We could not resist. Since we found out about Tochecito, the forest with the highest density of wax palms in the world (and where very few people go because its cousin the Cocora Valley is the one on the tourist map), we did not rest until we found a way to get there. And we found it… By bicycle! We enjoyed this wonder between laughs and potholes, returning later downhill to the beautiful Salento, a colorful jewel of the Colombian coffee axis, but not before contemplating it from above. If you also want to live this adventure, we tell you all about it!

About the Wax Palm in Colombia

One of the most visited areas of Colombia is its coffee axis, and one of the symbols of the coffee axis, apart from coffee, is the Wax Palm. Not only that, but the Wax Palm is a symbol of Colombia and is considered a national tree.

The Wax Palm is the tallest type of palm in the world: it can reach up to 60 meters! They are known as Wax Palms because their trunks contain wax, which was formerly used to make candles. They can live up to 200 years and are one of the major tourist attractions in Colombia and the coffee-growing region, specifically in Quindío.

The star place where we all go to see the Wax Palm is the Cocora Valley, a few kilometers from Salento, where among other activities, you can see a small forest of Wax Palm.

We went there too and, in an eagerness to learn more about this incredible palm, we started looking for information on the internet (unfortunately, neither in the Cocora Valley nor in Salento is information easy to find), and we learned a few things about these beautiful palms.

The first thing is that the wax palms we see in Cocora are “living dead”: if everything remains the same, in the Cocora Valley we will see hardly any wax palms in about 50 years. Yes, as you read it! One of the biggest problems the wax palm has to face is cattle ranching: the seeds that fall to the ground and manage to start growing, are mistaken for grass by the cattle and eaten, thus preventing them from reproducing at their “normal” rate.

But the Cocora Valley is not the only place where you can see the Wax Palm, there are also others like the Mirador Valle de la Samaria (further north, near Salamina, in Caldas), and we even saw some on the way to Nevado Ruiz from Manizales.

Tochecito, the place with the highest concentration of wax palm in the world

But today we come to tell you about a much more special place, since it concentrates more than 80% of the world’s wax palm: Tochecito, in the department of Tolima. According to estimates, in Tochecito there are at least 600,000 wax palms, in a super-dense forest. In the Cocora Valley, estimates say that there are between 1000 and 2000 wax palms, for comparison. More information from Rodrigo Bernal, a researcher at the National University of Colombia and Colombian biologist specializing in the Palm family.

This area, Tochecito, has been unknown to most of the population and unreachable to researchers because it was an area controlled by the FARC. This has helped the preservation of the wax palm, as there is no grazing or logging. Now that it is possible to visit, researchers are concerned about the site, as cattle are also beginning to be exploited, endangering the survival of the wax palm.

That is why Rodrigo Bernal, among others, is promoting the protection of this place, something in theory already approved since the end of 2017 but that has not yet become effective today. This means that Colombia’s national tree, which is also a symbol and a tourist attraction that brings money to the region, is completely unprotected as of today, and may have its days numbered unless the necessary measures are taken.

After knowing all this, we wanted, of course, to visit Tochecito and see this dense wax palm forest with our own eyes.

If you are visiting the Eje Cafetero, don’t miss our complete guide to the area:

How to get to Tochecito (Finca La Carbonera)

To get to Tochecito you have to take the road that connects Salento with Ibagué, leaving behind the pass known as “La Línea” to a place that appears on the maps marked as “La Ceja” or “Finca La Carbonera“. If you don’t already have it, we recommend you download the Maps.me app, that besides the fact that you will be able to use it offline, it has more information than Google Maps regarding walking routes (for example this road that connects Salento with Ibagué does not appear in Google Maps).

Here are the coordinates of the exact point of the viewpoint, so that you can enter it in any map application or in your GPS: 4.538894, -75.476878

Here you can see the route also on Wikiloc from Salento: https://es.wikiloc.com/rutas-mountain-bike/salento-la-carbonera-20359237

To get there, we have different options, which are summarized as follows

On a mountain bike tour (from Salento)

Price: 210,000 COP per person.

This was the option we chose, and we can’t stop recommending it. Even if you don’t have much experience in mountain biking, don’t worry (we didn’t either).

The guys from Salento Cycling, a local company of three Colombian friends who organize this route, make it all easy: they take you and the bike by van to the highest point (La Linea), and from there you bike down to Tochecito, then back up to the highest point in the van, and from there it’s just downhill all the way back to Salento. Easy, isn’t it? You won’t even have to pedal :D

Image from https://www.salentocycling.com/

The bicycles and all the equipment are in excellent condition and the tour includes a small lunch that you can enjoy as a picnic overlooking the impressive wax palm forest.

When we did it, it could be done in the morning or afternoon, and the price was 140,000 COP for a semi-rigid bike or 190,000 COP for a double suspension bike and included the complete equipment (bike, helmet, and gloves), transportation by van, lunch, and guide. Right now (2023) the price that appears on their website is 210,000 COP.

It is not the cheapest option, but it is certainly a comfortable and different option to discover this fascinating and little-explored corner of Colombia.

On a Jeep tour (from Salento)

Price: between 30000 and 75000 COP per person (if you are at least 2 persons)

Another tour option we saw is to hire a Jeep with a driver to do the tour. You can hire them at the plaza in Salento, telling them you want to go see the wax palm forest at Finca La Carbonera and negotiate the price.

What we read is that the price is usually about 150,000 COP for the whole Jeep in which up to 5 people enter, so the ideal is to find a company the day before if you are less than 5, and that way it will be cheaper. Confirm the price before choosing this option

There is also a private Jeep tour for up to 4 people that you can book at Civitatis.

On a trekking tour (from Salento)

Price: Between 200,000 and 300,000 COP per person

Finally, if you like walking, you also have the option of doing a tour similar to the bike tour but walking. You will do part of the tour in a vehicle and the rest is done on foot.

We found the option to do it with Salento Trekking, but unfortunately, the price they asked us for is quite high considering that much of the way is done walking (300,000 per person for two people, 200,000 per person for more than 4 people). Unlike the bike tour, this tour lasts longer (from 8 am to 4/5 pm), but because of the price difference and the experience we decided to go for the bike.

On your own

If you have or rent your own vehicle (either a bike or a Jeep), there is always the cheapest option which is to do it on your own: just use the exact address (which we already indicated in this article, but just in case you have it here: https://goo.gl/maps/wdRHzPbrdz22) and follow the road from Salento.

If you have a normal car instead of a Jeep, I think it is not recommended to use this road as it is quite rocky and unstable.

Things to do in Tochecito

The main attraction of Tochecito is, obviously, to see its huge and dense wax palm forest. If you do the bike tour like us, that will be the first stop and the place where you will have a picnic lunch overlooking this marvel.

Here is a video made with a Drone by traveltwithdrone.com in which you can also appreciate the views.

On the way between Salento and Tochecito, you can enjoy views from the top of Salento and pass through different types of forests and vegetation.

Our experience visiting Tochecito by bicycle

The truth is that the Salento Cycling tour seemed expensive at first, but they gave us a lot of confidence and all the references we had of them were excellent, so we thought it was the best option to try to visit this magical unexplored corner of Colombia.

The tour started at 8 am at the Salento Cycling offices. There we tried the equipment (helmet and gloves), they gave us an explanation of the route, we met the rest of the group (we were 12 in total + the 2 guides) and they put us in the vans, where our bikes also traveled. All the equipment was of good quality and in good condition. For an hour and a half, we made the climb up to the pass of “La Línea” in the van. As we were riding in the back, in the open air, we were able to appreciate the views and see how the cloudy morning sky was opening up (lucky us!).

There we put on our helmets and gloves, we were given the bikes according to height and weight, and Eduardo, the owner of the company, who would do the tour with us, gave us some recommendations on how to handle the bike to avoid problems and enjoy the ride. The descent is short, about 20 minutes, and halfway down we could already begin to see several areas with the wax palm.

We stopped every few minutes (to check that we were still with the whole group and that everything was going well), we took the opportunity to take pictures and Eduardo kept repeating “this is nothing, the best is yet to come! We were also fascinated by the scenery.

But he was right: when we finally arrived at “La Ceja”, we left the bikes and in front of us we saw thousands of wax palms:

Eduardo took us, walking for a few minutes, to a kind of viewpoint where, wherever you looked, there were wax palms all over the valley. It was incredible! We were also the only 14 people in this place, enjoying absolute silence and with a radiant sun after all the clouds disappeared.

Eduardo also told us the particularities of the wax palms that we told you about at the beginning of this post, which is appreciated (it was the first time in our trip through the Eje Cafetero that someone told us about the problems faced by the wax palm), and after the interesting talk, we went up a little bit to the place where they decided we would have the picnic, overlooking the valley.

After the picnic, and after taking some more pictures, it was time for the second part of the tour: 22 kilometers of downhill mountain biking to Salento! We got back on the truck, which dropped us off again in La Línea, and there we started the descent.

The ride is really enjoyable since it is all downhill, the bikes have double suspension, and Eduardo and his team make several stops every few minutes to check that everything is ok. In addition, the views are always great and Eduardo was explaining the different types of different forests we were passing through.

The “hardest” section is in the final part, where the terrain is more unstable and has more rocks, making the bike vibrate more and the arms suffer from the pain.

Here we also leave you a mini video summary of our visit to Tochecito.

Recommendations for responsible travelers

As with any place you visit, we always recommend that you do so in a responsible and sustainable way. Here are some general recommendations:

  • You are visiting a unique place in the world that is currently unprotected. Do not do anything that could harm the wax palm or any other species of fauna or flora in the area.
  • Respect the animals you meet along the way.
  • Don’t leave trash, take everything you generate with you back to Salento.
  • Share and comment on what you have learned in this post with other travelers. All people go to the Cocora Valley but most of them don’t know the current situation of the wax palm.

Don’t miss our guide to organizing your trip to the Colombian Coffee Triangle:

If the coffee region has become our favorite area in Colombia, Tochecito is among the first places in the region for us. Are you going to miss it? :)

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