Google search Valle de Cocora & you’ll be flooded with stunning images of Colombia’s national tree, wax palms stretching 60 meters up into the sky. Like this one.
I found it surprising tricky, however, to dig up logistical info in one consolidated place (which of course, makes the journey more rewarding in the end). But for those who might find it helpful, here’s a brain dump of practical information, tips and resources for hiking Valle de Cocora & traveling to Salento.
Getting there by bus:
I took the bus from Bogota to Armenia. Most people, local Colombians included, had recommended booking on Bolivariano – I believe it’s just slightly more expensive than smaller companies, but is the most reliable & comes with TV, wifi, bathroom, AC and all your first world amenities.
The bus ride takes about 6-7 hrs, with a 30 min lunch break in the middle, and cost about $48k COP (~$15 USD). They drop you off at the main bus terminal, and from there you’ll need to take a local bus out to Salento. Buses fill up & leave fairly quickly so no need to book ahead. It’s an hour ride and will cost around $5k COP (~$4 USD).
Getting there by plane:
Fly into either Armenia or Pereira airports (both part of Zona Cafetera), and from there take a bus or cab to the Terminale in order to take the smaller bus to Salento. Then it’s the same as above!
If you book on VivaColombia, tickets are usually only slightly more than the long bus ride. My flight out of Pereira ended up getting cancelled though, due to weather conditions (fog?? I still don’t even know) and I ended up taking the bus back. Just something to keep in mind – though I guess you can say that for all travel in general 🙂
Where to stay:
La Serrana eco-farm & hostel. It’s a little out of the way – about 15 min walk from El Centro, but it’s chilled out vibe and lush scenery make it worth it. You can either bring your own supplies and “glamp” or stay in their dormitories. Breakfast is included (best hostel breakfast I had in Colombia) and there are communal dinners & fire pit hangouts every night. This spot fills up fast so if you’re able to, definitely book ahead!
Now you’ve made it! The highlight of Salento is definitely Valle de Cocora, though between coffee tours, horseback riding or just unwinding in nature, there is plenty more to do if you want to stay longer.
Hiking Valle de Cocora:
From the town center you’ll need to catch a Jeep Willie about 20 min out to the entrance of the park. There’s a “schedule” for when these leave but they really just head out as soon as one fills up, so don’t worry too much about that. They definitely do pile people in though!! Scoot up close to your neighbor or hang on tight off the back railing for the ride. A one way ride was $3,400 COP.
It will probably rain a bit while you are there, but depending what season you go it might be pouring. Check the weather & if you need to you can rent rubber wellies for the hike. You’ll need them! I luckily hiked on a pretty dry day, but still was hopping over huge mud/manure puddles.
The jeeps will drop you off at the entrance – just start hiking to the right of the blue gate. The hike is actually very beautiful – you cross streams (over rickety little bridges), pass by private fincas (little farms) and see tons of horses and cows.
However, the path actually isn’t marked out really well, so try to grab a map from your hostel & use time as your main benchmark. It takes about 2 hours to hit this first fork. Acaime (with a hummingbird house) is about another hour out of your way – if you have the time & are up for the additional trek, I’ve heard great things about this visit.
I chose to pass it & continue on to the valley. Once you turn left at this fork the path gets extremely steep. The suddenly sharp incline, coupled with the already high altitude, definitely starts to wear you down… take breaks & drink water!
Pack some snacks, water & whatever else you’d like to have when you finally reach the valley & want to chill our and enjoy the view.
Most importantly, start early! The hike will take 3-4 hours until you descend onto the valley, and it gets pretty misty in the afternoon. I hopped on a Jeep at 9am, made it to the Valley around 1:30, and was soooo disappointed because everything was shrouded in a dense fog.
It drizzled for a bit while I hung out on the main lookout point, but luckily the fog started to lift later in the afternoon as I finished the hike.
After you finish you can hang around town and have some Colombiana fried trucha (trout platter), or just head straight back to Salento. Make sure you know what time the last Jeep Willies head back to Salento (I believe its 4:30).
I wish I could go back! One day certainly wasn’t enough to take everything in. For hardcore hikers, there IS a way you can camp overnight in the park. Either way, it really is a treat – such a unique and majestic site in the middle of Colombia. Enjoy!