Magical realism in Colombia is serious stuff. With lost cities rivaling Machu Picchu hidden outside of Santa Marta and the sky high wax palms of Valle de Cocora covering entire hillsides outside of Salento, Colombia can make even rational people question what’s real.
The wax palm was once on the verge of extinction. It was nearly erased forever like the late Carribbean Monk Seal, obliterated like the Bubal Hartebeest, and killed off like the Pyrenean Ibex. Popularly used as the fronds for Palm Sunday, Colombia’s national tree was harvested freely until it came under protection in the 1980’s. Now, the wax palms are climbing higher than ever.
I still couldn’t tell you why I picked Colombia for my first trip to South America (read a recap of the second trip here!). Without a Taj Mahal or Machu Picchu to idolize, I was left with early 2000’s drug documentaries and $835 airfare for inspiration. For a trip that started out with no expectations, I can honestly say Colombia exceeded my no expectations in every way. Want to experience the Valle de Cocora hike? Here’s how.
Embarking on the Valle de Cocora Hike
The Valle de Cocora hike is about 12 km (7.7 miles) and will take 5-6 hours.
Your jeep will drop you at a trailhead where you can walk left (to the palm forrest) or right (for the hike). The Valle de Cocora hike starts with a walk towards Acaime (2.5 hours) via a series of muddy trails and precarious bridges.Once you get to the “Acaime” sign, you can either take a 2km detour to Acaime or continue on to Finca la Montaña. Acaime is a lovely little warming hut that serves chocolate and cheese where you can see hundreds of humming birds. It’s a nice break, but if your short on time, you can certainly skip it.
If you take the detour, hike back down to the sign. It’s a steep hike to Finca la Montaña from the Acaime sign, but a relatively short one (1 hour).
From there, it’s just an easy descent (about 2 hours) to Valle de Cocora. It will only be you, the horses, and thousands of wax palms.
Travel Information for Valle de Cocora
Valle de Cocora is part of Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados in Colombia’s Andino region. Valle de Cocora is an easy day trip from the tiny coffee town of Salento.
How to get to Salento: The journey to Salento from Bogotá takes about 8 hours ($20). Rather than going directly, most bus routes will stop through Armenia or Pereira.
How to get to Valle de Cocora: You can get from Salento to Valle de Cocora in about 30-minutes. Head to Plaza de Bolivar around 7am for the first jeep ($2). Jeeps depart as they fill (7-13 travelers) but I’d recommend going early to avoid long waits and hiking after dark.
When to Visit: The temperature sits somewhere around 59°F all year long. There is a short rainy season from October-November and April-May. I’d suggest these months unless you think you might enjoy a 5-hour, muddy, treacherous hike in the fog. As Valle de Cocora is a cloud forest, it’s perpetually wet. It’s safe to assume you’ll need a rain jacket and one excellent pair of hiking boots whenever you go.
Definitely worth it. Go for the hundred-foot tall palm trees set amongst endless green grass and cloud forests. Valle de Cocora is cinematic and kinda otherworldly. Take a look at our video: