenic. There are even structures set up to facilitate selfies. It’s a bit touristy, of course, but if you aren’t up to the full hike or short on time, it’ll give you a good taste of the place with plenty of opportunities to see and photograph those was palms. This option will take you all of thirty minutes.

The classic hike, taking you all the way around the valley, can be completed in about five hours, though I’d recommend budgeting six hours to allow for a couple rest stops and plenty of photo breaks. You’ve got the option to do the hike clockwise or counter-clockwise. I did it going clockwise and was more than satisfied. The drawback—if you can call it that—is that going clockwise you begin with the wax palms so that the later part of the trek is somewhat less interesting, while going counter-clockwise essentially saves the best for last. On the other hand, there are some rather steep sections of the trail which take you downhill when headed clockwise but uphill if taking the route counter-clockwise. I remember those sections and remember thinking I would not have enjoyed tackling them going uphill. I also encountered a few people doing so on my way down and they didn’t seem to be having much fun. Unless you’re looking for a physical challenge and/or absolutely want to see those wax palms at the end of the trek, I recommend taking the clockwise option.

Wear good shoes, bring a hat for the sun and a shell for the potential rain or drizzle. There’s one rest stop at around a quarter of the way (going clockwise) that sells drinks, but I strongly suggest bringing your own water and maybe some snacks. And, of course, don’t forget your camera.

Getting there is simple enough. Use Salento as your base. Salento is a pretty little town and the primary gateway to the Cocora Valley. It’s also a great place from which to visit some coffee plantations (called fincas), by the way. From Salento’s main square you can catch a 4×4 Jeep to the trailhead. Best to start early if you want to do the entire five hour hike. Check with your hotel or guesthouse for the departure schedule as it may change.

3 Great hikes In Lesser Known Regions
Cappadocia in Turkey

This is the area you’re more likely to have at least heard of. A region of Turkey, Cappadocia is known for its cave hotels, balloon rides, and otherworldly terrain. It’s this last bit we’ll be talking about here as there’s no better way to discover Cappadocia’s landscape than with a hike.

My suggestion is to begin in the small town of Goreme. Not only is it perfectly situated to enjoy many of the region’s countless trails, but it’s also a prime spot for a night or three in a cave hotel. In case you’re confused, Cappadocia is a rocky, desert-like region studded with stone formations that are, in turn, riddled with caves. Over the centuries—and millennia—humans have inhabited these caves (cave dwellers are called troglodytes, by the way, and so the settlements and even the hotels are sometimees referred to as troglodytic). Some locals in Cappadocia still make their homes in caves but many if not most have been converted to hotels and guesthouses. While in Goreme I stayed in two of these cave hotels and it is a truly unique experience. I highly recommend it.

But we aren’t here for the cave hotels; we’re here for the hikes. And Cappadocia’s got plenty to offer. In fact, I’m not even going to try to list them. I spent a week in Goreme and, with the exception of a single day spent relaxing and doing essentially nothing (I always try to include at least one such day on my trips), I went on a hike every day, following a different trail each time. Ask for a trail map at your hotel or simply ask them for their favorite trail and I’m confident you won’t be disappointed.

My own favorite hike included the so-called Valley of Love—which I came to think of as the Valley of Peens—due to its rather…um…evocative stone formations (as seen below).

None of the hikes in the area are especially difficult as the region is relatively flat while any descents and ascents are quite gradual. Be sure to gear up with good footwear, however, as the ground is rocky. Again, wear a hat for the sun and a light jacket is a good idea for whenever the wind kicks up. I was there in November and it could get cool never what I’d call cold (a Canadian speaking, remember), but the region can get snow in the winter, so keep this in mind.

Cappadocia—and especially Goreme—can get absolutely packed during the high season, so the shoulder months are a better bet to avoid the crowds. But, as mentioned, there are so many hikes to be had in the region that there’s always an option to escape the masses.

In addition to hiking, you’ll also have the option to explore the area on horseback or by ATV, though I didn’t try either; they’re not really my thing.

3 Great Hikes In Lesser Known Regions
Albania’s Accursed Mountains

I know, sounds like the kinda place a hobbit would travel to, maybe to rid the world of a cursed piece of jewellery, and this is certainly the most adventurous of the three hikes mentioned in this post. The Accursed Mountains stretch along the northern part of Albania, forming natural border between it and Kosovo. It’s a region that feels far removed from…well, everything. It’s the kinda place where shepherds still lead their flocks along narrow trails and through tiny villages, the kinda place where a mudslide can stall traffic for hours and a power outage can last days, the kinda place where blood feuds between families still simmer after decades if not centuries. It’s also a wonderful region to explore on foot.

The classic trek begins in one of two mountain villages and ends in the other. So you can either begin in the village of Valbona to then end your trek in the village of Theth, or vice versa. I chose the former, starting in Valbona, and I’m glad I did. Valbona itself doesn’t have much to offer beyond guesthouses butt it is a lovely place to spend a day or two and soak up daily life, that occasionally feels as though it hasn’t changed in about a hundred years. I recommend staying at least one night so as to get an early start to your hike in the morning. In fact, you’ll want to leave by no later than 9 am.

If at all possible, I suggest getting a lift to the trailhead, even if you have to pay a tad extra, as the walk from town to the trailhead can take at least 30 minutes and offers very little. In fact, the actual trail and views don’t truly begin until you reach another even smaller town called Rrogam. If I were to do it again, I’d even look into the possibility of staying the night in Rrogam.

From there, the hike will take you through valleys strewn with boulders and up and up into the mountains. The trail is well marked with red and white paint but I used my trusty compass on several occasions (my sense of direction is quite bad, however). The views are amazing and, in the fall, when I did the trek, the turning leaves are beautiful, blanketing the area in reds and golds blended with the greens of conifers.

And this brings me to why I recommend starting in Valbona: most of the best views are on that side of the mountain pass so that you can enjoy them before rain and clouds might sweep in to block the views. And, yes, expect some rain and a lot of mist, though these may not be so bad during the summer months. Be absolutely sure to bring a good rainproof shell.

Expect the hike to take six to seven hours. It is not terribly difficult but there are some steep and rocky stretches and the wind can be quite strong as you near and cross the pass.

Theth is a quaint village; I personally preferred it to Valbona. There are a few more shorter hikes to be done around Theth in addition to simply wandering around and enjoying the bucolic atmosphere.

To get to Valbona in the first place you’ll want to start in Shkoder, a proper city midway between the mountain region and Tirana, the capital. In Shkoder, your hotel shoulld be able to set up transportation to Valbona, just be sure to give them at least a day’s notice and be prepared to leave early. Also, in addition to rain protection and proper footwear, be sure to bring plenty of cash and some snacks. There are no ATMs in Valbona or Theth as of this writing. Your guesthouse will be able to provide you with meals (Albanian homecooked meals are excellent) and possibly a lunch for your trek, but there are few shops and the ones I saw were not very well stocked. Lastly, be sure to organize your transportation back to Shkoder as soon as possible with your guesthouse in Theth.

Oh, and I wasn’t kidding about power outages lasting days. All of Theth was blacked out for over 48 hours when I was there, so maybe pack extra batteries, a fully charged powerbank, and a solar flashlight before heading out, just in case.

3 Great Hikes In Lesser Known Regions

And there you have it, three great hikes in lesser known parts of the world that are not only accessible and safe but make for unforgettable adventures and can even serve as the centerpiece for your trip to Colombia, Turkey or Albania.