The most popular day trip from Salento is to the Cocora Valley, to see the FAMOUS wax palms! Yes, you may not have heard of them – but they are famous in Colombia. Wax palms grow in tropical cloud forest areas, and they can reach a height of 60m – they are the tallest palms in the WORLD!
The wax palm is the national tree of Colombia, and is featured on the new 100,000 peso notes (yes, there are lots of zeros on the currency in Colombia!) These trees used to be cut down a lot – with the fruit used for food for livestock, and the palm leaves used in Palm Sunday celebrations. They are now protected by Colombian law, but they are still a threatened species.
In their natural environment they are the tallest trees in the cloud forest – with the tops of them sticking out of a dense jungle canopy. Unfortunately in the Cocora valley, a lot of the forest has been chopped down for fields for livestock – but the wax palms were left standing, so they are the only trees left behind. They look quite striking growing in the green fields – but the sad thing is that when they die, they will be gone from the field forever – as new wax palms can only grow from seeds on the cloud forest floor. Hopefully there are enough wax palms inside cloud forest areas to keep the species going. In the meantime, the wax palms growing in the fields are a BIG tourist atttaction in Colombia – for both locals and foreigners.
To see the wax palms you can just go to the valley, walk up the road a bit, pay an entrance fee to the farmer, and then wander around the palms taking selfies. This is the most common way that the locals do it. The gringos however, tend to visit by doing a circular walk that starts in farmland, passes through cloud forest, detours to a cafe that has hummingbird feeders, and then finishes up in the fields full of wax palms with all the rest of the tourists.
We are of course gringos! So obviously we had to do the circular walk with all the other gringos! 🙂 Yes, it was a little busy for my liking – but a nice enough walk – especially the part through the cloud forest. The wax palms were also pretty impressive. The walk took us around six hours including the stop at the hummingbird garden, and sitting on the grass to eat our lunch. To do the walk you end up paying fees THREE times?! Yes, two farmers whose land the walk passes through, and a fee to enter the hummingbird garden. At the hummingbird garden you get a free drink, so that’s fair enough…! The other fees aren’t much though, and in my view the walk is worth it.
I mentioned that there was a free drink included at the hummingbird garden – what I didn’t mention was that one of the options for the drink was a Colombian speciality – hot chocolate with cheese! Yes, what’s not to like? It consists of hot chocolate with some cheese – no surprise there! In theory the cheese melts in the hot chocolate – but nobody ever served us a hot chocolate that was hot enough to melt the cheese… LOSERS….yes, what can you do?!
The hummingbird garden was not very ‘garden’ like – it was a bit run-down with only a few feeders – but we saw hummingbirds! 🙂
The walk is pretty much uphill all the way until the high point is reached – which is at 2860m altitude. The starting point is at 1800m altitude, so it’s a hefty climb of around 1000m to get to the top!
The way down is along a gravel farm road, which goes via the famous fields of wax palms. Soon we were joining the crowds of ‘wax-palm-selfie-takers’
Returning back to where we started – that was it – we had conquered the wax palms walk of Cocora! 🙂