Cocora Valley Colombia: A Complete Guide for the Perfect Hike
Cocora Valley Colombia (or Valle de Cocora in spanish) is a natural wonder that attracts travellers worldwide with its unparalleled beauty. Located in the heart of the Andes Mountains, within Los Nevados National Park, the valley is known for its towering cartoon-like wax palm trees. These wax palms can grow up to 60 meters (200 feet) tall and are the tallest palms in the world.
For those looking to immerse themselves in nature’s beauty, the Cocora Valley is a must-visit destination. The valley offers a range of outdoor activities, including hiking, horseback riding, and birdwatching, while also offering a wide variety of flora and fauna, including hummingbirds, toucans, and howler monkeys. But if you’re looking for the ultimate experience, hiking through the valley is the way to go.
In this article, we will cover everything you need to know to plan your hike to this stunning natural wonder. From getting to the valley from Salento, to what to wear and bring for your hike, we’ve got you covered. So, put on your hiking boots, pack your bags, and get ready for an adventure of a lifetime in the Cocora Valley.
Getting to the Cocora Valley
Getting to Salento from Armenia, Pereira, or Manizales
To get to the Cocora Valley, you will first need to arrive in the charming town of Salento. The easiest way to get to Salento is by taking a bus from one of the nearby cities within the UNESCO world heritage Coffee Triangle, Armenia, Pereira, or Manizales.
Armenia is the most popular city of the three to arrive from as it has an airport and is well-connected by road to other major cities in Colombia, such as Bogota and Medellin.
Buses to Salento from Armenia run frequently throughout the day, and the journey takes around 1.5 hours. If arriving from the airport, you will need to take a shuttle to the bus terminal. On average, the fare for a one-way trip is around 8,000 to 10,000 Colombian pesos.
Buses to Salento from Pereira take approximately 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on traffic and road conditions. Buses depart regularly from Pereira’s bus terminal, and the fare for a one-way trip is typically around 7,000 to 10,000 Colombian pesos. Bus lines leaving Pereira include both Flota Occidental and Transportes San Martin.
Buses to Salento from Manizales take approximately 3 to 4 hours. From Manizales’ bus terminal, look for buses headed to Armenia or Pereira, as these buses typically pass through Salento. The fare for a one-way trip is typically around 15,000 to 20,000 Colombian pesos. Several bus companies operate on this route, including Flota Occidental and Cootracen.
If arriving from Medellin, it is also possible to take a direct bus to Salento with the Flota Occidental bus line, which leaves Medellin’s Terminal del Sur three times daily.
Getting to the Cocora Valley from Salento
Once you arrive in Salento, the journey to the Cocora Valley entrance is relatively easy. Leaving Plaza Bolivar, the main square in Salento and running regularly throughout the day, you can take a Jeep Willy to the entrance and start the hike.
Jeep Willys are traditional 4×4 vehicles that are used as shared taxis in the Quindio region. These vehicles were imported to Colombia in the 1960s and 1970s and quickly became popular due to their ruggedness and versatility.
Once full, the ride to the Cocora Valley from Salento takes around 30 minutes and the open-air design of the Jeep Willys allows one to be fully immersed in the beautiful scenery of the surrounding countryside. The cost to get there will be around 4,000 to 5,000 Colombian pesos.
Alternatively, you can hire a private car or taxi to take you to the trailhead entrance. This option may be more expensive but offers more flexibility in terms of timing and comfort if you don’t want to wait for the Jeep Willy to fill up. The cost for private transportation will be around 35,000 Colombian pesos.
Some tour operators in Salento also offer organized tours, which include transportation, guides, and entrance fees.
Note for your return trip that the last Jeep Willy leaves the valley around 5 pm so be sure to plan your hike accordingly!
What to Do in the Cocora Valley
While hiking is undoubtedly the most popular activity in the Cocora Valley, for those who prefer to take in the scenery at a more leisurely pace, horseback riding is another way to explore the valley’s greenery and towering wax palm trees.
If you have extra time in Salento, it could be worth doing both the hike and horseback ride as the horses take separate trails into the wax palm forest.
At the trailhead entrance where the Jeep Willy drops you off, you will see many guides with horses offering their services. Alternatively, you can book a tour which will include transportation from Salento.
Cocora Valley Hiking Routes & Details
There are two main hiking routes in the Cocora Valley: the clockwise loop and the counterclockwise loop. The clockwise loop is the most popular and takes visitors through the valley’s main attractions at the beginning, including the Wax Palm Forest. The counterclockwise loop is less crowded at the beginning starting through farmland and cloud forests and crossing the Quindio River suspension bridges.
The highest elevation you will reach on the hike is 2,860 meters, whereas the town of Salento is at 1,895 meter elevation, meaning you will have an elevation gain of almost 1,000 meters.
How Long is the Cocora Valley Hike
The Cocora Valley hike can take anywhere from two to seven hours, depending on the routes you choose and your hiking pace, and is 12 km long. The three most popular routes include the following:
- Counterclockwise Loop (5 to 7 hours) RECOMMENDED
- Clockwise Loop (5 to 7 hours)
- Out and back Route (2 to 3 hours)
Note that the hiking time to complete the loop includes a couple of hours of break time to enjoy the magnificent views along the way.
While we recommend the counterclockwise loop, the clockwise loop may be the better option if it is sunny and the sky is clear when you begin the hike.
The counterclockwise loop is a less crowded hiking route that still offers the same stunning views of the valley and wax palm forest. This route begins at the same entrance as the clockwise loop but takes visitors in the opposite direction.
We recommend hiking the counterclockwise loop for a couple of reasons. First, you will save the best part of the hike for last and will be hiking downhill through the wax palm forests, rather than uphill.
A couple of cons of completing the hiking loop counterclockwise include more crowds when you arrive at the wax palm forest, and higher potential for cloud coverage as clouds will typically form throughout the day.
Second, you will be climbing up the steepest part of the hike rather than down. This will be much easier on your legs and knees, as hiking down the steep section can be very difficult, especially after heavy rainfall.
After arriving at the trailhead entrance via Jeep Willy, start your counterclockwise loop by passing through the blue metal fence located at the side of the road. The beginning of the hike will take you through farmland with breathtaking mountain views, with the occasional wax palm tree.
Continuing, you’ll enter the thick cloud forest and follow the jungle trail along a stream. Here, you’ll cross seven suspension bridges that are both old and sketchy, adding to the thrill of the hike. Along the way you will pass the easy-to-miss hidden waterfall, Cascada Bosque de Niebla.
Towards the end of the cloud forest, consider taking a detour to the Acaime Hummingbird Sanctuary, where you can observe over 20 species of hummingbirds up close while sipping on a cup of hot chocolate or tea.
As you backtrack through the cloud forest, take a right turn and prepare yourself for the steep switchbacks that lead to Finca La Montana. Upon reaching the top of the hill, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the wax palms below. This marks the halfway point of the hike, so take a breather and enjoy the scenery before continuing.
After a short break or lunch, descend the gradual hill into the wax palm forest, where numerous side trails lead to various lookout points offering panoramic views. Here, you’ll feel dwarfed by the towering wax palms, the tallest in the world, which can reach up to 60 meters in height.
Next, you’ll reach the Bosque de las Palmas, where you’ll hike through more open space with views of the giant wax palms towering overhead. Take your time here to fully appreciate the beauty of the forest before heading down a steep hill that leads to the roadway back to the pickup location. From here, you can return to Salento with memories of a truly unforgettable hiking experience in the Cocora Valley.
The clockwise loop is the most popular hiking route in the valley, as it begins with the scenic wax palm forests. Otherwise, it is essentially the same as the counterclockwise loop, passing all the same main attractions except in reverse.
Once you are dropped off at the entrance to the trailhead, instead of heading through the blue gates you will continue straight down the road.
One of the main differences between the two routes is that the clockwise loop has more gradual inclines, however, this means the downhills are steep, which can be hard on your legs and knees.
While we recommend the counterclockwise loop, the clockwise loop is another great option for the hike!
The out-and-back route is ideal for those only wanting to see the highlights of the valley and wax palm forest, and prefer a moderate hike over completing the full loop. This route can be ideal for those short on time or not in shape to hike the full loop. It is also the better option during the rainy season for those not wanting to hike through the intense muddy slopes.
The out-and-back route starts similar to the clockwise loop, where you will walk for around 30 minutes to Bosque de las Palmas (wax palm forest), which is the main highlight of the hike. After walking through the trees, you will have the option to hike uphill to many different viewpoints before turning back.
This option allows visitors to fully immerse themselves in the beauty of the valley and experience one of the most unique ecosystems in the world. The Bosque de las Palmas features an expansive forest of wax palms, some of which grow up to 60 meters in height, making it a breathtaking sight to behold.
Detour to Acaime Hummingbird Sanctuary
The Acaime Hummingbird Sanctuary is a popular detour during the hike, especially for bird enthusiasts. This farm sanctuary is home to over 20 species of hummingbirds, and visitors can observe these tiny creatures up close.
The sanctuary is also a nice spot to give your legs a rest from hiking, as the 15,000 Colombian peso entrance fee includes a cup of hot chocolate or panela caliente with cheese, a popular Colombian combination.
Note this detour will add on about 1 km each way, so be sure to take this into account when planning your trip and return times.
Visiting the Wax Palm Forest
The Wax Palm Forest is one of the valley’s main attractions, and for good reason. This forest is home to the tallest palm trees in the world, which can reach up to 60 meters in height. Visitors can walk through the forest and marvel at the towering wax palms while taking in the valley’s stunning views.
Depending on which direction you start the hike, you will either pass through the wax palms of Cocora Valley near the beginning (clockwise loop) or end (counterclockwise loop) of your hike. Here the road is wider and paved in sections, with many detours to various lookout points and panoramic views.
Finca La Montana
Finca La Montana is a charming farmhouse that offers visitors a glimpse into rural Colombian life. This farmhouse is located near the highest point of the hike, offering stunning views of the valley below.
While here, visitors can enjoy a cup of coffee or soup while taking in the valley’s beauty. The Finca also offers other drinks for purchase as well. It is also a great spot to eat lunch that you brought with you from Salento.
Quindio River Suspension Bridges
These seven suspension bridges, made of steel cables or wire and uneven wooden planks, span over the Quindio River and offer a thrilling experience as you walk over them during your hiking adventure.
The bridges were built to connect different parts of the valley, making it easier for farmers to transport their crops and livestock. Today, they provide a unique way for visitors to experience the valley’s natural beauty from a different perspective.
The Quindio River Suspension Bridges are also a great spot for taking photos. The wooden planks of the bridges and the steel cables make for a unique and picturesque backdrop. Visitors can capture the stunning views of the valley and the bridges themselves in their photos.
Entrance Fees for Cocora Valley Hike
The Cocora Valley entrance fee is currently 15,000 Colombian pesos per person. If hiking counterclockwise, you will pay 5,000 Colombian pesos near the beginning before entering the cloud forest, and the remaining 10,000 Colombian pesos when you leave Bosque del Palmas.
If you decide to visit the Acaime Hummingbird Sanctuary, it will cost an additional 15,000 Colombian pesos. All of these fees are set rates and posted on signs at the entrances, which are used to help to support the conservation efforts in the area.
Where to Stay in Salento & in the Cocora Valley
Salento offers a variety of accommodation options for travelers visiting the Cocora Valley. There are many hostels and guesthouses in Salento that cater to backpackers and budget-conscious travelers. Some of our favorite Salento hostels offering shared dorms or private rooms at affordable rates include:
- Viajero Salento Hostel – offering the best mountain views, a variety of accommodations, and a range of daily activities, making it the perfect destination for cultural exploration and outdoor enthusiasts.
- Coffee Tree Boutique Hostel – a quiet and secure accommodation option with a stunning view of surrounding mountains, located just 6 blocks away from the town center, providing both convenience and a countryside atmosphere.
- Yambolombia Hostel – an eco-friendly accommodation, offering various room options and a stunning viewpoint for stargazing, providing a perfect blend of nature, tranquility, and outdoor experiences by the campfire.
Another pro of staying in hostels like these are the shared communal areas where guests can socialize and relax.
For those seeking a more upscale experience, we’d recommend the following boutique hotels in Salento which offer comfortable rooms and amenities such as swimming pools, spas, and restaurants.
- Eco Hotel Salento – offering breathtaking mountain views, free WiFi, and free private parking, provides guests with a serene getaway where they can enjoy outdoor activities like cycling and hiking, and unwind in the garden or by the outdoor fireplace.
- Casa Campo Valle De Cocora – a sustainable holiday home in Salento, offering a spacious and well-equipped accommodation with mountain views, a garden, barbecue facilities, and amenities like free WiFi, sauna, and a fireplace, providing guests with a perfect retreat in a serene environment.
Weather & Best Time to Do the Cocora Valley Hike
The Cocora Valley can be visited year-round, but the best time to visit is during the dry season, which runs from December to March. During this time, the weather is dry and sunny, with the odd rain shower, making it ideal for hiking.
The rainy season runs from April to November, and while the valley is still beautiful, the trails can become very slippery and muddy. Many hostels and hotels in Salento will even have boots for rent during this period.
It is also recommended to start the hike early in the morning (9 or 10 am). When planning your trip, you will need to consider transportation wait times for the Jeep Willys as they only leave when full. If hiking the full loop, you will also want to ensure you get back to the entrance before the last Jeep Willy leaves.
Another reason to start early is to avoid the crowds and rain. The trail is typically more crowded in the afternoon, and typically when it does rain, it is usually in the afternoon.
We would also recommend to plan your hike on a weekday if possible, as there can be heavier crowds on weekends or holidays.
What to Wear & Bring for the Cocora Valley Hike
If you plan on doing the full clockwise or counterclockwise hiking loop, it’s important to dress appropriately, as the weather can be unpredictable. We recommend wearing comfortable hiking shoes, pants, and a long-sleeved shirt to protect against the sun and insects. It’s also a good idea to bring a rain jacket, sunscreen, bug repellant, and plenty of water.
It is also recommended to pack a lunch for the hike. There will be some food options along the trail at Finca La Montana, however this isn’t until the halfway point and options are limited. There are a few places in Salento offering bagged lunches for purchase, so be sure to bring some food to fuel your hike!
In need of a sturdy pair of hiking boots? Check out our review post on the 13 Best Hiking Boots for Ankle Support.
Safety Tips for the Cocora Valley Hike
Our main safety tip to offer is to hike with a group or with at least one other person. Given it is a backcountry hike, there is always the possibility of getting lost, injured, or encountering wildlife such as bears or pumas. This shouldn’t be an issue as Salento is a hiker’s paradise. Also, hiking is always more fun with others!
Finishing Thoughts on Hiking Cocora Valley Colombia
The Cocora Valley is an absolute gem that I highly recommend visiting. As someone who appreciates the beauty of nature, I was in awe of the towering wax palms and stunning landscapes throughout the hike. It was an unforgettable experience that left me with memories that will last a lifetime.
If you’re an outdoor enthusiast or just looking to escape into the wilderness for a day, the Cocora Valley hike is the perfect outdoor adventure for you. Don’t miss out on this incredible natural wonder and start planning your trip today!
If you found this article informative and helpful, we recommend that you also check out our guide on the top things to do in Minca Colombia. This guide offers information on many top hikes in the area, including the challenging but rewarding trek to Ciudad Perdida. From Minca, if you’re adventurous enough, you could head even further north into Colombia’s Coastal Desert, La Guajira!
Let us know in the comments below if you have any questions or to share your favourite aspect of the Cocora Valley Colombia hike!