Valle de Cocora is the home of Colombia’s national tree and symbol, the wax palm. This tall tree dots the landscape of this extension to Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados, which is a popular day trip from nearby Salento.
It’s possible to get to Valle de Cocora by jeep or taxi from the main plaza in Salento. Jeeps leave from the plaza and cost COP$3,600 per person at the time of writing. The ride takes about a half hour. Jeeps will come back to Salento when they fill up.
It’s also possible to go by horse. We met Hernando Gonzales at the end of Carrera 6 in Salento, just a block down from the plaza. He charged COP$40,000 for each horse. The price is the same for one way or round trip. We were able to choose the departure time. Hernando also hired horses for tours within Valle de Cocora.
Hernando met us at our hotel at 10am. We walked down to the hostel where he keeps the horses and met our guide for the day, Juan. My horse was named Mono (Monkey). Marisol had Violetta. Both were excellent horses. Mono was very competitive and loved to be in the lead. If he heard the other horses catching up behind him, he started to run a little faster. He was also very smart and knew his way through town. I didn’t have to guide him down the roads at all which was amazing. He knew exactly where to turn and even stopped at the crossroads to look out for cars!
The ride took about two hours and went through some beautiful landscapes. The road followed the path of the Río Quindío for the most part. There was a lot of traffic but the horses handled it well and stuck to the right of the road.
When we arrived at the entrance to Valle de Cocora, we said thanks and goodbye to Juan and walked up the path. On both sides there are recreational facilities with restaurants, activities, pony rides for kids, and camping.
The restaurants are geared towards tourists and are sometimes more expensive than what you would find in Salento. Marisol and I ate at the first restaurant on the right side by the entrance. A simple grilled trout was only COP$10,000 but a delicious special baked trout with mushrooms and melted cheese (trucha con champiñones y queso fundido) was COP$20,000. The prices were even higher at a couple other restaurants.
One of the more touristy restaurants is Donde Juan B. It’s situated near the trails that head into the park. The trout dishes are very good but be warned – the portions are huge. I suggest sharing. It came out to about COP$30,000 per person without sharing.
From the entrance, we were able to see the valley filled with the tall wax palms. They grow an average of 50m tall. They’re protected by the Colombian government. It’s illegal to cut them down or harm them in any way.
Being an entrance to the PNN Los Nevados, there are numerous hiking trails to be found of varying difficulty. Some of them are short and others take several hours. On the longer ones it’s possible to get simple accommodation. We didn’t take any of the trails but the most popular one is called Acaime. It’s about 2 ½ hours of hiking. Horses are available for hire at the entrance and ranged from COP$20,000 for shorter tours to almost COP$50,000 for the Acaime trail.