Ever since we saw a photo with tall palm trees nestled in Cocora Valley, we knew that we had to see them in real life once we are in Colombia. Cocora Valley located in the emerald green region of Eje Cafetero is a perfect day trip from Salento. Seeing the tallest palm trees in the world is the ultimate dream for every traveler. And even though you are not into hiking, don’t worry. You don’t even need to hike for hours to see these giant wax palm trees. This guide will tell you all you need to know to experience Valle de Cocora near beautiful Salento fully.
WHERE IS THE COCORA VALLEY?
The Cocora Valley is located in the green lush area of the Central Cordillera in the beautiful Andes. Valle de Cocora belongs to Las Nevados National Park and it is home to the national tree of Colombia. Cocora Valley means a “star of water” and it was named after the princess Cocora of Pre-Columbian culture of the Quimbayan.
HOW DO YOU GET TO COCORA VALLEY?
If you are wondering how to get to Cocora Valley, don’t worry, it is not that complicated. The true gateway to Cocora Valley is a small town called Salento.
HOW TO GET TO COCORA VALLEY FROM SALENTO?
From Salento, you only need to walk to the main plaza, where the beautiful church is located and take a shared jeep, also called “willy”. Be aware, that these Jeeps have open roofs or doors. Often, you can only stand at the back of the car (sounds scary, but it’s fun and somehow it works).
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Jeeps are leaving every day approximately at 6:10, 7:30, 9:30, 11:30, 2 PM, and last one at 4 PM. By “approximately” we mean that sometimes they might leave a bit later if the car is not full and drivers are looking for people to fill in empty spots. From Salento, it will take you about 30 minutes to get to the main entrance of the Cocora Valley parking lot. The prices are always changing but we paid COP 4000 (in early 2018) per ride and per person. You don’t need to book any ticket before and pay in cash to the driver.
Once you are back from your hike, just come to the parking lot and look for a Jeep going back to Salento. The last jeep will leave at 6 PM, so make sure to come back to the parking lot on time.
If you are looking for another adventure, check our guide on the best beaches in Colombia.
HOW MANY DAYS YOU SHOULD STAY IN SALENTO AND COCORA VALLEY?
We would recommend you to stay a minimum of 3 nights in Salento. It is a long drive from Medellin and to make the best of your trip, 3 days will allow you to fully explore the region.
WHAT TO DO IN THE COCORA VALLEY?
The main reason why many people come to visit the Valle de Cocora is to admire the tallest palm trees in the world, take in all the beauty this region has to offer, enjoy beautiful hikes and admire gorgeous views on misty valleys.
HIKING COCORA VALLEY IN SALENTO
Once you arrive at the parking lot, you will see a few local shops with souvenirs and you will already get the view on your first tall palm trees.
HOW LONG IS THE COCORA VALLEY HIKE?
The complete hike is around 12 km (7.7 miles) and this also includes a trek to Hummingbird house. The full loop should take you around 4-5 hours. Naturally, the duration of your hike depends on the terrain and your speed. If you take many photos and love to stop along the way, you might schedule at least 6 hours for the full loop of your hike.
WHICH HIKE TO GO FOR?
There are 3 types of hikes you can choose from. If you want to go hike the whole day, you can easily do that in the Valle de Cocora. The best thing about Cocora is that you can choose how long you want to spend in the valley, how long you want to hike and etc. Travelers usually go for a middle option which varies between 2-3 hours.
- Straight to Cocora Valley and back (500 meters)
- Anti-clockwise trek through the blue gate
EASY HIKE: STRAIGHT THERE AND BACK
If you don’t feel like hiking for 5 hours (we didn’t), you can choose to do the simplest hike which is going straight to palm trees and then you can return. From the parking lot just walk straight for about 30-45 minutes to Bosque de las Palmas. It is the easiest hike as it is mainly straight and the roads are maintained as well. Entrance COP3.000.
When it rains, the roads will get muddy, so make sure to take your waterproof boots with you.
The best thing about this hike is that you will be right in the valley and have an option to walk up the hill for a better view. This additional walk can be around 1 hour to climb a hill and get back. For this hike, you can easily spend around 2 hours.
Once we got to the hill, we just lied under the palm trees and enjoyed the view on the elevated palm trees. Luckily it wasn’t raining a day before so we could sit on the grass.
The anticlockwise trail is the most famous trail but it also doesn’t require any advanced hiking skills. For the anticlockwise trail, you need to enter through the blue gate which is located at the beginning of the trail (you can’t miss it). The anticlockwise trail will take you through the forest, waterfalls, and creeks and you can admire wax palm trees at the end of your track.
You can also opt for a little detour (1km) to Hummingbird House (La Casa de Los Colibris) for a traditional Colombian hot chocolate with cheese while hummingbirds are singing you a song (or two). The admission costs COP5.000.
For clockwise trail, you will need to go straight (exactly as for the simple “go and return” trail) which will take you to the valley with palm trees first and then you will continue through creeks, wooden bridges following the trail to Finca La Montaña.
HOW TALL ARE THE TALLEST WAX PALM TREES IN VALLE DE COCORA?
These tall palm trees are not just any palm trees. They are known as Quindio wax palms (in Latin: Ceroxylon quindiuense). These types of palms are the tallest in the world and they are also the national tree of Colombia. Can you imagine the tallest palm tree can grow up to 60 meters (200 feet)? Just sit under the palm tree and try to catch the view, it’s hard not to get sick while looking up.
WHAT TO PACK FOR YOUR HIKE
- Raincoat for her and for him
- Waterproof hiking boots for her and for him
- Water (we can recommend using this reusable bottle with an integrated filter), snacks
- Warm clothes
- Reef safe Sun cream (Use GIGI10 for 10% off) & hat
HOW IS THE WEATHER IN VALLE DE COCORA?
The temperature can vary every day and it can be compared to April weather in Europe. As this region is known for unpredictable weather influenced by altitude and clouds coming from the Andes, make sure to prepare for both sunny and rainy parts.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT THE VALLE DE COCORA?
We visited Cocora Valley in April and the weather was a bit moody and mostly cloudy. However, it is very hard to say which month is the best as the weather can change at any time. But the driest months are between December and February. The busiest time to visit Salento is April, May, and January. In these months the price for accommodations is usually higher as well.
WHERE TO STAY IN SALENTO
Salento is a small village, but well prepared for tourists. That is why there is a lot of accommodation to choose from. Most of them offer breakfast and owners usually provide plenty of information about tours and Cocora Valley.
Check all the hotels in Salento.
HOW TO GET TO SALENTO FROM MEDELLIN?
If you are coming from Medellin, you need to take a bus to Salento. It is a long journey and in general (in Colombia) you never know when exactly you will arrive. There are two bus stations in Medellin and the bus to Salento leaves from the Terminal del Sur (South Terminal). If you prefer to take a direct bus look for a company called Flota Occidental and make sure to book ahead or try at least to be at the terminal in the morning. Naturally, all tickets were sold out when we came in the early afternoon and we had to go first to Armenia and took a taxi (30min, COP85.000) to Salento which took even longer. Our journey to Salento took more than 8 hours. It should be around 6 hours but because of traffic, road construction, bad weather and narrow winding streets in the Andes, it took us that long. A factor to always consider in all of South America.
There were no stops, which we didn’t know, so make sure to bring enough food and drinks. You will also have an option to order a meal on the bus (do it). So if you don’t have any food with you, order a meal. We didn’t and we were starving.
PLEASE NOTE: A trip to Cocora Valley from Medellin is NOT A DAY TRIP. You need to stay at least 2 nights in Salento.
HOW FAR IS COCORA VALLEY FROM MEDELLIN?
The distance between Salento Medellin is only 154 km. The fact that it can take up to 8 hours is crazy. Blame the winding roads in the Andes, speed limitations and congested traffic.
OTHER THINGS TO DO IN SALENTO
GO FOR A COFEE TOUR (FINCA)
You are in the best coffee region in Colombia, which means you need to learn everything about coffee. Salento is right in the middle of Colombia’s coffee triangle. There are many tours during which you can see the whole process of coffee production. Many of them are owned by local families which have been producing coffee for generations. You will be able to pick your coffee beans, go through the whole process of making great coffee with tasting the finest coffee at the end of your tour.
If you have more time in Salento, and you already hiked the Valle de Cocora, then why not try horseback riding? Ask your hotel to book you a tour.
WALK TO SALENTO MIRADOR
If you walk up the busy street of Calle Real, you will get a beautiful view of Salento and a gorgeous green valley.
SANTA RITA FALLS
Santa Rita falls is also a wonderful trip through lush forest with rewarding a view on a beautiful waterfall. Unfortunately, it is too cold to swim, but you can always try.
Would you like to visit the Cocora Valley? Have you ever seen such tall palm trees? If so, where? Let us know in the comments.
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