Hiking: The Valle de Cocora, Salento, Colombia

Quick Facts:

Time: You could do it in under 2 hours, but you want to take your time and enjoy the view!

Distance: 8.9km 

Altitude: Start at 2,400m, highest point is 2,950m

Difficulty: Easy, although a small but steep uphill section makes you sweat!

Overview:

The Valle de Cocora (Cocora Valley) is normally, and rightly so, on every travellers Colombia to-do-list. This remarkable valley is home to the world's tallest palm trees (a wax palm), and the walk there explores some great areas of Colombian cloud forest. 

At over 60m tall, the trunks of these crazy wax palm trees barely seem sufficient to support their fronds.

At over 60m tall, the trunks of these crazy wax palm trees barely seem sufficient to support their fronds.

The short or the long route?

When you arrive at the Valle de Cocora you have the option to begin your hike in one of two directions. The first (clockwise, the short route) which takes you up the street and pretty promptly into the base of the valley with the most wax palm trees. The second (counter clockwise, the long route) provides access to much better views and more diverse flora and scenery.

You walk through some amazing jungle and across deteriorating suspension bridges over gently flowing rivers.

You walk through some amazing jungle and across deteriorating suspension bridges over gently flowing rivers.

The second is definitely what we would recommend to all those with the physical ability and time to do so.  It is of course possible to go through the trees first (by following the short route) and do this longer loop in reverse, but part of the appeal to us was to start through the forest, and come down onto the palms from above. This option gives the most spectacular views of the valley!

Jumping around in the palms. Palms litter the valley literally as far as the eye can see. The longer route brings you down above the valley, letting you enjoy all the area has to offer!

Jumping around in the palms. Palms litter the valley literally as far as the eye can see. The longer route brings you down above the valley, letting you enjoy all the area has to offer!

If you can, try to arrive early in the morning to enjoy this eery place before the crowds and the heat settle in for the day. A really nice option would be to bring some lunch to enjoy at the end of the hike, as the main area with the palms is nice grassy farmland, perfect for a picnic.

The trail ends through farm land, with vibrant greens lighting up the surroundings, and making the palms seem even more out of place.

The trail ends through farm land, with vibrant greens lighting up the surroundings, and making the palms seem even more out of place.

Things of note:

The walk is, for the most part, very well signposted and easy to follow. However, if you opt for the route that we took there is one place where you can get a bit lost. Just before you start to head uphill (and there is a short and sharp uphill section!) there is an illegible sign, which suggests you might head to the right. Here you want to instead go left, and start heading up the hill. The trail is all on Maps.Me, where you can clearly see the right way into the Valle de Cocora.

The sign to nowhere. While it will likely seem very counter intuitive at the time, make sure you head to the left when you see this sign!

The sign to nowhere. While it will likely seem very counter intuitive at the time, make sure you head to the left when you see this sign!

Getting there

We fortunately could drive here, which made life a little easier. For those with their own wheels, there is plenty of secure parking very close to the trailhead to the long route. We gave a voluntary contribution ($5,000 COP) and bought a couple of bottles of water at the store where we parked, pointing out our car to them.

For those without wheels, we heard there are collectivos leaving from town every hour or so, starting from 6.10am, but that you want to get there early as these fill up fast. You also have the option of doing a tour, and there are plenty on offer around the town square in Salento.

The drive to the Valle from Salento takes about 20-30 minutes.

There is always the option to get there the local way! This guy looks annoyed, but greeted us with a smile and a "buenos dias" when he passed.

There is always the option to get there the local way! This guy looks annoyed, but greeted us with a smile and a "buenos dias" when he passed.

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