6 Tips for Hiking through Valle de Cocora in Colombia

Valle de Cocora is high on every traveler’s bucket list in Colombia. The valley is filled with wax palms, which are the tallest palm trees in the world, reaching heights of up to 60 meters (197 feet). You might have seen pictures of this valley, but experiencing Valle de Cocora in person is even more impressive. In the hilly area, hundreds of these wax palms stand tall, and you can embark on an exciting hike that takes you through a cloud forest, across rickety hanging bridges, and eventually leads you to Valle de Cocora.

How to get to Valle de Cocora from Salento?

The charming village of Salento serves as the base for visiting Valle de Cocora. In the center of Salento, you’ll find Plaza di Bolivar, where the brightly colored and crowded Willy’s jeeps depart for Valle de Cocora. A one-way trip costs 4000 pesos (about $4) and takes about half an hour. There are official departure times, but in practice, the jeeps leave when they are full. We recommend going to Valle de Cocora as early as possible. The first Willy’s jeeps depart at 7:00 AM. In the early morning, you have the highest chance of good weather. After the hike, there are always a few Willy’s jeeps waiting at the parking lot to take people back to Salento. If you want to enjoy a fantastic view, stand at the back of the Willy’s jeep during the ride.

Choosing between the short and long hiking route

There are two different hiking routes you can take when visiting Valle de Cocora: the short route and the long route. The long route is the most popular and the route we recommend. In 5 hours, you’ll hike through a beautiful cloud forest, pass impressive viewpoints, and, of course, the valley itself. It’s a diverse hike that is doable for anyone with a decent level of fitness. If you don’t want to or cannot hike for 5 hours but still want to see Valle de Cocora, you can choose the short route. This route takes about 1.5 hours. From the parking lot, you’ll walk on a flat path directly to the valley. There, you can optionally walk to the first viewpoint and then return. In our opinion, it’s a shame to choose the short route, but if you’re physically unable to do the long route, this is a way to see Valle de Cocora.

Tip: Download the map of Colombia in the maps.me app so you can navigate offline. The hiking route is well-marked in maps.me. We often receive feedback from people who got lost because the route is not well signposted. With the app, you can see exactly where you are, and if you save the screenshots below, it’s difficult to get lost.

The long hiking route to Valle de Cocora

The long hiking route is approximately 11 kilometers (6.8 miles) long, and it takes about 5 hours to complete.

Determining the direction

You can choose the direction in which you want to hike the route. You can start in Valle de Cocora or end there. If you start early in the morning and the sun is shining, we recommend beginning the hike in the valley. It’s likely to become cloudy in the afternoon, and the valley looks beautiful in the morning sun. Additionally, it’s still quiet in the morning. If you start the hike later in the day or if it’s cloudy, it’s more enjoyable to hike in the opposite direction and end in Valle de Cocora. From the parking lot, you’ll see a blue gate (see photo below). Turn right here for the long route or continue straight for the short route or if you want to hike the long route in the opposite direction.

Casa de los Colibris

For the sake of convenience, let’s assume that you turned right at the blue gate and therefore are taking the long route, ending in the valley. The first few miles of this route are flat and muddy, not very exciting. After a while, you’ll enter the dense jungle, and the path becomes much more beautiful. You’ll walk along a river, crossing it five times on rickety hanging bridges. At one point, you’ll reach a junction where you can go left or right. The route towards the valley is to the left, up the mountain, but you can choose to take a detour first and visit Casa de los Colibris. To do this, you turn right and follow the path for 1 mile. At this finca, you can have a cup of tea and enjoy the dozens of hummingbirds flying around. It’s definitely a nice place to visit and a great spot to take a break. Afterward, you’ll walk the same route back for 1 mile until you reach the junction.

The path to Valle de Cocora

After Casa de los Colibris, follow the path back and continue straight at the junction. From here, the ascent begins until you reach Finca la Montana. From there, it’s all downhill. If Finca la Montana is open, you can have a drink here while enjoying a beautiful view. Then, follow the wide road downhill and do not turn left halfway onto a narrow path. This path will take you back to the entrance without actually visiting the valley. You’ll pass a few impressive viewpoints on the left. These are also indicated as viewpoints in maps.me.

Valle de Cocora

Valle de Cocora is a delightful reward after hiking all those miles. Keep your camera ready because you’re bound to capture many beautiful photos here. We experienced both dense fog and bright sunshine in one morning. Each had its own special charm. From Valle de Cocora, it takes about half an hour to walk back to the parking lot. There, you’ll find the Willy’s jeeps that will take you back to Salento.

Eating Trout at the Fish Farm

After completing the long hike, how wonderful is it to enjoy a delicious fresh fish? Truchas Cocora is a fish farm near Valle de Cocora that serves tasty fresh trout, which is very popular in Colombia. Plus, you get to enjoy a nice view of the mountains while dining there.

What to bring for the Valle de Cocora hike?

The weather in Valle de Cocora can change every hour. One moment the sky is blue, and the next moment it can rain or become foggy. When the sun is shining, the high altitude can cause quick sunburn, so always bring sunscreen, even if the weather forecast is poor. Since hiking can make you warm, shorts and a t-shirt are suitable. However, it’s wise to bring a sweater in case it rains and the temperature drops. A raincoat is also a must because it often rains in Valle de Cocora. Wear sturdy shoes as the path can be muddy, and there are some climbs and descents. Don’t forget to pack some snacks and enough water, and include a little bit of toilet paper in your backpack.

Our favorite places to stay in Salento

Despite being a small village, Salento offers many excellent hotels. We stayed at Terrazas de Salento and highly recommend it. This small-scale hotel is run by an Austrian man and his Colombian wife. It is located slightly higher on a hill, providing a beautiful view of the village and the mountains. Nowhere else in Colombia did we have such a great breakfast. You can choose from a wide variety of options to create your own breakfast, and it was a delightful experience every morning. Coffee Tree Boutique Hostel is also a lovely place to stay, especially if you want to meet other travelers. The staff is incredibly friendly and creates a welcoming atmosphere in the hostel. It is located in a quiet area, just a 5-minute walk from the center of Salento. If you’re looking for an ultra-romantic hotel, we recommend Hotel Kawa Mountain Retreat. They offer rooms and bungalows in various price ranges. Book a room with a view and enjoy a beautiful sunset every evening.