The magical Valle de Cocora is the home of Colombia’s national tree and symbol, the wax palm. This tall endangered palm dots the landscape of this extension to Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados, which is a popular day trip from nearby Salento.
Getting There on a Jeep
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 costs just under COP$4,000 per person (as of April 2017). The ride takes about a half hour. Jeeps will come back to Salento when they fill up.
Getting There on Horseback
It’s also possible to go by horse. On our very first trip, we met Hernando Gonzales at the end of Calle Real 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 hires 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 to start exploring.
The restaurants at Valle de Cocora are geared towards tourists and are sometimes more expensive than what you would find in Salento. One of the more popular restaurants is Bosques de Cocora. It’s situated near the trails that head into the park. Both the trout and meat dishes are very good but be warned – the portions are huge. I suggest sharing. With a meal and drink, it can come out to over COP$40,000 per person without sharing.
Marisol and I also ate at the first restaurant on the right side by the entrance (the name escapes me). 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.
From the entrance, you’re able to see the valley filled with the tall wax palms. The tallest species of palms in the world, they grow an average of 50m tall but unfortunately will be extinct because of animals eating their seedlings. The palms are protected by the Colombian government. It’s illegal to cut them down or harm them in any way.
Hiking at the Valley
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 haven’t taken any of the trails for more than 20 minutes but the most popular one is called Acaime. It’s about 2 ½ hours of hiking (as we were told).
The trail that leads up the road has some of the most spectacular views of the wax palms. You don’t have to go far to see the dramatic scenery, and there are other smaller trails that lead you right up to the palms.
Horses are available for hire at the entrance and start around COP$20,000 for shorter tours. A 90 minute ride to a waterfall and cave costs about COP$35,000 (as of April 2017). Your group will also have to pay for a guide, which costs the same amount as one person taking a tour. Boots are available for rent for COP$5,000, and I recommend them especially when it’s muddy or rainy.
A trout hatchery sits a short walk down the horse trail and is a great activity for both adults and kids. For COP$3,000 (as of April 2017), visitors are given a small bag of fish food and are able to feed the fish in their tanks.
The water is taken from the river and flows into various tanks. As the fish grow, they’re moved to other tanks. When they reach an appropriate size, they’re slaughtered and sold to restaurants in the area.
One of the tanks features gigantic trout that weigh about 7kg apiece. These trout are for show only and will not be used for food.
A fishing pond is on the premises, allowing visitors to fish for their dinner and pay for their catch by weight. The fish are scaled and gutted for you on the spot.