The Cocora Valley is, hands down, a mandatory stop for all the visitors travelling to Colombia. Cocora is known for giving life to the world’s highest palm trees, the so called “palmas de cera” (wax palms), considered Colombia’s national tree. They can reach a height of up to 60 metres and they only grow at the surprising altitudes of between 1.500 and 3.000 metres above sea level. In the Cocora Valley you will discover the entire chromatic scale of green among its mountains and stunning views that won’t leave you indifferent.
It is a natural area located in the Cordillera Central of the Colombian Andes, in the Quindío Department, a very well known coffee region. It is part of Los Nevados National Natural Park, where peaks as high as from 4.600 and 5.300 metres high can be found, such as Nevado del Cisne (4.636m), Nevado del Quindío (4.760m), Nevado de Santa Isabel (4.965m), Nevado del Tolima (5.276m) and Nevado del Ruiz (5.321m).
¿How to get to Cocora Valley?
The “base city” to visit the Cocora Valley is the colourful town of Salento. The closest cities to Salento are Armenia to the south (25 km) and Pereira to the north (37 km), cities that can be reached by air. After, either from Armenia or Pereira, the cheapest option to get to Salento is by bus or “buseta” as the Colombians call it.
We flew from Medellín to Armenia, to the El Edén International Airport. There, we took a taxi to the city centre, to the Bus Terminal and there we took a “buseta” that took us to Salento. The journey tooks us an hour approximately and it cost us around 7.500 COP (2$).
Once in Salento, in order to reach Cocora Valley, one has to go to the main square, Plaza de Bolívar, and take the most popular means of transports in the area: the Jeep Willys, as I have mentioned before in the post the best coffee farm to visit in Salento. The tickets can be purchased from a small kiosk next to where the cars are parked. The journey takes around 20-30 minutes to the entrance at Los Nevados National Natural Park and the ride costs 4.000-5.000 COP.
The first cars leave around 5:30h in the morning and they keep doing it every 30 minutes almost all day long. The way back to Salento is also by Willys, the last cars leave Cocora Valley around 18:30h in the evening.
Weather and best season to visit Cocora Valley
The Cocora Valley is available to visit all year around. The spring seems to be settled in almost permanently, with an annual average temperature of 15ºC, highest of 25ºC and lowest of 12ºC.
Even so, due to its altitude, and to the fact that the winds coming from the Pacific Ocean are stuck in the Andean mountains, which creates an ecosystem with a very humid climate, makes it rain almost daily and it is usual to find the wax palms surrounded by fog. The views are still breathtaking, even with the mysterious thin fog.
My suggestion is that, no matter the season, go as soon as possible in the morning, as the rain is more common in the afternoon. This way you will also take the most of the sunlight hours.
¿What do I need to pack for Cocora Valley?
The Cocora Valley trek it is not a demanding one, the trail has no technical difficulties, although it is always a plus to be in good shape. The complete circular track covers 15 km, but you can adapt it to your needs. Meaning, one can reach the Palms Forest Viewpoint and go back, and that will be only 4 km. In any case, here you have a list of the essentials you need to take with you to Cocora Valley:
- Trekking boots: the Cocora Valley is an area with a very humid climate, where fog and rain are usual. I recommended wearing trekking boots, as there will be areas with mud and you’ll need to cross a stream every now and then. If you didn’t pack trekking boots, you can rent some rubber rain boots at the entrance of the park, where the Jeep Willys leave you.
- Raincoat: as I have just mentioned, the weather in the Cocora Valley is very humid and it rains almost daily. It is highly likely that you will get wet at some point during your route, so don’t forget to bring a raincoat.
- Water: bring enough water for a 6h trek, as you won’t find any place along the way to buy it. There’s a couple of shops at the entrance of the park where you can buy some drinks and snacks, but that’s it.
- Food: I highly recommend bringing food. First because there’s no place to buy anything during the trek and second because it is the perfect location for a picnic with amazing views. Bring lunch, drinks, snacks and stop wherever you like to restock on energy. There are some accommodations in Salento which prepare a Lunch Pack that includes a sandwich, a piece of fruit, a drink and a snack. If you order it at night you will have it ready by morning. You can also buy some food at the supermarket in the main square of Salento or at the entrance of Cocora Valley, where there are a couple of shops.
- Cash: the entrance at Cocora Valley is not free. Apparently the Palms Forest is inside two different private properties, so you have to pay at the entry of the first property (5.000 COP) and then you have to pay again when you leave the second property (4.000 COP). If you want to visit the Hummingbirds Reserve during the trek, this cost 5.000 COP. So, the total price to visit Cocora Valley would be 9.000 COP and if you add the Hummingbirds Reserve that would make it 14.000 COP.
Itinerary of the Cocora Valley trek
The complete circular route consists of a trail of about 14 km, with an incline of 550 metres, reaching a maximum altitude of almost 3.000 metres. The trip can be completed in about 4 to 6 hours, depending on one’s pace. The points of interest along the way are: the Forest of Palms, the Valle de Cocora letters (since 2019), the Viewpoints, the Mountain Farm, Acaime or the Hummingbirds Reserve (optional), La Estrella del Agua (optional) and the bridges area. For those who use Wikiloc, here you can check the itinerary.
We took a Jeep at 8:30h in the morning in the main square of Salento. It had been raining all night but it wasn’t raining now and the sky wasn’t completely covered in clouds, which was a good sign. We arrived at the park entry around 9:00h, after a 20-30 minute ride in the Willys, in which besides from tourists, also local people ride like children in order to get to school or other people to get to farms nearby. It was surprising seeing the first wax palms already from the parking where the Jeep left us.
We decided to make the trip clockwise, as opposed to the majority of people. This way, most of the trail is downhill and you also save one of the most beautiful parts for the end. After a few metres from the parking you’ll find small kiosk to the right, where you’ll have to pay 5.000 COP in order to enter the first private property. You’ll start walking along a beautiful meadow which is already full of palms, after that you keep going on a wide forest track with a light but constant ascent. On your left you will see the white sign of Valle de Cocora, before passing by the Forest of Palms and reaching the Viewpoint.
We couldn’t be luckier with the weather. Not only it didn’t rain but we even had a minute of blue sky to take a couple of pictures of the slender wax palms!
After the viewpoint, from which one can appreciate the green chromatic scale at its peak, we continued walking on the wide forest track that went up to the Mountain Farm, at a height of 2.860 metres. We didn’t exactly know if the Farm was a restaurant or a private house, but we felt the urge to sit on a terrace to have a drink, as there was a celestial calm and spectacular views. Our illusions shattered, we didn’t see a soul and the place was closed.
At this point, in which we had already lost sight of the slender palms, it starts the descend to the bottom of the valley in a zig zag narrow way. The soil gets more humid every step, as we are getting closer to the Quindío river. Once at the bottom of the valley, you find yourself at halfway of the trek. You can continue then clockwise to the bridges area and make your way back, or you can make a detour to the left and visit Acaime, the Hummingbirds Reserve.
To get to Acaime, you need to climb a short but steep ascent. At the beginning of the slope there’s a sign that indicates you are entering a private property and that you need to pay 5.000 COP to access it, but you don’t have to pay it until you get to the top. At the top, a guy will put you a bracelet and you have to give him the money. Keep your expectations low, the “Hummingbirds Reserve” consists of a couple of wooden bird houses and nectar dispensers for the birds to drink. There is also a wooden shelter with some tables and seats and a kitchen with highly doubtful health standards.
The entrance price includes a drink (hot or cold) and we took advantage and tried hot chocolate with cheese (won’t fall for it again). The best thing in this place was that the hummingbirds are so used to people, that you can take pictures at a very close distance without scaring them.
Despite the place wasn’t amazing, we decided to have lunch here. We sat on the wooden tables with the rest of the people, grabbed our sandwiches, our piece of fruit and our drink and we rested for a bit. Afterwards we took a few pictures of the hummingbirds, which I had never seen so up close before, and we carried on.
You now have to undo the way you did to go up to the reserve, and then continue the circular way. If you don’t see it clear just ask the people, most of them come from the bridges area, the one you need to head for.
The bridges area was the most beautiful for me, besides the palms forest of course. You find yourself totally deep in the forest, everything is still green, and as a bonus you have the murmur of the Quindío river for a soundtrack. The river needs to be crossed 6 or 7 times, hence the bridges area. The bridges are made out of wood, and they are not in the good condition you wish they were, however, this added a bit of excitement to the trek.
After crossing all the bridges and move away from the river, we entered a meadow full of wax palms that raised towards the sky among the foggy weather. Yes, in the end we couldn’t escape from the fog and a bit of rain, but the landscape was still just amazing.
By the end of the path that you see on the picture above, we found the second kiosk where we had to pay 4.000 COP again, as we left the second private property. After that we walked a bit more to reach the parking, where we took a Jeep Willys by 18:00h, that brought us back to Salento.
In a nutshell, visiting Cocora Valley is a must, visiting the Hummingbirds Reserve can be passed over. I only recommend you go, if you have never seen hummingbirds before, since as I said before, they don’t seem to be afraid and you can see them very close which is amazing. If on the contrary, you’ve seen it all, the detour to Acaime it is totally avoidable!
By the end of 2019, Valle de Cocora joined the damn fashion of putting up various artistic installations for tourists to take their photos for Instagram. So, for those who are interested, you can find the famous Mano de Acaime (Acaime’s Hand) inside the Café La Finca, as well as the letters of Yo Amo Cocora, or Valle del Cocora, big colored wings, frames and other stuff.