The remarkable Cocora Valley is one of the main reasons why so many tourists flock to Salento (as well as the coffee!). The valley is part of the Los Nevados National Natural Park and is the principal location of the national tree, and symbol of Colombia, the Quindío wax palm, as well as a wide variety of other flora and fauna (some endangered), all of which are protected under the area’s National Park status.
There are many delicious walks to tempt the budding rambler inside Cocora Valley, but the main attraction is definitely pondering at the bizare layout of hundreds of 60 meter tall wax palms! Our tour guide for the Salento Coffee Tour told us that although incredible to look at, the palm forest is unsustainable as it stands and will not be the same for the next generation of palms. This is because they are all the same age/height and will all die at a similar time; the next generation of palms which should live on are being destroyed by the cows which roam the land.
A more sustainable way would be to have lots of different sized palms so when some die, others are growing through…it wont look quite as cool though, right?
Getting to Cocora from Solento
From the main square in Salento you can jump in the back of one of the Jeeps lined up opposite the Police Station. There is a timetable on the hut next to the convoy so check this out the night before you plan to go. I would recommend getting the first jeep of the day (around 7:00 am) as the weather is often clearer in the morning and you will probably want to spend the whole day at Cocora.
The Jeep takes around 40 minutes and costs COP$ 3800 per person, and boy do they cram people in there! The last Jeep leaves Cocora at 18:00 so don’t miss it and spend a fortune on a cab.
Once you get dropped off you can start a number of different hikes, though they all follow a similar circuit. They say you dont need a tour guide or a map but I would strongly recommend getting a map and checking the distances properly beforehand – the signage is not that clear and we found many people getting lost.
We had fun just going with the flow and exploring but we walked 10km more than we would have liked to up a very steep mountain!
I look quite happy at this point (below) but the treks do include lots of dodging of muddy pits, slippery rocks and walking over rickity bridges.
The walks are truly stunning and you will be spoilt for photo opportunities! There are also many brightly coloured birds which you can hear singing in the trees ahead and we even managed to see a tapia when we were passing over the mountain peak.
There are many different species of hummingbirds to be spotted and you don’t necessarily need to go to the nature reserve to see them, they are flying around everywhere if you keep your eyes open.
This photo (below) really demonstrates how breathtakingly huge the palms are!
It was so peaceful you could just sit amongst the palms and ponder at their unique beauty…or take silly posy pictures like we did.
Other than hiking you can also camp in the valley and there are many other activties to keep you busy, such as; bird watching, mountain biking, horse riding, rafting and swimming in the rivers.
Cocora Valley and Salento in general are becoming increasingly popular with tourists and backpackers as it firms its position on the gringo circuit…so get in there quick and explore the place beyond the palms!