Where is the Cocora Valley?
The Cocora Valley known locally as Valle de Cocora, is situated near the colonial town of Salento, nestled in the centre of the "Eje Cafetero", the coffee triangle of Colombia - famous for growing and producing most of the Colombian coffee.
From Salento it is surprisingly easy to get the Cocora Valley, making it the idea hub to base yourself during your time in the region. Access to Salento is not the easiest as there is no airport, but you can fly to towns nearby and then take a bus or taxi to Salento from there. We took a direct flight from Bogota to the nearby town of Pereira.
Salento itself is a beautiful and charming, laid-back small town. The whole of the town is walkable, and it is the perfect place to play Colombia's favourite explosive sport, tejo! The speciality dish in town is trout, either fried, grilled, or baked, with almost any topping you can dream up.
Starting the hike
Start your day as early as possible to catch a "colectivo" from the central plaza in Salento. Every day several 4-wheel drive jeeps, affectionately known locally as willy’s, wait to drive tourists to the entrance point.
The willies will wait until they are full until they begin the 30-minute journey. However, expect more people than the jeeps seat, as they allow a couple of people to stand off the back simply holding on. Expect the willy to drop you off in a parking lot just across the road from the start of the hike.
There are three routes for hiking the Cocora Valley:
- The direct and shortest route - ideal if you're tight on time – heading straight to the Valle de Cocora and back.
- The full loop, which can be tackled either clockwise, or counter-clockwise.
The Cocora Valley hike
We opted to do the full loop counterclockwise, saving the fields of palm trees as a reward for the end of our hike. Officially, the trek is expected to take you up to six hours, not including the optional hummingbird sanctuary stop, this should be easily achieved at a leisurely pace - including time for many a photo stop enroute.
The start of the route is uninspiring, as you work your way along a fenced in muddy path across farmland, under the watchful eye of the grazing cows. Not before long though, the grass gives way to the cloud forest, where you continue along a creek, and start to slowly ascend.
The hike is challenging in parts, with a requirement to cross a series of seven rickety bridges whilst you weave your way over the cascading Quindío river below. The bridges are made from wood and are not in the best condition as you would hope to expect, adding a little excitement to this part of the hike.
At this point you will find yourself deep in the thick Colombian jungle.
Acaime hummingbird sanctuary
Not far after crossing the last bridge, and halfway through the hike, you have the opportunity to take a 2 kilometre looped detour and visit the Acaime hummingbird sanctuary. Around the sanctuary house are hanging numerous hummingbird feeders providing the opportunity for you to take many, if like us, blurry photos of the tiny yet hurried animals.
Acaime: Casa de los Colibríes en Salento
This detour will add around an hour to your trek, but if you have the time, and desire to make the additional climb, we highly recommend you make a visit, and it makes a great stop for a spot of lunch. We happily sat for 30 minutes or so and watched the birds merrily flitting around.
The small ticket price includes the option of a drink, either a hot chocolate, or an intriguing traditional Colombian hot drink made from melted and caramelised sugar cane with cheese.
Finca la Montaña lookout
The hike up to the Montaña lookout could be consider the most taxing part of the climb, as you ascend to emerge into the open air to enjoy stunning views of the 3450m high Cerro Morrogacho towering over the valley, and the surrounding wildlife.
Here is a natural spot to relax and have some snacks whilst enjoying the views, before continuing onto the last part of your hike.
The wax palms forest
The trail between La Montaña and the wax palm forest was much easier, but neither the most entertaining nor visually exciting. But it does not take long to arrive at the first viewpoint Mirador II, creatively named after the second viewpoint on route Mirador I.
From these viewing points you are finally rewarded, and you can start to appreciate the true scale of the valley, and the size of the trees (which can grow to 60m tall) in one of the only places on Earth to see them in their natural habitat. You can also start to utterly understand why so many visitors make the pilgrimage to the Cocora Valley, with the tall wax palm trees scattered all over the hill and far into the distance.
This is the perfect place and opportunity to spend some time to rest up, and to truly take in how peaceful and breath-taking the setting and scenery is. The intensity of the greens in the hills are incredibly vivid, and the trees stand tall and majestic. The trunks of the trees are so slender you can wrap your arms around them, as they make you wonder how they stand so tall and so thin.
From here you can follow the trail and complete the loop back at the carpark from where you can find a willy to make your return journey. You will notice how significantly more trafficked this section of the route is with tourists and locals.
The hike is not free, and expect to pay twice, once to enter the trail, and again to enter the valley itself.
We recommend wearing proper hiking shoes as there can be a lot of mud if it's been raining, and there are sections of the route that are poorly maintained.
Pack plenty of water for the duration of your hike. Whilst a lot of the trail is under canopy, it can get hot and sweaty.
Alistair is an avid traveller having been to over 40+ countries, covering four continents. He grew up on the Isle of Man but now calls London his home, having previously studied and worked in Manchester.
Currently in: London, United Kingdom — @0_7734