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Hiking the Cocora Valley in Colombia

Wax Palm Trees in Cocora Valley Colombia - Backpacking South America

Salento is a beautiful village, and the perfect base for exploring the Cocora valley.  We heard about a hike from Cocora, just 30 minutes from Salento, where you can hike through the valley, visiting a hummingbird sanctuary and admiring stunning scenery including the magnificent wax palm trees that grow here.

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The Hike in Cocora Valley
The Hike in Cocora Valley

The Hike Around Cocora Valley

According to my guidebook the hike takes between 4-5 hours, which in my opinion is a huge underestimation.  Including a short visit to the hummingbird sanctuary, our hike took us just over 6 hours.  Of course, we were stopping on the way to take pictures, which I imagine everyone would – the scenery is too difficult to ignore!  If you are a fast hiker you could probably do it more quickly, but why rush?  Take your time, enjoy the views, even stop for a while and breathe the fresh air.

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A "Willy's Jeep" taxi in Cocora Valley
A “Willy’s Jeep” taxi in Cocora Valley

To reach Cocora, take a ‘Willy’s Jeep’ from the main plaza in Salento.  They run around every hour, or leave when full.  The current cost is 3,600 pesos, with the last one leaving to return to Salento at 6pm. Don’t miss it!  The jeep ride is a straightforward 30-minute drive on a paved, if windy road.  Passengers cram into the seats and even hang on the back where you get the best views, if you don’t mind standing up and clinging on.  We took it in turns to stand up and admire the view (see the video below!)!  The jeep dropped us off in the tiny village of Cocora, which has just a couple of shops, a restaurant or two and plenty of guides offering horse riding tours.  We declined the offer, having already been horse riding in Salento, opting instead for the hike.


From the drop off point, we followed the instructions provided by the Luciernaga hostel where we were staying.  The instructions were confusing, but in the end accurate enough for us to find our way.  Across the road from where we hopped out of the jeep we turned right at a blue gate (after the obligatory photo stop), where the path was signed to Acaime, the hummingbird reserve.  We followed the path for perhaps an hour, it seemed like an easy walk, past fields of cows and in the shadow of a mountain, the top shrouded in mist.  The path was muddy in parts, so walking boots were a good choice of footwear!  The path here was obvious, with no turnoffs to confuse you.  Occasionally we saw other hikers coming the opposite way, and were passed a couple of times by horse tours and a local man with his mules.  The path grew rockier, and suddenly we were surrounded by trees and lush greenery; we had reached the Enchanted Forest (Bosque Encantado).  I hadn’t expected the forest, this was turning into a real adventure!

A local man walking the trail in Cocora Valley
A local man & his mules

We had followed the course of a river for most of the way, but in the forest the path twisted and turned and crossed the river several times.  Unfortunately, this meant tackling very rickety bridges, and even tiptoeing across a tree trunk as we continued along our way.  The path rose steadily, and in places we were scrambling over rocks and branches, this is not an easy hike, but it is worth it!  The sign at the beginning of the track said it was 4.2 km to Acaime, but the hike up took us around 2.5 hours, over the rough terrain.  Finally, we reached the entrance to the sanctuary, and left the path to climb another kilometre to reach a little house perched high up in the cloud forest.

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Me crossing a bridge Hiking in Cocora Valley
Me crossing a bridge in the Enchanted Forest

Acaima Hummingbird Sanctuary

Hummingbirds at the Acaima Sanctuary in Cocora Valley Colombia

The staff there were friendly at the hummingbird sanctuary and tried to speak some English.  I had expected a little more from the ‘sanctuary’ than one building and some feeders, but I suppose hummingbirds are so small they don’t need much space!  There were several bird feeders set up, filled with the sticky sweet nectar I supposed came from sugar cane.  A birdhouse also had a saucer filled with the liquid, and hummingbirds whizzed around our heads, choosing between the flowering plants around the centre, the bird feeders and the bowls. There were several different species of hummingbird, all zipping around.

A hummingbird at the Acaima Sanctuary in Cocora Vallley
A hummingbird at the Acaima Sanctuary in Cocora Valley

Notoriously difficult to photograph because of their speed, we huddled around the feeders, doing our best to catch a perfect shot. We also saw a family of coatis who live in the forest but occasionally come for food at the sanctuary. Here we also found a much-needed toilet (there was nowhere else to stop along the path, just nature), and a few food options. Entrance to the sanctuary is 5,000 pesos, including a soft drink, the toilet is an additional 1000 and the food 5,000 pesos –  from a choice of corn & chicken soup, meat and rice or egg and rice. We ordered 2 meat & rice which was obviously pre-cooked and re-heated, but tasty and definitely needed! It is probably best to bring your own food, snacks and plenty of water as there is nowhere to buy from once you leave Cocora town.

The view down into Cocora Valley
The view down into Cocora Valley

Wax Palm Trees in the Cocora Valley

Feeling refreshed we left the sanctuary to continue our hike back to Cocora, but along a different route from the way we came. There is an option to do an extra hike if you have time, up the Estrella de Agua, which is a further climb, turning right after you exit the sanctuary gates. We were told though that it was a four-hour hike, and the views weren’t great, so headed instead for La Montana. This route is not well signed though so do not get lost and head for La Estrella by mistake. Once you leave the sanctuary entrance gate, go back the way you came, back down the hill, cross the river once, and continue until you reach another crossed path. There is a clearing and instead of continuing back the way you came, here take the right path which is towards La Montana. It may not be signed though, we were lucky to meet a guide who showed us the way. From here the path climbs upwards, quite steeply, for around 30-45 minutes. The views are worth it! You climb up to a house called La Montana, and from there follow the signs back to town through Cocora Valley – essentially there is just one obvious path, along a well-maintained dirt road, so you shouldn’t get lost.

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Wax Palm Trees in Cocora Valley Colombia
Wax Palm Trees in Cocora Valley, Colombia

Along the way the stunning palm trees line the horizon, dotted around the hillside. We left Salento around 11am, and were coming down this path around 5pm, so had beautiful lighting as the sun was going down, and mist floated into the Cocora Valley. These wax palms are the tallest palm tree in the world and can reach up to 60 metres (200 ft) tall. It is certainly a spectacular site! The scenery all along the route is stunning, and although the hike was more difficult than I expected, we were rewarded with incredible views and some great photos. We took our time on the descent, but realised the path curves around the valley, and is deceptively long! It took us just another 2 and a half hours to get back to Cocora, arriving at 5.45pm, just in time for the last jeep back to Salento. When we got back to town we treated ourselves to a huge chocolate and peanut butter brownie from Brunch, and had an early night, our aching limbs glad for the rest! I thoroughly enjoyed the day, just make sure to bring good sturdy footwear, a rain jacket is probably a good idea, snacks, food and water. And don’t forget your camera!

Wax Palm Trees in Cocora Valley Colombia

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10 thoughts on “Hiking the Cocora Valley in Colombia

  1. JM says:

    Never heard much about Colombia but this one really caught me. Stunning views and beautiful nature. By the way, i love their customized Jeep.

  2. Cass says:

    What a stunning hike! From the colours to the gorgeous birds, no wonder you had to stop for photos! Though looking at that bridge and hills, I think it would have taken us even longer :/

  3. Vyjay says:

    The place has a kind of wild beauty to it. An excellent place for hiking and reveling in the beauty of the outdoors. I am sure you have had a great experience.

  4. Nina says:

    I also did this hike in 2010, it seems you had a nice weather. Although beautiful when I was visiting, we had mud till our knees, at some point we had to hire a horse and all I remember being so dirty as never before:) Would love to go again, its the most beautiful place in Colombia for me!

  5. Megan Indoe says:

    This place looks so awesome. You took some great photos, I especially love the last photo with the wax palm trees! We are planning our trip to South America after the new year and aren’t sure where we are going to stop yet. We for sure wanted to visit Colombia and this experience is something we would really enjoy! Thanks for sharing, we may be doing this thanks to you!

    • clairesturz says:

      You should definitely have this on your itinerary, Cocora Valley was one of my favourite places in Colombia – its so beautiful you can’t help but take hundreds of pictures!

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