The wax palm (also known as Palma de Cera or Ceroxylon Quindiuense) is the tallest palm in the world, and was officially adopted as a national symbol of Colombia in 1985. Found along the central and eastern Andes of Colombia, the Cocora valley of Quindío department is the popular place for visitors to see these magnificent trees that can grow up to a height of 60m (~200 ft). However, if you want to avoid the crowd while admiring these wax palms, you do have another option: San Felix.
In the village of San Felix, located about 30 km (~19 miles) east of Salamina in Caldas, therein lies the forest of Palma de Cera - a tranquil and natural sight free of roaming tourists!
Getting to those wax palms!
The village plaza of San Felix is a quintessential square consisting of the usual principal church, cultural center, old-school cafeteria and pubs, etc. To catch sight of the Palma de Cera, one can hitchhike or hop on a motorbike to the recommended finca (farm) named La Samaria owned by Luis Abril, where a guided tour is available. Walking is another option that will get you to your destination in ~50 minutes.
You will notice the landscape changing subtly within minutes from leaving the town square. Resembling the Middle Earth of The Hobbiton movie set and the scene out of The Lorax by Dr. Seuss, one can almost expect a hobbit or the Lorax to appear just around the corner!
Recommended finca in San Felix
At the finca of Luis Abril (feel free to ask a passerby if you lost your way), which is located at the top of a hill, you can take a guided tour through the valley of wax palms and even visit a cloud forest, depending on your physical ability and time.
Tour duration ranges from 1 - 3 hours. A light jacket is recommended, as it can get windy and cold when you first set off at the high altitude. The guide (daughter of Luis) can speak English and Spanish, and she will have some interesting information to share, as you navigate your way through the natural landscape. There is no proper footpath so certain physical strength and good walking shoes are required.
Learn lessons of nature through a guided tour
In case you are wondering, the wax palms in San Felix really look magnificent and the effort to conserve this natural landscape by not just the government but the local people is worth applauding! As always, nature is generous and there is much to benefit from the wax palm; the wax for producing candle, the bark for building houses, the fruits for cattle or pig feed, etc. Besides immersing in the beautiful nature, a guided tour allows one to learn and be more aware of the environment!
The wax palms also provide habitats for many unique life forms. Keep a lookout for wildlife (some of which are endangered) such as the Orejiamarillo Loro (yellow-eared parrot), toucans, eagles, and even the spectacled bear!
Other recreational activities at San Felix
Besides an exploration of the wax palms valley and cloud forest, the finca provides recreational activities for the family such as horseback riding and picnic with a view. Home-cooked meals and beverages are also available.
If you decide to leave the finca early, you can explore the village plaza and learn more about San Felix at its cultural center! There are stores selling helado de salpicon (ice cream made of fresh fruits in frozen watermelon juice), if you don’t mind braving the cold with the chilled dessert!
Discovering wax palms in San Felix, Colombia
With a lifespan that can exceed a century, the wax palm of Colombia is more than just an emblem of the National Parks or a photography object. And you can learn more about these trees at San Felix, minus the crowd. Explore and discover the stories of natives that once enjoyed these trees, as we do now.
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