Cocora Valley and the Acaime Hummingbird House hiking guide
Hiking in the Cocora Valley (Valle de Cocora) and watching hummingbirds in the Acaime Sanctuary are two of our favourite things to do in Colombia. The day-long loop hike follows a moderately difficult circuit inside a protected area that passes through different mountain ecosystems with unique fauna and flora, and that anyone who’s reasonably fit will enjoy.
The Acaime Sanctuary is an optional little detour of the Cocora Valley hike that is located exactly halfway through the circuit. Although we know that some people decide to skip it due to time or money constraints, we really advice against this. The time or money that you’ll save by not going to Acaime are actually very little, and won’t compensate for missing out on the friendliest hummingbirds that you’ll ever see.
The whole experience is amazing. From the cheerful coffee town of Salento – your entry gate to the Valle de Cocora – to the majestic landscapes of the Valley itself, there’s not one moment that is anything short of perfection. It is so breathtaking that we actually did the hike 2 times in just 3 days, although each trek took us 8 long hours and left us exhausted!
OK, we must confess that the hike itself is not that long but because we spent so much time watching and photographing the hummingbirds, we always ended up being the last ones to leave the trail. It was hard to leave the hummingbirds; we probably would have spent many more hours with them, should we not have to head down before dark .
Now it may sound like the hummingbird is the only attraction in Cocora Valley; it is not. The valley is actually famous for its unique wax palm forest, home to the tallest palm tree species (Ceroxylon quindiuense) not just in South America, but in the world. It’s also the national tree of Colombia. Some of these palms grow up to 60 meters, which is equivalent to a 20-story building!
The view is impressive from near or far, especially when waves of clouds drift pass the palm forest to give it a mystical feel. If you want to know what I mean by that, check out our video below; it’s truly magical to see the wax palm forest get completely engulfed by clouds in a matter of minutes.
For those who are not into hiking, it’s also possible to admire the wax-palm cloud forest without doing the whole circuit; the clockwise route will take you to the forest in just 15 – 20 minutes (keep reading for details). However, the downside is that you will miss the Acaime Hummingbird Sanctuary.
We highly recommend the Cocora Valley and Acaime Hummingbird Sanctuary to those visiting the coffee region of Colombia. Here’s our guide with all the practicalities and travel tips to help you prepare for your Cocora Valley hike. If you have any questions or further suggestions for fellow travellers, leave your comments on the box below or contact us directly. We’ll be happy to hear from you!
Where is the Cocora Valley?
The Cocora Valley is part of the Los Nevados national park, in the lush-green mountains of Colombia’s coffee region. More precisely, it’s located in the Quindio department, close to the city of Armenia and right next door of Salento, a tiny little town where we suggest you to spend a couple of nights for easy access to the Valley and its charms. The region and specially Salento and the Cocora Valley is super safe for travellers. Mobility by public transport is very easy, too (keep reading).
Best time to visit the Cocora Valley
As shown in the table below, the temperature in the Cocora Valley is constant throughout the year with an average of 19°C (66 Fahrenheit), which is very comfortable. The precipitation amount, on the other hand, varies greatly between months. The less rainy period is between July and August and the most precipitation is seen between October and November. In any case, periodic rain is a routine even in the driest months, so be prepared to get wet. See below for the things to pack for Cocora Valley.
How to get to the Cocora Valley
From Salento, hop on a jeep from the main town square (4’000 COP or $1.25 each way). There is a timetable but it’s not followed strictly so don’t rely on that. The jeeps depart when full. Although they depart frequently, get there early to avoid disappointment.
It’s also easy to travel from Pereira or Armenia to Cocora Valley, which takes about 1 hour by bus to Salento. Buses depart often from the main bus terminals of each city. From Salento town square, take a jeep to the valley, as mentioned above.
Expenses in the Cocora Valley
- Two-way Jeep ride from Salento: 8’000 COP ($2.50).
- Cocora Valley entrance fee: 5’000 COP ($1.50). This fee is the total for 2 checkpoints: 3,000 COP to access the cloud forest (where the wax palms are) and 2,000 COP to enter the lower mountain part of the hike. There’s a kiosk at the beginning of each stretch, where they collect the money. Apparently sometimes, no one will be at the second kiosk and you’ll end up paying less. This happened to us once, but we don’t know how often this is the case.
- Acaime hummingbird sanctuary (including a hot drink and cheese): 5’000 COP ($1.60).
Cocora Valley hike distance
12 km (7.7 miles) and will take 5 – 6 hours. Add another 2 km (1.2 miles) if you plan to visit Acaime Hummingbird Sanctuary that will take another 1 – 2 hours. If you’re like us, you might want to factor in another 1 – 2 hours only for the Hummingbird House. So, it’s a full day trip and that’s why you should start as early as possible.
Moderate to hard for the whole circuit. A little harder if you also want to visit the Acaime Hummingbird Sanctuary. Some parts of the hike are very steep and exhausting, as you’ll be ascending from 1,900 to 2,860 m and coming back down. But the difficulty is different depending on which direction (clockwise or anticlockwise) you’re following (more below).
Keep in mind that although the Cocora hike is not an altitude hike per se, your stamina might be different as you ascent. So take it easy, don’t compete with other hikers, drink plenty of water, and enjoy the stunning views! If you start feeling too unwell at any given point of the ascent, don’t force yourself and come back down. But this is unlikely to happen if you go slowly.
Instead of hiking, you can also ride a horse into the Cocora Valley for 25’000 COP ($7.80) per hour. Horses can be found outside the entrance.
Follow the hiking trail clockwise or counterclockwise?
The hiking trail is a circuit or loop around the valley. We followed the track counterclockwise the first time and clockwise the second time. Although both ways should theoretically be completed in the same amount of time, we found out that the clockwise route is faster, easier, and less tiring because instead of hiking up the steepest part, you’ll hike down on.
You can also follow one direction to reach the Acaime Hummingbird Sanctuary and follow the same way back but you will need the same amount of time as when doing the full loop, because the hummingbird sanctuary is located in the middle of the circuit.
To go counterclockwise, just turn right at the blue gate located where the Jeep will drop you off. The blue gate might be closed to prevent cows from coming out but you can push it open and go through. After the gate, follow the steep-ish trail down even though it looks like that it’s the wrong way. After walking for about 10 minutes and crossing a small hanging bridge, you’ll find the control kiosk that officially marks the beginning of the trail.
As mentioned before, you can visit the wax palm forest with (almost) no hike at all, just follow the counterclockwise direction. But you will miss the hummingbird sanctuary. In this case you’ll pay only 3’000 COP ($0.90).
To take the detour leading to the Acaime Sanctuary, pay close attention to the signs along the trail. See pictures below for details.
Do you need to hire a guide for the Cocora Valley hike?
No, you don’t. The trail is easy to follow and even if you get lost a little, you’ll soon find the right way again. After all, the loop is pretty straightforward. Besides, there’s plenty of other hikers around that can point you in the right direction.
There will be tour guides offering their services at the entrance, but we honestly didn’t even bother to ask and saw nobody hiking with a guide along the circuit. If you happen to know the prices, please help us keep fellow travellers informed by commenting in the box below!
Packing list for the Cocora Valley
- Hiking boots or good sandals
- Rain jacket or poncho
- Trekking poles / walking sticks
- Light jacket for the occasional chill especially in the cloud forest
- Extra shirt to change into dry clothes once you stop moving (it can get quite chilly in Acaime if you’re in your wet sweaty shirt)
- Maps.me app on your phone – this app has the hiking route marked with landmarks
- Snacks and plenty of water (there’s no shops along the trail)
- Small change to pay the entrance fees
- First aid kit: if you’re not sure what to bring, see our post on travel first-aid kit
- Lastly, make sure that you’re covered by travel insurance!
Where to Stay
Salento is the most popular base as this is the nearest town to the valley. We stayed in Hotel Origen Colonial (double room with ensuite bathroom; 80’500 COP or $25 per night for 2 persons) and absolutely loved it. The room was clean and spacious and the house has a large balcony with a nice view of the surrounding mountains. The only minus is that there’s no kitchen available, but there are plenty of options to eat in town. Also, plenty of cheap street food around the main square and Calle Real, the main tourist street.
Cocora Valley and Acaime Hummingbird Sanctuary in pictures
The photo series below was taken during our first hike following the counterclockwise route (turn right and go through the blue gate; see photo above).