Even in a country with a wealth of beautiful landscapes, the Valle de Cocora still stands out. The broad, emerald green valley stretches east of the village of Salento into the lower reaches of Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados where it is framed by sharp peaks. Everywhere you’ll see wax palm, the largest palm in the world (up to 60 meters high) and Colombia’s national tree.
Its remoteness has protected the valley by keeping it out of the reach of much human attention. However, this remoteness and lack of human attention are precisely what makes it attractive to those seeking to avoid attention. As such, the Valle de Cocora is often host to rebel fighters of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
First stop on your Valle de Cocora tour will be the ramshackle settlement of Cocora where you can visit a trout farm or pick up some snacks and/or drinks. You can get to Cocora easily by hiring one of the guys with a jeep that hang out in the main square of Salento to take you there. And you would be amazed at how many people can fit on a jeep. The jeep we rode back to Salento in had eighteen people on – and in – it. Yes, eighteen people on a jeep smaller than a Jeep Wrangler.
The specific hike we took was to the Reserva Natural Acaime. As you arrive in Cocora the start of this trail is on the right-hand side (right across from the jeep in the picture below). There is also a small sign next to a blue gate indicating the trail. You’ll know you are headed the right way if you go down past the trout farm.
The first part of the trail is through grassland and wax palm.
This dramatic rock outcropping is Cerro Morrogacho.
The second part of the trail is through cloud forest.
One unfortunate drawback of the Valle de Cocora trail is the large volume of local horse traffic.
This has, in places, converted the trail into a morass of sucking mud in which you can quickly sink up to your knees. Make your own trail in such areas.
There are some extraordinary flora and fauna displays to be found in the jungle – such as this leaf that I thought looked like a reptile’s skin.
About 1 kilometer before you reach Acaime, you’ll come to a fork in the trail. The trail to the left leads to the La Montana ranger station and the one to the right goes to Acaime.
Here at Acaime there are basic accommodations and you can get food and hot chocolate (with cheese) here. You’ll also see plenty of hummingbirds feeding.
We got back to Cocora just as it was starting to get dark and I thought the moon rising over the wax palms was a great way to end the hike.
We had been warned of guerrilla activity in the Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados which got my hopes up for some excitement, but we saw no evidence of their presence.
However, this military patrol moving over the trail we had just come down led me to believe that the guerrilla activity might indeed be more than just hype.