I’ll be honest, I didn’t even know the Valle de Cocora (Cocora Valley) existed until we were about 2 weeks into our time in Colombia. I remember being sat in a hostel in Cartagena speaking to a group of girls who’d not long visited the Quindío region where the Cocora Valley lies, and telling us how out-of-this-world the scenery was.
This triggered us to do a bit of research into the Cocora Valley and the surrounding areas. Before we knew it, our time in Colombia had been extended, and another destination added to the list. Picture this: beautiful greenery, incredible hiking, and Colombia’s famous 200ft (60m) palm trees.
The majority of people visiting the valley will do it as part of their time in Salento, due to the close proximity and the easy accessibility from the tiny (and beautiful) town. We travelled to Salento from Medellin which required a six(ish) hour bus to Pereira, then changing to an hourlong bus to Salento.
After arriving in Salento, we walked from the side of town we were dropped off at, to the other side of town where our hostel was. This took a grand total of about 15 minutes, which should give you an idea of how small Salento really is. We were staying at the Coffee Tree Boutique Hostel, which I honestly couldn’t recommend enough. The people, the place and the breakfast were insane. The hostels HUGE dog, Mr Pecas was a bonus, too.
I won’t go too much into the hostel and Salento itself, as it deserves a post all on its own. It still sticks out as one of my favourite places on our entire six-month trip.
Hiking the Cocora Valley without a guide is easy to do, and allows you to take everything at your own pace. Getting to the Cocora Valley is extremely easy from Salento but will require an early start.
The main square in Salento is packed full of 4×4’s from approximately 6:30am onwards, though we didn’t arrive until about 8am which was still plenty of time. You can buy a return ticket from one of the small huts in the centre of the square for around 9,000 COP (£2.20), and then just wait for the driver to usher you towards the vehicle. Be aware: if you’re claustrophobic, this method of transport is not for you! We shared our journey to the Cocora Valley with no less than 12 people packed into one 4×4. Some in the front, some in the back, and some clinging onto the roof rack. Not forgetting the 8 year-old schoolboy squeezed onto the side of the van, who we dropped off on the way.
The (bumpy) journey takes no longer than 30 minutes, and offers beautiful green scenery. We were dropped off in the car park, and had been advised by the staff at the hostel to take the route anticlockwise. This means you’re hiking up through the forest which is not only easier in the mud, but means you finish with the main event – the 200ft palm trees.
Once you leave the car park, you’ll take a left past a couple of makeshift restaurants and shops, and there will be a blue gate just hidden to the right-hand side. Take this. This will lead you through the fields, across bridges and over streams, eventually bringing you to the forest. Climb up through the mud, stones and cross yet more bridges, and you’ll eventually reach the top of the rather large hill. It’s here that you’ll see how far you’ve climbed, as the clouds roll past you.
I’d advise taking a packed lunch with you on this hike, and plenty of water. Although there are shops at the beginning, and a shop at the top of the hill, it’s more economical to take your own. Our hostel actually made us a packed lunch for a small fee, so we were set for the entire day! Otherwise, there’s a small supermarket in Salento where you can stock up.
We stopped amongst the clouds for a sandwich and some well-earned chocolate, before making the descent down the other side.
I can’t put into words how incredible it is once the palm trees come into sight. I significantly remember the hairs standing up on the back of my neck, and a lump in my throat. We spent about half an hour snapping photos with the trees, before continuing back down towards the car park to find a Jeep back to Salento.
In total, the hike took us about six hours at a comfortable pace and with a lunch stop. You wouldn’t need much more time, but could definitely do it in a lot less.
The 4×4’s pick you up in the same place, and I’d advise checking out the timetable before you leave Salento, so you’re not waiting around for too long.
If you’re heading to Colombia, I highly recommend hiking the Cocora Valley, and visiting the Quindío region as a whole. It’s absolutely stunning.