Slow cities in Colombia: Pijao, at the Coffee Triangle

Pijao is a quiet and unexplored natural destination, and the first Cittaslow town in Colombia. A Cittaslow town is a community-managed system of continuous improvement with a sustainable outcome that strives for quality of life for its residents.

Pijao is a town with a coffee architecture tradition that stopped in time, as well as the church clock, with a long tower and with little grace, painted in pale orange that stopped at 7:25 minutes, one day, many years ago.

Discovering Pijao Cittaslow

It is located in the west of the department of Quindio on the central mountain range at 1700 meters above sea level, and has no more than 6,800 inhabitants.

At the village entrance there is an arch of raw brick columns with a chipped statue of Virgin Mary; when you are in the center of the village you will notice that the people live without worries.

In addition, Pijao has a high Andean forest ecosystem and Páramo; in the Páramo the rivers Lejos and Azul are the source of the town’s water supply and its average temperature is 23°C (73º F).

How to get to Pijao

Take a 1,5-hours flight from El Dorado (BOG) in Bogotá to El Edén International Airport (AXM) at Armenía city. Once at the airport, take an approximately 1-hour ride to Pijao

Where to stay in Pijao

When in Pijao you will feel part of the town, as the facades of the hotels are very traditional and you will feel like you are in another era. There are few lodging options and we recommend you to stay at Finca el Otoño.

Activities and attractions in Pijao Cittaslow

Tour of the town

We recommend that you start your tour in the central park, from there you can have a panoramic view of the houses where you will fall in love with its beautiful architecture and colors.

Then you can visit the town hall which looks like an anthropological museum, in fact, it is in a way.

Moreover, you can visit the church of San Jose which has a very particular structure, the colors contrast with the architecture of the square and its clock tower preserves the original structure.

La Floresta Coffee Shop

This cozy coffee shop despite its humble appearance has a space where you can live a wonderful coffee experience; where you can learn the methods of filtering and preparation. They gave us a live demonstration of the chemex method and we did a tasting of different types of coffee, both hot and cold.

Bar Los Recuerdos

The owner of this bar, Gonzalo, over the last 50 years has collected about 3,000 photographs and posters of Argentine, Spanish, Colombian and Mexican artists, which adorn the walls and ceilings of this magical place.

Inside the bar you can observe the collection of more than 2,000 vinyl records of boleros, rancheras, pasillos and tangos, which play in a 33 and 45 revolutions player.

Pijao Social Bar

Enjoy a delicious cup of coffee in the only steam-powered ink machine in Quindío that is more than 70 years old. While enjoying your coffee you can play pool with the locals and listen to the anecdotes of this historic bar.

Contemplate the sunset in “the place where the herons arrive”

Just 20 meters from the central square you will find a tree where every day hundreds of herons and other birds come to rest, including those flying  away from the North American winter.

Mountain biking through the Paramo de Chili

If you have previous experience in mountain biking you will love this activity, 28 kilometers of biking from Pijao you can live a unique and unforgettable experience where you will overcome your limits until you reach 3,750 meters above sea level.

This tour has a duration of 7 hours and its degree of difficulty is high.

Excursion to the Mellizas Lagoon

If you want to know a hidden place of Los Nevados Natural Park, if you like trekking and hiking this plan is for you. During 6 hours of hiking with a medium-low degree of difficulty in the middle of swampy paths but of special beauty.

During the tour you will be able to observe a great diversity of birds, trout and frailejones and  discover 7 additional lagoons that are little known by the visitors of the Natural Park of Los Nevados.

Coffee Experience

In the rural zone of Pijao it is possible to take tours of the coffee plantations. You will have a tour of the coffee process from the beginning, exploring from the coffee plantations to the coffee roasting and grinding process.

Finally, you will be able to enjoy a delicious cup of high-quality coffee, due to the soil conditions and the processes that the farmers of the town manage.

Tour to the Wax Palm Forest

Initially you must have a local guide to carry-out this activity. The first trail you take goes to the farm La Playa, where you can have breakfast and from there you will reach the school of Vereda Las Palmas. his point can be reached by motorcycle, jeep or bike before starting the ascent on foot.

During 40 minutes of walking at more than 3200 meters above sea level you will be surrounded by the imposing and beautiful wax palms, until you reach the farm El Alto. There you can have a hot snack or lunch while you contemplate the beauty of the mountains decorated by the enormous amount of wax palms.

It is recommended that you wear warm and waterproof clothes, if possible bring a change of clothes in case of rain.

If you want to know more about Colombia, or wants to book your trip, please contact us.

 About the author

Luisa Martin

Engineer, world traveler, amateur photographer, traveling blogger, and foody.

Salamina the ‘City of Light’, is the perfect alternative to Salento

In the midst of the mountains of northern Caldas, the ‘City of Light’ of Colombia, Salamina, declared a National Monument and a National Asset of Cultural Interest, highlights its cultural and historical legacy through its colonial houses, balconies, steep streets and its extensive religious tradition.

This municipality, founded in 1825 and today inhabited by more than 18,000 people, was the birthplace of Mother María Berenice Duque, the nun who is in the process of beatification by Pope Francis since 2018.

The catholic temples have given way to the construction of the cultural identity of this beautiful municipality. Wwhile other municipalities in Caldas exhibit and are recognized for their panel, coffee or mining culture, the people of Salamina proudly preserve the religious legacy of their history.

In this guide you will have the necessary information for your visit to this beautiful town, and also how to get to know the wax palm neat to it.

Discovering Salamina

The town was founded in 1825, Salamina is known as “The City of Light” of Caldas. Its name “the city of light” is due to the fact that many famous poets and actors have come from this traditional paisa town.

One of the most traditional and important events for the people of Salamina is the celebration of Holy Week, which enjoys great renown at the departmental and national level, as well as the “Night of Fire”, the celebration of the day of the Immaculate Conception, patron saint of this municipality.

The night of every December 7 and 8, the streets and balconies of the town are decorated with thousands of lanterns and lights to pay homage to the Virgin Mary.

Salamina is located north of the department of Caldas and has a township called San Felix is located 74 Km away from Manizales, the capital of the department.

Moreover, Salamina is a beautiful town with streets of iconic wattle and daub houses and clay tiles, the average temperature in Salento is 23 ºC (73ºF) and it is located at an altitude of 1,775 meters above sea level.

Salamina is considered a representative of the paisas’ traditions and customs because of its well preserved 19th century architecture.

How to get to Salamina

Take a 1-hour flight from El Dorado (BOG) in Bogotá to Airport La Nubia (MZL) at Manizales city. Once in Manizales you take an approximately 2-hours ride (75 Km) to Salamina.

Remember that you can get to Manizales from any of the major cities in the country by air.

In addition, if you wish to take the overland route from Bogota, the journey takes 9-hours and 365 Km.

Where to stay in Salamina

In Salamina you will find a great infrastructure, depending on your budget and personal tastes you can choose; our recommendations for you are:

  • Las Marias Family Home
  • La Estancia Hotel Boutique
  • Hospedaje Casa Real

Salamina Attractions and Activities

La Pila de Salamina

It is a fountain that you cannot miss, it is located in the central square of the town and is an imitation of another one that can be found in the Place de la Concorde in Paris. It is considered the most beautiful fountain in Colombia.

It is said that it was brought to the country via Barranquilla and transported by the Magdalena River to the department of Tolima where it was then transported by mule to Salamina.

Visit to the Rodrigo Jiménez Mejía House of Culture

It is considered the most important architectural jewel of Salamina thanks to the wood finishes, beautiful balconies, majestic doors, lintels carved with figures and lanterns complete a wonderful set.

Visit the San Esteban Cemetery

It has a chapel of gothic architecture, beautiful gardens and a relaxing view of the mountain.

When you walk through the cemetery you can notice the socio-economic differences of some tombs, since in ancient times the dead were buried in certain places of the cemetery as a distribution of the social classes of the former inhabitants of the town.

The Natural Forest of Wax Palm La Samaria

Wax Palm Forest

Located just 30 km away from Salamina’s urban, this forest is one of the most amazing and best preserved corners that the department of Caldas offers.

Unlike the Cocora Valley in Salento, Quindio, in this forest there is not much noise, nor commerce around. It is a place with more tranquility, more contact with nature, a solitude that will help you to have that encounter with yourself.

Besides, the forest is the habitat of one of the most beautiful birds in America, the yellow-eared parrot lives in the canopy of these immense plants.


We recommend you visit the  “Mirador de la Samaria”, where you will be able to do birdwatching, and check one of the most representative birds of the region, the woodpecker and one of the most beautiful birds of America, the yellow-eared parrot that inhabit the tops of the immense wax palms.

The entrance fee to the forest is COP 10,000 and you can stay in the forest for a maximum of 7 hours.

Taking into account the above you can decide when you can know the beautiful town of Salamina. Plan your trip with us!

About the author

Luisa Martin

Engineer, world traveler, amateur photographer, traveling blogger, and foody.

What to do in Salento in the Colombian Coffee Triangle?

In the department of Quindio you will fall in love with one of the most beautiful towns in Colombia: Salento, which historic center was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List as part of the “Coffee Cultural Landscape” in 2011.

It is perhaps the most important municipality for tourism in Quindío, due to three fundamental reasons:

  1. The first, the beautiful and preserved architecture left by the Antioquian colonization;
  2. the second, the imposing Cocora Valley, which is one of the most beautiful landscapes in Colombia;
  3. and the third, the contagious atmosphere of peace and well-being that permeates immediately upon arrival.

In this guide you will have the necessary information for your visit to these beautiful town, and also how to get to know the wax palm, the national tree of Colombia.

Discovering Salento

Located 26 km from Armenia, on the western side of the Central Mountain Range and to the northeast of the department, Salento is like a historical account of the region, since its streets reflect intact the tradition of the initial settlers.

Tradition that even today many still strive to preserve so that the place projects its full charm. This town of colorful houses and balconies adorned with flowers has among its residents some foreigners who one day arrived and decided to remain trapped by the charm of the place.

And speaking of charm, Disney released its new movie, called Encanto, inspired by this place.

Salento was founded on September 16, 1842 but its creation would only take place until 1908. Moreover, Salento is the oldest municipality among the 3 departments that make up the Eje Cafetero (Quindío, Risaralda and Caldas). In addition, it is the gateway to the Cocora Valley and one of the entrances to Los Nevados National Natural Park.

Bear in mind, the average temperature in Salento is between 17 ºC (63ºF) and 23 ºC (73ºF) and it has 2 dry season periods, one from mid-June to early September and from late December to mid-January.

How to get to Salento

Take a 1-hour flight from El Dorado (BOG) in Bogotá to El Edén International Airport (AXM) at Armenia city. Once in Armenia you take an approximately 45-minutes ride (25 Km) to Salento.

Remember that you can get to Armenia from any of the major cities in the country by air. In addition, if you wish to take the overland route from Bogota, the journey takes 6.2 hours and 305 Km.

Where to stay in Salento

In Salento you will find a great diversity of accommodation options depending on your budget and personal taste. Our recommendations as follows:

  • Hotel El Mirador del Cocora
  • Montana Glamping
  • Hotel Terraza
  • La Cabaña Ecohote
  • Hotel Kawa Mountain
  • Hotel Real

Salento Attractions and activities

Tour the town

We recommend that you start the tour walking through the beautiful streets of Salento, where you will see the predominance of adobe and mud houses with colorful wooden balconies and gates decorated with flowers. On your walk you will be able to appreciate the authentic architecture of the traditional coffee towns from the beginning of the 20th century.

Walk along the Calle Real (Royal Street)

This is the main street of the municipality. On your walk you will be able to appreciate beautiful restaurants, coffee shops, handicraft stores and commercial passageways.

At the end of this street you will find some colorful stairs that take you to one of the viewpoints of Salento, the viewpoint of Alto de la Cruz. From the viewpoint you will be able to see a large part of the town and its church, and if you are lucky you will be able to see part of Armenia and the mountains of Los Nevados National Natural Park.

Visit the Cocora Valley

This beautiful tourist place is something you cannot miss on your visit; it is a world-class tourist attraction for its majestic beauty and it is one of the last cloud forests that are home to the Ceroxylon quindiuense or Quindio wax palm, the tallest in the world.

The Cocora Valley is an important habitat for many animals such as the yellow-eared parakeet, the toucan and the spectacled bear, hence its importance of protection.

That is why we recommend you to have a lot of respect for the flora and fauna, and to walk ONLY along the areas allowed by the park rangers.

To get to the Cocora Valley you must take the road that takes you to the access point, the trip takes 25 minutes by car 11 km from Salento.

Visit Acaime and the hummingbird house

Acaime is a natural reserve full of native flora and fauna, located on the Central Mountain Range 4 Km from the Cocora Valley.

In this reserve you will be able to appreciate a great diversity of hummingbirds, as well as other species of the region and beautiful streams.

The entrance fee is COP 5,000, which is redeemable for a traditional snack (panela water with cheese or a delicious coffee).

Visiting the Los Nevados National Natural Park

It is one of the most beautiful National Parks in the country, where you can visit beautiful landscapes and see the greatness of the most important snow-capped mountains where you will connect with nature and its majesty.

For more information on how you can make the most of this beautiful National Park you can read our blog:  Best Things to Know Before Visiting Los Nevados National Natural Park.

Go to Santa Rita Waterfall

This beautiful waterfall of no more than 20 meters high has a natural with a quiet and romantic atmosphere for its visitors.

In the village of Los Andes, 4 km from the center of Salento, at this point there is a walk of 1.5 km, on the way to the waterfall you will see tunnels, suspension bridges, water sources and the old train track.

The entrance fee is COP 5,000.

El Mirador Ecopark

It is an obligatory point of visit because from there you can observe the Cocora valley that is born between the mountains of the Central mountain range and slides parallel to the Quindío river; it is possible to arrive by car and park it in the parking lot of the place, which also has public restroom.

The structure, in the form of a balcony, is built in guadua, thus representing an excellent tribune to admire the landscape, even through some telescopes rented by the locals. From the lookout point, a short trail leads from the lookout point to the Alto de la Cruz.

There they sell delicious sweets, honey, wafers and candies for the cold. The best way to get there is to ask any inhabitant.

Coffee Process and Coffee Tour at Finca Hotel El Ocaso

Finca El Ocaso is located on a hill just 4km from Salento (20 minutes by car or one hour walking), with a unique landscape surrounded by mountains and adorned by the murmur of the Quindio River that passes along the farm 300m downhill.

It has a typical coffee house with more than 100 years of history and tradition where lodging services are provided for a maximum of 10 people. Finca El Ocaso has extensive gardens with a great variety of flowers and native trees and several hectares of coffee.

Enjoy the trails that go to the bamboo forest, to the hill (viewpoint), to the water source and to the Quindio River where you can do bird watching and learn about the flora and fauna of the tropical rainforest.

Alto de la Cruz Viewpoint

Through the more than 200 steps that start where the Fieal de Salento street ends, you can access this site that allows you to get an idea of the magnitude of the Cocora Valley, and at the same time offers a panoramic view of the town.

During the breaks in the tour, the images of the Way of the Cross that Jesus traveled on his way to Mount Calvary appear. The viewpoint, besides being a tourist attraction, is a permanent pilgrimage destination.

Morrogacho Hill

This is the stage before Los Nevados Park, which can only be reached on foot from the Cocora Valley and by a difficult road on which all precautions must be taken.

The hill, of unique morphological characteristics, is located at an altitude of 3,450 m, in the midst of a dense Andean forest landscape that makes it one of the favorite natural destinations of the people of Quindio.

The cave represents the mystery of having been a cemetery and ritual center of the Quindos Indians who once lived in the area. It is recommended that the expedition be accompanied by a guide.

La Explanación Bridge

Around 1948 this western railroad crossing was built as part of the road project between Buenaventura and Bogota. Currently, the structure, with arched bases, is a national monument belonging to the Boquía trail. It is also known as the Amparo Bridge.

Quindío National Road

When in other times communication between east and west was required, this road was the most important articulation route. Although since the 18th century Viceroy Pedro Messia de la Cerda was interested in its creation, it was not until 1823 that the work began, while in 1830 it was Simón Bolívar who ordered its opening. The old road extends between the Boquía trail, the river of the same name and the Quindío River.

Bird watching

The upper canyon of the Quindío River is the habitat of endemic and near-endemic species and specimens that captivate with their colors, shapes and behaviors. In the vicinity of the Cocora Valley, near the canyon, you can go on hikes to observe birds such as the torrent duck and the blackbird.

Along the same route, going up on horseback, the Acaime nature reserve is home to birds such as the masked saltator, the Golden-plumed parakeet, and the White-capped tanager. Other special birds can be observed along the Estrella de Agua, La Montaña and La Picota nature reserves, considered one of the best corridors for bird watching.

The Ocellated tapaculo, the Mountain cacique, the Grey-breasted mountain Toucan and the Chestnut-naped antpitta, are special birds that fly through this landscape.

About the author

Luisa Martin

Engineer, world traveler, amateur photographer, traveling blogger, and foody.

The Unique Wax Palm Forests Landscape Destinations in Colombia

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.

Bolívar Square – Salento, Quindío

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.

The Cocora Valley – Quindío

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.

Guided horseback ride through the Cocora Valley

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

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!

86% of the wax palm forests are found in Toche, Tolima

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.

Cerro Machín Volcano. In the background the urban area of the municipality of Cajamarca. ©Colombian Geological Service

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.

La Samaria Forest at San Félix, Salamina, Caldas. ©La Patria Newspaper

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.

The jeep is the car par excellence to move around the Colombian coffee axis.

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.

Jardín, Antioquia

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.

Yellow-eared Parrot

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!


About the author

Sara Colmenares

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.

The Wax Palm and Why it is a Must to See When Visiting Colombia

According to the World Biodiversity Ranking, Colombia ranks third in the number of palm species (Arecaceae Family). The Andean region presents the richest flora of the palms in the country, with 43% of the total species of Colombia. Among all the palm species found in Colombia, the Wax Palm is the most special. Here I will tell you why.

Palm trees have been linked to the life of man and his feelings since immemorial times, principally because of their graceful appearance and the innumerable benefits they bring.

For this reason, the term palm is not only applied to palms but also has a connotation of triumph, victory, and applause; it is also used as a title of honor for the great ones of a kingdom.

Colombia is one of the richest countries in the world in terms of palms, with 289 species, 47 of which are endemic.

The Wax Palm Ceroxylon quindiuense (Karsten) Wendl

The Wax Palm under its natural view

The first news about the existence of wax palms is due to José Celestino Mutis. It was found by him in the Andean Mountains, in the passage between Quindío and Tolima departments.

He found them distributed between 2400 and 2900 meters (7930 – 9700 ft) above sea level , within cloud forests composed mainly of native pine trees (Podocarpus) and oaks (Quercus granatensis). The species was validated by a description published in 1808.

Other remarkable explorers and naturalists, Alexander Von Humboldt and Aimé Jacques Alexandre Bonpland, re-discovered the wax palm in 1801, and just like Mutis, they were also fascinated by this plant. Humboldt described the spectacle as one of the most moving of all his journeys:

“The forest upon the forest, where tall, slender palms penetrate the leafy veil that surrounds them”.

Alexander Von Humboldt
The Forest upon the Forest

William Purdie, a Scottish Botanist from that time, also described the characteristics and features of our national tree in these terms:

“The haughty, noble trunk of this tree is covered with a layer of resinous wax, which gives it a whitish marble appearance, providing a lively distinctive feature to the very peculiar scenery of the Quindio moor, where the palm abounds in extraordinary degree without causing any damage to the subordinate forest under its pleasant shade.

To obtain the wax the tree is felled and I was informed by my guides that each tree provides up to 25 pounds… The wax is used mixed with tallow to make candles… to offer to the saints and the Virgin… it is in considerable demand but is abundant and easy to obtain”.

William Purdie

These chronicles and descriptions show the importance of the wax palm since ancient times. Some historians even claim that it was used by indigenous people for the extraction of gold.

Wax Palm Facts

Each Each palm can produce up to nine bunches simultaneously, each with 4,000 fruits or more. ©Makalu Pixabay
  1. Its stem is covered by a layer of wax that can be used to make candles.
  2. It can live up to 200 years.
  3. A seedling takes around 50 years to reach the adult phase.
  4. The wax palm can reach 70 meters in height.
  5. It lives in an uncommon habitat for palms, above 3000 meters above sea level, with low temperatures that are unusual for a palm to resist.
  6. The seedling is shadow dependent, so fragmentation and deforestation are killing these palm populations.
  7. Each wax palm can produce about 24,000 fruits per year.
  8. Each palm can produce up to nine bunches simultaneously, each with 4,000 fruits or more.
  9. Despite the number of seeds and seedling a wax palm produces, less than 8% survive at the end.
  10. In the wax palms, there are females and males, as in humans. This implies that for its reproduction the palm needs some mechanism to carry the pollen from the males to the females.
  11. Wax palm pollination is carried out by several species of tiny beetles of the genus Mystrops.
  12. Pollinators, in turn, depend on the wax palm for their survival, since the adults feed exclusively on its pollen and the females lay their eggs in the small flowers of the palm, where the larvae that are born feed on the tissue of the petals.
  13. The wax palm attracts its small pollinating beetles by the aroma of its flowers, which have volatile chemical compounds specially designed to conquer them. It is a system as precise as a key in its lock.
  14. A well-conserved population of palms can produce more than two billion mature fruits each year, which represents an extraordinary source of food for the fauna.
  15. It is home and refuge of the Yellow-eared Parrot (Ognorhynchus icterotis).
  16. It is an ‘umbrella species’ since its conservation is key to the survival of many others, or of entire ecosystems.
  17. Each stem ring represents a year of growth.

Colombia’s National Tree

The Wax Palm was proposed by the colombian botanist Armando Dugand as the national tree of Colombia. He was the director of the Institute of Natural Sciences of the National University of Colombia and a recognized specialist in palms. In July of 1949, Dugand proposed it as such to the organizing committee of the Third South American Congress of Botany.

The Wax Palm, Ceroxylon quindiuense (Karsten) Wendl, was proposed by Armando Dugand as the national tree of Colombia.

Dugand highlighted the wax palm as a true aesthetic heritage of Colombia and as its most typical plant, not only because it is an outstanding and characteristic element of the Andean landscape, but also because of the wax it produces and the extraordinary nature of its habitat, which goes far beyond the geographical and altitudinal limits common to the palm family.

He also described it as the most beautiful and most developed among the palms, since it can surpass 50 meters in height. Due to the characteristic of these plants to take a long time to decompose and take up to 200 years to complete its life cycle, they were thought to symbolize the capacity to persist and last.

Since then, the wax palm has been considered the national tree, and so it appears in many writings, minutes, documents, and postcards.

Colombia stamp with the Wax Palm
The Cocora Valley and the Quindio Wax Palm, honored in the 100 thousand peso bill issued by the @BancoRepublica on August 8, 2014 and put into circulation on March 31, 2016.

Additionally, in 1985, the Congress of the Republic of Colombia adopted the Quindío wax palm, C. quindiuense, as the national tree with the Law 61 of 1985. It is so valuable and so representative of our country that this law stipulates in its article 3:

“The felling of the wax palm is forbidden under a criminal sanction applicable in the form of a fine, convertible into an arrest, for the benefit of the municipality where the infraction has been committed”.

Law 61 of 1985

Palms as a Sign of Scientific and Botanical Values, as well as Biological Diversity.

Some historians affirm that in the 19th and 20th centuries, palms were planted around patriotic places as a sign of scientific and botanical values and to emphasize that Colombia is biodiverse. The preferred palm was always the Wax Palm.

In Bogotá, you can find wax palm gardens in places such as Universidad Externado de Colombia, the botanical garden of Bogotá José Celestino Mutis, the El Dorado Avenue (26th street) in Bogotá, which is a temple of the wax palm, and the Eje Ambiental in the center of the city.

Wax Palm at the botanical garden of Bogotá José Celestino Mutis

All the important buildings that frame the El Dorado Avenue and the Eje Ambiental in Bogota have in their facilities, or very close to their facades, a wax palm. These are, on El Dorado Avenue: The National Administrative Center (CAN), the Military Forces, the National Registry Office, the Government of Cundinamarca, the Bogotá Police Hospital, the Bank of the Republic of Colombia, the National Health Institute, and RTVC-Public Media System. In the Eje Ambiental, the Colombian Academy of Language, the Icetex, the Icfes, and the monument of the Templete de Bolívar.

The Wax Palm at the botanical garden of Bogotá José Celestino Mutis

The Wax Palm in Risk of Extinction

But it has not been worth so much recognition, nor that many people wrote poems or songs to this plant. The Colombian Wax Palm is under serious risk of extinction, initially due to its exploitation by religious interests, and later by changes in land use such as deforestation for agriculture and livestock.

The Colombian Wax Palm is under serious risk of extinction, among the causes are deforestation for agriculture and livestock.

Recently, it is the cultivation of the Hass avocado that has endangered the survival of the Wax Palm. The situation is worrisome because the area declared as a Coffee Cultural Landscape by UNESCO is beginning to change due to the displacement of the traditional coffee cultivation by the Hass avocado.

This has also led to the endangerment of a species of bird endemic to the Colombian Andes, the Yellow-eared Parrot. The Wax Palm is the plant where it builds its nests and on which it feeds.

Yellow-eared Parrot flying over the Yellow-eared Parrot Bird Reserve in Jardín, Antioquia

Wax palms have special protection because several investigations determined a few years ago that they are dying of old age and the new plants take more than 50 years to grow!

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.

If you want to know where to go for visiting the most emblematic landscape of the Colombian Andes, read our entry The Unique Wax Palm Forests Destinations in Colombia.

If you want to schedule your visit to Colombia, do not hesitate to contact us, and plan your trip with us!


About the author

Sara Colmenares

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.