Steep-sided valley with tall palm trees and other vegetation
Colombia,  Landscape,  Monday walks,  Sunday Stills,  Trees, forests and woodland

A (steep) walk in the Valle Cocora

Cocora was a princess, daughter of Acaime, chief of the local Quimbaya indigenous people. Today she lends her name to Colombia’s Cocora Valley, where the native wax palms (the national tree) grow up to 60 metres and live for about 200 years.

The trees were once threatened, in part because of Palm Sunday celebrations in this staunchly Catholic country. But nowadays they are protected within a national park, Los Nevados. The felling of the wax palm tree is forbidden by law and punishable with a fine. I was surprised though to find the area quite developed with lots of small restaurants along the road in the park, and several Instagram-friendly features like this one:

Two people on front of large white letters spelling Cocora
Chris and me by a sign near the foot of the trail (taken by Juan-Paolo)

We visited the valley with a guide, Juan-Paolo. He was a very enthusiastic guy, taking lots of photos during the day which he later sent me (including the one above, and another I’ve used below, with his permission). He was a great talker but not quite so good at listening. I found it hard to get him to understand my limitations when it came to walking. There are various trails here and he showed us on a map at the start the one which he thought would be OK for my dodgy knees and which would take us to a good viewpoint.

It proved more challenging for me than he had suggested. However, I have to admit I saw more of the valley than I would have done had he not been so persuasive that the walk he’d selected was ‘easy’. So maybe it was a good thing he challenged me to have a go.

On the trail

Most of the path was well made, with steps in places and handrails on the steepest parts. Of course we stopped for lots of photos on the way up. That’s always a good opportunity to take a break on a steep path, isn’t it? It meant that I found this one more manageable than I might otherwise have done. You can see the path in many of the shots below. You’ll also meet one of the horses available for hire for those who can’t manage the walk or who want to go further into the valley.

When we were nearly at the top, however, the path ended. I was a bit disconcerted to see that there was just a steep grassy slope for the final few metres. At first I decided to opt out of this and left Jean-Paolo and Chris to climb the last part without me.

Man on a hillside with tall palm trees
Chris at the highest point on this trail (taken by Juan-Paolo before I reached the top)

But I couldn’t come so far and not see it through, so I soon followed them up. Jean-Paolo was right about the views from this spot.

Steep-sided valley with tall palm trees and other vegetation
The view from the top
Steep-sided valley with tall palm trees and other vegetation
The view from the top

As I’d suspected though, I found the descent much more challenging than the climb. I paid the price for the next day or two with very sore knees!

Still, looking back at these photos and remembering the view, I have to admit I’m glad I did it! It was quite a sight to see these tall palms in such a lush green valley, when I usually associate them with drier environments or coastlines.

So I’m sharing this unique spot for Terri’s ‘green’ Sunday Stills challenge as well as Jo’s Monday Walk.

I visited Colombia in February 2023

41 Comments

  • Wind Kisses

    I beautiful walk, well I lovely misty morning. Those palm tree shots are a work of art. Standing sticks. I’m glad you made it to the top for the view, even if you had to nurse your knees the next few days. It’s always hard to make that decision when you know you most likely return. I agree the downhills are harder.

    Loved the photos!

  • bluebrightly

    I’m glad the trees are protected…what a climb though! Congrats on being persuaded and gracious enough to think your guide gave you an experience you might not have enjoyed otherwise.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Hmm, I’m not sure I was feeling quite so gracious towards him at the time, especially when he later took us to a village assuring us we would just have a short walk around a couple of blocks as I’d hurt my knee – omitting to mention that the village streets were VERY steep!!

  • Teresa

    The same is true with me, the descent is much harder. But I guess at this time for me both are very hard to manage 🤷🏻‍♀️

  • Christie

    Wow, what a fantastic view from the top, the climb was well worth it!! Hope your knees are ok.. I always have a knee sleeve in my backpack in case a hike is demanding, you never know lol

    • Sarah Wilkie

      It was indeed worth it, and my knees recovered relatively quickly, although they are never totally OK! I’ve been thinking since getting back from Colombia that I should get a support sleeve for future trips, just in case. Do you find it helps?

  • thehungrytravellers.blog

    Well worth the climb in the end, to get those views and keep them in your memory forever, long after you’ve forgotten sore knees! (Btw, at last I can comment. Been trying to comment on this and your previous post, and kept getting strange rejection messages…seems to have righted itself now).

    • Sarah Wilkie

      The sore knees come and go but as you rightly say, the memories (and these photos) will be with me for a long time.

      I’m glad the comments are working OK now but sorry you had problems. I do see a comment from you on the previous post so it did work, although for some reason I didn’t get my usual email to alert me that you’d commented. Another friend had problems recently, I hope it’s not going to develop into a permanent issue!

  • wetanddustyroads

    How beautiful are those tall palm trees! And yes, the view from the top is spectacular … well done for walking out the last bit too! I never thought I’d like going uphill more than going downhill, but going down is not easy on those knees 😉.

  • Mike and Kellye Hefner

    Bravo, Sarah! You made it to the top and the stunning photos are definitely worth your efforts. I understand about the knees as I too have trouble, but going downhill or on stairs is the hardest.

  • Heyjude

    Ouch! I feel your pain, but sometimes it is good to push ourselves. Or in this case yourself, I barely felt a thing! When I first saw the photos my immediate thought was of wind turbines. The palms have that kind of look, parading over the windy hillsides.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      ‘I barely felt a thing’ 🤣🤣 I often feel like that reading other people’s posts, when I get to enjoy a place that I know I could never manage to get to! And oh yes, I see what you mean about wind turbines, they are a bit like that!!

  • bushboy

    Wouldn’t a whole forest of those palms be so good to see. They look so strange tall and slender out on their own. Stopping to photo breaks is for me as well Sarah 🙂

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Yes, they’d look great in a forest setting too but they seem to need their space Brian 🙂 Glad to find plenty of like-minded souls stopping for photo breaks!

  • Terri Webster Schrandt

    Great to see your green post (a painfully beautiful green), Sarah! I love those wax palms, with their delicate and lacy look, and I’m happy to read they are protected. My knees would have been screaming, too, so you did the right thing, but the horse ride also sounded cool! I’m always so appreciative when you share your trip images with the various photo challenges 🙂

  • Marie

    Well done you for pushing yourself that last little bit… You’re right about taking photos – a great excuse to continuously stop!!

  • restlessjo

    Those skinny palm trees are a bit weird but they do make a striking feature of the valley, Sarah. A walk I know I would have loved and also paid the price. I’m not ready yet to accept defeat, though there are times I wish I was.

Do share your thoughts, I'd love to hear from you!

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