It’s a must-see destination for nature lovers and offers one of the best trekking experiences in the country. Due to its high elevation, the cool temperatures and rainfall cause low-hanging clouds to form in the Cocora Valley, turning the region into a mysteriously-looking cloud forest. You can discover this natural paradise on foot, by mountain bike, or on horseback.
Please note: If you would like to explore the lush hills of the Cocora Valley on horseback, do your research and try to find a trustworthy company that takes good care of their horses. It’s important within animal tourism that it’s done ethically and that the animal’s health and happiness come first.
Hiking the Cocora Valley
The Cocora Valley hike is a moderate trail that anyone with reasonable fitness can easily do. There are three different routes that you can take to explore the stunning jungle hills and wax trees. There’s the in-and-out path to El Bosque de Las Palmas (the palm forest), the Cocora Valley trail clockwise, and the counterclockwise trail.
How long is the Cocora Valley hike?
The first option, the in-and-out trail, is a short 30-minute walk that starts in the grasslands below the hills. While you make your way between the fields full of cows and horses, you can spot the famous Cocora Valley palm trees in the distance.
This option is great if you just wish to see the wax palms and don’t want to do the whole trek through the valley. Expect to spend about 2 – 2.5 hours at the palms, enjoying the views and capturing some photos.
The main trail that passes through the valley starts about here. This trail is a 12 KM hike with an optional extra 4 KM and takes about 5 – 7 hours. Give yourself enough time to discover the stunning cloud forests, wax palms, and jungle of the Valle del Cocora. You can choose to do this trek clockwise or counterclockwise.
The clockwise trail through the Cocora Valley starts the same way as the in-and-out walk. Taking the path to the left, you’ll make your way through the grasslands directly towards the palm trees. After an easy uphill ascent, there are a few viewpoints (miradors) where you can stop to admire the beautiful scenery.
The route then continues up towards the highest point of the trail, the farm Finca La Montaña (2860 meters / 9,383 ft). Here you can take a break or grab some food before continuing on your journey.
The trail starts descending from here, bringing you across a series of bridges (7 Puentes) that hang over a cascading river. Zigzag your way out of the jungle, back into the lush fields of the valley. From here, you’ll end the route at the entrance gate of Valle del Cocora.
Counterclockwise trail Cocora Valley
Instead of going left, you can start the trail going right, doing the Cocora Valley hike counterclockwise. This route begins with the heavy slope first and ends at the palm trees—a beautiful reward after the long journey. After 30 minutes of the hike, you’ll walk past three viewpoints that look out over the stunning Andean Mountains.
Good to know: on the Cocora Valley hike, both clockwise and counterclockwise, you’ll pass a junction where one road leads to the Acaime Hummingbird Sanctuary (Acaime La Casa de Los Colibris). This small detour adds another 4 KM to your hike but makes a worthy stop if you have the time!
The Cocora Valley Palm Trees
The Cocora Valley is part of the Los Nevados National Natural Park, which was formed in 1985. Before it became a wildlife sanctuary, there were many worries about the exploitation of these 60-meter tall wax palms. Lots of the forest was cut back, causing the yellow-eared parrot, an endemic bird of Colombia, to be on the brink of extinction. Luckily, since the conservation, the national park has been a safe haven for these stunning trees, birds, and countless other local flora and fauna.
Fun fact: the wax palm is Colombia’s national tree. Most of the trees you see in the Cocora Valley are considered ‘young trees’, all between 70 and 100 years old. The wax palm tree species can live for over 200 years!
Entrance Fees & Opening Times
The entire Cocora Valley and national park are actually private properties that charge a small entrance fee. For the in-and-out walk and the longer trail, you’ll be asked to pay 6000 COP (1,40 USD) for entrance to the palm forest. If you want to do the entire Cocora Valley hike, you’ll have to pay an additional 5000 COP (1,15 USD).
If you choose to add the Acaime Hummingbird Sanctuary to your hike, this also has a 5000 COP entrance fee. The park opens early in the morning, around 6 AM, and closes when the sun starts to set around 6 PM.
Alternatively, choose to do a Cocora Valley tour that includes return transport, your entrance fee, and a guide for the hike.
Tips for Hiking the Cocora Valley
- Apart from the bigger cities, Colombia is pretty much a cash-only country. Bring some cash with you for the entrance fees to the Cocora Valley and for a nice lunch or coffee on top of the mountain.
- If you’re planning on hiking the whole loop, pack plenty of water and food for your journey. You can expect the hike to take about 5 to 7 hours. Staying hydrated while doing the trek and having some snacks on the way is important. After the entrance, there are only a few little stands during the hike where you can buy some drinks or a snack.
- With all the rain and river water, you can expect mosquitos, especially in the warmer months. Bring some non-toxic bug spray to protect yourself from bites, which is also a great way of traveling more sustainably!
- You can go to the toilet when you reach Finca La Montaña, at the top of the mountain.
- Even in a cloud forest, the sun can shine on nicer days. Therefore, it’s recommended to bring sun protection with you, like a hat and sunscreen.
- Prepare to get muddy! You can expect your shoes to soak up some of the wet earth in this rainy region. This is part of the adventure but be ready for it with some suitable shoes.
What to Wear
The weather can change very fast in the mountains of Colombia, going from the bright sun to lots of clouds and rain. In the Cocora Valley, the sunshine creates a beautiful tropical experience, but a completely different magical setting appears when the rain sets in.
Try to wear layers so you can adjust to the weather and temperature of the region. Throughout the day, the temperatures can range from 10 to 25 degrees Celcius. A raincoat and good closed-toe shoes are highly recommended when doing the Cocora Valley hike!
How to Visit the Cocora Valley
Most people visiting the Cocora Valley stay in the neighboring town Salento. You can travel to this small colorful town from major cities like Medellin or Bogota by bus or plane. If you choose to travel by land, be prepared for a long journey through the mountains (around 7-8 hours).
Getting to the Cocora Valley from Salento
Salento to the Cocora Valley is a much less strenuous journey. Unless you have your own vehicle, the only way to get to the valley from Salento is to jump in a Willy (the original Jeep, which is about 60 years old!). The car fits up to 15 people and departs once it’s full. Try to stand at the back of the car to get the best views during the ride!
Willys leave every hour from the town’s main square. The first one leaves around 6.30 AM, and the last returns from the Cocora Valley around 6 – 6.30 PM. Try to leave before 9 AM, so you arrive before the crowds. A return ticket for the Willy costs 8000 COP (1.85 USD), and the drive takes about 30 minutes.
Where to Stay
The closest town to visit Cocora Valley is the small and colorful Salento. From here, it’s only a short jeep drive to the start of the Cocora Valley hike trail. If you stay in Salento, you can choose from many different amazing hostels and hotels. If you’re looking for a more remote experience, you can also choose to go glamping or stay in an eco-resort closer to the Cocora Valley. Here are all your hotel options in Salento.
Best Time to Visit the Cocora Valley
Colombia has a rainy season and a dry season. The best time to visit the Cocora Valley is in December through February, when there is the least amount of rain.
However, keep in mind that the Cocora Valley is also a cloud forest high up in the hills, so even in the dry season, an occasional rain shower can happen in the afternoon. It’s, therefore, recommended to visit the valley in the morning. Also, this gives you more time to hike the trails. The changing climate is what makes the Cocora Valley so unique, offering stunning sights of the wax palm trees surrounded by low-hanging clouds.