The Ultimate Guide to Exploring Salento Colombia
Everything you need to know about traveling in Salento Colombia
There is nothing but hype surrounding Colombia as a travel destination these days; with its colourful spirit, dancing people, and striking topography, it is no wonder it has become such a travellers paradise. Taking a moment to step away from the hustle and bustle of the big innovative cities of Medellin and Bogota, my heart tends to lay in more rural areas, more specifically, with a little town called Salento.
Salento Colombia lies in the middle of the coffee region. Everything you see in Salento is lush, green, and full of growth. Salento is a sleepy little town…you know, the kind with hammocks swaying in the wind and reggae music playing in the background. It is no wonder that backpackers fall in love with this place. This is a place where you come to relax, enjoy nature, take a walk, sip coffee, and really enjoy Colombia and it’s cowboy culture. The sleepy, safe, and relaxed atmosphere of Salento really makes this town a super attractive destination for travellers alike.
What to do in Salento Colombia
Go Hiking in the Valle de Cocora
Cocora Valley is one of the main reasons that people come to Salento Colombia. Within the valley lays an area that houses hundreds of wax palm trees. Not only are wax palm trees the highest palm tree in the world reaching around 60 meters in height, they are also Colombia’s national tree. From Salento, it is just a quick 20 minute jeep “willie” ride from the centre of town to the Valle de Cocora. Here visitor’s have the choice to take a 12km hike which ends in the valley, or to walk just 1km to the area where the wax palm trees grow. The hike itself is beautiful, it is listed as one of the top hikes here. It is shockingly green in every direction and on a sunny day it can’t be beat. The hike has a vertical gain of about 1km so while challenging it is absolutely reasonable for all age groups. The highest point is the top of a coffee finca which provides a beautiful view of the mountains surrounding the valley. If you are interested in hummingbirds, there is a hummingbird sanctuary you can visit on the path .This is also where you can grab a drink or cup of coffee if you are in need of a little break with great views. Colombia has so many fabulous and lushes hikes through the coffee regions, the hike to Ciudad Perdida in Santa Marta is another one like the Valle de Cocora that you should add to your bucket list.
Go horseback riding!
Cowboy culture. There are a lot of cowboys in South America, and Colombia celebrates these people, who they call ‘Vaqueros”. You will notice them as soon as you arrive in Salento Colombia, sporting their belt buckles and cowboy hats. Horse back riding is a way of life here. There are a number of horseback riding tours available in Salento. Some tours will take you to visit coffee finca’s, or through the Valle de Cocora, while others will take you through the green mountains, across rivers and to a beautiful waterfall. If you are feeling up for it, ask for the circuit. Your Vaquero guide will take you to visit a coffee finca followed by a visit to the waterfall and back to town. This tour can take almost 6 hours. By then you will feel more comfortable with your horse enabling more advanced riding such as galloping (if you ask). Best part is, it only costs $30USD.
Visit a coffee finca! Don Elias Finca
Colombia produces some of the most well known coffee in the world. In Salento, you are in the thick of it. You can take tours in a number of finca’s around Salento Colombia. I explored Don Elias Finca which is a 40 minute walk from town, mostly downhill. Here they give you a 45 minute tour, both in English and Spanish, of the farm showing how the coffee beans are processed from seed to berry, and from green bean to roasted coffee beans. There are a few different types of fruits growing on the farm as well, such as plantains and yucca for visitors to view. After you complete the tour they brew you a cup of coffee from the beans processed on the farm. You can buy the beans there if it is to your taste. The tour costs 6,000 Colombian Peso’s which is around $2.00 USD. Don’t want to walk up hill back to town? Don’t worry, they will call you a jeep “willie”.
This staircase can be found at the end of the main street in town. You can climb to the top in order to grab a great view of town, a popular place at sunset!
This is Colombia’s sport… and a wild experience. The game of Tejo involves throwing metal disks at gunpowder which eventually explodes. In Salento there are a number of bars which offer tourists the opportunity to join in on a game of Tejo. Go ahead and try it, you will have a wild time. Playing Tejo is almost as wild as Colombia’s magical mud volcano!
Sleeping in Salento
This is a beautiful hostel which takes its setting in a converted traditional coffee-region house. Hostel Tralala is situated only one block from the main square and is therefore surrounded by fabulous restaurants and shopping. Every bed in the hostel comes with pillows, fresh linens and a douvet and every guest gets a towel! There are a two kitchens and the hostel provides fresh coffee all day long, for free! There are hammocks as well as a garden with a sun terrace, laundry, free wifi, and boots for bad weather days. From 8 bed dorms to private rooms, this is a hostel that is truly comfortable for all. Rooms at Tralala cost between 25,000COP and 100,000COP ($9-$34USD).
La Serrana is one of the most popular hostels in Salento. It is built on a working farm about 1km walk outside of Salento. While staying here does involve a 15 minute country walk just to get into town, the views provided by this hostel definitely make up for it. Imagine waking up to sweeping views of green lush mountains and the quiet of the country side every morning. The environment surrounding La Serrana, the relaxing miradors, and the breakfast make this hostel nothing short of attractive. Rooms at La Serrano start at 30,000 cop ($10 USD).
This hostel is relatively new and it shows! It is well maintained, modern, beautifully appointed and just a 5 minute walk to the centre of town. All of the rooms have lockers, plugs, and lights for each bed. There is a kitchen, a patio, and a restaurant which has delicious food and live music nightly. Once again this is a very comfortable place to spend the night for anyone.
What to Eat in Salento Colombia
Brunch is one of the most popular restaurants for travellers in Salento. This tiny little restaurant is popular amongst backpackers looking for a taste from home. The restaurant is owned by a gentleman from the United States and is the best place to get things like chicken wings, hamburgers, lasagna, and hashbrowns. Many travellers visit this restaurant more than once during a trip to Salento, and most leave their signature in the guest book…i.e. the walls of the restaurant.
Beta town is another wildly popular backpackers restaurant.The menu here is massive so there is no way you won’t find something you will like. A great place to go for breakfast, to enjoy wifi, tv, and awesome outdoor seating. Beta Town is a restaurant often repeated by visitors.
The Trout Market
This is the reason I plan my visits to Salento to include a Sunday, the Sunday trout market. People come from all over Colombia to enjoy trout in Salento during the weekend. Trout is farmed in Colombia and every weekend farmers and cooks bring their food carts to Salento’s town centre to participate in the popular trout market. They put a few plastic chairs and tables out front of their carts and they cook trout in a variety of ways. Stop by any one of these (up to 50) market places and get your trout. They come served with patacones, and with a variety of sauces including mushroom, shrimp or garlic. Feel free to purchase a drink at the food cart, or bring your own bottle of wine. it is up to you! Locals and travellers a-like share tables at Salento’s trout market and it is absolutely my favourite way to dine in the sleepy little town!
Cafe Jesus de Martin
Some people say that this is the best cup of coffee in Salento, which says a lot because Salento is the hub of the coffee industry in Colombia. Sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee brewed from the beans of Salento and let me know. Was it the best you had?
Get In and Around Salento
This is so unique. The way of transportation around Salento and its surrounding areas is via Jeep Willies. Jeep Willies are the vehicle the United States Army used to transport things during World War II. Somehow Colombia has landed these cool vehicles. The owners put much pride and effort into them, fixing them, maintaining them, and rebuilding them. You can hop in the back of them as transportation to places like Cocora Valley, coffee fincas, and hostels. These are your Salento taxi’s, and they are well loved and adored by all, including myself.
To arrive in Salento you have to take a bus to either Armenia or Pereira, two larger cities about 45 minutes outside of Salento. From here you will switch buses and pick up a shuttle which leaves to Salento every 20 minutes for 4000 Colombian Pesos. The shuttle takes about 45 minutes and drops you off in the town center. If you are planning to leave Salento you will have to take the shuttle back to Armenia or Pereira.
There is an airport in Pereira which offers daily flights from other cities in the country and an international airport in Armenia, so flying is a possibility, but you will still have to catch the shuttle into town.
Salento should not be missed.
Salento is truly one of the special locations which ‘stole my heart’. I love to be out in the mountains and to spend lazy days staring at rolling green hills and lush vegetation. I love the idea of being able to hike and horseback ride my way through coffee farms, rivers and waterfalls. The sleepy town of Salento has everything from great food, to stunning vistas. It boasts a vibrant night life, adventures, and typical Columbian “cowboy” culture. It is safe. It is beautiful, and it is on the top of my ‘Colombia travel guide” list.