One of the most recognizable tourist attractions in Colombia, the Cocora Valley (Valle de Cocora) is home to the country’s national tree and symbol, the towering Quindío wax palm. This is an easy trip from Salento, the region was our favorite and a must-see on any Colombian itinerary. Here’s our guide to Hiking and Visiting Salento’s Cocora Valley, Colombia.
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You’ll start any visit to the Valle de Cocora from Salento. So make sure you’ve picked an awesome place to stay there and had a good night’s sleep before you head to the Valley.
Transport: How to Get to the Cocora Valley – Willy Jeeps
Getting to the Cocora Valley is surprisingly easy and affordable thanks to the colectivo 4WDs (affectionately known as ‘Willys’).
These old trucks give travelers a ride out to the Valley for only COP3,800 each (one way) – the ride isn’t particularly comfortable and they are sin seatbelts, but hey, you’re in Colombia!
Normally you’ll find the colorful Jeeps in the main square but when we found ourselves in Salento over New Year’s Eve, the square was closed so we made our way to Willys HQ which you’ll find just before the corner of Calle 3 and Carrera 3. Walk up the main road (Carrera 6) and turn left when you come across Calle 3. From there, walk down and up the hill again until you get to Carrera 3 (it’s not too far) – there you’ll find the 4WDs on your left.
Though there are officially set times of departure (check with your hostel as they seem to change a lot), we learned that in reality, the trucks just leave when they’re full (in both directions). We do suggest you leave no later than 9 am, though, to ensure you make it onto the trail with plenty of time to spare.
Option One: The Short Trip To Valle de Cocora
If you’re tight on time or just aren’t in the mood for a full hike, you can still tick off the highlight of the Valley, those giant wax palms.
Once you arrive, just keep walking straight ahead and after 20 minutes or so, you’ll find yourself at the base of the palms. From there, you’ll be free to head higher towards La Montana or to stay down on the lowlands – both are gorgeous.
If you don’t have the inclination to explore the Cocora Valley independently, then you’ll want to check out this guided trip to the Cocora Valley from Salento. It includes transport both ways, a tour of Salento and, of course, the services of an English-speaking guide too!
Option Two: The Full Hike Through The Cocora Valley
Do you have more time to explore? With a whole day at your disposal, we really recommend you undertake the full hike, looping around Valle de Cocora. The route is reasonably well-defined, but if you feel more comfortable with a guide, then this guided hiking trip of the Cocora Valley is for you.
To start, you’ll want to turn right at the blue gate, following the path down the hill. This track will take you past the trout farm and eventually through the cloud forest, along the river, and up to La Montana before winding back down through the palms.
The Highlights of the Full Hike Along the Cocora Loop
Checking out the Trout Farm
As you approach the bottom of the hill, soon after passing through the initial gate, you’ll come across a trout farm welcoming visitors.
The farm itself isn’t anything spectacular but we enjoyed wandering alongside the tanks, trying to spot the biggest fish whilst scattering food. It certainly wasn’t the main highlight of the day, but if you have the time, it’s a worthwhile stop on the hike.
Cloud Forest Beauty
The start of the hike along the loop is a fairly uninspiring one, working its way along a muddy walking path, with paddocks on either side. Before long though, grass gives way to the most beautiful cloud forest; if not for the lack of ferns, in fact, we’d have sworn we were back home in New Zealand!
The hike through the forest is absolutely gorgeous. Aptly named 7 Puentes (or 7 bridges), hikers move back and forth over a series of bridges, always weaving their way over the cascading river.
The hike itself isn’t incredibly challenging but on a muddy, misty, and surprisingly warm day, it’s fair to say, we felt it that evening! If you’re prepared and take it slowly, you’ll make it through the hike without any problems, regardless of the weather.
Acaime – Hummingbirds Galore
Tucked a little off the main loop, you’ll find Acaime, a hummingbird sanctuary. Though the sanctuary is basic, it’s a great opportunity to see these incredible little birds in the wild. All of the birds are free to come and go as they like (but with sugar water on offer, why would they ever leave?!) and a reasonable array of species can be found showing off.
The entrance includes a drink and there’s a very basic kitchen if you’d like some food cooked up. The breakfast and coffee are a great break on the hike! The walk adds approximately 40 minutes each way to your hike but if you have the time, it’s a worthwhile addition to your day. We sat happily for 20 minutes or so watching the birds flitting around – I just can’t get enough of them!
La Montana & The Main Event – The Wax Palms
The icon, both of this region and of Colombia itself, the wax palms are no doubt the main reason visitors make the pilgrimage to the Cocora Valley.
When we first reached the palms, just down from La Montana, they were absolutely enveloped in mist. Though the mist brought with it its own sense of magic, it was a little disappointing to have finally made it to the palms, only to find them practically unrecognizable.
Though visitors can walk down (or up) the steep mountain path, due to the rain and mist, it was abundantly clear to us that it wasn’t a good idea at that point in time. Instead, we continued our hike down the road, where we could be sure of our footing. Hiking in Colombia comes with risks, make sure you have adequate travel insurance (read our guide to Colombia Travel Insurance here)
As we neared the bottom, we were finally rewarded with clearing weather and beautiful views of the trees that we came to see…
Seriously – look at them!! Like Hiking but not sure where to start? Check out our guide on hiking tips for beginners here.
The Cost of a Day at Cocora Valley
The real beauty of a trip to Valle de Cocora (aside from the obvious natural beauty) is its price. A day in the national park will cost you very little but even at twice the price, it would be a bargain by international standards.
- Colectivo to Cocora Valley = COP3,800 per person, one way
- Entrance to the park (for the longer hike) = COP3,000 each.
- A self-guided tour of the trout farm = COP3,000 including a bag of fish food
- A visit to the hummingbird sanctuary, Acaime = COP5,000 including a drink
All up, that’s a total of COP18,600 each which, if you ask us, is fantastic value!
The Cocora Valley – Background
Formed in 1985, the Cocora Valley is part of the Los Nevados National Natural Park. Before the formation of the wildlife sanctuary, there were concerns regarding the exploitation of the wax palms, but the national park has since provided a safe haven for these gorgeous trees along with countless other species of local flora and fauna. The endemic wax palm is Colombia’s National Tree (which you can see in Bogota’s Botanical Gardens if you don’t want to come here! – it’s one of the best things to do in Bogota.).
Gear List: What You’ll Need for the Cocora Valley
- Good shoes. Ensure your shoes/boots have good soles on them (and that you don’t mind them getting dirty). If you don’t have anything that fits the bill, you may like to look at hiring a pair of gumboots from town before leaving Salento. Our guide to the best budget hiking boots for men is here.
- A rain jacket. Due to the location and elevation of the palms, they often sit amongst the mist and rain in the afternoon. This needn’t stop you but be sure to take a jacket (or at the very least, a poncho) so you can hike in comfort.
- Water and snacks. There are a few places on the trail where you can buy food and drinks (La Montana and the hummingbird sanctuary) but options are limited. You’re best to take your own and supplement your packed lunch with treats should you wish.
- Sun protection. Though we didn’t need it, on a nicer day, you won’t want to be without a hat and sunscreen.
- A good backpack. If you undertake the full loop you’ll want to put your gear in a comfy day bag.
- Some of the trails can be steep, if it’s wet, then I’d definitely recommend hiking poles, which are a lifesaver when it comes to wet slippery slopes!
With gorgeous views, iconic sights, a good dose of exercise, and a price tag that’ll make your wallet happy, a visit to the Cocora Valley, just outside of Salento is an absolute must whilst you’re in Colombia.
… just remember, we told you how muddy it can get!
Today’s post is a collaboration with Sarah from NZ Travel Tips – while we hiked the valley ourselves (and have the muddy boots and hundreds of photos to prove it), I never quite got round to writing about it. So a big cheer to NZ Travel Tips!
Like Hiking? At ASocialNomad we love it – and this is another of the amazing hikes we did in South America – the incredible (alternative) rainbow mountain of Palccoyo.
Getting to Salento from Jardin is a popular route – and here’s our guide on how to make this journey.
Where to Stay in Salento
There are many places to stay in Salento – here’s our pick of the luxury places to stay in Salento, mid-range places to stay in Salento, and budget accommodations in Salento.
Hotel El Mirador del Cocora, Salento: The Hotel El Mirador is located 400 m away from the center of Salento, and has stunning views of the Cocora Valley. This exclusive hotel’s rooms are equipped with cable TV, a mini-bar, free WiFi, a safety deposit box, and an en-suite bathroom some selected rooms have a balcony overlooking the magnificent view of the stunning green landscape, and, if you opt for the right room, you’ll get magnificent wildlife spotting chances too!. Be sure to check out the private hot tub options, they’re amazing! Daily gourmet breakfasts are available at the Hotel El Mirador. Check Hotel El Mirador’s room availability here.
Terrazas de Salento, Salento: The Terrazas de Salento is located on a hilltop overlooking Salento. Terrazas de Salento’s rooms have their own private bathrooms with toiletries and a hairdryer, board games, cable TV, a coffee/tea maker, and free access to WiFi. The hotel also offers other facilities such as a game room, a garden, and a family room. The Terrazas de Salento is a great option for a relaxing and fun stay in Salento. Read more reviews and room availability at Terrazas de Salento here.
El Zorzal, Salento: The El Zorzal hostel is located 500 m away from central Salento and offers free WiFi access and daily breakfasts. The rooms at El Zorzal have satellite TV, a seating area, either a shared or private bathroom with a shower and free toiletries, and a safe. The hostel also has a shared kitchen, a games room, and a garden for relaxing. El Zorzal is a fantastic place to stay if you plan to self-cater on your visit to Salento. See room rates at El Zorzal here.
Travel Tips for Exploring Colombia
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Final Words on Hiking and Visiting the Valle de Cocora, Salento
This is a truly gorgeous day out from Salento (if you missed our guide, then here are all the best things to do in Salento) and you’ll definitely want to make time for it. Whether you choose to hike the full circuit or simply take a trip, the majesty that is the national tree of Colombia – the wax palm, then it’s an experience that you’ll never forget and that is unique in this area of Colombia. What are you waiting for?
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