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.
How did we get to the Cocora valley
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.
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.
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.
What to expect on the trail
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.
Booking resources for your trip to the Cocora Valley and Salento
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.
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We arrived into popayan the weekend of the Colombian presidential elections. The streets were unnaturally quiet with the anticipation that something monumental may happen.