Come to Colombia to meet the outstanding Wax Palm! As we mentioned in a past entry, the Wax Palm, Ceroxylon quindiuense (Karsten) Wendl, is an endangered endemic species of Colombia. It is also the national tree and the star of one of the most beautiful and emblematic landscapes of the Colombian Andes.
Tourism is one of the most promising conservation strategies for this species. On the other hand, rural communities prefer it over agriculture, livestock, and mining.
Today there are all-terrain trucks that travel through areas such as Toche. There are even bicycle tours that take you to remote farms so you can enjoy the spectacular landscapes of the cloud forest with wax palms while descending to Toche or Salento.
Where to see Wax Palm Forests in Colombia
Salento and Valle de Cocora
The municipality of Salento is the cradle of the national tree, the Wax Palm, and has a great variety of tourist attractions. Salento is the oldest municipality of Quindío and the oldest among the three main departments that make part of the Coffee Triangle (Caldas, Risaralda, and Quindío). It is a beautiful town, interesting for its typical crafts and its streets full of color and history.
Walking around the town will help you get to know the architecture typical of the Antioquian colonization, in which mud and adobe houses predominate, with colorful gates made of wood, and windows and balconies full of flowers.
The best days to visit Salento are during the week, since there are fewer visitors. You will find a varied offer of accommodation among luxury hotels, hostels, camping areas, and glamping.
What to do in Salento
Among its most important attractions are:
- The Cocora Valley
- The National Natural Park Los Nevados
- The Traditional Architecture of the Colonization
- The Bolivar Square
- The Royal Street
- The Church of Nuestra Señora del Carmen
- The Ecoparque El Mirador and Alto de la Cruz
- The Artisan’s Village
- The Bridge of the Explanation “El Amparo”
- A Coffee Tour
- The Agro-ecological Park “The Promised Land”
COVID-19 update: most of the restaurants, stores, and tourist sites in Salento have already opened their doors again. However, the increase in cases of coronavirus has caused the Mayor’s Office to consider regulating the entry of visitors.
Valle de Cocora (Cocora Valley)
The Cocora Valley is located within the Coffee Cultural Landscape, a territory declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2011.
Thousands of tourists travel every year to the Cocora Valley, in the coffee region of Colombia, to admire its impressive palms.
What to do in Cocora Valley
Here you can enjoy the sighting of one of the most beautiful landscapes of Colombia while having a delicious cup of coffee at the Mirador Aires de Cocora. In this place, you can enjoy not only coffee but also delicacies such as passion fruit, cakes, desserts, and sweets to brighten up the afternoon in the company of your family or friends.
Besides drinking coffee, you can go on a guided horseback ride through the valley and take pictures of the monumental landscapes. Quindío and the Cocora Valley are unique places in the world that deserve to be known, preserved, and admired by all.
But even in this region, the wax palms are scarce. The fact that much of the surrounding forest has been cut down to make way for cattle grazing is part of the reason for their scarcity and, in turn, their threat.
So, if you want to know a real wax palm forest and see the landscape that amazed both explorers, travelers and naturalists, as Mutis and Humboldt, from the eighteenth century to today, I recommend the following destinations below.
Where to stay in Salento
- El Mirador del Cocora Hotel, in Salento.
- Casa de las Dos Palmas, in Salento.
- Bio Habitat hotel, in Armenia.
Toche: A Post-Conflict Destination
86% of the wax palm forests are found in Toche, being the largest wax palm forest in Colombia and the world, with around 600.000 individuals!
Toche is a small village hidden between mountains and fog. It is no longer one of the areas of Tolima most affected by the armed conflict. The armed conflict took this region out of the hands of deforestation, and that is why there are very well-preserved high Andean forests.
Today it is a beautiful example of the community’s effort to position this place as a tourist destination of choice.
How to Arrive to Toche
Toche can be reached from Salento, Quindío, by an open road that crosses a moorland area, and gives you the most spectacular views of the cloud forest with wax palms that you can’t even imagine.
You can also arrive from Tolima, from the municipality of Cajamarca. From there you will have to go up to Toche on a very difficult road. It is only possible to go by off-road transport, to make sure you don’t get stuck on the way. This road is also very difficult due to the constant landslides on the mountain slopes.
What to do in Toche
In Toche you have to visit the Cerro Machín Volcano. This is an active volcano, one of the most dangerous in the world. You can walk to its top, while you find hot springs and clouds of gases released to the surface through mini-craters. You can also walk over the main crater of the volcano, which looks like a swampy area, where you can also observe birds and a forest with wax palms around it.
In Toche, you can also take ecological walks, visit and enjoy hot springs, and do bird watching, especially the yellow-eared parrot.
Where to stay in Toche
Another Wax Palm Destinations
There are other regions in Colombia where you can find wax palm forests. These are mainly in Caldas, Quindío, Tolima, and Valle del Cauca. However, here I will tell you the most appropriate ones to visit.
You can even find wax palms in cities like Bogota, or Armenia, at the Quindío Botanical Garden. To know more read our entry The Wax Palm and Why it is a Must to See When Visiting Colombia.
San Félix – Caldas
In San Felix is the Samaria Forest, a forest of wax palms. San Felix is a village located at 2,823 meters above sea level in the north of the department of Caldas, 25 km from its municipal capital Salamina and 96.3 km from the capital of Caldas Manizales. Its climate is cold, with an average temperature of 14°C and the temperatures in the early summer go up to 0°C.
It is called “The Paradise of the North”, a name that is due to its landscapes of unparalleled beauty. It has a natural forest of wax palms to which you will arrive by jeep. There you will be received by the peasant community, hard-working, humble, simple, and committed to the region. You will enjoy typical dishes and a guided walk-through path surrounded by wax palms.
Tourism is very important as an economic alternative for the cultivation of Hass avocados in this region. This crop is devastating hectares of forest and destroying the habitat of the wax palm in this region.
Where to stay in San Félix
Jardín – Antioquia
The Yellow-Eared Parrot Reserve was established by Proaves Foundation in order to guarantee the survival and promote conservation actions aimed at the populations of Yellow-Eared Parrot (Ognorhynchus icterotis) and Wax Palm (Ceroxylon quindiuense), in the areas of Jardín (Antioquia) and Riosucio (Caldas) in Colombia.
The Reserve is located in the village of Ventanas, one hour from the town of Jardin (Antioquia), on the road that connects this municipality with Riosucio, Caldas. It has an extension of 188 hectares and presents altitudes ranging from 1,900 to 2,600 meters above sea level. It is classified by the Alliance for Zero Extinction as an AZE site.
This place is the only wax palm sanctuary established in Colombia, but its main goal is to protect the endangered Yellow-eared parrot, a species that nests in the trunks of the wax palm.
According to María José Sanín, a botanist at the CES University in Medellín, the problem is that the palms must be dead since that population of palms is old and is dying massively, which is good for parrots and birders, but terrible for the palms.
What to do in the Reserve
In the Reserve, you can go hiking and bird watching. There are also hummingbird watering places, where the Inca Collared comes.
Where to stay in Jardín
You can find another landscape destination in our entry Top 18 Natural Breathtaking Landscapes in Colombia.
If you want to schedule your visit to know the national tree of Colombia, do not hesitate to contact us, and plan your trip with us!
- Nuestra parcera, la palma de cera. Por Sebastián Acosta Alzate. 2019. In Señal Colombia TV.
- La vida secreta de la palma de cera, el árbol nacional. By Rodrigo Bernal 2018. In El Tiempo.
- Palma de Cera en Riesgo de Extinción. In The New York Times.
About the author
Current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism – environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.