Hiking the Valle de Cocora near Salento and seeing the wax palms is a must do whilst in Colombia. We recently had the opportunity to experience the region and had a great time hiking all around the valley. Unfortunately there is not much information on the internet in relation to maps that show people how not to get lost (something we semi-experienced but found our way out of), and the sign-posting on the actual hikes is quite poor.
Here we offer maps to many trails, and a full guide on making the most of your time whilst you are visiting the valley, without having to worry about getting lost.
We based ourselves in Salento for 4 days, hoping to find a good day to head out to the Cocora Valley. It does tend to rain quite a bit here, but there is relief to be found generally in the mornings where rain is scarcer and the valley has less of a chance of low cloud and fog shrouding it. Finding the weather forecast to be forever changing (especially with different weather apps), we decided to pick a day that most of the weather services agreed would have less rain. With that in mind, we set out to find how to make our way from Salento to the Valle de Cocora.
Transport from Salento to the Cocora Valley
Getting from Salento to the valley to see the wax palms involves taking a Jeep (or Willy as they are known here) from the main square in town. You cannot miss the iconic jeeps, where you can hop in and take a 30 minute ride to the start of the valley. As stated, it is best to make your way out to Cocora early in the morning, however if you only plan on visiting just the palms (explained later) and not doing the full hike then you could go out whenever there is a break in the weather.
With that in mind, the picture below shows the current (as of April 2017) schedule of the jeeps going to the valley. We ended up taking the very first jeep at 6:10am which ended up being perfect with the weather turning poor at around midday the day we went.
The cost for the ride to the valley is 3,800COP (once again current as of April 2017), which is a one-way fare. You cannot purchase a return fare, so just pay the driver each time you ride.
As you can see the jeeps run pretty regularly, giving you the option of spending an entire day in the valley, or only a small portion of it.
Hiking Trails, Maps, and a Guide
It is actually pretty easy to get lost doing this hike, and there is not much information readily available to tourists either through the town of Salento itself or once you arrive at the start of the hike in the Cocora Valley. Even whilst searching on the internet we could not find much information on the topic, except for some basic text instructions and a few photos (no maps).
The single best resource that we can recommend for taking this hike is to download maps.me from your respective application store for your phone, and download the offline maps for Colombia. The entire hike is perfectly shown on these maps, and helped us find the right path in the end. To help you even further, there are a few routes shown below on maps, including the main route most people take, the reverse route (to see the wax palms first), and the route that we at Nomadic Bones ended up taking which was also quite interesting.
1. The Main Hiking Route
The simplest knowledge to give somebody doing this hike is that once you get dropped off by the jeep, you will see a blue gate on your right up ahead (about 20 or so metres away, or they may drop you off right at the gate). Turn right here, and you can begin the main hike that most people take. Here is an image to help visualise it, with the other route explained later:
When you walk through the gate you will see some signs, including distance markers for certain landmarks. You are aiming to get to Acaima as your first point of call (or at least head towards it), which is a hummingbird sanctuary. If you would like to visit here it will cost you 5,000COP (as of April 2017), which includes a cup of hot chocolate or coffee.
As you can see, Acaime is 4.8 kilometres from the beginning of the hike. ALWAYS ignore signs leading towards Estrella de Agua, you are not going here. If you choose not to go to Acaime, you will (as per the map below) turn off before heading towards it. Instead of going to Acaime you will reach a finca called La Montana, which will be the top point of your hike before you start heading down the hill towards some viewpoints and the famous wax palms.
Here are two maps, one showing the main route, and one an inset showing the final stretch to Acaime and backtracking towards La Montaña:
2. The Reverse Route (or to see the wax palms first)
Referring back to the main image of the blue gate, if you choose to not turn right and instead follow the road straight up, you will find yourself heading towards the wax palms which are usually seen at the end of the hike. There are many reasons why you may want to go in this direction, including a lack of time and also wanting to see the palms immediately in the morning when the weather is presumably better.
If you have time and simply want to take the reverse route to see the wax palms first, then go by the map above but just go in the opposite direction. It will lead you back to the blue gate as the end point to your hike.
If you do not have much time and are looking for a ‘highlights package’ of the wax palms, then please use the map below which shows the best locations to see the palms and also where some of the best photos can be taken. Most of the palms are only about 10 minutes walking from where you get dropped off, with some even closer than that. Turn right at the last restaurant and begin going up the hill (you may have to go through the souvenir shop and to the left of the toilet to find the trail) if you want to find the point marked on the map with a blue square:
Like we have said, none of this information was available to us when we went to hike the valley, so hopefully we can help people save some time!
3. The Route That We Took
So we got semi-lost when taking the hike, maybe it was the excitement of being there or of seeing the palms in all of their glory, but we ended up stumbling out a route much longer than we planned on taking! With that being said it was an actual trail (there are many in the area), and one that we would happily take again and recommend to others to try something different.
The map below shows our route in yellow, including some tips on seeing the palms:
Taking this path also meant that we got to see the wax palms many times, both on the outward journey and on the return journey once we had reached La Montaña. It was also slightly more muddy on the way up as the first half of the trail seemed to be used mostly for horseback riding tours (we only saw hoof prints and no horses however), but if you are wearing adequate footwear such as rain boots (wellingtons, gum boots etc.) then you will be perfectly fine.
Getting Back to Salento
Getting home could not be easier, as the jeeps (or willy’s) will be waiting for you where you got dropped off. Just refer to the schedule posted above to find a time, and wait until then to head home. The return trip will cost you 3,800COP, the same price it cost you to get to the Cocora Valley.
If you arrive back to the cars and have a bit of time to wait, there are plenty of restaurants and cafe’s around where you can sit and have a meal or just a cup of coffee.
Tips for Hiking the Cocora Valley
Of course we have some tips for you, based on what we did and what we learnt along the way. Doing a hike such as this which regularly reaches the 4-6 hour mark dependent on your pace, means that there are some essentials and things that you should do both before and during the hike itself.
- Bring plenty of water – nothing worse than running out. You can purchase some at the beginning of the hike, or fill up in Salento
- Bring food (snacks and possibly lunch) – there are some great views along the way, and sometimes you just want to sit down, look out over the palms and valley and relax. The food will also help to give you energy for the hike
- Wear adequate footwear – we chose to wear rubber rain boots (wellingtons, gum boots) which we had with us. There are some hostels that will rent these out to you (such as where we stayed – Hostel Tralala), and you can apparently rent them at the start of the hike also. We found them very useful as parts of the path are always going to be muddy as the sun just does not reach them. Hiking shoes would come a close second and would also be great. Do not wear trainers!
- Wear appropriate clothing – this is a hike after all, get our your best hiking gear and make sure you also bring a raincoat and a jumper of some kind (or a raincoat that does both!). You are hiking up into altitude, reaching around 2,800 metres and it can get a bit chilly at times
- Bring a camera – this is some of the most awe-inspiring landscape that Colombia has to offer, you really will want to remember it!
- Don’t get lost! – use our guide, the maps we have provided, and of course maps.me on your phone to ensure you stick to the trail you have chosen
Now that you have all of the information you need to hike the Cocora Valley, all you need to do is make your way to Salento, Colombia and do it! We recommend staying at the relaxing and wonderful Hostel Tralala who were very helpful with all aspects of the stay. They also provide a great town guide which includes a mini-map of the Cocora Valley hike (the only one we saw during our stay in Salento).
We hope this guide is helpful in planning your hike of the valley – enjoy, it is truly spectacular!
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