The Cocora Valley is where the national tree of Colombia, the Quindío wax palm can be found. It is part of the Los Nevados National Natural Park, located in the Cordillera Central of the Colombian Andes; which contains volcanoes, lakes and the heart of the Colombian coffee region.
The Cocora Valley is located in the Central Cordillera of the Andean mountains, on the upper reaches of the Quindío River, at an altitude between 1,800 and 2,400 m (5,900 and 7,875 ft). The valley is part of the Los Nevados National Natural Park.
The Cocora Valley is the main location where the national tree of Colombia, the Quindío wax palm (Ceroxylon quindiuense) can be found, as well as a wide variety of other flora and fauna (some endangered), all of which are protected under the park's national status.
The Cocora Valley is a popular day trip from Salento as well as a hiking destination. What makes it so alluring are the almost 60 m (200 ft) high wax palms, which grow on steep grassy hills all over the valley.
The Cocora valley is characterized by its temperate weather, due to its altitude. The prevailing westerly winds from the Pacific Ocean are stopped by the Andean mountains, creating a humid environment favorable to the growth of cloud forest at higher altitudes: rain falls almost daily.
Temperatures vary dramatically, even within one day. The average annual temperature is 15 °C (59 °F), with a maximum of 25 °C (77 °F) and a minimum of 12 °C (54 °F).
Los Nevados National Natural Park
Los Nevados National Natural Park is located in the Cordillera Central of the Colombian Andes. The 5,300 m (17,400 ft) volcano Nevado del Ruiz dominates Los Nevados. In addition to Nevado del Ruiz, seven other volcanoes are located in the area.
Within the park are three snow-capped volcanoes, Nevado del Ruiz (5,325 m or 17,470 ft), Nevado del Tolima (5,215 m or 17,110 ft) and Nevado Santa Isabel (4,950 m or 16,240 ft). There are also a myriad of lakes, such as the Laguna del Otún. The Nevado del Tolima and Nevado del Ruiz volcanoes are considered active.
Los Nevados National Natural Park covers 583 sq km (225 sq mi) of rugged terrain along the Central Cordillera between the cities of Manizales to the north, Ibagué to the southeast and Pereira to the northwest.
The park is located in the departments of Caldas, Quindío, Risaralda, Tolima and divided in the municipalities Villamaría, Santa Rosa de Cabal, Pereira, Salento and Ibagué.
This rugged landscape was formed by volcanic activity and later sculpted by huge masses of glaciers. At their maximum extension, these glaciers covered an area of 860 sq km (332 sq mi).
The glaciers began to recede 14,000 years ago and according to a 2013 study by the Colombian Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology, and Environmental Studies (IDEAM) will completely disappear by 2030.
The park is the heart of the Colombian coffee region. The rivers that descend from snowy peaks and their moors, irrigate the agricultural lands and nourish the aqueducts of the cities, towns and footpaths of the center of the country.
The Otún wetland system, located in the Park, was declared a wetland of international importance by the Ramsar Convention. The park's hydrographic networks supply water to over 2,000,000 coffee-growers in the region and to most of the rice and cotton crops in the Tolima Department.
Most of the park consists of páramo, a unique tropical high altitude ecosystem, and super páramo, rocky terrain above the páramo and below the snow line. Páramo vegetation includes shrubs, grasses, and cushion plants (cojines).
The super páramo has a stark, moonlike landscape, with occasional dunes of volcanic ash. Though it’s largely denuded of vegetation, bright yellow plants called litamo real and orange moss provide splashes of color.
The area is home to 1,250 species of vascular plants, 200 bryophytes, 300 lichens and 180 macroscopic fungi. On the lower slopes and in the valleys the Andean wax palms are dominant. The upper Andean forest has trees reaching up to 30 m (98 ft) in height.
Noteworthy birds include blue-crowned motmot, yellow-eared parrot, Fuertes's parrot, rufous-fronted parakeet, Andean condor, brown-banded antpitta and ruddy duck. The bearded helmetcrest hummingbird is endemic to the region.
Noteworthy mammals include the mountain tapir, spectacled bear, northern pudú, oncilla, cougar and white-eared opossum.