Salento is a small town in the middle of Colombia’s Zona Cafetera, the coffee region south of Medellin. It has a nice central square, colorful old buildings and a lively main street full of bars, restaurants, boutiques and souvenir shops. The town is surrounded by lush green hills good for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding and coffee tours. But most people come here to see the towering wax palm, Colombia’s national tree, in surreal Valle de Cocora.
Where to stay?
Although there are some nice places to stay just outside of Salento, like the popular La Serrana, we choose to base ourselves more conveniently in town. Our hostel, with the cheerful name Tralala, is located in a beautifully restored traditional house and has comfy rooms with hardwood floors. Plus a patio with hammocks and all the amenities a traveller can expect. With just one block away from the main square it’s an ideal starting point for activities in the area.
There’s plenty of accommodation in and around Salento. If you want to stay close to the trailhead you can also stay in the small settlement of Cocora.
Getting to/from Valle de Cocora
To get to the starting point of the hike you have to take one of the Willys (a classic WWII jeep) that wait on the square. There are scheduled departures at 6:10, 7:30, 9:30 and 11:30 for 3400 COP per person. Otherwise you have to hire a private jeep. The jeep takes you in 30 minutes to the small settlement of Cocora from where you start hiking. It takes 4 to 5 hours to complete the hike. It’s a loop so you will end up where the Willys will be waiting to take you back.
From the drop-off point you have to go through a blue gate on the right and go down the path to the river. From here just follow the path along the river. You’ll be gradually walking up between the meadows until you reach the start of the cloud forest (about 1 hour). After some river crossings on rickety suspension bridges (no more than 2 people at the time!) you get to the sign pointing one way to Finca La Montaña and the other to Acaime, a little farm and nature reserve.
To complete the loop you can just continue to Finca La Montaña but I highly recommend the side trip (1 hour return) to Acaime. Admission is 5000 COP and includes a drink (coffee, hot chocolate or panela). Part of the fee is also used to keep up those bridges you crossed. It’s full of hummingbirds and the whole setting is gorgeous and peaceful. Perfect spot for a little break.
After your break walk back down the 1 km to the signpost and the turnoff to Finca La Montaña. Make sure you don’t take the wrong path because that one goes high up into Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados.
From the signpost it’s a steep and strenuous hike up to Finca La Montaña (about 45 minutes). But the beautiful flower gardens and the views down into the valley will make up for that. Finca La Montaña is the highest point of the hike (2860m) so you can also enjoy the fact that from here it’s just an easy 90 minutes walk downhill.
Still the best has yet to come! Once you get out of the forest and the clouds give way there are fabulous vistas over the valley with the famous wax palms. If you’ve brought lunch this is a good spot to sit down and eat your food while enjoying the views.
Now prepare yourself for the grande finale! Walking further down brings you to an open space of grassland with hundreds of towering palm trees sticking out like giant cocktail sticks. The colorful combination of sky, clouds, mountains and these curious palm trees make for one of the most beautiful landscapes of Colombia. From here it’s just a short walk back to Cocora where the jeeps are waiting.
Definitely one of the most rewarding day hikes I’ve ever done. Highly recommended!
- Start the hike early in the morning (we took the 6:10 jeep). In the afternoon clouds roll in and there’s a bigger chance of rain.
- Wear good hiking shoes and bring a rain jacket.
- If it has rained a lot recently, consider renting rubber boots from your hostel as the path from Cocora up to Acaime can get very muddy. Hiking on the road in the valley where the palm trees are is normally ok.
- Bring water and snacks/lunch. Apart from Acaime and a few shops in Cocora you can’t buy food or drinks on the way.
- Salento is easily reached by bus from either Armenia (from Cali or Bogota) or Pereira (from Medellin). Armenia is 1 hour, Pereira 90 min.