A Complete Guide To Hiking Valle De Cocora, Colombia

A Complete Guide To Hiking Valle De Cocora, Colombia

Valle de Cocora is one of the most enchanting places in Colombia. This cloud forest is easily reached from Salento, a small town in the heart of Colombia Coffee Region. A lot of people combine their visit of Salento with that of this splendid valley.

What makes Cocora Valley so famous are its wax palm trees, which here can be as tall as 60 and even 70 meters. These trees, knowns as Colombia’s national trees, are actually at risk of extinction.

Needless to say, the best way to enjoy Valle de Cocora is on a hike.

This post explains everything you should know before hiking Cocora Valley, with plenty of practical tips to make the most of it.

Salento Valle de Cocora

The gorgeous Valle de Cocora is a must see

Hiking Valle De Cocora

The starting point to hike in Valle de Cocora is the parking lot where you’ll be dropped off by the jeep you’ll likely take to get there from Salento (more on how to get there below). At the parking lot you’ll find people offering horse rides, a number of small shops, and a place where you can rent rubber boots – which you may well need depending on the time of day and year you plan to hike.

Once there, you have the option of going two different ways.

If you continue straight, you’ll pick the short trail and head straight to Cocora. If you turn right where the blue iron gate is, you’ll pick the longer loop. If time and weather allow, you can even do both loops in a day, by walking the short trail first and then following the long loop clockwise. 

Your decision on which trail to pick should be based on the amount of time you have available, on the time of day you are starting, and on the weather. Keep in mind that chances of rain are extremely high in this part of Colombia, and that on almost any given day, it starts raining at about 12:00 pm.

TIP: Plan to start hiking as early as possible to minimize the chances of being caught in the rain.

The short trail

Practical Information

Overall walking time: This route takes between an hour and an hour and a half.
Difficulty level: Easy.

Pick the short trail if time is an issue, if you’ve had a late start and if the weather isn’t really good. Keep in mind that this trail doesn’t really go through the forest and you won’t get to see Acaime Hummingbird Sanctuary, but you’ll get plenty of photo opportunities of amazing wax palm trees.

Once you get off the jeep, all you have to do is continue walking straight and after about one km you will come to a meadow that is surrounded by beautiful palm trees.

Acaime hummingbird sanctuary

A pretty hummingbird at Acaime sanctuary

The long loop

Practical Information

Overall walking time: This route takes between 5 and 6 hours, depending on the conditions of the trail, and on how often you stop for photos and to admire the views.
Difficulty level: Moderate to difficult, depending on how muddy the trail is.

Pick the long loop if you are keen on getting deeper into the forest and want a bit more of a challenge. This trail is significantly steeper than the short one, and you will have to cross several wooden suspension bridges. However, you will be rewarded with the best views of the valley.

Once you get off the jeep, you have to take the path on the right past the blue iron gate, where there are signs pointing to Los Nevados National Park.

After a few km you will get to Acaime, a hummingbird sanctuary where you can stop to rest and have a drink while admiring the lovely, colorful birds as they zip by.

It costs 5000 Colombian Pesos (COP) (little less than $1.5 USD) to visit Acaime, but the fee includes a drink. Most visitors of Acaime rave about its hot chocolate with cheese, a typical drink in Colombia. Unfortunately my lactose intolerance didn’t allow me to try it, so I had to settle for a juice.

Once you leave Acaime, continue walking up the hill on the left and you will be at Finca La Montaña in just about one hour. This is the best viewpoint of the hike. From there, you will start descending to the wax palm trees for another hour or hour and a half. This is the last stop before you start descending back to the parking lot.

PLEASE NOTE: It takes a total of 4 hours to get to the wax palm trees on the long trail.

TIP: You can walk both trails (the short trail and the long loop) on the same day. In this case, you will have to follow the short path on the left first, and get to the wax palm trees in about one hour. From there, you can walk the long loop clockwise, heading to Finca La Montaña first, then the hummingbird sanctuary, and finally walking back down to the parking lot.

PRO TIP: Do not attempt to walk both trails after heavy rains. Trails get very muddy, and walking the long loop clockwise means having to go down on a very steep trail which, when muddy, will be extremely slippery.

Cocora Valley

Cows are a common sight when hiking Cocora Valley

The Sights 

The views along the hike of Cocora Valley are simply splendid. The landscape in this part of Colombia is simply lush, with meadows as green as they get, with cows lazily chewing on grass. In a way, it will remind you of Switzerland for how green it is – with the *slight* difference that instead of seeing pine trees, you will see wax palm trees.

While the views are certainly better on a sunny day, the typical overcast weather and rain of this part of Colombia give the valley a special, almost mysterious glow. Expect thick myst and fog – it wouldn’t be called cloud forest otherwise!

The forest almost looks like an enchanted place – especially when you get to Acaima, which looks like a fairytale house with all the birds flying around.

Finally, the stream you will be crossing if you walk the long loop and all the suspension bridges give the region an even more bucolic feel.

What To Expect When Hiking In Valle De Cocora

If you walk the short trail you literally have nothing to worry about – it’s as easy as it can possibly be. The long loop presents way more difficulties, because it can be steep in parts, there will be several suspension bridges to cross, and especially because the trail can be muddy beyond belief on certain times of year.

When I hiked, there were parts along the trail where mud literally got up to my knees, and it took a great effort not to get stuck there. I confess it was quite frustrating and I considered giving up a few times.

TIP: The best way to avoid getting trapped in the mud is to keep moving. Walk as fast as possible to get past the muddiest bits – and keep in mind that there’s hardly a way to avoid the mud. You’ll be covered in mud by the end of the hike.

Another thing you have to keep in mind is the persistent rain. After all, there is a good reason why this part of the country is so lush and green. If you can learn to appreciate the rain and the fog, this will be one of the most memorable hikes in your life.

Wax palm trees

The cloud forest of Cocora Valley and its tall wax palm trees

Practical Information For Your Hike Of Cocora Valley

Getting to the beginning of the trail

The best way to reach Valle de Cocora and the beginning of the trail from Salento is by jeep. Jeeps depart six times per day from the main square in town. These are the departure times: 6:10 am, 7:30 am, 9:30 am, 11:30 am, 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm.

Jeeps carry up to 7 passengers comfortably, though honestly at times you’ll see that there load even more people and you’ll see some standing outside the jeep.

The ride lasts about 30 minutes and costs 8000 COP round trip – which is just over $2 USD.

Jeeps returning to Salento depart from the same spot where passengers are dropped off.

Hiking fees

The fee to walk both trails is 4000 COP, which just over a US Dollar. 

The fee to enter the Cocora Valley is another 4000 COP.

Hiking independently

The trails in Cocora Valley are easy enough to follow so the hikes can be done independently. I recommend downloading a trail map such as those on Wikiloc and to keep close attention to the trail. One thing for sure, I don’t recommend hiking the trails alone – especially as it is so muddy that you may slip and fall.

Make sure to read my post “11 Reasons Why Hiking Alone May Be A Bad Idea.”

Guided hikes

A few companies in Salento offer guided hikes in Valle de Cocora. I hiked independently, so I honestly can’t recommend a company over the other. The only guided hike I could find online is a two day one that follows the long loop. The tour costs around €170, but includes transportation, meals and even accommodation for one night. You can book it here.

Food and drinks

There is no place to get food and water along the hike, so you really need to pack some – take a picnic with you or at least some snacks – for the duration of the hike. I recommend carrying 2 liters of water as a minimum, especially if you are fortunate enough to hike when the sun is shining.

wax palm trees

The gorgeous wax palm trees in Cocora Valley

When to hike Valle de Cocora

The good news is that Cocora Valley is gorgeous no matter the weather. The bad news is that chances are it’ll be raining when you visit. I spent an entire week in Salento hoping for a sunny day for my hike, but eventually gave up and decided to go no matter what.

The driest month in the region is July, whereas apparently October is the wettest one. I was there at the beginning of March and it rained every single day. My advice is to just take rain for granted and plan your hike and get dressed accordingly.

Best time of day to hike

If you keep in mind that it generally starts raining between 12:00 and 2:00 pm, the best time of day to hike Valle de Cocora is the early morning. Make sure to hop on the first jeep leaving from Salento at 6:10 am and you’ll have plenty of hours of sun (or at least it won’t be raining) to complete the hike, and the trails will be significantly emptier too.

Essential items to wear and carry to Valle de Cocora

Hiking in Valle de Cocora requires some careful planning in terms of what you wear and what you take with you. The chances of rain are very high every day, so it is essential you dress accordingly.

The following is a list of what you should be wearing and taking with you:

TIP: If you are hiking after some heavy rain and the trail is expected to be very muddy, you may want to actually ditch your hiking boots altogether and rent a pair of rubber mud boots from the small shop at the beginning of the trail. The rental fee is so small that this is something you should really consider.

Other useful information

You may not want to carry it on the hike, but make sure to take a travel guide with you when visiting Colombia, as it will come in handy whenever internet is not available. These are the ones I recommend:

As for any other trip, I recommend getting a good travel insurance for your trip to Colombia. Make sure to read my post Why You Need A Good Travel Insurance.” Get your travel insurance here.

Further readings about Colombia

For more information and for inspiration on other incredible places to visit in Colombia, check out my posts:

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A Concise Guide To Villa De Leyva Colombia

A Concise Guide To Villa De Leyva Colombia

Villa de Leyva Colombia: few cities in the country are so charming and so full of atmosphere. Hardly on the radar of people who travel to this part of South America, I ended up there as I wanted to break the journey from San Gil to Bogota and ended up falling in love with it.

Such a lovely little town this is, and such a perfectly kept example of colonial style architecture, that it was declared a National Monument in 1954. It’s the kind of place where modern architecture is pretty much unseen.

Villa de Leyva Colombia was founded in 1572. It’s blessed with pleasant weather year round – warmer than the nearby Tunja, and not nearly as hot as the Caribbean coast. It’s close to some of the most beautiful landscapes of Colombia, and if you visit you’ll find abundant opportunities to hike, bike, and enjoy good food in one of the many restaurants.

In recent years, Villa de Leyva became a favorite weekend destinations for people who live in Bogota and wish to get away from the chaos of the capital – so don’t be surprised if the town gets more crowded on Saturdays and Sundays.

In this post, I highlight the best things to do in Villa de Leyva Colombia and share some practical tips to organize your trip there.

Villa de Leyva street

A lovely cobbled alley in Villa de Leyva Colombia

13 Things To Do In Villa De Leyva Colombia

Admire the view from Mirador El Santo

For incredible views of Villa de Leyva make sure to hike to Mirador El Santo. It’s an easy walk from the center of town – just head in the direction of the market, going up the Calle 12 or 13 and then follow the easy trail. It’s around 30 minutes to get to the Mirador, and just about the same amount of time to get back. Go in the early morning to have the place to yourself. 

Hang out in Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor is the ultimate place to hang out and people watch in Villa de Leyva. This is one of the largest squares in the Americas; beautifully paved and surrounded by well kept white colonial buildings. In the late afternoon, people start crowding the square to chat and have a drink. Dortkneipe is a cool small pub where you can get some draught beer – it’s on one of the corners of the square.

Admire all the colonial style architecture

This may come as rather obvious, but one of the best things to do in Villa de Leyva Colombia, is walking around to appreciate the beautiful colonial architecture. For fine examples, make sure to pop into Casa de Juan de Castellanos, Casa Quintero and Casona La Guaca, which have been perfectly restored. They are all located on Carrera 9 and currently house coffee shops, restaurants and lovely boutiques.

Visit Casa Museo de Luis Alberto Acuña

Luis Alberto Acuña is a Colombian artist whose paintings, statues and writings were heavily inspired by the culture and beliefs of the Muisca indigenous people – who lived in the Cordillera Central of Colombia – and even by more contemporary art. The museum is entirely dedicated to his work and it’s a pleasant place to spend an hour or two.

Visit the Museo Paleontologico

At about 1 km northeast from the center of Villa de Leyva, at the Museo Paleontologico you’ll be able to observe fossils from the time when the area was a seabed – from 100 to 150 million years ago. It takes about 30 to 45 minutes to explore it. Guided tours are offered, but only in Spanish.

Explore the local market

Every Saturday there is a market that is held about three blocks southeast of Plaza Mayor. It’s a nice place to shop for groceries and for people watching. Make sure to go in the morning for more action.

Visit Ain Karim vineyard

Did you know that Colombia has an up and coming wine production? Well, I didn’t either. But apparently, Colombia wine scene has come a long way – and Villa de Leyva is a great place to get a feel for this. There, you will find the Ain Karim winery – once known as Marques de Villa de Leyva – which is famous for producing some excellent wines. There is a good selection of reds, whites and even rose wines, and you can go on a walking tour of the vineyard and then to some wine tasting.

Go to El Infiernito archeological site

El Infernito archeological site is a good place to get a better understanding of the Muisca indigenous peoples. Its name was actually assigned by the Catholic colonizers in an attempt to encourage local people to associate the site to the devil and thus feel the fear of God. The site, which actually was a Muisca solar observatory and is made of giant statues that represent fertility is located on the hills outside of town.

Terracotta House Villa de Leyva

The Terracotta House surely is an interesting building

Visit the Terracotta House

The Terracotta House is a very large house that is entirely made of clay. It’s thought to be the largest piece of pottery in the world. The interesting fact is that it actually is a fully functioning house with toilets, a kitchen and all modern appliances. The house is located at about 20 minutes walk from Plaza Mayor. It takes around 45 minutes to visit.

Go to the Laguna de Iguaque

On the mountains outside Villa de Leyva you’ll find the Iguaque Flora and Fauna Sanctuary, where the Sacred Iguaque Lagoon is located. The Muisca indigenous people who once lived in this part of Colombia thought this was the cradle of humanity, and it was a sacred area for them.

If you like hiking, this is the best place to go that is close to town. The trail called Paramo de Iguaque will take you up to 7 hours during which you will be rewarded with amazing views and incredible nature. Keep in mind that the trail may be very muddy and slippery, and consider there may be high chances of rain at any time of year.

The trail is easy enough to be done independently, but several agencies in town offer guided hikes.

Make sure to check out my post 11 Reasons Why Hiking Alone May Be A Bad Idea.”

TIP: Remember to carry enough water for the duration of the hike, and to bring sun screen and a rain jacket.

Go to El Fosil

As I have said before, the area where Villa de Leyva is located used to be a massive seabed around 150 million years ago. At about one hour from town, you will find El Fosil, a massive fossil of a baby kronosaurus that dates back to 120 million years ago. It is thought to be the world’s most complete example of this marine reptile.

Go to the Pozos Azules

The Pozos Azules are actually man made small lakes which have a bright blue color that is due to the presence of natural salts and minerals in the soil around them. The lakes glow more or less depending on the light – so don’t go if it is overcast. They are at about 45 minutes walk from Plaza Mayor.

Visit Convento del Santo Ecce Homo

At about 16 km out of town you will find this beautiful convent that is worth visiting. The convent, which was founded in 1620, is a massive sandstone and adobe building that features a beautiful internal courtyard. As the sandstone used for the building comes from the region, you may even spot some fossils in it.

Villa de Leyva finds

Interesting finds on the streets of Villa de Leyva

Practical Tips To Organize Your Trip To Villa De Leyva Colombia

Taking a day trip to Villa de Leyva Colombia

I don’t recommend going to Villa de Leyva solely on a day trip. This small colonial town has such a lovely atmosphere, and there are quite a few good bars and restaurants you may want to check – it would be a pity to miss the opportunity. However, if time is an issue, you can consider going there on a day trip from Bogota.

These are the best day tours to Villa de Leyva:

Guided tours of Colombia that also go to Villa de Leyva

If you would like to visit Colombia and include Villa de Leyva in your trip, but have no time for planning or would rather leave the daunting task to the experts, you can count on several excellent guided tours of Colombia. The two mentioned below are excellent G Adventure tours that include visits of Villa de Leyva:

Villa de Leyva building

A typical colonial building as found in Villa de Leyva

Where to stay in Villa de Leyva

Despite being a small town, Villa de Leyva Colombia has an incredible range of excellent accommodation options. Some of them are right in the heart of the city, others are bit outside. These are the best places to stay in town:

How to get to Villa de Leyva

Villa de Leyva is well connected to Bogota by bus, with several daily buses connecting the two cities. The ride lasts around 4 hours. The largest city nearby is Tunja, to which there are buses that depart every 15 minutes. From there you can connect to many other places, including San Gil and Bogota.

How to move around 

Villa de Leyva Colombia is fairly small, so you can easily walk around. To get to the nearby sites, you can count on a good fleet of local taxis. If you want to visit various sites outside of town on the same day, make sure to hire a taxi to take you to all the various places and haggle a flat fee for the day.

When to visit Villa de Leyva Colombia

Villa de Leyva enjoys a mild weather compared to the rest of Colombia. It is not nearly as hot as it is on the Caribbean coast, and it doesn’t rain nearly as much as it does in Bogota. With the weather pretty much the same year round, I’d dare say that any time is a good time to visit Villa de Leyva.

Other useful information

If you want to read more about Colombia, or want to have a guide you can carry with you for any time you don’t have wi-fi, you may want to buy one of the following:

As for any other trip, I recommend getting a good travel insurance for your trip to Colombia. Make sure to read my post Why You Need A Good Travel Insurance.” Get your travel insurance here.

Further readings about Colombia

For more inspiration on places to visit and things to do in Colombia, check out my posts:

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