Valle de Cocora is home to the tallest wax palms in the world, and one of the most breathtaking landscapes you will find in Colombia. The palms grow up to 60m high, their spindly trunks soar into the sky like the stroke of a paintbrush against a beautiful backdrop of trim green fields. Valle de Cocora is a cloud forest nestled in the Coffee Region, between the Andean and Central cordillera and about half an hour away from Salento, the closest town and where most people stay and do a day-trip in Cocora. The Valle de Cocora hike takes you through the stunning valley of wax palms to the Finca la Montaña viewpoint, then through the muddy trails and rickety wooden suspension bridges. In the hummingbird sanctuary of Acaime, you can experience the magic of hummingbirds in their natural habitat up-close.
The short hike is to go directly to the Cocora Valley and loop back the same way you came, which you can do in a leisurely 1-2 hours, either by foot or by horse. For the active adventurer and nature lover, the long hike takes around 5-6 hours, a long, satisfying, tiring full-day hike. But the secret to making the most of Valle de Cocora hike is to do it clockwise rather than anti-clockwise!
Most guides will tell you to take the path through the blue gate on the right, as marked by the signpost (above). DO NOT DO THIS. Instead, do it the opposite way around and start at Cocora Valley (this way, you will finish at the blue gate). This way is a much more gradual climb up to Finca la Montaña, and a pleasant mostly downhill stroll. Otherwise, it is an uphill struggle up the steep side of the mountain and you’ll be beyond exhausted by the time you finally reach the main palms. Also, it tends to be clear and sunny in the mornings – the best time for photos in the main valley – and the afternoon clouds over (and can rain pretty heavily if you’re unlucky).
Go directly to the Valle de Cocora on the muddy path. After about ten minutes you will see a gate on your right with a sign saying “sendero turisticó $3.000”, enter through the gate (it looks like a farm, there might be some cows grazing on the field) and take the path that crosses the valley. Do not follow the sign towards Parque Nacional los Nevados, which takes you by the river and is a much longer, several-day hike. A leisurely 1-hour hike will take you up to Finca la Montaña (2,860m). Don’t forget to poke your head through the shrubbery on the way up – there are some breathtaking but hidden viewpoints!
From Finca la Montaña, you can hike to Acaime Casa de Colibris in about 40 minutes (1.8km), which involves climbing down and then up again. Casa de Colibri is well worth the extra hike, and for a measly $5,000COP (includes a drink) you can get up, close and personal with the hummingbirds!
The owners of Acaime put out sugar water for the hummingbirds, of which there are around fourteen species inhabiting the cloud forest. The hummingbirds come and go, flying around your head – they are accustomed to human presence. It is a great photo opportunity – if you can catch one as they are very speedy!
The most common one you’ll see is the buff-tailed coronet, which is green with bronze tailfeathers. We also spotted the long-tailed sylph, with its long blue-Jasmin tail; the gorgeous collared inca, with its snow-white chest or the small, round and fluffy Cuban emerald zunzun. The guides there are very knowledgeable and can tell you all about the species and their habits.
After enjoying the hummingbird sanctuary, you can back head down the same path you climbed up. You will pass the desvío where you came down from Finca la Montaña, keep heading down – there is only one path. It will take you by the river, which you’ll cross several times over some rickety wooden suspension bridges. You can smugly greet people you meet on their way up, huffing and puffing away up the mountain.
This will eventually take you out of the dense cloud forest into the valley clearing, and once again you’ll see the wax palms silhouetted on the mountain. You might notice there will appear a parallel path beside the one you’re on – don’t worry, both go the same way. The left (the one you come out on) is for the horses, and the right is the path you want to walk on. You’ll pass fincas and a trout farm onto the other side of the valley and eventually come out by through the green gate which you passed at the start of the hike. From Acaime to the green gate takes about 2 hours at a leisurely pace.
After your hike, you can head to one of the cafes or restaurants for a cup of coffee or some lunch before heading back to Salento.
Aim to leave as early as possible from Salento, ideally for the first jeep but otherwise before 9am – especially if you go during the weekend or a holiday. The cloud forest climate means that mist and even rain often takes over during the afternoon, so you want to start hiking early to see the wax palms while the sun is still shining.
Willy jeeps run from Salento’s main plaza to Valle de Cocora every day starting from 6.30am. They run every hour (or as soon as they are full). During public holidays and weekends they may run more frequently due to high demand. For the more adventurous, you can choose to stand at the back of the jeep and clutch onto the rooftop – you will be windswept, but you will enjoy the best views! For the return journey from Valle de Cocora to Salento, they run every hour until 6.30pm.
Salento to Cocora
Cocora to Salento
During public holidays they will run more regularly.
The cost for each trip is $3,800COP ($1.3USD / €1.06 / £0.94)
If you are looking for a nice, filling meal post-hike, Restaurante Los Orillos (next to the blue gate) sells a delicious corrientazo style menu for around $15,000. Everything is served on a big and crispy patacón – you can choose between trout, chicken or beef with or without a creamy mushroom sauce, served with rice and a delicious coleslaw.
There might a local, fairly official looking guy with a clipboard asking you to pay a kind of “insurance” for around $5,000. This is not compulsory, and personally I think it is a kind of scam for tourists. They will act like it is compulsory, but explain that you do not want to pay it and they will ask you to write your name and sign that they won’t be responsible for any accidents.
Day budget $15,600COP$5.50/€4.50/£4
Willy from Salento to Cocora
Willy from Cocora to Salento
Entrance to Acaime
Hike on the path
With lunch +$15,000
= $30,600 $10.50/ €8.50/£7.50
It is possible to stay in Valle de Cocora itself, with rooms or camping options in local fincas. However, this option is more expensive than staying in the nearby town of Salento. Not only is it a convenient and easy day-trip, but the town itself is worth visiting – full of colours, quirky shops and cute little cafes – not to mention breathtaking mountain views.