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.
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
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.
The long loop
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.
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.
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 3600 COP, which is just $1 USD.
Jeeps returning to Salento depart from the same spot where passengers are dropped off.
The fee to walk both trails is 3000 COP, which is less than a US Dollar.
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.”
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.
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
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:
- Osprey Manta 28 – a very good daypack with plenty of pockets to organize your stuff. It’s perfect for this kind of hike
- A 10 L drybag – you can use it to keep your camera dry the minute it starts raining.
- Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX or another pair of excellent hiking boots – they have to be water repellent.
- A pair of hiking pants such as Kuhl Cliffside Convertible.
- A cotton t-shirt such as the Kuhl Sora t-shirt or the Kuhl Wunderer shirt. For short sleeves opt for Kuhl Kyra and Kuhl Sora.
- A sweater or a micro fleece for when it gets cooler. I love Kuhl Lea Pullover.
- A rain jacket or a poncho. Kuhl Airstorm rain jacket is my favorite.
- A good DSLR camera. I have a Nikon D3300.
- A couple of good lenses – go for a 18-105 mm for wide angle and landscape, and a 70-300 mm for wildlife.
- If you aren’t into photography a good compact mirrorless camera may be the best solution.
- Water bottle and filter – avoid using plastic.
- An umbrella – take a small foldable one.
- If the weather is nice, you will also need a good sunblock.
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:
Further readings about Colombia
For more information and for inspiration on other incredible places to visit in Colombia, check out my posts:
- A Concise Guide To Salento, Colombia
- 17 Unmissable Things To Do In Bogota
- A Complete Guide To Where To Stay In Bogota
- 30 Incredible Things To Do In Cartagena
- Where To Stay In Cartagena – The Best Neighborhoods And Places To Stay
- An Excellent Guide To San Gil, Colombia
- A Concise Guide To Villa De Leyva, Colombia