Cocora Valley’s Paradysical Wax Palms

In Salento, a small town nestled in an Andean cordillera in the Quindío province of Colombia mostly renowned for its coffee, rest giants from the land before time. Towering in these verdant valleys of are Colombia’s National tree, the Quindío Wax Palm. Reaching heights of up to 200 feet (60 meters), the Wax Palms stand watch over the Cócora Valley in Parque Nacional Los Nevados. Straight out of a crazy Dr. Seuss novel, these esoteric emblems of exotic Colombia really flaunt the fantastical beauty of Mother Nature and tell the tale of a bygone history. Once upon a time, a full fledged forest of these thin tributaries to Pachamama stood tall and proud, but now only a small setting for their homes remain. Still, their awe-inspiring and mind-boggling beauty is an astonishing sight to behold and something not to be missed if traveling through Colombia.

Sadly, these glorious green giants will more than likely be gone in a generation or two. Deforestation, disease, and human induced environmental pollution have played dramatic roles in the pressing decline of the Wax Palm. However, Colombia has taken measures to protect the survival of their national tree, declaring Cócora Valley (and other surrounding areas) part of the Parque Nacional Los Nevados, protecting the land with a government conservation status. The issue is that in order for Wax Palm seedlings to grow up into the sky, they need the cover and protection of the rainforest, which has almost entirely absconded from the region—with many thanks to human intervention.

So the time to visit Cocorá Valley is now! From the main plaza in Salento take a Willy Jeep (no more than $4) to the park entrance, head through the blue gate and at each fork stay to the left. The whole loop will take 4-5 hours (depending on if you stop at the Colibrí Hummingbird Reserve), but is not to miss. It may be a strenuous hike at points, but ending on a descent from the top of the valley through the Wax Palms more than compensates for the effort. It’s jaw-dropping beauty, and certainly provides an insight into the mystic and beautiful Pachamama.

P.S. — After a long day outdoors, head to Brunch in the Salento to refuel on monster sized portions of food. Then drop by Cancho de Tejo Los Amigos (the same place Anthony Bourdain visited on his Colombia tour) for a game of “Tejo.” It’s like cornhole, but with explosives and heavy drinking. Players take turns throwing a stone puck at gunpowder filled targets on a slanted clay board. Closest to the center gets 1 point, an explosion 3, a pick in the center ring 6, and an explosion plus center ring landing 9…first to 21 win.