4° 55′ 0″ N, 76° 2′ 0″ W
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT HIKING THE VALLE DE COCORA (COCORA VALLEY) LOOP TRAIL. INCLUDING, HOW LONG IT TAKES, WHAT TO BRING WITH YOU, AND WHAT TO EXPECT ALONG THE WAY.
Sitting in the central region of Colombia is a lush forest so magical that it became the setting for a Disney movie (looking at you Encanto). Valle de Cocora, or Cocora Valle in English, is pretty well-known; in fact, it is the second most visited destination in Colombia after the historical Caribbean city of Cartagena. The main draw of the valley, besides its natural beauty, is its towering wax palms - which happen to be the tallest palm trees in the world.
We have been lucky enough to visit Valle de Cocora a couple of times, and no matter how many times we explore the area, we are still always in awe of the crazy, Dr. Seuss-like palm trees that cover the surrounding mountains. Due to the Valley's popularity, there are numerous ways to check out the palms and the surrounding area. But we believe one of the best ways to explore the valley is to take on the full Valle de Cocora Loop Trail.
This lop hike will take you not only through the famous valley full of gigantic palm trees, but also through the thick jungle, along the rushing Quindio River and across lush, open meadows. If you are looking for an amazing Colombian adventure - then we highly recommend this hiking trail. And below you will find everything you need to know to take it on.
🗣 WHAT'S IN A NAME?
The name Cocora actually comes from a Quimbayan princess who was the daughter of the local chief Acaime. The Valle de Cocora, or Cocora Valley in English, was put aside for conservation in 1985 in hopes of curbing the exploitation of the endemic wax palm, as well as the threats against the species that were dependent on the palm. The biggest threats against the trees were the felling of the palms to make candle wax or to use the palm fronds for Palm Sunday festivities, overharvesting, disease and habitat loss.
HIKING THE VALLE DE COCORA LOOP IN COLOMBIA
\\ Where is Valle de Cocora?
The Valle de Cocora is located in central Colombia in the eje cafetero region. It sits on the western slope of the second of the three mountain ranges (cordillas) that cross the entire country. The large valley is part of the much larger Los Nevados National Park, one of the premier national parks in all of Colombia. The entrance of Valle de Cocora sits at an elevation of 1800 meters (5,905 feet) while the highest point sits at an elevation 2400 meters (7,874 feet).
HOW TO GET TO VALLE DE COCORA
The Cocora Valley is located 11 kilometers from Salento - a small town in the mountains of central Colombia. The most common way to reach the Valle de Cocora is to take a Willy, a colorful, WWII era jeep.
You can find the Willy jeeps in the main square in Salento. Just look for a line of them on the side opposite the large yellow church. Before hopping aboard one of the departing jeeps, you will first need to purchase your ticket - which you can do at a small white building next to the line of waiting Willy's.
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: while the Willy’s can hold around 6-8 people, the drivers are usually fine adding a couple more people onto the back. So if you are feeling adventurous, we definitely recommend riding on the back of the jeep.
It takes about 20 minutes to go from Salento to Valle de Cocora. Once you arrive, the Willy’s will drop you off at a parking lot near the restaurants and shops that line the street near the entrance to the trail and the wider valley. This parking lot is also where you will pick the Willy's back up when you finish hiking.
| COST: it costs 4000 COP per person, per way; meaning it costs 8000 COP per person to go to Valle de Cocora and then back to Salento. You will pay the total price upfront in Salento.
| TIME: the first Willy departs the square at 6:30 AM and then again around every hour (unless it is really busy). The last Willy leaves Cocora Valley at 6 PM.
| FUEL UP: if you are looking to grab some food and coffee before heading out on the hike, we suggest stopping by Café de La Esquina, a local family run café, for some coffee and a quick breakfast. The café opens at 7 AM and is on the corner of Calle 5 and Calle Real (near the church).
GETTING TO VALLE DE COCORA FROM ARMENIA AND PEREIRA
It is quite easy to reach the Cocora Valley from both Armenia, the capital and largest city in the Quindio department, and Pereira, the capital and largest city in the Risaralda department. Both cities have a large airport with somewhat regular flights to Bogota (the capital of Colombia) as well as a few international routes.
To reach Cocora Valley from either city you will first need to catch a bus to Salento. To do this, first head to the main bus terminals in the cities. It costs 5400 COP to go from Armenia to Salento and 9700 COP to go from Pereira to Salento. Once you get to Salento, simply follow the directions above for reaching Cocora Valley.
GETTING TO VALLE DE COCORA FROM MEDELLIN
If coming from Medellin, you can follow almost the same directions as above to how you would reach Salento and Cocora Valley from Armenia and Pereira. The only difference is the time it takes and the cost.
To reach Salento (and in conjunction Cocora Valley) from Medellin you will need to buy a ticket at the southern bus terminal. It costs around 70000 COP ($19 USD or €16.80 Euros) per person to go from Medellin to Salento via bus. The ride takes between 6 and 10 hours depending on traffic and construction. There are two buses that run this route daily: one at 1:30 PM and one at 8:30 PM. Both are done through the bus company Flota Occidental.
Once you arrive in Salento, just head to the main plaza and catch a Willy to Valle de Cocora.
GETTING TO VALLE DE COCORA FROM BOGOTA
If coming from Bogota, your best option is to take a bus directly to Armenia first and then catch a smaller bus up to Salento. Departure times from Bogota to Armenia are at 9 AM, 2 PM, 7 PM and 9:30 PM. The bus journey should take around 9 hours (maybe longer depending on traffic and construction). Two common bus companies that do the route between Bogota and Armenia are Bolivariano and Expreso Palmira.
➳ We recommend booking your long distance bus tickets (like the routes from Medellin and Bogota to Salento) through Busbud. This site allows you to check times, reserve your spot and purchase your tickets online.
EXPLORE OUR INTERACTIVE COCORA VALLEY HIKING MAP
\\ When to Visit Valle de Cocora
You can visit Cocora Valley year-round, but there are definitely some times of the year that are better than others. For starters, we recommend not visiting during the busy holiday seasons - including the few weeks before and after Christmas, New Years and Easter. During this time, Salento and Cocora Valley are overwhelmed with visitors and it can be tough just finding an available Willy.
Similarly, the rainy season - especially the months of October and November - can be especially tough for hiking. In fact, if it is really rainy, the loop trail might actually close due to the Quindio River being too high and dangerous or because a landslide occurred (more common than you would think).
In our opinion, the best time to visit Valle de Cocora is in the months of August and September when the weather is still pretty nice and the crowds are low, or in late February when the weather is similarly nice and the crowds are starting to dissipate after the holiday season.
WEATHER IN VALLE DE COCORA
Due to Cocora Valley's high elevation - the base sits at 1800 meters or 5,905 feet, while the highest point sits at an elevation of 2400 meters or 7,874 feet - the weather can be a bit finicky. We have experienced everything from bright sunny days to being completely socked in with fog and rain. You truly don't know what kind of weather you are going to get while exploring the valley.
Overall, we would say you can expect the best weather for hiking during the dry season - December to March and June to September, though even in those months the chance of rain is still definitely possible. We have explored the valley in August and also in February and March and all three months were great.
💬 INSIDER TIP: we found that the highest chance of rain came in the mid to late afternoon (anytime after 3 PM usually). If you can start hiking early and be off the trail by then, you likely have a better chance of staying dry.