Valle de Cocora

While sleeping in a hostel dorm room for my first five nights in Salento, I noticed a trend of backpackers coming for one or two nights.  They make it to Cocora for a hike, and then they’re on their way out to see another site at another Colombian destination.  It took me over a week in these idyllic surroundings before I finally got a jeep out to this natural wax-palmed wonderland.

Just a short time after I entered the premises of the national park I was reminded of something.  Not far from where the trail started, memory of footage from the film The Lord of the Rings popped into my mind.

I’ve been told by travelers that New Zealand has the most beautiful terrain on earth.  I’ve recently realized that the topography and flora of the Andes must rival that of New Zealand where the film was set, in a far-away land at the other end of the planet, where I’ve never drifted down to.

Altough a couple of other foreigners were on the same 7:30 am jeep ride as me, I somehow lost them instantly after arriving and paying the 3,000 COP or $1.68 one-way jeep fare.  The 11 km journey from Salento’s Plaza took about 20 minutes.

As my legs were still sore from the three very recent hikes I’d done, I wasn’t planning to hike the entire trail.

However, as I walked alone, with the entire earth to myself, I felt invigorated.   I smelled an array of flora that constantly varied in its collective scent.

I walked past verdant meadows and had stunning visuals of the valley with its copious palmas de ceras or wax palms, standing as high as 70 meters or 229 feet.

Of over 3,000 different species of palm trees in the world, the wax palm is the highest standing palm tree on earth.

While following along the trail, I crossed the Río Quindío five times.

About two hours into the hike I finally ran into two fellow hikers.  As they showed me a trail map that they’d acquired, we deduced that I was about half way along the path.

Soon thereafter I was on a good ascent that lasted about 40 minutes.  By good I mean that the incline was precipitous enough to turn this natural excursion into a fantastic cardio workout.

I came to a small farm at the top of the mountain. –two pics above- Here a man pointed the way down, which eventually lead down to the valley, to the heart of the wax-palmed paradise.

The following tree-cluster photos were taken along the latter part of the four hour stretch.


The sky in this whole region always has the potential to change fast.  Despite these clouds, I only felt a little bit of drizzle which proved to be refreshing anyway.

Despite the thick gray skies I was spared heavy rain since I’d started at around 8 am.

This photo was taken just a minute after the one above it.  This illustrates how fast the Andean sky can grow lighter or darker.

This fence must be to keep the animals from wandering.  In this spot I thought: The animals up here sure have a nice quality of life.

This shot was managed deep in the heart of Valle de Cocora.                                         Here the wax palms appear almost as specks in the blue and white sky’s contrast.

You can see that Valle de Cocora is gorgeous even where there are no wax palms.

I came to the end, even sorer than when I had started, but incredibly happy that I’d made it to the natural Andean utopia of Valle de Cocora.  If you visit Salento, I highly recommend a visit to this visually-pleasing and unspoiled haven.

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Jeeps run from Salento to the start of the trail and back every couple of hours, the first one leaves at 6:10 am.  Mornings are often drier than afternoons although patterns can be whimsical.  Ask for the schedule in your place of accomodation.  If they don’t have it just walk down to the square and the friendly jeep drivers will happily provide you with the times.  Make sure you don’t miss the last jeep back in the afternoon.

There is no fee to enter and hike the main trail at Cocora.

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Valle de Cocora is one of the most beautiful natural wonders I’ve ever placed my eyes upon.  What’s one of the most gorgeous places you’ve ever seen? Feel free to comment below.  

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17 responses to this post.

  1. I’m curious are the wax palms used for anything in particular? So stately!


    • SANDRA: Stately is a great word to describe these trees that are only found in the Colombian Andes. Because the tree is endangered, there are only three current uses.
      1.) Wax is extracted and used in medicines and oils.
      2.) Because of its unique beauty, it’s been and continues to be used as an art subject.
      3.) The trees act as a great tourist attraction.
      In the past, the wax was used to make candles and soap. Pre Colombian people used the wood to make torches. The trunk has been utilized as a pipeline for water and was cut down to make fence posts and build bridges.


  2. We have palms in India, alright, and of various types. An there are slender, tall palms near the west coast, But these Cocoran palms, my God. So tall.
    Thanls for a great post.


    • VERSA KAY: Thanks! Yes, I was blown away when gazing at Cocora as I’ve never seen anything like it. When you mention those Indian palms all I can think of is lush Goa and the pretty palms that are everywhere. That’s the farthest south I’ve been in India.


  3. Wow! Thats all I can say, thanks for sharing. You do a great job of mixing the photos in with the blog, it makes for a fun and interesting read the whole way through. Much appreciated!


  4. beautiful, beautiful photos – thanks for sharing.


    • SOMERVILLE ‘n’ AL: Thanks! Yeah as Darren mentioned: ‘Twas surreal. It’s not often I’d say that you MUST visit a place, but, if you visit the town of Salento then the 11 km jeep journey is obligatory.


  5. Posted by Mamma on February 13, 2012 at 22:50

    Thanks again for the beautiful pics and report! I think that Western Norway is the most beautiful place on earth in the summer and when there’s good weather the fjords and countryside are spectacular!


    • MAMMA: Western Norway is definitly beautiful beyond belief. I think that every country has its beauty. Norwegian fjords are as unique and exotic as the seemingly million palms that dot the Cocora landscape.


  6. Posted by Al on February 13, 2012 at 19:42

    What an AMAZING place! Thanks for sharing.


  7. Posted by Annie on February 13, 2012 at 16:27

    Wow the palm trees are so tall and straight! Amazing! Never saw anything like that before! Thanks for sharing those photos.

    Even though I’ve seen the natural wonders of Australia, Canada and Hawaii, the place that took my breath away was Crater Lake Oregon. Never saw such beautiful blue water, with snow tipping the surrounding mountains. Gorgeous!


    • ANNIE: I’ve never seen anything like that array of wax palms either. Also, I’ve never been to the great northwest but I’ve seen pics. The nature there does indeed look great enough to leave one gasping for breath. 🙂


  8. Posted by Darren on February 13, 2012 at 16:24

    Those tall palms floating into the sky and scattered about the hillsides are surreal. They have a certain ominous quality about them. Interesting post, nice pics!


  9. Thanks for the good notes from Colombia…


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