Valle de Cocora is a protected area in Quindío near the eco-tourist/backpacker haven of Salento, known for its surreal, striking landscapes pegged with the slender, towering Colombian national symbol, the wax palm.
The area was designated a protected park by the Colombian government in 1985 in response to the imminent threat of extinction of the Ceroxylon quindiuense, the Quindío wax palm. The palms were brought to the verge of extinction in part owing to their utility in making wax candles and building materials for farmers, but most of all because they were traditionally cut down annually for fronds on Palm Sunday. The park remains to this day one of the few places in the world that you can find these immense trees which, while quite rare, are no longer under imminent threat. You can find some other ones in botanical gardens, such as the San Francisco Botanical Garden in San Francisco, California.
The wax palm, the Colombian national tree, is obviously the main attraction. It is the tallest palm in the world, growing up to 60 meters, while retaining the girth of any old palm, making for a very slender giant, an immense pole topped with a little crown of palm fronds. Their wide root systems make for an odd visual: palms shooting up hundreds of feet into the sky, all widely but evenly spaced apart, as if planted purposefully. Other local flora of note include the Pino Romerón, puyas, frailejónes, and encenillos. More rare flora are to be found when you ascend past Estrella de Agua and enter the Páramo alpine tundra in Los Nevados National Park.
Valle de Cocora is temperate year round, owing to its proximity to the equator, and elevation of 1,800 to 2,400 meters above sea level. As it is a cloud forest, it is extremely wet, with frequent precipitation. So it’s cool and wet—dress accordingly and bring boots for the mud!
- The most popular six-or-so hour loop trail is to head from the 1 wooden entrance gate along the trail to the right, to 2 Acaime, before returning via 3 Finca la Montaña. You’ll go for a while through fairly flat pasture (always slightly uphill) along a trail thoroughly chewed up by horses (wear shoes that can get very muddy), before eventually entering the cloud forest, and trekking alongside the Quindío River.
- Acaime. Acaime is a hummingbird sanctuary and a strategically placed coffeeshop.
1 to 2 Days: The park/valley is small enough to cover the trails in one day on foot, the attraction is the environment, and of course the wax palms.