A true Colombian treasure, the Cocora Valley is home to a very diverse ecosystem, endemic to the Andean region of the country. The beauty of the landscape has made this natural reserve one of the must-see destinations on your trip to Colombia.
Its visitors have fond memories of its hiking trails, clean air, forests, giant palm trees and beautiful birds. Located about ten kilometers from the picturesque town of Salento, Cocora is a great adventure for nature lovers from all over the world.
What is the history of the Cocora Valley?
Centuries before the Spanish conquest, the entire region was inhabited by some 60,000 Quimbaya Indians. Legend has it that Cocora is one of the most fearsome princesses of this valley nation. Its name means“water star“.
The Quimbayas are a powerful tribe. They live in villages of several dozen huts. They are most famous for their quite distinctive jewelry work. But slavery and inhumane treatment by the colonists made them disappear.
After colonization, many farmers settled in their former territories. The wood of the large Quindío wax palm is highly prized by the locals. To preserve this symbol of Colombia, President Belisario Betancur issued a decree.
Thus, on Monday, September 16, 1985, he turned the Cocora Valley into a sanctuary. That same year it became part of the Los Nevados National Natural Park.
Why is the Cocora Valley a natural emblem of Colombia?
The Cocora Valley is one of the most beautiful places in Colombia. A hike through this natural reserve will show you the wonders of the Andean ecosystem of the country. Exploring the beauty of the landscape on these hiking trails with their lakes, beautiful forests and huge palm trees has proved to be an exceptional adventure.
The valleys and landscapes of Cocora are already famous all over the world. In particular, the presence of the famous wax palms has made this park a must-see attraction on a trip to Colombia.
How many kilometers are there to the cocora valley?
It is 10 km to the city and the first hiking trails are usually done in Willys, former military jeeps.
Once you enter the valley, there are hiking trails that run throughout the reserve. You can choose to go on foot, but also on horseback or mountain bike. There are two routes available: The first route is 5 km long and the second, more difficult, is 12 km long. You can also stay away from the hikes and go directly to the palm groves, but it would be a shame to limit your exploration of the Cocora Valley to the palm trees – there is so much to discover! On the way you will be able to admire the beauty of the Colombian landscape.
To the right, a wide grassy area is extended by mountainous reliefs. To the left, the slope is green, and as you go deeper, the Andean forest has been replacing the few rosemary pines and holm oaks scattered throughout the area. Thick green moss covers the trees, the air is more humid and the sound of waterfalls echoes in the distance. Then a wooden suspension bridge will allow you to cross the first stream of the territory, despite the fatigue of climbing the rocky slope, this passage is still a wonderful experience.
Bears, blue hawks, mountain tapirs and yellow-cheeked macaws are said to roam the area. As you climb higher, a fork in the trail helps shorten the walking distance. Turn left and you will reach a rest area. The most persistent can continue through the jungle to the“Casa de Los Colibries“, a hummingbird sanctuary. Here these small birds flit around their red trough or orange flowers.
As you go on, the forest gradually becomes clearer. As you pass through the flower fields, you will see a wooden bench placed near a large cliff. From here the view of the Cocora Valley is simply breathtaking. The mountains are covered and full of greenery and the valley is adorned with enormous vegetation.
What are the wax palms of Quindío like?
Essential symbol of the Cocora Valley, the wax palms occupy a large area. These endemic trees are among the largest and tallest palms in the world. Most of them are 60 meters high, but some can easily reach 80 meters.
Exceptionally long-lived, many have reached a hundred years of age and seem to reach for the sky at all costs, while keeping their roots firmly planted in the earth. Perhaps that is why they have been chosen as a national emblem. These palms are characterized by living in the middle of the mountain, being the only tree that can be seen in this environment.
They are also the only species capable of surviving in a climate characterized by rain, fog and cold. Threatened with extinction due to wax extraction, these palms are now protected by the Colombian government.
Cocora Valley farms
Your excursion and nature walks in the Cocora Valley will take you through incredible landscapes, but also close to some sparrows.
From these small agricultural lands, we discover a small farm or inn where you can rest or take shelter in case of rain. In a natural and particularly quiet environment, severalspecies of sparrows offer shelter and food.
How long is the Cocora Valley Express Hike?
During your walking tour, you will follow trails with wax palms that are visible from the jeep parking area. To reach these majestic trees, you only have to walk 800 meters.
After a 30-minute walk down a gentle slope, you will land at the foot of the wax palms. It is a very short walk, but it will allow you to get to know the landscape.
It is perfect for people with limited mobility, families with children or those who do not have enough time to explore the Cocora Valley further.
How long is the short walk?
It takes at least an hour to walk the trail which, like all the others, starts at the jeep park. You will begin your walks through the forest crossing the palm grove at 800 meters.
Most tourists come back here, but not you. You will continue up to the first watchtower, where you can touch the giant trees. As you continue along the path you will come across a second watchtower a little further down.
Be careful, the slope here is a bit steep. This 3-hour round trip hike is suitable for those who do not like to walk too much.
How long is the walk?
This walking tour is recommended for visitors with more time. You will start the route at the jeep parking lot to reach the palm grove. There you will continue your walk and walk around the first lookout tower that offers a great view of the landscape and maybe you will be lucky enough to see an Andean god!
The trail will take you to the highest point of your hike. Everything else is an access ramp to the parking lot, so be careful not to slip.
How long is the Cocora Valley Loop?
To do these routes with hikers, you will need between 5 to 6 hours of walking to complete this incredible rotation. Several local agencies such as CartagenaTours offer this route with a local guide. This is an interesting option as your guide can give you valuable information about the fauna of the Cocora Valley.
The long detour starts from the parking lot, passes by the various watchtowers and the Finca Le Montana to reach Acaime. Along the way, you will have the opportunity to see many endemic bird species – a gift from heaven for birdwatchers!
How does horsemanship work?
If you don’t have a lot of time to do the long distance runs and you don’t particularly like walking I have a perfect solution for you! Several local agencies offer horseback riding excursions in the Cocora Valley.
This activity is very popular among tourists as it allows them to enjoy the scenery without getting tired. A local guide is an excellent driver and will ensure your safety throughout the trip.
What is the climate like in the Cocora Valley?
The Cocora Valley has a fairly mild climate, the ambient temperature varies between 10°C and 20°C. The weather is usually rainy and cloudy, regardless of the month of the year, sometimes a thick fog covers the region.
However, some days will have good weather and it will be sunny all day. Avoid going between April, May or October and November, as heavy rains tend to occur during these periods.
How can I get there?
If you are coming from Bogotá, you can simply take an interregional bus. Board a bus to the city of Salento. In Salento, go to the Plaza de Bolivar. There you will find several escorts and jeep drivers who will take you to the Cocora Valley for 4,000-5,000 Colombian pesos per person.
Hours and price
The Cocora Valley is a natural heritage site and is open daily from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm. Admission to the sanctuary is free. However, there is a charge for using some of the hiking trails. The “Finca La Esperanza” loan costs 3,000 Colombian pesos and you will have to pay 5,000 Colombian pesos to access the “Casa de Los Colibries”.
- The entire tour lasts about 6-7 hours, so you should choose comfortable walking shoes. It looks like it takes several hours, but in reality the route is not that demanding.
- Be prepared for rain, cold or heat, in the Cocora Valley, you never know and you can find the hottest sun, the rainiest rain or the coldest cold.
- You can stay as long as you want in the Cocora Valley; whether you want to walk, rest on the green grass, take the best pictures or just enjoy the view, remember that the last Jeep in Salento leaves at 5:00 pm.
- Camping is not possible in a valley reserve, but on the outskirts there are many options for camping, hotels, dormitories or houses.
- Bring plenty of water and snacks when you travel and you’ll be there all the time. They will serve to restore energy.
These are landscapes that are worth visiting and especially worth maintaining. This is what we sincerely ask of you. Don’t forget that it is a national heritage and symbol.