Just a short drive from the tourist town of Salento in the Quindio region, you can marvel at Colombia’s tallest trees, the Quindío wax palm, in the stunningly picturesque Valle de Cocora. A visit to Eje Cafetero, touted as Colombia’s coffee triangle, is well known as a highlight of travelling in Colombia.
Hike the Cocora Valley in Colombia for spectacular views, a chance to spot local wildlife, and a wild ride in a local jeep. The 12km loop will see you climb steep vistas, cross rickety bridges, spot hummingbirds and explore the 60 meter (200 foot) giant trees that make this place so unique.
If you’re visiting the coffee triangle and Salento you definitely should not miss Valle de Cocora. It’s one of the most stunning landscapes in all of Colombia. The 60 meter high wax palms are a sight you won’t forget.
The Valle de Cocora lies right next to Los Nevados National Park, home to some of the best wildlife spotting opportunities in Colombia. Although much of the park is farmland, a lot of wildlife including some amazing bird species spill over from the Los Nevados and the surrounding areas.
It’s thought over 352 species including 54 local families call this area home. Whilst the area is most famous for day hikes, horseback riding and camping is also popular. The region is actually under threat, so try to choose a reputable operator when visiting to avoid further damage to the area.
You can do the Cocora Valley hike in as little as an hour. But there are three ways to get to “Mirador 1” and “Mirador 2” with the stunning views of the Cocora valley.
From the drop off point head straight down the paved road, it will soon turn to a dirt path and within around 30 minutes you will reach the main photo site - Bosque de las Palmas.
From the drop off head the same way as the easy route to the wax palms then straight up Finca La Montaña. The clockwise version is the easier of the longer hikes, with fewer uphill sections, but you start off with the Wax Palm Valley.
From the drop off point head through the blue metal gate on the right past the sign “Bienvenidos, etc”. This loop is generally recommended because the last half of the hike is downhill through the wax palms, saving the best for last!
(*Add on 2 hours if visiting the Hummingbird sanctuary)
We jumped in the iconic “Willys” jeeps early one morning in Colombia’s coffee hub, Salento. The ride out was entertaining to say the least, standing up in the back of the jeep, taking pictures and whizzing past other tourists on the way. The jeeps can comfortably seat 7, but are often in high demand and can see up to 11 tourists holding onto bumpers and roof racks!
Arriving at the start of the trail exhilarated, we followed the anti clockwise route avoiding the crowds of people heading down the more obvious straight path. Crossing through farmland and lush green pastures, after around 40 minutes we came to the cloud forest. The trail crisscrosses over rivers via wooden rope bridges. They aren’t maintained all that well and it’s best to use some caution when crossing. There are around six rickety bridges in total, each one more wobbly than the last.
A 30 minute detour from the main trail led us to “Acaime La Casa de Los Colibris'' meaning "house of the hummingbirds". The additional 4 km is well worth it if you have the time. At this point, you'll truly be in need of refreshment and the owners will provide you with a chunk of cheese and a aguapanela caliente (a traditional Colombian hot drink made from caramelized sugar cane). There is a 5000 COP (around $1.60 USD) entrance fee which includes your drink and queso.
After our visit, the hardest part of the hike began - a steep incline without any views due to the thick, dense foliage. There were some national park signs that enlightened us to the fact that the forest is a natural habitat for spectacled bears, cougars and tapirs, although we didn't see any.
The summit of Finca La Montaña is 2860 meters above sea level, the highest point on the trek, and offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains. We refilled our bottles at the homestead and all that was left was the gentle hour long amble to the main attraction Bosque de las Palmas. We stayed a while taking in the views and about 100 photos. The towering wax palms and rolling valleys made for a beautiful end to the hike.
The dry season in Salento is between December and February, but July and September are also a good time to visit with less average rainfall than other times of year. The hike can easily be done at any time of year, but it may just get a bit muddier in the wet season.
Having said that, showers are quite likely in the valley any time that you may choose to visit. It’s best to have a few days in Salento so you can choose a clear day to do the hike closer to the time. There’s plenty to see in Salento, even on a rainy day.
Temperatures average between 11 °C (52 °F) and 21 °C (69 °F) year round, so it really just depends on the weather on the day. Always be prepared for wet weather and listen to the advice of locals for the current hiking conditions.
The jeeps from Salento to Cocora valley leave between 6:30am and 4pm and cost around 4000 COP each way.
You will need some Colombian pesos for the jeep, the hummingbirds and the trail fees.
Bring hiking shoes to cross streams and a waterproof jacket just in case the weather turns.
You’ll gain about 1,000 meters in elevation from Salento with the highest point being 2,860 meters above sea level.
Some cafes and hostels in Salento provide a packed lunch for the hike. You can also get lunch and refill water at Finca La Montaña. But bring extra snacks.
You will almost definitely be staying in Salento if you’re hiking Cocora Valley. It’s just a small town but also one of the most visited places in the country. There are lots of things to do for tourists and it can be easy to break your budget here.
Terasu Hotel Salento for large comfy rooms, lovely views and great service on the edge of time.
Hotel Salento Real with WIFI and breakfast right in the center of town. Café Quindío is the place to sample the local coffee.
Hilltop Hostel is a great place to stay if you’re looking to save some cash. Get stunning views of the surrounding area from the roof, plus it even has a pool.
For an alternative hike in the Cocora Valley visit Cascadas de Cocora. A 60 meter high waterfall on a private estate; entrance costs 15,000 COP per person. It takes around 30 minutes to climb up to the waterfalls from the drop off point, it’s a lot less busy than the main hike and just as beautiful.
Of course if you’re visiting the coffee capital of Colombia, you have to do a coffee tour. Recuca is one of the best around, amusingly listed on Google Maps as a “Theme park”, Recuca is a working coffee plantation that shows visitors every step of the fascinating process. From growing the perfect bean right to taste testing the product, it’s the best coffee tour I’ve personally ever been on (and I’ve been on a few)!
Parts of the trail can get pretty muddy after rainfall and it’s best to wear waterproof hiking shoes with a good grip. As the region is high above sea level, it can get quite cold if the weather turns so pack plenty of warm layers too.
It’s also best to have a waterproof jacket in case the weather turns, the valley is so lush and green for one reason, rain! A waterproof day pack with basics like water, snacks, spare socks, spare cash, and a basic first aid kit is essential on any hike. Also sunscreen. The sun gets stronger with altitude and although you may not feel it, it can cause sunburn very quickly.
I also like to carry plasters, boiled sweets and spare laces (they always break at the worst possible moment!). A packed lunch and plenty of snacks are advised too as local options aren’t always available. And of course, don’t forget your camera!
Last Updated 4 September 2023