One of the best things to see in Colombia is the Cocora Valley or Valle de Cocora as it’s known in Spanish. Cocora Valley, near Salento, is unlike any place in Colombia and one of the best Salento trekking experiences to have. If you’re a nature lover or just are a fan of breathtaking landscapes then a Cocora Valley hike needs to be on your to-do list.
So what’s so special about the Cocora Valley in Colombia? How does towering Quindío wax palm trees that reach nearly 200 ft tall in height scattered over lush rolling green hills of an expansive valley, sound? Pretty special, yes? We thought so.
Located in the Andean mountains, those towering Quindio wax palms you came to swoon over are a part of the larger Los Nevados National Natural Park. Due to Cocora Valley’s high elevation, cool temperatures, and often rainfall, fog or low-hanging clouds form and hover over the valley, making Cocora Valley an oh-so moody cloud forest.
From hiking in Cocora Valley to spending a day exploring the area and nearby Salento, any trip to Colombia is incomplete unless you explore the beauty of Cocora Valley.
The Cocora Valley Hike In Salento, Colombia
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Where Is & How to Get to Cocora Valley (Valle de Cocora)
Before we jump into the Cocora Valley hike and what there is to see and do, let’s tell you where Cocora Valley is and how to get Cocora Valley first.
Cocora Valley is located some 310 km / 193 miles due west of Bogota. Valle De Cocora can be found smack dab in the center of Eje Cafetero, the coffee triangle of Colombia in the Quindío region. Cocora Valley itself sits between 1,800 and 2,400 meters (5,900 to 7,900 feet) and is surrounded by lush green rolling hills that are said to have inspired the scenes of Disney’s Encanto.
Now that you have a general idea of where Cocora Valley is, it’s time to understand how to get there. You have two options on how to get to Cocora valley: 1. Plane + car ride 2. Bus travel.
Be sure to check out our 2 Week Colombia Travel Itinerary
Getting To Cocora Valley by Plane
When looking to travel by plane to Cocora Valley, you have two airport options to fly into:
- Aeropuerto Internacional Matecaña (PEI) in Pereira, Colombia
- El Edén International Airport (AXM) in Armenia, Colombia
Both Pereira and Armenia are the two largest cities located near Salento and Cocora Valley. Whichever option you choose, understand they are both comparable in distance to Salento, the closest town to the Cocora Valley and where most people visiting Cocora Valley stay.
For us, we definitely found more flight options flying into Pereira (which is what we did) vs. flying into Armenia. Just know when you land, you’ll have a 1-hour drive to get to Salento or around a 1-hour 20-minute drive to get to Cocora Valley itself.
You can coordinate a ride with your hotel, flag a cab/uber, or do what we did and rent a car from the airport! We loved renting a car and driving in Colombia was more than manageable. We wanted to come and go as we pleased and having a car allowed us to be on our own schedule and not have to wait for transportation to go into Salento or Cocora Valley.
Traveling To Cocora Valley By Bus
If you are coming from popular cities, like Bogota or Medellin, getting to Salento by bus is totally doable. For instance, from Medellin, you can expect the bus ride to take around 6.5-7 hours. Whereas from Bogota, it’s a different story. From our understanding, you’ll need to catch a bus to Armenia or Pereira first (8-10 hours) and then catch a connecting bus in Armenia or Pereira to Salento (around 1 hour).
To play it safe, whenever we travel a long distance overland, we always assume it’s going to take us the full day. If you have the time and are looking to travel on a budget, booking a bus ticket is for you.
Heading to Cartagena? Get our guide on what to see and do in Cartagena!
Getting to Cocora Valley from Salento
Alright, so the above two sections talk about getting you to the Cocora Valley region. Now, let’s talk about how you get to Cocora Valley once in Salento, the closest town to Cocora Valley.
Regardless of how you get to the area (plane or bus) once in Salento, you’re still about a 20-25 minute car ride away from Cocora Valley. So, how do you get there? Two words. Jeep Willy.
Every day, jeeps (known as Willy’s) gather in the main town square of Salento and offer people shared rides to and from Cocora Valley. It is possible to book a private jeep (Willy), but if you’re on a budget, the shared route is the way to go!
Fitting up to 15 people, Willy’s leave every hour from Salento’s main plaza starting at 6.30 am or 7:00 am. We’re told the last Willy departs Cocora Valley around 6:00-6:30 pm (weather dependent) to head back to Salento. You’ll have to pay a few USDs ($1-$2) each way when catching a ride in a Willy.
Tip: If you are looking to catch the first Willy out, double-check the departure time with your accommodation. Departure times tend to fluctuate so best to be prepared and know when the actual departure will be. Or, head to the town plaza the day before you want to go to Cocora Valley and ask a driver! Also, be sure to confirm the time the last jeep leaves Cocora Valley to head back to Salento.
Unless you have a rental car or bike, taking a Willy is the only way to get to Cocora Valley from Salento. There are no cabs, buses, or Uber in Salento.
What To Do In Cocora Valley (Valle de Cocora)
Unlike nearby Salento, there are really only two things to do in Cocora Valley – 1) Hiking or 2) Grabbing a bit to eat or a coffee after your Cocora Valley hike. Simple, right?!
There is another way to explore Cocora Valley and that is by horseback. However, given the condition of the horses, we advise you not to partake. Animal tourism is great when done ethically and when the animal’s health and happiness come first. Skip the horseback ride and enjoy hiking Cocora Valley on your own two feet.
Check out everything you need to see and do in Salento!
Cocora Valley Hike – The Trail Routes
When planning to hike Cocora Valley understand that there are three options for you to choose from.
- The in-and-out path to El Bosque de Las Palmas (The Palm Forest)
- The Cocora Valley Loop clockwise
- The Cocora Valley Loop counterclockwise
How Long Is The Cocora Valley Hike?
If you are not particularly fit, don’t have a lot of time, or just looking for something short, then the in-and-out hike is for you. Taking around 30 minutes (one way), the in-and-out hike will take you to the main valley full of impressive and towering wax palms. In total, you can expect to spend around 2-2.5 hours between the hike and the time you’ll spend up there taking pictures and enjoying the scenery.
Whereas if you opt to hike the full loop (clockwise or counterclockwise), plan this hike to take you around 5 hours. However, if you choose to add Acaime Hummingbird sanctuary onto your hike, plan for this hike to take around 7 hours.
The Clockwise Loop
Hiking the clockwise trail is an easier uphill ascent when compared to the counterclockwise option. Starting the loop clockwise places you at the Valley of the Palms first, rather than at the end of the hike.
You’ll start your hike with a gradual uphill climb amongst the giant palms until you eventually reach Mirador 1 (viewpoint) and then carry on to Mirador 2 (viewpoint). In our opinion, Mirador 2 is way better than Mirador 2.
Finca La Montaña
After the viewpoints, you’ll continue your uphill ascent until you reach the highest point of the hike, Finca La Montaña (2860 meters / 9,383 ft). It’s here at Finca La Montaña (a farm) you can take a break for lunch and take in the views.
We read that you can get soup and drinks at Finca La Montaña, but that was not the case when we hiked Cocora Valley, so we just ate our packed lunches and snacks instead.
Once at Finca La Montaña, you’ll begin your descent. This part of the trail is quite steep and if muddy or raining, can definitely cause some issues with your footing and traction on the trail. So be sure to wear proper footwear when hiking Cocora Valley (aka not sandals).
As you weave your way back down the trail, you’ll be engulfed in the thick Colombian jungle where there will be animal sign postings advising you what to watch out for. Everything from bears and mountain lions to small birds and frogs, the sign gives you an idea of what creatures reside in the forest and valleys.
Don’t fret about the bear and mountain lion signs, with the number of people on the trails, the chances of running into them are slim to none. You will on the other hand see loads of tropical birds which is a nice surprise!
Acaime Hummingbird Sanctuary
After a solid 30-40 minute descent, you’ll come to a fork in the road with a sign pointing you straight, to the Acaime Hummingbird Sanctuary (Acaime La Casa de Los Colibris), or right to continue back down the mountain.
We opted to not visit Acamie and not hike the additional 4 km (2km each way) to get there. If you do choose to add Acaime to your route, you’ll need to pay a 5k COP entrance fee.
Quindío River Suspension Bridges
Whether you add or skip Acamie, your next path is to continue down the mountain where you’ll eventually come to your first of 7 suspension bridges. This part of the trail follows along the Quindío River and you are required to cross some rather questionable bridges to continue down the mountain. Adventure, right?!
Once the suspension bridges are complete, you continue a little way until you eventually come out of the forest and end the remainder of your hike walking through lush fields in the valley. You’ll be surrounded by rolling hills and can see the giant palms in the distance and some smaller palms up close, along the trail itself.
After passing by cattle in the fields grazing, you will eventually reach a road that you follow all the way back up near the parking lot you were dropped off. You’ll pass through a blue gate signifying the end of the trail.
The Counterclockwise Loop
If you choose to start the trail counterclockwise, you’ll do the above route in reverse. Instead of finishing at the blue gate, you’ll set off through the blue gate first. Unlike the clockwise trail, the counterclockwise trail has you hiking a fairly steep trail through dense forests and overwater crossings first before eventually reaching Fina La Montana and saving the best views for last, the Valley of Palms.
Which Direction Should I Hike – Clockwise or Counterclockwise?
If you are looking to tackle the 5-hour hike, as we did, then the next question you need to ask yourself is which direction should I start the hiking from? As we said above, you can do this either clockwise or counterclockwise.
A lot of people recommend starting with the counterclockwise route to save the amazing views of the wax palms for the end of your hike. The reward for all that hard work if you will. However, we disagree.
The main event and the reason you are visiting the valley is to see the giant wax palms, yes? So instead of waiting to the end to see them, we highly recommend starting with them and hiking the clockwise trail. Why? Well, two reasons. 1) Crowds and 2) Weather.
If you choose to hike counterclockwise, you run the risk of sharing the beautiful palm tree views with a lot of people as the crowds increase as the day goes on. Plus, as the day goes on, rainfall usually tends to happen later in the afternoon. So, you could be looking out at the valley in rainfall with loads of people.
That didn’t sound great to us, so we opted to hike clockwise and we loved it! We had both mirador viewpoints to ourselves for over an hour. It was just us two, the chirping birds, and a sunny clear day with endless views of towering wax palms.
Cocora Valley Entrance Fees
There are some entrance fees you need to be aware of when hiking Cocora Valley. For the clockwise route, you will be asked to pay $6,000 COP at the beginning for an entrance fee to access the Valley of Palms. And then, at the end of the hike, you’ll be asked to pay an additional $5,000 COP. So in total, you can expect to pay around $11,000 COP, around $2.90 USD per person.
Best Time of Year To Visit Cococa Valley (Valle de Cocora)
Just like other places in the world, Colombia has a rainy season and a dry season. The best time to visit Cocora Valley is from December through February. Those are the month when Cocora Valley sees the least amount of rain, making it great for hiking.
However, understand that Cocora Valley is a cloud forest, so even in its dry season, rain very much still happens. If you visit outside those months, be prepared for potential muddy trails and lots of rain so you should pack accordingly.
Tips + What To Wear For the Cocorca Valley Hike
- Footwear: The terrain on the trail can be muddy, grassy, and rocky so treaded close-toed shoes (not sandals) are a must for this hike! You don’t necessarily need hiking boots, but a good pair of trail runners or treaded sneakers are essential.
- Outerwear: Depending on the time of year you hike, pack an extra layer. It can get a little chilly! Also, a raincoat even if it’s sunny, the weather can turn rather quickly. In addition, it’s a great idea to bring some chapstick, sunglasses, and sunscreen too!
- Have Cash: For entrance fees. There is also a small little outpost on the trail that has Gatorade and water for sale if you need to fill it up. This is of course cash only.
- Pack Some Food & Plenty of Water: If you are planning to do the full loop, you’ll be hiking anywhere from 5 to 7 hours and you’ll need to eat something and are needing to stay well hydrated. You can coordinate with your accommodation and arrange for a packed lunch.
- Bug Spray: With all the water from rain, mosquitos are alive and well so be sure to pack some bug spray, especially in the warmer months.
- Start Early: To avoid the crowds and afternoon rainy weather, it’s best to start the hike early, around 7 am or so.
If you stay in Salento, you’ll be right in the thick of everything and able to walk to the many amazing restaurants, in-town coffee shops, and just outside-of-town coffee farms. If you are outside of town, you’ll be in the quiet of nature.
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– Lauren & Jesse Stuart (The Stüs)