The Cocora Valley is an essential stop for any traveler exploring Colombia. Its fame is due to the majestic wax palms, the tallest in the world, which are the pride of the country.
These imposing palms can reach up to 60 meters in height and only thrive at astonishing altitudes ranging between 1,500 and 3,000 meters above sea level. In addition to the palms, the Cocora Valley offers a chromatic display of greens amid its mountains, a view that will captivate you.
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Where is the Cocora Valley?
This natural gem is located in the Central Andes, in the department of Quindío, which is known for its production of high-quality coffee. The Cocora Valley is part of the National Natural Park Los Nevados, which houses impressive peaks rising between 4,600 and 5,300 meters above sea level, such as the Nevado del Cisne, Nevado del Quindío, Nevado de Santa Isabel, Nevado del Tolima, and Nevado del Ruiz.
How to get to the Cocora Valley?
If you want to reach the Cocora Valley, the recommended “base city” is Salento, a picturesque town. The nearest cities to Salento are Armenia, located 25 km to the south, and Pereira, 37 km to the north, both accessible by plane. From Armenia or Pereira, the most economical option to get to Salento is by taking a bus or “buseta,” as the locals call it.
Our experience involved flying from Medellín to El Edén Airport in Armenia, where we took a taxi to the Bus Terminal and then boarded a buseta that took us to Salento in about an hour, costing around 7,500 COP (1.8€).
Once in Salento, to reach the Cocora Valley, you should head to Plaza de Bolívar, the main square, and take the characteristic local transport, the Jeep Willys, which I mentioned in my post about Salento. You can purchase the ticket at a small booth near where the Jeeps park. The one-way journey costs approximately 8,000 COP and takes about 20-30 minutes to reach the entrance of Los Nevados National Natural Park.
The first Jeeps depart around 5:30 in the morning and operate with a frequency of every 30 minutes for most of the day. The return is done in the same way, using the Jeep Willys, and the last vehicle leaves the Cocora Valley at 6:30 p.m.
What is the best time to visit the Cocora Valley?
As for the ideal time to visit the Cocora Valley, it is possible to do so at any time of the year. Spring is practically established there, with an average annual temperature of 15ºC, highs of 25ºC, and lows of 12ºC. However, due to its altitude and the phenomenon of winds stopped by the Andean mountain range, the climate is very humid, and daily rains are common, creating a misty atmosphere around the palms. Despite this, the views remain impressive.
The best time to visit the Cocora Valley in Colombia in terms of weather is during the dry season, which spans from December to March and from July to September. During these months, the likelihood of rain is lower, meaning you’ll have more sunny days and optimal conditions to explore this beautiful region.
Summer (December to February): During summer, which spans December, January, and February, the weather in the Cocora Valley is generally warm and dry. It’s an excellent time to visit, as rainfall is minimal, and you’ll have sunny days.
Autumn (March to May): Autumn, comprising March, April, and May, is still a good time to visit the Cocora Valley in terms of weather. Rainfall begins to increase toward May, but you can still enjoy pleasant temperatures and colorful landscapes.
Winter (June to August): During winter, from June to August, there is more precipitation in the Cocora Valley. You may encounter intermittent rains, but you can still enjoy the beauty of the valley with its lush vegetation.
Spring (September to November): Spring, spanning September, October, and November, is similar to autumn in terms of weather. The rains begin to decrease, and the vegetation remains lush, providing a cool and pleasant environment for exploration.
The best time to visit the Cocora Valley in terms of weather is during the summer and spring when there are fewer rains and pleasant temperatures. The main recommendation is to visit the place early in the morning, as afternoon rains are more common, allowing you to make the most of daylight hours.
Things to Do in Cocora Valley
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What Should I Bring to Cocora Valley?
As for what to bring in your backpack for your excursion to the Cocora Valley, keep in mind that the trek is not demanding and does not present technical difficulties. The complete circular route is about 15 km, but it can be adapted to each person’s pace.
Here is a list of essential things to bring to Cocora Valley:
- Hiking boots: Cocora Valley is in a humid climate zone, where fog and rain are common. It is advisable to wear hiking boots as you will have to pass through muddy areas and cross some streams. If you don’t have hiking boots, there are a couple of stalls at the entrance to the Valley where you can rent rubber boots.
- Raincoat: As I just mentioned, the weather in Cocora Valley is humid, and it rains almost daily. You will likely get wet at some point during the route, so don’t forget a waterproof jacket.
- Water: Bring enough water for a 6-hour hike, as you won’t find any places to buy along the route. There are a couple of shops at the park entrance where you can buy drinks and snacks.
- Food: It is highly recommended and also a perfect plan to have a picnic with spectacular views. Bring food, drinks, snacks, and stop whenever you want to recharge, as you won’t find any establishments along the route to buy from. There are accommodations in Salento that prepare a “Lunch Pack” including a sandwich, a drink, a piece of fruit, and a chocolate bar. If you order it the night before, they will have it ready to take in the morning. You can also buy something at Bolívar Square in Salento before boarding the Jeep.
- Cash: The entrance to Cocora Valley is not free. It seems that the Bosque de las Palmas is within two private estates, so you have to pay an amount at the entrance to the first estate (5,000 COP) and another at the exit of the second estate (4,000 COP). And for those who want to visit the Reserva de los Colibríes, you have to pay 15,000 COP. So, the total price is 9,000 COP, and if you also visit the Reserva de los Colibríes, it is 25,000 COP.
The complete journey is a hiking circuit covering about 14 km, with a slope of 550 meters and a maximum altitude close to 3,000 meters. The duration of the excursion can vary between 4 and 6 hours, depending on each person’s pace.
Throughout this route, you will encounter several points of interest, including the Bosque de las Palmas, the Valle de Cocora letters (installed in 2019), the Mirador, Finca La Montaña, Acaime or the Reserva de los Colibríes (optional), La Estrella de Agua (optional) and the area of the bridges.
We started our day by taking a Jeep at 8:30 in the morning in the main square of Salento. Although it had rained during the night, the sky looked clear at that moment, promising a rewarding day. We arrived at the park entrance around 9:00 after a journey of about 20-30 minutes in the characteristic Willys. In the Jeep, we shared the journey with some locals, like a girl we took to her school. Upon reaching the parking lot, I couldn’t help but be amazed at the first palms.
Right upon entry, you have to pay 10,000 COP at a booth. We start walking through a beautiful meadow that is already full of palms, then continue on a wide forest track with a gentle but steady climb, as we started the route backward. On our left are the letters of Valle de Cocora, before passing through the Bosque de las Palmas and reaching the Mirador.
After the viewpoint, where the chromatic scale of green is fully appreciated, we continue on the wide track that continues to climb until reaching Finca La Montaña, which is located at 2,860 meters altitude. We didn’t know if the Finca was a restaurant or a private house. We felt the need to stop there for a drink because there was a heavenly calm and beautiful views, but we didn’t see anyone, and everything seemed closed.
At this point, where we had already lost sight of the wax palms, the descent to the bottom of the valley begins, zigzagging along a path that seems to be made by cattle. The ground becomes increasingly damp as we approach the Quindío River. Once down, you can continue to the right towards the bridge area and back, or you can deviate a bit and visit Acaime, the Hummingbird Reserve, which was 1.8 km from Finca La Montaña.
To get to Acaime, you have to climb again. At the entrance, there is a sign indicating that you are entering private property and that you have to pay 15,000 COP for access. The “Hummingbird Reserve” consists of a few nectar feeders where hummingbirds come to drink. There is a wooden hut with a kitchen of dubious cleanliness and several long tables under a tin roof. The 15,000 COP includes a soft drink or hot beverage, and we took the opportunity to try the famous chocolate with cheese. The best thing about this place is that the hummingbirds seem so accustomed to people that you can photograph them up close without them getting scared.
Anyway, we decided to have lunch here. We sat at the long wooden tables with the rest of the people and took out our sandwich, fruit, and drink. After taking some photos of the hummingbirds, we set off again.
We had to descend again to the same point where we started climbing and continue the circular route from there. We asked the people we met because we didn’t find the route very clear. We asked about the bridge area, and everyone could easily guide us, as most people came from that side.
The bridge area is beautiful, completely immersed in the forest, and everything remained green with the added sound of the Quindío River. You have to cross the river between 6 or 7 times on wooden bridges, each in worse condition, but it added excitement to the trek.
After passing all the bridges and moving away from the river, you enter a meadow where hundreds of wax palms rise towards the mist. Yes, it was already all foggy, and a few drops started to fall. But the landscape was still spectacular.
Upon reaching the end of the path in the previous photograph, we found the second booth where you have to pay another 15,000 COP to leave the estate. After that, we walked a little further until we reached the parking lot, where we took a jeep around 6:00 p.m., which would take us back to Salento.
In short, a must-visit to the Cocora Valley, with the option to skip the Hummingbird Reserve. If you have never seen hummingbirds, I would advise you to go because, as I mentioned before, you can have them two fingers away from your nose, and it is impressive to see them like that. If, on the other hand, you have already seen hummingbirds, the detour to Acaime will not bring you anything more than tiredness from going up and down!
Best Tours from the Cocora Valley
From the Cocora Valley, Civitatis offers much more. You can participate in various activities as mentioned below, and you can book them directly here.
If walking is not your thing, you can do this Tour por Salento y Valle de Cocora en Jeep.
In late 2019, the Cocora Valley joined the unfortunate trend of setting up various installations for tourists to take their Instagram photos. Therefore, those interested can find the famous Hand of Acaime inside Café La Finca, as well as the Yo Amo Cocora letters, colorful wings, frames, and more.
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Rest of the articles about Colombia
- What to see in the Rosario Islands
- What to see in Salento
- What to see in Cartagena de Indias
- What to see in Bogotá
- What to see in Colombia
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