A Complete Hiking Guide to Valle de Cocora, Colombia

4° 55′ 0″ N, 76° 2′ 0″ W

Green field and tall palm trees.

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.



DETAILS


| 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.






 

VALLE DE COCORA | THE ADVENTURE BREAKDOWN

 





TOTAL DISTANCE

In total, the Cocora Valley Loop trail is around12 kilometers or about 7 miles.


TIME NEEDED

You should expect to spend between 5 and 8 hours to do the whole loop depending on your speed, fitness and whether you want to take lots of photos (like we did).




\\ The Ruta | Your Valle de Cocora Hiking Route


The Valle de Cocora Loop Trail is pretty straightforward once you get started. In fact, unless you are planning to take a couple of side detours (see below) it is really the only trail you can take - which makes it extra hard to get lost. Below is a quick breakdown of the hiking trail, including more information on which direction you should actually do the loop.



CHOOSING YOUR DIRECTION


Because the trail is just one big loop, you do have the option to choose whether to go clockwise or counterclockwise. While many blogs and websites we read beforehand said you should start in a counterclockwise manner, we instead believe going clockwise is the way to go. Here is why:


| You get to see all of the wax palms right at the beginning. While many reports made this the main reason to go counterclockwise (save the best view for last) we instead feel like it is smarter to see the palms first because there is often a high chance of fog rolling in later in the day - aka, you won’t be able to see the giant trees fully. We went clockwise and we were so glad we did because by the time we made it back to the entrance area the whole valley was socked in with a thick fog and we could barely see the wax palms.


| You don’t have to hike up the muddy mountain. Another great reason we think clockwise is better is because you get to hike down the steep mountain that is often very muddy. The trail down twists and turns through the jungle, and while hiking down in mud isn’t super fun (luckily neither of us fell) it is much better than having to climb up. On the day we did the hike, the mountainside was so muddy that you likely would have had to crawl up.


| The elevation gain is very manageable. Similarly, the amount of elevation you do gain is done along a wide trail/road instead of on a single track trail. Plus, the climb is done over multiple kilometers instead of just the one kilometer up the mountain.


In the end, whatever direction you choose to go, you will see the same sites - so you cannot really go wrong. It just all matters on what you want to see first, and how you want to get the elevation gain in (gradual and slow, or steep and fast).




FINDING THE TRAILHEADS


Once you know which way you want to go, it is time to actually reach the trailhead. Luckily, both are pretty obvious and shouldn’t be too difficult to reach. Plus, if you need a visual reference on where the trailheads are then check our interactive Cocora Valley Hiking Map above.



CLOCKWISE

To reach this entrance you simply head up the dirt road from where the jeeps drop you off, past the restaurants and buildings until you reach another busy area with a couple of shops and a big COCORA sign. From here you will see a small building where you will need to pay the entrance fee (5000 COP per person). There is also a map on the side of the building with a basic outline of the loop.


Once you pay the fee, head towards the left. You will eventually get to a wide, two-track road. This is the start of the loop, from here it slowly starts to meander uphill through the famous wax palms.



COUNTERCLOCKWISE

To reach this entrance you simply cross the road and head down the less busy, dirt road (first passing through some blue gates). Along the way, you will also pass a couple of restaurants, including one serving trucha (trout) from a nearby lake. From there, keep heading straight. Eventually, you will reach a small building where you will pay the 5000 COP entrance fee.


GOOD TO KNOW: if doing the full loop, you will have to pay the entrance fee twice - once when you enter the actual wax palm valley and then when you enter the private property. It costs 5000 COP to enter the valley and 6000 COP to enter the private property. So in total, it costs 11000 COP per person to do the full hike (so less than $3 USD and €3 Euros total).



 


The loop is around 12 kilometers long and should take you between 5-8 hours depending on your speed and the number of stops you take (either to catch your breath, take in the sites or to just take some photos).


This is a brief outline of the route if you choose to go CLOCKWISE (for counterclockwise, just reverse it).



FIRST STOP: THE WAX PALMS

The first part of the hike is through the famous wax palms. This is where you will get the best views of the towering giants and start to understand why the area is so popular with tourists and locals alike.


The trees are just magnificent and in a way, they just seem a bit unreal, cartoonish even. Like Dr. Seuss came in and was told to draw a palm tree.


And because you are seeing them during the beginning of the hike (instead of towards the end) you are more likely to see them in the sunlight and not in fog (no promises though).


GOOD TO KNOW: if you don’t feel like doing the whole loop, you can totally start out on the trail and then turn around either here or at one of the miradors - the first of which is only another 1.7 kilometers up the trail.




EXPLORE MORE | THE TOP SUSTAINABLE ADVENTURE DESTINATIONS





SECOND STOP: MIRADOR #1

Once you pass through the forest of wax palms you will start the gradual climb up into the mountains. The first mirador is pretty basic, but it will give you some good views of the palms as well as the surrounding mountains.



THIRD STOP: MIRADOR #2

The second mirador, located just over half a kilometer from the first, has better views of the palms as well as a nice close-up view of the surrounding mountains, including the most prominent mountain of the hike: El Pino.







FOURTH STOP: FINCA LA MONTANA

Once you leave the second mirador the landscape begins to change. You have now left the wax palms behind and instead start to enter the thick forest. In the beginning, it is more pine forest-y (make sure to look for colorful birds) before it starts to become more jungle-like.


During this part of the loop, the trail is still a rather wide dirt road and it is still climbing gradually. Eventually, you will reach a small building and gate where some park rangers are stationed. The rangers were very friendly and actually spoke super good English. They told us that the river was very high and that if we didn’t want to cross it we could turn around and come back this way. While they didn’t ask for an entrance fee, they did tell us that we would have to pay another 5000 farther down the trail (which we did). If you are going counterclockwise, this might be where they ask for the second entrance fee.


Within another kilometer or so you will come to a single track trail that shoots off into the forest on the left. This trail leads deeper into Los Nevados National Park, but unless that is your goal (which is a great goal) you will instead stay on the main trail. Keep going for another kilometer until you reach another mirador and Finca La Montana.


GOOD TO KNOW: Finca La Montana is actually private property, so we do not believe it serves up any sort of drinks or treats (at least it didn’t when we hiked the loop). But, the viewpoint next to it is very nice. Plus, this is around the halfway point - and the last of the uphill section - so it is a great spot to take a nice break.



EXPLORE MORE | HIKING FROM CRESTED BUTTE TO ASPEN IN COLORADO: 5 THINGS TO KNOW





FIFTH STOP: ACAIME RESERVA DE COLIBRIES

This is actually a detour from the main trail, but if you have the time and the desire to see some colibries (hummingbirds) as well as other birds (including supposedly the colorful cock-of-the-rock), then we highly recommend stopping off at the reserve. Plus, you will not only get to see some beautiful birds, but you will also get a nice warm drink, which is included in the entrance fee.



DETAILS


| COST: it costs 15000 COP ($4.50 USD / €3.50 Euros) per person to enter the reserve. This price does include a drink - either a coffee or a hot chocolate with cheese.


| LOCATION: the reserve is one kilometer from the main trail. You will see a colorful sign right after the hike down from Finca Montana if doing the loop clockwise, or right before the hill climb if doing the loop counterclockwise. The trail leads pretty much straight for the reserve, which begins past a large wooden fence.


💬 INSIDER TIP: if you are looking to spend more time at the reserve, there is the option to spend the night in one of the dorm rooms. We believe it is 30000 COP ($7.80 USD / €7 Euros) per person.





SIXTH STOP: THE BRIDGES

By the time you reach the turn off for the hummingbird sanctuary you have already conquered the steep (likely muddy) downhill section and have fully entered the jungle. This is also when you will get a nice close-up view of the powerful Quindio River, which snakes through the forest before heading out towards Salento.


If you are doing this hike when the river is high (like we did) you will notice that the trail is completely covered by the raging river. While you can still hike along the edge and get your legs mostly soaked - this is what Madalyne did - we suggest instead making a quick detour up and over to where the trail recommences on higher ground (this is what Luke did).


Keep heading down the single track (but wide) trail, through the thick jungle until you reach your first bridge. Now, while it might look totally unstable and completely terrifying, the narrow wooden bridges are actually quite fun. Yes, there are pieces of wood missing, yes they swing back and forth, and yes the river underneath is quite powerful. But. It is all part of the adventure right?