Photo by Priscilla Burcher
High above the coffee fields, I can see the 15,000-feet-high peaks of Los Nevados National Natural Park.
Melting snow from Los Nevados feeds the streams that cascade through the valley. The dramatic views help pass the time quickly before I am dropped at my destination, the small town of Salento. Quiet now, at weekends it comes alive as the gateway to the Cocora Valley when Colombians flee their hot, crowded cities for a taste of mountain air. Hiking, bicycling and horse-riding are popular ways to explore the scenery, with lines of jeeps ready to be hired out or drive to trail ends to pick up tired walkers.
Cocora is an extension of Los Nevados National Natural Park and lies between 2,500 and 7,000 feet above sea level within the Acaime Nature Reserve. The higher slopes are blanketed by an almost perpetual fog that gives birth to the Quindío River. Appearing through the mist is the majestic Quindío wax palm (Ceroxylon quindiuense). Found only in the Colombian Andes, it was declared a national tree in the 1980s to protect it from extinction through over-use in this Catholic country during Palm Sunday celebrations.
The palms form a unique landscape of silent giants that have witnessed the passage of time. They have great beauty, extraordinary strength and legendary longevity, taking a minimum of 100 years to reach heights of around 180 feet. “Why are Quindío wax palms so tall?” runs a local joke. “Because they are looking for the sea.” Acaime Natural Reserve is almost as famous for its 14 different species of hummingbirds.