Destination Run: Cocora Valley in Colombia’s Coffee Region
Situated in Colombia’s coffee triangle, the Cocora Valley hike takes visitors on a unique journey through a muddy rainforest, over rope bridges and up into a majestic forest of towering wax palms. The Cocora Valley is one of the only places in the world to see these tall palms and it draws many travelers to the tiny town of Salento. Salento has quickly become a standard stop among backpackers and is a highlight of any Colombian adventure. Stop by for a day or two to enjoy the beautiful coffee region, tour a local finca and get a peek of Los Nevados National Park through this unmissable trek.
The 7.7-mile loop takes hikers 5-6 hours to complete. The terrain is steep and the route is winding and can be slippery. Runners looking for a challenging and rewarding trail run will love the steep climbs, diverse terrain and stunning views.
Once settled into Salento, you will need to arrange for a jeep ride to Cocora Valley. The easiest way to do this is to arrive in the town square and look for the colorful jeeps lined up. The jeeps leave once per hour and cost 3.600 pesos per person. Alternatively, you can gather a group to share a jeep from the town center or arrange for pick up from your hotel or hostel. Be prepared for a fun and bumpy ride. Jeeps will cram up to 14 people in them by having additional guests stand on the back bumper. The ride to the valley takes about 25 minutes from the town center.
After the jeep drops you off, turn back to the main road and follow it to the left. After a short walk you will come across a gate on your right. Here you will decide how to attack this route. Continuing straight on the main road will take you directly to Cocora Valley to see the famous wax palms. This option starts you off with the highlight of the hike and is best if you are not planning to complete the entire loop. Those planning to complete the loop would be advised to turn right and follow the trail counterclockwise. In this direction, you will begin your hike in the jungle and be rewarded by the wax palms at the very end.
Heading right you will find yourself on a muddy path and will soon be asked to pay the entrance fee of 2.000 pesos. After paying, the trek begins. Continue along the trail and look up to your left to catch your initial glimpses of the famous palms up on the hill. Soon, this view will be obscured and you will need your eyes on the uneven ground as you enter the forest. Even at a run, the trail may be slow going as you pick your way over rocks and roots. The route will be punctuated by a series of swinging bridges, complete with Indiana Jones-like archways that take you back and forth across the river.
After a long climb, you will be presented with the opportunity to climb further up to Acaime or head left to Finca de La Montana. Acaime is a 2 kilometer out and back detour up a fairly steep hill. This trail drops you at a house nestled in the hillside that is decorated with many hummingbird feeders. Here you can rest your tired legs, eat your own pre-packed snacks and enjoy the hummingbirds and hot chocolate with cheese or a coffee which is included with the 5.000 peso entry.
If you choose to skip the hummingbird house, there will be another opportunity for a great break spot coming soon. Follow the trail left to Finca de La Montana for a steep and challenging 2-part climb. Ascend through the rainforest until you reach a grassy peak with a series of switchbacks. After completing the long ascent you will be greeted with views of the surrounding mountains cloaked in mist and perhaps a majestic horse grazing on the hill side.
Now that you have finished the climb, the fun part begins. Follow the wide road as it descends slowly toward the wax palm forest. This is the main attraction of the hike and you will be met with stunning view after stunning view of Dr. Seuss-like palms dotting the hillside. Take in the scenery as you descend along rolling hills and eventually head back to the road and return to the parking lot and the waiting jeeps.
- Layer up. The diverse nature of the terrain and the weather in the valley changes rapidly. Plan for rain and expect to feel both chilled and warm at different points during the hike.
- Leave early. Rain is more common in the afternoon and the trail will become more crowded as the day goes on. Keep in mind the last jeep returns to Salento at 6:30 pm when planning your route.
- Watch for horses. Horseback is a popular way to view the Cocora Valley. There are separate trails for horses but they do intersect with the trail for walkers at certain points
- Be careful. The rugged nature of the trail and the swinging bridges enhances the adventure. However, runners should wear appropriate footwear and be prepared to walk when needed as some areas get a bit slippery and technical.
- Hiking Colombia’s Valle de Cocora – What to Know Before You Go, Blog Post, ,
- Hiking the Cocora Valley in Colombia, Blog Post, ,