Featuring stunning panoramic views of wax palms scattered across the lush, green valley, Cocora Valley (or Valle de Cocora) is an absolute must-do if you are near Salento.
The Quindío Wax Palm—the national tree of Colombia—is the tallest palm tree in the world and can grow up to 60 meters tall.
Unfortunately, the Quindío Wax Palm has been identified as threatened for many years, and these majestic trees can only be found in select regions of Colombia. This makes Cocora Valley a very special place.
And so the trek begins
We took a “willie” from the main square of Salento to Cocora Valley. Willies are jeeps that provide transportation to various tourist attractions in the Salento area.
We opted to do the full hike, which is a total distance of about 12 km (7.7 miles) and takes about 5-6 hours in total.
There is also an option about halfway through to add a 2 km loop to visit the Acaime Hummingbird Sanctuary, which is an unquestionably essential detour.
You can begin the trek going in either direction on the loop. We opted to start by heading counter-clockwise and away from the valley of wax palms.
Although going this way is a bit more challenging, I am glad we did because we were rewarded with the picturesque viewpoints after we had earned them. Who wants to begin at the highlight of a hike and then do all of the hard work afterward?
Speaking of hard work, the hike was much tougher than I had expected, particularly due to the altitude. Despite this, it was completely worth it when we made it to the main viewpoint and had postcard views of the myriad of towering wax palms.
We followed a scenic creek for much of the first half of the journey. There were countless quaint little bridges we had to cross as we made our way over and around the creek. Each of the bridges was slightly different from the next.
We came across several small waterfalls just off the path as we continued to walk further. None of this compared to what would come next, but it was a lovely hike as we made our way to the epic parts of the trek.
Acaime hummingbird sanctuary
About halfway through the hike, we took the detour to go to Acaime, the hummingbird sanctuary. The detour added about an hour of hiking to the journey. Trust me, do not miss this if you are on this hike.
In my wildest dreams, I could not have imagined seeing so many hummingbirds in one place. There were countless varieties of hummingbirds, each of which was just as striking as the next.
As you approach the hummingbird sanctuary, you are greeted by some locals who offer you refreshment options: (1) hot chocolate and cheese or (2) coffee. To be clear, that is cheese melted in the hot chocolate, not cheese on the side…
Yes, cheese in hot chocolate may sound strange. That was my first thought as well. But I couldn’t put the cup down once I tried it!
We only paid 5’000 COP to enter the sanctuary, which included the refreshments. Currently, that is about $1.30 (USD). What a deal?!
We were so enthralled with the hummingbirds that we ended up staying there for over an hour, just watching them dart from one spot to the next in all of their magnificent beauty.
We finally snapped back to reality and realized we needed to head out and finish the hike or we might not make it down in time to catch the last ride back to town.
The grand finale
The second half of the hike was considerably more difficult. I struggled during the final part of the uphill climb before arriving at the peak.
Of course, it didn’t help that we were running behind schedule and feeling a bit rushed after getting so distracted by the hummingbirds.
The kids at the checkpoint at the top couldn’t help but laugh at me as I barely managed to slur over my panting, “Estoy cansada,” while handing them the cash to continue past the checkpoint.
The wax palms began to come into sight as we approached the peak. I quickly forgot how exhausted I had been in the moments leading up to then.
The views only got more spectacular as we continued to hike along the rest of the path. As you arrive at the overlook, it honestly feels like you are walking into a Dr. Seuss book. It’s magical.
After soaking up the epic scenery and taking too many photos, we made our way down the rest of the mountain.
Just as we were reaching the final part of the hike, we came across a field of horses. It felt enchanting to see these elegant creatures grazing against the backdrop of the wax palms and the Andean mountains.
We finished up the hike and made our way to the pickup point. Just in the nick of time, we caught one of the last willies right before it was leaving. Since we were the last people to join, and the jeep was full, we ended up riding on the back of it.
Yes, I meant to say on and not in the back of the willie. That’s right, we stood on the back ledge of the jeep and held on to the top for the ~20-minute (bumpy) drive back into town.
This would never be allowed in the United States, but I was delighted to get the chance to experience this. It was an adventure to make the trip this way.
As fun as it was to ride on the back, I let out a small sigh of relief when we made it back to town safely. As I pried my hands from the bars I was gripping onto during the ride, I realized that they were almost numb I had been holding on so tight!
If you want to continue reading about our downhill mountain biking adventure along the Golden Road (and more stories from our trip around the world), click here.