Valle de Cocora is easily one of the most beautiful landscapes that you will find in Colombia. The valley of the tallest wax palms is a cloud forest nestled between the Andean and Central cordillera, the palms tower over the trimmed green fields. Cocora Valley is about half an hour away from Salento, the closest town and where most people choose to stay and do a day-trip in Cocora. If you are a keen hiker, you might want to stay on a farm or camp in Cocora Valley itself.
There are two options, the short hike and the long hike.
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. The long hike takes around 5-6 hours, depending on your fitness and how often you stop to take photos.
For the the long hike, most guides will tell you to take the path through the blue gate on the right (above) as signposted. DO NOT DO THIS. The secret is to do the hike the opposite way around and start at Cocora Valley (this way, you will finish at the blue gate). This way is a much more pleasant, gradual climb up to Finca de la Montana, 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).
Cocora Valley – Finca de la Montana (approx. 1 hour)
Go directly to the Cocora Valley 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 hike (a few days). A leisurely 1-hour hike will take you up to Finca de la Montana (2,860m). Don’t forget to poke your head through the shrubbery on the way up – there are some breathtaking but hidden viewpoints!
Finca de la Montana – Acaime Casa de Colbiris (approx. 40 mins)
From Finca de la Montana, you can hike to Acaime Casa de Colibris in about 40 minutes (1.8km), which involves going 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.
Acaime Casa de Colibris – the green gate (via la finca el portón) approx. 2 hours
After, you can back head down again. Pass the desvío where you came down from Finca de la Montana, 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. Acaime to the green gate is about 2 hours at a leisurely pace.
Willys depart from the main plaza every hour from 6.30am – 5.30pm, it takes about half an hour. Return Willys to Salento run from 7.30am – 6.30pm (every hour). During festivos they will run more regularly. The trip costs $3,800COP each way.
Entrance to Acaime $5,000COP
Hike on the path $3,000COP
What to pack for the day
- Food! Some sandwiches or bread and fruit. There isn’t anywhere that serves food during the hike so be prepared. If, like us, you brought nothing but a banana, you might be able to plead the family that lives at Finca de la Montana to sell you some breakfast!
- A waterproof – the mountain weather is very changeable with mist or rain in the afternoon
- Sturdy walking shoes (hiking boots or decent trainers are fine)
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.