For me Salento is one of those places that your hear about and it sounds nice, but the reality is SO MUCH BETTER. I knew to expect a quiet laid back town, good Colombian coffee and a relaxing vibe, but I did not know to expect some of the most beautiful hiking I have ever done, the nicest hostels I have ever stayed in, and some of the best people we have met so far on our trip. Needless to say Salento blew all of our expectations out of the water and quickly became our favorite stop in Colombia.
You cannot visit the heart of Colombian coffee country without visiting a coffee farm. We had already done a coffee tour in Medellin but I am still glad we went to Finca El Ocaso while we were in Salento. The property is super pretty and the staff is very informative and passionate. This is one of the few places we have been to that grows, processes, and roasts all of its own coffee so you really can get a feel for the whole process from start to finish. They have a specialty brew which is out of this world. The tour includes a tasting so you can get a better feel for which type of coffee you enjoy. We drank 5 cups of coffee each the day we visited Finca El Ocaso!
Valle De Cocora Hike
This hike is by far the main event in Salento. We did not know about this hike before arriving but it is all everyone was talking about so we quickly decided to do it. Having met an amazing group of friends the night before we all set out at 7am for the six hour hike though the valley. Although long, the hike itself is not overly strenuous but it is VERY muddy. Coffee Tree Boutique Hostel has boots you can use to do the trek and I highly recommend them. We ended up just wearing our trail shoes and were fine but we could have had more fun in the mud with boots.
The hike starts with a walk though a forest of the tallest palm trees in the world and over many rivers (think swinging bridges, small waterfalls, trees, plants and beautiful grassy fields). The middle of the hike is marked by the Casa Colibri (Hummingbird House). While not the highlight of our trip it is worth a stop as they serve up a special drink consisting of hot chocolate with cheese (it is exactly as weird as it sounds). They do have some bird feeders with a lot of hummingbirds flying around but overall its just sort of weird compared to the beauty that surrounds around it.
Close to the hummingbird house is a trail to a waterfall but we heard it was small and the hike is another 2 hours so we decided to skip it. After the hummingbird house the hike gets a little steep but at the top you are rewarded with an AMAZING view of the entire valley including the palm trees and rivers. We stopped here for an hour or so to just take it all in and rest after the hike. Afterwards it is a quick walk down to the Willies, or Jeeps, that will take you back to town.
Salento is located smack in the middle of the Colombian coffee triangle between Bogota, Medellin, and Cali. There are a LOT of farms nearby and some of the best coffee in the world is produced here. We found the Colombian coffee to be a bit more tangy than the coffee we had in Cuba so we didn’t love it as much but if a medium roast with a little more acidity is your thing this is by far the place for you. We ended up sampling the coffee at multiple farms, coffee shops, hostels, and restaurants and it was all excellent. Our preferred method of drinking coffee is the French Press or Aero Press and both options are available just about everywhere.
Having played in Bogota and Medellin I was pumped to get back on the tejo court. Like the tejo we played in Bogota, Los Amigos is a little less focused on the rules and a little more focused on drinking beer, making explosions, and having fun. The court is pretty big and we had a great time tossing rocks and trying to make them explode. If you are not familiar with the sport check out our Bogota blog post.
It turns out most pueblos in Colombia have a highest point that serves as a lookout and is popular for tourists. Salento was no exception. We were tired from our hike and never took the time to walk up the Mirador but we did hear it is a nice view and worth the walk if you have time.
We saw a flyer for Kasa Guadua when we checked into the Coffee Tree but we were not sure if we would go as not many people were talking about it. I am SO glad we decided to go, as this might actually be my favorite hike in Salento. The guide explained that the hike is not just a tourist attraction it is his complete life’s work and I can definitely see why.
During the hike we learned about how all of the various plants and animals work together. We also got to see the guide’s house which is an amazing work of art and sustainability. Best of all the hike is free! You will be asked for a donation at the end and I guarantee after seeing what an amazing job they have done you will want to contribute. If I am ever back in Salento I will definitely be staying at Kasa Guadua.
Eating in Salento
I am embarrassed to say that we ended up eating at Brunch three times on our trip. Not because the food was spectacular and not because it was close to our hostel but simply because that is where everyone eats (at least while we were in Salento). They do have HUGE portions and the food is a welcome break from “Comida Tipica” (think giant nachos, hamburgers and deserts). The price is right and the service is great. Give it a try if you want a taste of home. They also sell sack lunches you can take on the hike.
Food Truck Park
The Salento food truck park is a hidden gem that we visited on our last day in town. The food is great and the park reminded us of the trendy Tijuana food truck park. It is only open in the evening and is definitely worth checking out.
Trout(or trucha as it is called) is the most famous dish in Salento and it is served everywhere. We ate a lot of whole fish in Cartagena so we were not in a hurry to order more but I am glad we did because it was great!. The fish in Salento is a lot different than what is served at the beach and it is delicious. It comes almost floating in a rico sauce and is big enough for two to share.
We had delicious coffee and eggplant parmesan at Bernabe. It is right in town and has great views.
Getting There / Away
Despite its remote location Salento is actually fairly easy to get to. From Bogota, Medellin, and Cali you have two options. You can take a 1 hour fight which is around $50 or an 8 hour bus which is around $20. On the way to Salento we flew from Medellin to Pereira and then took a 1 hour bus to the center of town. On the way back we took a bus to Armenia and then from there to Bogota. The bus station in Armenia is a bit hectic but just look for the longest line and you can usually bet that is the next bus to leave. I was dreading the eight hour bus ride but it actually ended up being pretty nice and even had wifi!
Getting Around Salento
Once you get to Salento Jeeps, called Willies, are the preferred mode of transportation. They are fairly affordable but they definitely run on their own schedule (they don’t leave until completely full- I mean people hanging on the back full). There are also a lot of horses in Salento and unlike the scrawny ones we saw in Cuba these horses appear to be very well fed. I am not a huge fan of horse riding but I can see the appeal of trotting around a beautiful town like Salento and venturing off into the coffee farms.
Places to stay
Coffee Tree Boutique Hostel is one of the nicest hostels we have ever stayed in. We booked late so there were no private rooms left but the dorms were still very nice. Each bed has privacy curtains and super soft bedding. The included breakfast is delicious and even includes made to order eggs. By far the best part is the amazing view you get out of the oversized windows. And of course the local Colombian coffee is free and served all day long.
Coffee Tree was booked on our first night in Salento so we stayed right next door at Viajero Hostel. It was nice. The dorms are not super crowded and the beds are comfortable. They have a great bar and hammock area and even offered a free yoga class. Its hard to complete with Coffee Tree but this place does a great job. I would definitely recommend staying here if Coffee Tree is booked.
Part of the reason we try not to plan too far ahead in our travels is so we can take advantage of recommendations we get along the way. Salento is a prefect example of why that is important. If it wasn’t for so many people talking about it in Cartagena and Medellin we would have never known it existed. If you are planing a trip to Colombia make time for Salento, you will not regret it.
Want more information to plan your trip to Salento? Check out the Colombia Lonely Planet here.
With a coffee buzz,