11km (7 miles) SE from Salento
The highlight of a trip to the coffee region, the Cocora Valley, at an elevation of 1,800 to 2,400 meters (6,000–7,800 ft.) is the preserve of the wax palm trees—Colombia’s national tree—that dwarf the dairy farms and fincas that nestle within this enchanting emerald valley. The fabled tree, an endangered species, grows to 60 meters (almost 200 ft.) and lives for around 120 years. The palms are named for the wax produced by the tree, which liberally adorned the churches and homes of Spanish colonialists. With their resilient, but gangly bodies—thin enough to hug at the base—and shaggy fronds, the wax palms resemble something plucked from a child’s imagination. Colombia’s revered wax palms define an otherworldly landscape: radiant light, the interplay of shadows, and swirling mist can utterly transform the scenery from moment to moment. Along with a cornucopia of orchids, butterflies, and prolific birdlife, Cocora also provides sanctuary to puma, deer, cloud-forest sloths, and the spectacled bear.
On the road to the valley, and in the hamlet of Cocora (at the entrance to the park), there are several open-air restaurants that serve grilled local fish and meat. Trucha (trout) is the area’s specialty and is generally served whole and grilled.
Known locally as “Willys,” iconic, restored World War II jeeps depart from Salento’s central plaza for the 20-minute ride to the hamlet of Cocora, the Valle de Cocora, and Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados (COP$6,500; 7:30am, 9:30am, and 11:30am, returning at 12:30pm, 2pm, and 5pm; many more on the weekend). You can also hire your own jeep and driver for about COP$26,000 one-way.