Bordering the lower reaches of Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados, a hike through the misty, emerald green Valle de Cocora is a highlight of anyone’s trip to Colombia. A visit here means walks or horseback rides through stunning open valleys and otherworldly fields of Palma de Cera: the tallest species of palm tree on our planet. Reaching heights of up to 60m (197 ft), Colombia’s national tree transforms this valley into a breathtaking, once-in-a-lifetime trekking experience.
Be prepared for changing weather conditions
Cocora Valley is notorious for its unpredictable weather. One moment it can be scorching hot, and the next you’re in complete cloud cover and in need of a poncho. Prepare for both scenarios by layering up and, even if it’s sunny when you leave Salento, always pack a rain jacket.
You don’t need a guide
Although at times the trail can be challenging (particularly if there has been heavy rain), it is a pretty straightforward loop with plenty of other hikers and farmers to guide you along the way. Having said that, if you want to learn more about the area or you want to spot lots of wildlife, an experienced guide with a sharp eye is always handy.
Take the 7.30 am Willy jeep to avoid the crowds
In Salento, there are no taxis or buses. Instead, there are Willys: WWII jeeps with a modified backseat capable of fitting up to 15 people: 8 people seated in the back, 2 + a driver in the front, and 5 people standing on the outside of the car! Willys leave every hour from Salento’s main plaza from around 5.30 am. To get the Cocora Valley practically by yourself, catch the 7.30 am jeep at the latest, where you’ll be sharing your ride with the local workers.
Opt for the back of the jeep
Holding on for dear life on the back of a speeding jeep sounds crazy, but this is the best seat in the house! During the 30-minute ride up you’ll get epic views of the surrounding fields and, best of all, you’ll be the first person to spot the approaching 60m-tall (197 ft) wax palms.
Make sure you take a right at the entrance
You’ll see some hikers going straight past this entrance (sometimes by accident!) and continuing straight along a paved road. This will lead them on the clockwise trail. However, the anti-clockwise trail – starting with an easy, open field walk and finishing with the impressive wax palm field – is definitely the most epic route. For the anti-clockwise trail, go through the bright blue entrance on the right-hand side (with the big welcome sign).
Factor in time for a stop at Acaime
After about 40 minutes-1 hour of hiking, you’ll come to a fork in the trail. You’ll see a wooden sign that reads “Acaime La Casa de Los Colibris” (The Hummingbird House) with a big red arrow pointing right. Take this for about 1km (.62miles), and you’ll be met by a friendly family serving a traditional Colombian drink to hikers: hot chocolate with cheese. Not only this, the whole house is dotted with bird feeders, meaning you’ll be drinking your mid-morning drink surrounded by beautiful hummingbirds. Entrance fee is only 5,000 COP ($1.70), and includes your drink.
…And a trout lunch
After all that hiking, a hearty lunch will be in order. This area is famous for its fresh trout dishes prepared with a delicious creamy herb sauce. If you take the anti-clockwise hiking route (turning right through the blue gate), you’ll finish your day’s trek at a cluster of trout farms serving up the catch of the day with a side of rice, chips and salad.
Keep your eyes to the sky
For the first half of your hike, you’ll be walking through relatively flat, open fields. This section is known for regular sightings of the largest flying bird in the world, the Andean Condor. With a wingspan of up to 3.3m (10.8ft), if there’s one up there, you won’t miss it!
Last Willy leaves at 6 pm – don’t miss it!
Cocora Valley sits just over 11km (6.85m) outside of Salento, so, unless you fancy adding an extra 2-3 hours of walking to the end of your trek, make sure you’re back at the drop off car park before 6 pm, as there are no other public transportation options to Salento after this time. If you leave by 7.30 am, you’ll make this no problem.