The other amazing reason to visit Salento is to see Colombia’s national tree – the splendid wax palm trees (also known as the Palma de Cerra).
The wax palm is no ordinary palm tree. No. It is a miracle of a tree that grows up to 60m in height. Take a couple of hundred of these and dot them around Colombia’s amazing landscape and you get the Valle de Cocora – possibly my favourite place in Colombia. The best way to see the trees is to do the 5 hour hike through the valley. As a bonus there are also some exciting river crossings and hummingbirds along the way.
Getting to the Valle de Cocora
Jeeps (about 3000 COP per person) leave from the Salento plaza to the Valle de Cocora at the following times:
Monday to Friday: 06h10, 07h30, 09h30, 11h30, 14h00, 16h00
Saturday and Sunday: 06h10, 07h30, 09h30, 10h30, 11h30, 13h00, 14h00, 15h00, 16h00, 17h00
You may think that the jeep only takes about 5 people but you will be wrong. They can fit up to 10 people in there (including some hanging onto the back). It’s about a 30 minute drive so try and choose your seat carefully!
Walking in the Valley – the farmlands and into the reserve
The jeep drops you off at the entrance to the hike. Take a right at the blue gate and follow the path. It is advisable to get a map from your hostal (no doubt it will be a badly drawn map like the one we had but at least it helps reassure you that you aren’t about to take the wrong fork in the road on an all day detour).
The first part of a walk in a leisurely stroll through farmlands. After about 30 minutes you hit the reserve – a lush green forest with a river running through it. The river provides endless entertainment as the path snakes back and forth over it with dubious bridge over dubious bridge. I am not a fan of crossing bridges where there’s a big ‘Peligro’ (danger) sign at the start! Chris was 100% man though and tested each one thoroughly before I crossed.
The reserve office and the hummingbirds
After a few river crossings and some hills you get to a fork in the road. To the left you continue on the loop towards the spectacular wax palm section. To the right you can detour 1km to the reserve office where you can pay the park fee, enjoy “hot chocolate and cheese” and watch the hummingbirds. I was sold on the hummingbirds but for Chris it was the unusual combination of cheese and chocolate which meant we took the detour. The walk there is only 1km but it is steep so took us a fairly long time to get there. I am so pleased we pushed on. Chris enjoyed 2 hot chocolates and cheese (the hot chocolate was awfully sweet and the cheese was just rubber) and I took 100s of pictures of the hummingbirds – they move so fast that it is very hard to get a picture of them in focus.
The return route through the wax palms
The 1km walk back to the fork in the road was a lot simpler – we basically ran down the hill it was so easy. When you get to the fork continue on the loop. The first section is pretty tough – it’s about 30 to 40 minutes of steep switchbacks but the views are so stunning that it is actually very enjoyable. I didn’t mind the excuse to stop and rest on the root of the tree just to admire the surroundings and watch the clouds rolling into the valley.
You get to the top and immediately start the slow descent down. This is the part of the walk I was waiting for – from here the wax palms start to appear with increasing frequency. We found a little spot off the path where we could sit alongside them and admire the valley – it was beautiful. They are pretty amazing trees. You can’t believe how straight their trunks are and how far they extend up into the sky above you. I couldn’t help wonder how often they tumble to the ground and hoped that it would not be when either of us were anywhere near.
Getting back from the Valle de Cocora
Jeeps leave from the Valle de Cocora to the plaza at the following times:
Monday to Friday: 12h30, 15h00, 16h00 and 17h00
Saturday and Sunday: 07h10 and every hour until 18h00
Although, if you can get enough people together (or are willing to pay a bit more) then jeeps will leave when you are ready.