Valle de Cocora: one of the most beautiful (and famous) natural areas in Colombia. Hiking in Cocora is a feast for the eyes and a relief for the lungs. I have been there three times myself, and last time I walked with my friend from the Netherlands to the hummingbird house at the top of the hike. Cocora is known for the wax palm, or, in other words, the tallest palm tree in the world. There are many and they are beautiful. Discover this Colombian natural beauty and hike up the mountain!
Valle de Cocora: a green valley in the middle of the Colombian Andes
Valle de Cocora, or in English: Cocora Valley, is located in the department of Quindío in the Colombian Andes Mountains and is part of Los Nevados National Park.
The valley is one of the top tourist destinations in Colombia, and not surprisingly so. In particular, the tallest palm in the world, the wax palm, makes a big impression. In addition, you can do fantastic hiking, enjoy beautiful views and admire the great diversity of flora and fauna.
Valle de Cocora is located near the popular village of Salento and ranges in altitude from 1,800 meters to about 2,700 meters. In 1985, Valle de Cocora became a protected natural park to protect the extinct wax palm and the remaining biodiversity.
The wax palm: the tallest palm in the world
Everywhere you look you see the wax palm (palma de cera), the tallest palm in the world. Quite a powerful sight. There is not one, but hundreds on the mountain.
This tree can grow as much as between 45 and 60 meters tall and is also the national tree of Colombia.
As farmers used the palm for candles, building materials and Palm Sunday, the palm was threatened with extinction. Since 1985, the wax palm has been a protected species. Today, Valle de Cocora is one of the few places in the world where you can admire this immense palm. The wax palm provides habitat for several species of birds, including the yellow-eared parrot.
Hiking in Valle de Cocora
The most popular activity in Valle de Cocora is hiking. In this breathtaking setting, a pleasure to do. Bring your camera and take the best pictures of this beautiful area. Where low-hanging clouds regularly hide the tops of tall palm trees. A spectacular sight. Everywhere you look you see tall wax palms!
Hike to Reserva Natural Acaime
The most popular hike is from Cocora to Reserva Natural Acaime (the hummingbird house). From Cocora, turn right into the park. The first part is over grassland with potholes, stones and mud, then you enter the dense forest. Up to the top. Along the way, you will encounter wooden suspension bridges that lead you along the Quindío River.
After a spirited trek uphill, through the mud when it rains, you will arrive at the hummingbird house. Here you can eat and drink something, including hot chocolate with cheese. This hike takes about 2.5 hours to the top and 1.5 hours back.
Hike to Finca La Montaña
Back you can take the same route (1.5 hours) or go up a little further. About a kilometer before you arrive at the hummingbird house, you will find a turn to the left. This route leads to Finca La Montaña and goes up steeply for about an hour.
Once you arrive, the return trip is a bit easier and you will be back in Cocora after about 1.5 hours. This road I have yet to do myself. My friend was not yet used to the altitude and then this route (especially after it rained) is really tough.
Estrella de agua
At the top of the walks you will see signs pointing to Estrella de Agua. This is a tough muddy hike up the mountain past Acaime.
Estrella de Agua is a small farm where hikers camp en route to and from Los Nevados National Park. I have never done this section, but it is said that if you do not plan to go to Los Nevados it is better to skip this part.
A day trip
In Valle de Cocora, you can easily spend 6 hours. Assuming you stop frequently and also rest for a while at the hummingbird house. If you combine both hikes, the trip lasts longer. In Cocora itself you can also enjoy delicious food, including the local delicacy: trout. So take enough time to see Valle de Cocora. Would you rather not walk so much? Then you can also go up and down on horseback with a guide.
The hummingbird house in the Cocora Valley: reaching the summit
Many visitors are eager to see the hummingbirds at the top of the first hike. Acaime is a kind of hummingbird sanctuary where you will also find a small café.
Along with other hikers, you look out over the jungle where many hummingbirds fly around being fed with sugar water. Would you like to see and photograph more hummingbirds after this experience, in a less touristy place? Then visit Jardín Encantado in San Francisco (Colombia).
Practical information for a hike through Valle de Cocora
The weather in Valle de Cocora
Due to its high altitude and mountains that block much of the wind (and hold clouds over the valley), Valle de Cocora has a rainy and humid climate. This has created a unique ecosystem of cloud forests. Almost every day it rains at an average temperature of 15 degrees. However, the temperature can vary between 25 degrees and -2 degrees. This temperature is the same throughout the year.
When you go doesn’t matter so much. Although the dry season is in December and January, you can do the hike year-round. I myself did the hike in both the dry and rainy seasons (mid-November). In the rainy season, it had rained a lot the week before, making it very muddy, but during the hike the weather was beautiful. In the dry season, I had rain.
Here you can read more about the climate in Colombia.
Tours in Cocora and Salento
You can also join an organized hike. This guided hike through Valle de Cocora, for example. Are you short on time and want to combine it with a coffee farm? Then check out this tour.
Horseback riding in Valle de Cocora
Horseback riding is a popular activity in the Cocora Valley. You can arrange this on the spot when you arrive, or ask at your hotel about the options.
What do you bring?
On the hike up, there are no places to buy food or drinks, except for something simple at the hummingbird house at the top. So bring water and some food for energy. Because of the wet climate, the road is often muddy and wet. Therefore, make sure you have good, sturdy footwear and clothing that can get dirty. Don’t forget your raincoat either, and a rain cover for around your backpack can also come in handy.
Before you start the hike, there are many restaurants where you can buy food and drinks.
Keep in mind the altitude
A hike in Valle de Cocora means a hike up into the heights. The Hummingbird House is located at almost 2,700 meters above sea level, and the hike to Finca La Montaña is even higher. If you have just been in Colombia for a few days and are not yet used to the altitude, the trek will be a lot more challenging. Above all, take it easy and if it’s too tough go on horseback.
How to get to the Cocora Valley
From Salento a Willy (a jeep used as public transportation in this region) goes regularly from the central square in Salento to Cocora and back. This costs about 4,000 pesos per ride and takes about 25 minutes.
If you rented a car, you can drive the 11 kilometers yourself from Salento, on a good road, and park in Cocora. Admission to the area is free.
Where to stay.
Most travelers stay in Salento, a village that in recent years has become a true backpacker’s paradise. For me, the experience at Eje Cafetero is best when I stay in a place where I am in the middle of beautiful nature. Where from your bedroom you can already see the first palm trees and look straight into the valley.
Do you also want an experience like this? Then stay in Eco-Hotel La Cabaña, on the road between Salento and Cocora. Read everything about this wonderful hotel here. Would you rather stay in the village? Then click here for accommodation options in and around Salento.
Hike through the impressive Valle de Cocora, one of the most beautiful natural areas in Colombia.
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