Cocora Valley: How to not hike the wrong mountain!
It’s still very hard for us to talk about the Cocora Valley Hike. There are several routes to hike the valley, all incredibly vague, so we took screenshots of a blog that seemed to know it all, and off we went at 8am in the morning. What should have been a 5-hour hike turned into a 9-hour hike, because the blog was misleading and there were no signposts in the forest at the time that we were there.
We actually ended up going up the wrong mountain of the Cocora Valley because the blog made it sound like if we didn’t want to go to the hummingbird house we should just continue up the trail. Wrong: if this is the case you need to turn back on yourself and go back along the log bridge pictured here!
Because of this error, we instead climbed 2.5 hours of the Estrella de Aguas route – a 2 day trek to a village in the mountains. If you read a blog that says something along the lines of ‘as long as you follow signs to Estrella de Aguas, you’re on the right track’, DISCARD THAT BLOG. It’s only because we met two Dutchies coming back along this trail that we realised we needed to turn back and descend for another 2 hours before rejoining the Cocora Valley loop.
When we rejoined, we were met by a rabble of people walking around without a clue because they too were lost. We met several other people who had done the same thing we had. Finding other people lost in the other direction of the loop finally allowed us all to work out which way each of us came from. Honestly, it was chaos. It all could have been avoided by one simple sign at the turn-off for the loop, but that’s Colombia for you.
The point where the Cocora Valley Loop all goes wrong:
The ‘log camp’
This is the breeding ground of chaos and confusion. All you need to memorise, whichever loop direction you take, is this point in the journey. Not being melodramatic or anything but it could possibly save your life.
Difficulty of the Cocora Valley Loop Hike
Getting lost aside, the loop hike isn’t too difficult, though it does require some stamina. We did it with a raggedy crew of Andy who’s had 6 knee operations on one knee, Lozzy’s mum who has had 11 knee operations on each knee, Lozzy’s dad who has a potential heart condition and Lozzy who is lazy AF. Remember to take plenty of water and snacks as there is nowhere to buy them in Cocora Valley. And if you’re really worried about doing this hike then you can hire a guide for around $10 (in hindsight, maybe this is why they haven’t put up any signposting…). You can also hire horses for part of the way.
Cocora Valley Loop Hike route options without getting lost
So having seen many sides of this unforgiving valley, we’re going to try and explain the Cocora Valley loop hike the best we can. You will need to get a Willy 4×4 early in the morning from the main plazas in Salento or Filandia. It’s best to go early because it often rains in the afternoon. This Willy will drop you off on the main road slightly down from the entrance to the anti-clockwise loop hike. Once there, you have 3 major options:
1. Easy peasy hike
This is straight up the road, and straight back down. It will take you around an hour each way. When the Willy drops you off, just continue up the asphalt main road without turning off. This road eventually turns into a dirt track, and about 15-20 minutes along it you’ll see a ranger post to your right. Pay the small entrance fee (3000 pesos, 75p), and the rangers should then direct you up the road, from which time you’ll be surrounded by wax palm trees either side. Keep going up until you see the famous valley views on your right (there will be plenty of people there to mark it out for you). After you’re done, go back down the same road you came in on.
After the disaster of our first hike on the 5-hour loop, if you’d like to see how we did the second time we visited Salento and Cocora Valley and took the easy peasy 1 hour hike, check out our vlog, here:
2.Clockwise Cocora Valley Loop
This route starts on the easy peasy hike, but once you’ve seen the palm trees, you continue up the mountain road you came up on. Once you get to the top of this mountain, you’ll see a small farmer’s house with a gate to its right. Go through the gate that leads down into a steep cow’s field and follow the small path all the way down this mountain.
At the bottom of the mountain are some subtle attempts at steps made from small logs. When these end and you’re back on flat ground, that’s roughly the mid-point of the Cocora Valley loop. You’ll see the small log camp pictured above in front of you, a small river to the right and way ahead is a log bridge (the one at the top of this post with Lozzy’s mum trying to look dainty) which leads to the Casa de Colibri or Hummingbird House. If you’re not fussed about the hummingbirds, start walking DOWN the stream.
After around 5 minutes of walking, you’ll come across your first log and then rope bridge so you know you’re on the right track.
From there, the path is pretty obvious, and will take you down the river and through the beautifully lush, green Cocora Valley. You’ll come to a ranger’s post eventually; from then on you need to follow the path that gradually veers up and right. Once you’re on the dirt path that has a salmon farm on the left, you’ll know you’re on the home strait.
3.Anti-Clockwise Cocora Valley Loop
As the name may suggest, this is the Cocora Valley Hike option 2 in direct reverse. This is the option we took with fairly devastating results. We’re sure though that with a more helpful blog to follow, or at least one signpost, we would have been just fine. When you get dropped off, locals will ask you which way you want to hike. Tell them, and they will direct you to the little dirt road turn off. You’ll almost immediately see the trout farm on your right, then 15 minutes later you’ll see a fork in the road with a house on the right. Ignore this, and continue along the left path.
You’ll then come to the ranger’s post and have to pay the tiny entrance fee (3000 pesos, or 75p). The path that follows is very clearly marked with wooden railings until you get into the thick of the forest. Once there, it’s fairly easy to see where the next path goes, and frequent bridges help you know you’re on the right track.
When you have walked up the river and come to the group of logs that resemble a campfire site, you need to go LEFT. There are logs built into the hill to mark steps. Only go right if you want to see the hummingbirds, and don’t go any further up than the hummingbird house if you do. Again, the photo:
From then on, its up-up-up until you reach the cow field gate to the farmer’s cottage (yes, you may have to walk around the cows), then left and all the way down. The famous palms will be about 45 minutes into your descent on your left. After you’re done, just continue down that same road until you reach the place the Willy dropped you off.
When does the last jeep leave from Cocora Valley to Salento?
The last Willy leaves at 6:15pm, and there are no other options for transport out there, so make sure you’re there well in time to register your interest at the hut and get a space on the last jeep to Salento. There tends to be a fair queue at that time!
Bonus Cocora Valley Hike option:
Don’t hike at all!
In the last 18 months since we first attempted the Cocora Valley Hike, locals have started upping their game in full force to take advantage of the increased footfall (300% rise in tourists to Quindío in one year 2018-2019!). Now, all along the road to the entrance of the trails, you can find a range of cafés and restaurants to eat from the grill or sip a traditional Colombian coffee whilst looking at the wax palm trees on the other side of the hill. No, these aren’t the trees that you would hike to, but they’re beautiful anyhoo. We took this option when visiting Filandia, Salento’s alternative, with Andy’s mum who can’t walk as far, and she loved it all the same. We probably loved it the most, too.
So that’s that, good luck on your Cocora Valley hike! If any of this isn’t entirely clear, please please please message us and let us know/ask any questions. We know how important it is that we get this right!
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