Cocora Valley Guide: Walking Among Giants in Colombia
The Cocora Valley (Valle de Cocora) is one of the best things to see and do in Salento in Colombia and definitely should be on your Colombia bucket list. The trek offers breathtaking scenery and great hiking opportunities. Walk with us among tall wax palms and read about our exciting 5-hours long trek.
The Cocora Valley is the most popular one day trip from Salento, and it's easy to see why. What makes it so alluring are the almost 60 meters high wax palms, which grow in 2500 meters above sea level on steep grassy hills all over the valley.
Apart from wax palms, Colombia national trees, the highlight is hiking in the valley and admiring the beautiful landscape.
Visiting Cocora Valley
We hiked the whole loop, and it took us about 5 hours in a slow pace with many stops to take photos. The trail is not very physically demanding and is easy to navigate.
There is only one steep climb, which makes it perfect for almost every moderately fit hiker.
We caught a shared Willys Jeep early in the morning from the main square in Salento right next to the church, and after 30 minutes we reached our destination.
According to the schedule, jeeps leave every 30 minutes from early in the morning, but it looked like, that they leave when the passenger capacity is full.
There is even a small kiosk where you can purchase tickets, but they don't sell tickets in advance. We started at 7 AM, because later jeeps, especially the one leaving at 9 AM tends to fill quickly.
We were the last two passengers the driver was waiting for, and Lucie was lucky enough to seize the last available seat next to the driver. I had to stand on a small rear bumper and had to hold on hard, as there were four of us.
The jeep dropped us off at the parking lot, and we immediately jumped off and started our hike. There are two ways how to approach the hike, which is a nice loop, going clockwise or anticlockwise.
If you want to beat the crowds, get there early and go straight to the valley. If you're hiking the whole loop, and want to enjoy the trek more, leave the valley for the end.
We decided that we want to be surprised and emerge in the valley at the end of the trek, so we turned right and went through the blue gate down the hill.
If you want to see the valley first, follow the main road for about 500 meters and then climb the hill.
You don't even have to hike the full trek if you don't want to, you can only walk straight (don't go through the blue gate), have a look on palms and valley and return the same way back.
Initially, the path took us across the creek with a rickety bridge, and then we walked along it and through farmlands and few private properties and finally we entered the jungle cloud forest.
The trail then continues along the creek, and you start to slowly ascend simultaneously crossing the creek several times using suspension bridges.
Once we got deeper into the forest, the trail started to get muddier.
On several occasions, there was a little stream running through the trail, and we were glad, we had our hiking boots on. We believe that when it rains a lot, the path can get really muddy and the hike can be eventually much harder.
After some time, we emerged on a small place with two signs both pointing right.
We didn't follow the signs, as one of them is indicating the way to Los Nevados National Park and the other one is for Acaime Finca, where you can do birdwatching (it was around the noon, which is not the best time to watch birds) and have refreshment.
Entrance fee to Acaime Finca is COP 6 000. We sharply turned left and started to climb the hill, but firstly, we had to go through another gate.
Back on the trail, the climb was steep but carrying just the daypack made it so much easier. There are no views along the way, but we did several stops and read educational signs (in Spanish) about fauna and flora in the area.
The forest is a natural habitat for spectacled bears (only native bear to South America), cougars, tapirs and many others.
All sweaty we emerged just slightly under the Finca La Montana and shortly after we could admire a beautiful view of 3450m high Cerro Morrogacho towering above the valley.
The unpaved road leading from Finca La Montana is a bit dull, but at least you're going down all the time.
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Several tired people coming in the opposite direction asked us how far is the Finca, to which we replied it's just a short walk, but that was the most excitement we got on the way to the valley (apart from a strayed dog who followed us for the whole hike).
Soon after we came to the first viewpoint called Mirador II, and shortly after to another, again simply named Mirador I, which was more like an entrance gate to the area with wax palms and a great place to take a quick break or eat a lunch.
After a short break, we got back on the main road and saw several horses going in our direction. After we took some pictures of them, we carried on down the road to the valley.
The walk through the valley is incredible and well worth the visit even if you do only a short hike. The day was getting hotter and hotter and we felt like going back to Salento was a good idea.
Despite the fact that the valley itself is breathtaking and the giant wax palms spectacular, it's also a sad reminder, how humans can affect and change the nature as the palms natural habitat are not deforested hills but dense jungle forest.
The valley was really crowded when we got there after several hours of hiking which might be the only drawback of going anticlockwise direction.
There should be an entrance fee COP 4 000 to the Valle de Cocora on either the left or right path.
When we took the longer route, following the anticlockwise direction, there was no stall where should we pay the fee, but if you are going directly to Cocora Valley, there is a booth where you must pay. Because we came from the other direction and already saw the valley, they just let us out of the gate without paying.
Anyway, have some change ready just in case.
Update 2019: Apparantely, there are now two fees when you do the loop, newly, you must pay the fee 3000 COP when hiking counterclockwise as we did, so you will end up paying at the beginning and then at the end of the hike.
WHAT TO PACK
We've written an in-depth South America packing list about what to pack when planning on traveling there, but if we should pick essential things you need to pack for one-day hike in Cocora Valley, we would have chosen the following items.
Hiking Poles | Hiking poles are great even for day hikes, and you can use them for other treks in Colombia.
Hiking Boots for Him & for Her | The trail can get really muddy after heavy rain and you should wear proper gear. Buy quality and waterproof hiking boots and make sure they fit and you feel comfortable before your trip to Colombia.
Camera | You will love this small compact camera ideal for traveling around Colombia.
Sunscreen | We used SPF 50+ every day as the sun is extremely strong in higher altitudes and close to the Equator.
Snacks | This hike is moderately challenging, and cereal bars are great for regaining energy back.
WHERE TO STAY IN SALENTO
The best thing about staying in Salento is that it is so small that everything is close. It is also full of affordable guesthouses, but there is also no shortage of upscale accommodations.
Budget | Hostal Vista Hermosa - Budget, yet nice and newly renovated family-run hostel is a good choice for all travelers looking for an affordable place to stay.
Mid-range | Casa de las Dos Palmas - This hotel has an authentic feel and is well-kept. It has a jacuzzi which you will surely enjoy after all day out.
Luxury | Hostal Casa de Los Taitas - A great hotel set in the lush green garden offers comfortable rooms, shared lounge, shared kitchen, and owners are willing to help with organizing tours.
Alternatively, search for your accommodation via Hostelworld.
TRAVEL INSURANCE - SIMPLE & FLEXIBLE
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