Wonderful Wax Palms: Hiking Colombia’s Cocora Valley

Country Colombia | Date July 30 | Accommodation In Salento

The Cocora Valley is located outside Salento, Colombia, and was a top destination on our Colombia must-see list. The Cocora Valley is characterized by extremely tall wax palm trees, which look like they’re straight out of a Dr. Seuss book and are in fact the tallest palm trees in the world. It’s as beautiful as the trees are tall, and offers up some great hiking.

Hiking the Cocora Valley

We awoke early and headed to the main square in Salento to get our tickets for the Willy (jeep taxi) to the valley so we could begin our hike. Of course, as happens each and every time we set out to do a nature activity, it was raining hard.  We jumped off the Willy (literally; some people hold on to the back) and headed towards the hiking paths. Given 2 options – the long hike, about 6 hours total with a full loop up the mountain and down through the valley – or the short hike, just 90 minutes to see the palms – we decided not to be lazy and chose the long one. We’d made friends with the other backpackers on our jeep, so we all set out to hike together. We split into 2 groups which was ideal as Sarah and I do not always (ever) hike at the same pace.

Less than an hour in we started glimpsing the amazing wax palm trees – among and through the misty fog and rain – and captured some unreal photos of these giant trees towering above us and up the mountain. We continued our climb upwards (where else) for quite some time, eventually going off the larger trail into a smaller (and wetter, muddier – thanks, rain) trail in the woods. We took a short detour to visit the hummingbird sanctuary located off the trail, which served up hot chocolate with cheese, a popular combo in Colombia. I ate it even though I cannot eat dairy, and can confirm it is delicious and also that I am still lactose intolerant. We took a quick break here high atop the mountain, dipping the sour cheese into our mugs as we watched the colorful birds flocking the feeder.

Bridges of the Cocora Valley Hike

The second portion of the hike was faster, albeit much more treacherous. We backtracked a bit back down the trail, then turned onto another woods path to complete the loop. This path lead us over a series of not-so-safe looking bridges with rickety wood planks, rogue cables, and moss – made all the more slick and treacherous in the rain. After becoming thoroughly covered in mud and a few near falls (mostly by the annoying guy in our group who kept running to show off for some reason), the trail opened back up into the field.

The final segment of the hike was on a trail through the valley and fields, where a herd of cattle was being…herded…by a local man on horseback with a stick. Sarah went the wrong way and got stuck in the “cattle pen” side of the path which she couldn’t cross over due to barbed wire. I eventually suffered a minor leg wound while attempting to cross the barbed wire myself. Near the end of the path we crossed through a little gate and were forced to pay more money. Annoying, despite the fact it wasn’t much. Thoroughly soaked but happy with our hike, we headed back to town in a Willy.

Budget and Practicalities

Willy | 8,000 Colombian pesos round trip, per person

Entry Fees | 3,000 COP at the first gate at the bottom. An additional 2,000 at the second gate near the end

Hummingbird Sanctuary | 5,000 COP, including a hot beverage of choice (overpriced)

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