Valle de Cocora – AKA Cocora Valley for English speakes – 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 it 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.
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.
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 the 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 probably need.
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. 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 – Between 60 and 90 minutes.
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. 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 the amazing wax palm trees from the beautiful meadow.
The long loop
OVERALL WALKING TIME – 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. It takes 4 full hours to get to the wax palm trees.
DIFFICULTY LEVEL – Moderate to hard, 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 and even of the waterfall. You will be crossing the river via a number of rickety bridges (although that’s a big word!) a bunch of times.
A few km into the hike you will get to Acaime, a hummingbird sanctuary where you can stop to rest and have a drink of hot chocolate with cheese, a typical drink in Colombia, while admiring the lovely, colorful birds as they zip by. Admission is 5000 Colombian Pesos (COP) (little less than $1.5 USD) and includes a drink.
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 walking back to the parking lot.
GOOD TO KNOW: 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.
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 VERY muddy – with mud getting all the way up your knees.
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.
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 – at 6:10 am, 7:30 am, 9:30 am, 11:30 am, 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm – from the main square in town, and carry up to 7 passengers comfortably, but usually load way more. The ride lasts about 30 minutes and costs 8000 COP round trip – just over $2 USD.
Jeeps returning to Salento depart from the same spot where passengers are dropped off. The last one departs at 6:00 pm.
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.
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. Don’t hike 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
Cocora Valley is gorgeous no matter the weather, and that’s about the only good news you’ll get. Chances are it’ll be raining when you visit. 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.
With this in mind, and considering that usually starts between 12:00 and 2:00 pm, you will want to head out for your hike nice and early, and make it a point to be on the first jeep.
Essential items to wear and carry
With such high chances of rain you have to be properly geared. This is what you need to wear and bring:
- 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 Horizn Convertible
- A light t-shirt such as the Kuhl Intent Hoody t-shirt or the Kuhl Laurel shirt. For short sleeves opt for Kuhl Acacia and Kuhl Sona t-shirt.
- A sweater or a micro fleece for when it gets cooler. I love Lea Pullover.
- A rain jacket or a poncho. Kuhl Hydroflex rain jacket is my favorite.
- 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, ditch your hiking boots altogether and rent a pair of rubber mud boots from the small shop at the beginning of the trail.
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
- 7 Great Day Trips From Bogota
- A Complete Guide To Where To Stay In Bogota
- 30 Incredible Things To Do In Cartagena
- 15 Useful Things To Know Before Visiting Cartagena
- The Best Day Trips From 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