The Cocora Valley is one of the gateways to Los Nevados National Park (Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados) and is a unique part of the Colombian landscape. It’s claim to fame is due to being the main habitat for Colombia’s national tree, the wax palm. Wax palms can grow up to 70 metres in height despite their slender trunks. They are truly a marvel to see, especially when most people think of palm trees as being confined to beaches and tropical islands.
The valley is easily accessed from the picturesque town of Salento. There are vintage 4×4 taxis (the one I rode in was a Jeep from 1954!) that leave the main square at scheduled times throughout the day. Outside of those times, you can hire one to take you up there on your own which can be expensive or wait till it fills up and pay the normal price (as of March 2013, about 3200 pesos each way). On the Cocora side, the same 4×4 taxis will be waiting at the drop-off point for hikers to return.
From the drop-off point, you can either do the full loop through the cloud forest, up to a couple of small farms (fincas), then down through the wax palm area of the valley or go straight to where the wax palms are. The full loop takes about 4-5 hours and the path can be quite muddy. If you don’t have waterproof hiking boots, it’s recommended to hire mud boots. Or you can hire a horse. Going straight to the palms takes about 30 minutes (1 hour return).
The Full Loop
After an hour or so in the cloud forest and crossing 6 dodgy looking swing bridges, you come to a fork in the path. One path leads to La Montana and the other to Finca Acaime, where you can have a hot (or cold) beverage while you admire several different types of hummingbirds darting back and forth between the feeding stations. I recommend stopping at Acaime for a quick rest and a tea or coffee to get you going. The path up to La Montana is steep but not very long. There’s a small restaurant on the premises but I’m not sure if it’s ever open.
From La Montana, the best part of the walk lays ahead of you. A dirt road gently winds its way down into the valley. Within a few minutes, you’ll be surrounded by rolling green pastures, cows, and wax palms as far the eyes can see. This is what people come to Cocora for and after one look you’ll know why…
Straight to the Palms
Continue along the road (now unpaved) and through the cow pastures. After about 20-30 minutes you’ll reach a bend in the road where it starts going up to La Montana. By this point you’ll be surrounded by wax palms and misty mountains. Don’t forget your camera!