Our guide to hiking the Cocora Valley Colombia

The beautiful Cocora Valley is situated in the Quindio department of Colombia about ten kilometres from Salento which is where most people base themselves to access the valley and it’s hiking trials. It’s famous for being the best place to see the national tree of Colombia, the wax palm which is reputedly the tallest palm tree in the world.

We had just left the beautiful village of Jardin and we were looking forward to spending time in Salento and of course hiking the valley.  The hiking turned out to a great experience, Salento not so much.  We found to have been spoiled by over tourism and that it had not retained it’s charm and character in the same way as Jardin has.

It’s quite difficult to write blog posts about places you visit that don’t live up to expectations, but we believe at Andiamo Amigos that we should give our true opinion as we see it and of course this means taking the good with the not so good. Having said that if you are there for the hiking, like we were, you’re in for a treat.  

cocora valley
Wax Palms Cocora valley

How did we get to the Cocora valley

We had spent the last five nights in Jardin and travelled by bus via Riosucio to Salento. The first part of the journey is over a mountain pass and is something we will never forget.  Most of it is on unpaved narrow tracks, down which the bus at times could only just fit.  Evidence of recent landslides were every few hundred metres and the road had been carved into the mountain side with some parts hanging over precipitous drops.  It was a relief to get back down onto real roads, although it was definitely something we wouldn’t of missed.
 

The journey in total takes about six hours with a change of bus in the Riosucio bus terminal.  It’s better to book the bus from Jardin a day in advance the ticket office for Cootransio is on Calle 5 and shares the office with Rapido Ochoa the cost is about 25000 COP each.  Tickets from Riosucio to Salento can be bought on the day from the Flota Occidental ticket booth at the back of the Riosucio terminal these are 36000 COP each.

From Salento the trailhead is reached via shared Jeeps that the locals call Willys it’s about an 11 kilometre ride. They pile as many people into these Jeeps as they can, usually with three people hanging off the back and it costs about 8000 cop per person return.  You buy your ticket at the little booth in the plaza. You will see it next to where all the jeeps are parked. When you arrive at the trailhead, the Jeeps park up at the carpark near the entrance to the trail.
cocora valley
Shared jeeps (Willys)

Where did we stay to hike the Cocora Valley

We stayed in Salento at Casa Salento.  We chose this place as it was close to the centre of town with a free breakfast.  It looked really nice and turned out to be one of the best places we had stayed.

Salento itself, after Jardin, was a slight disappointment.  It didn’t have the same unspoiled vibe, having said that it did have some good points and it wasn’t such a bad place to wander round in the evenings after a hard day on the trail.  Apart from this there doesn’t seem to be much else to do; the Cocora valley is the main draw.

You could stay in Filandia which is a little further away from the trailhead and I believe it’s a less touristed village and a nice place to visit with one or two small attractions of it’s own.  We tried to visit one afternoon but were told there’s no direct bus service and the only way to get there is via the Willys.  We asked at the ticket booth but for some reason we couldn’t figure out they would not take us.  The jeeps seem to have a bit of a monopoly on transport options as we didn’t see the usual sea of yellow taxis here.

Choosing your hike

There are two loops to choose from basically the long and the short. The short route takes you round the area of the Wax palms, it’s about 5 kilometres in length.  If you want to do this route, from the carpark where you get dropped off walk straight up the path until you reach the park entrance you will come to a ticket booth where you will need to pay your entrance fee as the trail is on private land.

Valle de Cocora
Tackling one of the bridges

For this blog we are going to concentrate on the longer of the two walks which is the one we did. It’s about a 17 kilometre hike and we strongly advise you do do the walk in reverse, so anticlockwise.  This way takes you up through the cloud forest to Finca Montana then back down through the view points where you then see the wax palms at the end of the hike.

Doing this way you will see very few people until you get to the wax palms. You will also miss out the mass tourism village that has grown up around the ticket office, which in our view, is a complete eyesore and best walked past as quickly as possible.  We think if we had seen this before the walk it would have spoilt the whole feeling of being out in the wild.

To do the longer loop in reverse you take the path through the blue gate opposite the carpark where you are dropped off by the jeep.  It takes you down passed the trout farm.  The path is easily followed.  Again this path goes through private land and you will need to pay the land owners to pass through.  The first ticket booth on this route is just after the trout farm you will need to pay 5000 COP each to pass through.  The second ticket booth is near the end of the walk where you enter the area with the wax palms.  Here you will be asked for 10000 COP per person.

Valle de Cocora
One of the many bridges

What to expect on the trail

Doing the hike in the way described above will take you gradually up through farmland over over the first of many wooden bridges and then into the cloud forest.  These bridges are in varying states of disrepair and make this part of the trail feel like something of an adventure Lara Croft or Indiana Jones may undertake.
 
There are also parts of the trail that have been affected by landslides.  These are quite easily overcome but we found the instruction on the signs quite amusing.  This walk through the cloud forest, in our opinion, is the best part of the walk.  It passes through beautiful scenery following the river up through the valley eventually coming to a T junction with a choice of routes.
Turning right will take you to a Humming bird reserve about one kilometre down the trail there is a 15000 COP entry fee or you can carry on past the reserve entrance onto other hikes. Most turn back to continue the loop.
 
Turning left you will continue up through the cloud forest, quite steeply now, until you reach the highest point on the trail at Finca Montana. Here you can get a cup of cafe tinto and admire the view across the valley, if you’re lucky with the weather.  From here it’s all down hill until you reach the first viewpoint that over looks the wax palm fields.  This is the best place to get that iconic picture.
Valle de Cocora
View from Finca Montoya

The two trails, long and short, follow the same route from here on leading down through the wax palm fields back to what should be the start of the walk and the tourist village.  Like I mentioned earlier we skipped right past this as we found it quite upsetting to see the damaged they had done to the landscape.

Other things to do in Salento

There are one or two other things you can do in and around Salento.  Horseback riding is very popular and tours run from the town everyday, although we didn’t have time to take to the saddle.  The national game of Colombia, Tejos, can be watched or you can give it a go yourself in the basement of the billiard hall, bar Danubio, on the main drag.  It involves throwing round stones at a target that has been primed with gunpowder.

There are lots of bars, restaurants and Artisan shopping to be had on the main street and the streets around, with international and local foods at very good prices.  At El Tejadito da Salento you can even get a glass or two of red wine while being serenaded by a Cuban guitarist, very romantic.

Another of the main attractions of Salento is it’s position in the centre of Colombia’s main coffee region.  Tours of the finca’s (coffee plantations) can usually be arranged through your accommodation.  We had already done a tour in Minca and perviously on another trip to Costa Rica and with the harvesting season being in September we gave it a miss this time.  It is a very interesting process if you’ve not done one we would recommend it.

Salento
Salento from above

Our view

The walk through the Valle de Cocora is fantastic, definitely do the longer of the two walks if you can and do it in reverse, anticlockwise.  Salento was not our favourite town in Colombia but it’s the closest to the valley and does have some charm.  If you’re already there you may as well make the most of it.  Make sure if you are doing the hike you prepare for all weathers and take plenty of water.  A good pair of stout walking boots is also advisable. 
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Booking resources for your trip to the Cocora Valley and Salento

Flights

You can compare cheap flights on the Expedia platform or here on the Aviasales website.  Both will give you a good idea of how much its going to cost you to get to your chosen destination.

Accommodation

We have always tended to use Booking.com having said that if your on a tight budget another good site to try as a comparison is Hostelworld, If your looking to compare different sites you can do that on Hotellook, we tend to look on here first to make sure we are getting the best deal.

Tours & Tickets

You can book your visits as you go at the entrance to your chosen attraction or site.  Or you could use the following links to book in advance or just to find out what your choices are in the area. GetYourGuide and Tiqets are our go to choices you could try Viator to see how they compare.

For a full list check out our resources page. Don’t forget always shop around to find the best deal for you. What works for us should be good for you but it’s always reassuring to check.

Some of the links on this page contain affiliate marketing links, which means we may get paid commission on sales of those products or services we write about. You will never be charged a fee for shopping through one of our affiliate links. You may even get a discounted rate and we will make a small commission. Our editorial content is not influenced by advertisers or affiliate partnerships.

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