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Top 10 Things to do in Salento, Colombia

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Looking for the top things to do in Salento, Colombia? This guide includes all you need to know to visit, including what to do when you’re there, where to stay, where to eat, how to get there, and how to get around when you’re there.

Salento is a small town located in the heart of the Coffee Triangle (Eje Cafetero) region of Colombia. Don’t let the size fool you, though, as there are a lot of fun things to do in Salento, Colombia.

This colorful little town of 7,000 people is incredibly beautiful. Salento has retained its old-world charm with a distinctly laid-back attitude. It’s a great place to recharge and refresh from visiting the large cities of Colombia.

The UNESCO World Heritage organization called this area ‘The Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia’ It’s a popular destination for tourists as well as for vacationing Colombians. Here is a list of things to do in the area.

I bet you’ll see why I fell in love with this charming small town!

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Wax Palms in the Cocora Valley

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1. Hike the Cocora Valley (Valle de Cocora)

The Cocora Valley is the #1 reason that people go to Salento, Colombia. Part of the Los Nevados National Natural Park, the Cocora Valley is the primary location of the distinctive Quindío wax palm, which is Colombia’s national tree. It is also the tallest tree in the world and has a fun cartoonish quality to it.

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Cocora Valley Farmland

Ride a Willy

To get to the Cocora Valley, hop on one of the shared jeeps, known as Willys, in the town square, Plaza Bolívar. It costs 8k COP ($2.60 USD) for a round-trip ride.

Depending on the time of year, rides start as early as 6 a.m. and run until around 6 p.m. Six people fit comfortably inside the willy, 8 can fit uncomfortably inside.

There are the exciting “jump spots” holding onto the back that can be exciting on bumpy roads. For the arm workout, you get the most incredible views of the valley.

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Willys Lined Up in the Square

See the Wax Palms

There are two hiking options: the full loop takes around six hours to do (assuming you don’t veer off the well-marked path accidentally and climb a rather aggressively steep incline heading towards a waterfall, but more on that in another piece).

This path leads you through some gorgeous cloud forest (high-elevation rainforest) areas, over a number of “dodgy” suspension bridges, and through open fields of wax palm trees. It’s a challenging hike in parts but manageable with a moderate fitness level.

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Wax Palms in Cocora Valley

Visit the Acaime Hummingbird House (Casa de los Colibris)

One of the highlights of doing the full Cocora Valley loop is a visit to the Acaime Hummingbird House. It’s a short in-and-out hike (ten minutes or so) and worth a visit.

Acaime is the perfect place for a break from the hike (you are around 2 hours in at this point if you are doing the counter-clockwise loop) and to see hummingbirds.

There are several different kinds that you can see up close on the many feeders around the building.

Acaime Hummingbird House

The cost is 5k COP and includes a hot cup of chocolate or aguapanela (a local drink made from boiling sugar cane to a caramel-like paste and then adding hot water). It’s served with a chunk of cheese. It was interesting to try though I’d pass were I to go again.

I had read that you break up small pieces of cheese and put them in the hot drink so when you get to the bottom you have an oozy, melty rich cheesy mouthful. My experience was that I got to warm chunks of cheese at the bottom.

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Aguapanela Caliente y Queso

2. Eat Trout (Trucha)

Trout is the most popular dish in town, served in every restaurant in many different ways, from broiled/grilled, baked, and fried. It is served plain and with a number of sauces, including a creamy garlic sauce or a tomato-based chunky sauce.

Though there are some themes between restaurants, some put their own spin on this popular dish. Prices range depending upon the restaurant you go to, but it’s worth trying this local food when you’re visiting if you enjoy fish.

3. Explore Calle Real

Calle Real is located on the northeast corner of the main plaza, Plaza Bolívar. This mostly pedestrian street is full of tourist shops and restaurants, with lots of local artists and vendors.

It’s where the “action” is in Salento, to the extent that there is some! People come for a daytime or evening stroll, and you can see locals, Colombian travelers, and tourists.

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Calle Real

4. Climb to the Mirador (Alto de la Cruz)

The lookout point is a short climb up a colorful staircase to the top, and for the effort, you are rewarded with the most spectacular views of this area. Follow Calle Real, the main, mostly pedestrian street off of the town square, and you will see it.

Once you get to the top and take some pictures, follow the path to the left to the area with covered wooden decking to take in more of this spectacular view of the Quindío River (Rio Quindío) and the surrounding area. This offers spectacular sunset views as well.

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View from the Mirador

You may see someone making panela, a thick and syrupy sweet made from the sugar cane used in candies, spreads, sweeteners, and drinks called aguapanela, where water is mixed with panela to be enjoyed hot or cold.

There are lots of vendors here where you can purchase panela and other locally-made items and handicrafts. You can continue down this road to head into the valley for a visit to the river while seeing some farms and lots of cows grazing on the lush green grass.

Or turn the other way to go back to town.

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5. Take a Salento Colombia Coffee Farm Tour (Finca)

Since you’re in the middle of the Coffee Triangle, it only makes sense to visit a coffee farm to learn about the production of the world’s favorite hot drink. It should be one of the required things to do in Salento.

It’s a special treat to try Salento Colombia coffee at a farm. Most of the good Colombian coffee is exported, so at these small farms, you get to taste some of the best of the crop.

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There are a number of great coffee farms in Salento. I went to Finca Don Eduardo’s coffee tour, conveniently owned by the family who owns the hostel I stayed at and located a ten-minute walk from there.

You learn a LOT about coffee on this three-hour tour. They teach you about the coffee industry and everything involved in growing the magical brew that ends up in your cup. You will leave with a great appreciation for your cup of joe.

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Cup of Coffee from Finca Don Eduardo’s Coffee Farm

6. Dine at the Food Carts

A few blocks from Plaza Bolívar, follow Calle six to find the food trucks. Though you can see the lights at night, you might easily miss this if you don’t know about it.

There’s an eating area illuminated by string lights with picnic tables. It offers several food trucks to choose from, including options like Venezuelan arepas, kebabs, hamburgers, Mexican and more.

Hitting the food carts is a fun atmosphere and inexpensive. Prices are lower than many of the restaurants in the small town.

7. Play Tejo

Tejo is a typical Colombian sport dating back centuries. It’s like a game of horseshoes with gunpowder.

You take a rock and throw it, trying to hit a small pouch of gunpowder positioned on a metal ring situated in the middle of a box of clay. When you hit the pouch against the metal ring, you get an impressive smoky boom!

What could go wrong with alcohol and gunpowder??

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There are several places that offer this in Salento, and we went to Los Amigos. It is located two streets north of the main street (Calle Real), on Carerra 4, halfway between Calle 3 and 4.

When you first walk in, they ask for your drink. It’s highly recommended, and perhaps even required, to drink beer or another alcoholic beverage when you play as it appears to be one of the rules of the game.

There is a list written out in the main room for how to play the game. It’s fun and uniquely Colombian. Drinks are 3,500 COP and the cost to play is 1k COP per person (total $1.45 USD).

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Los Amigos, Tejo Bar

8. Try an Obleas

This sweet treat consists of two wafer cookies with a choice of fillings. Some common choices are caramel, blackberry jam, other fruit jams, chocolate, and shredded coconut.

I had mine with arequipa, sweet Colombian caramel, and mora, blackberry jam. Eating it can be a messy undertaking (tip: do not eat over your lap!), but it’s well worth the risk.

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9. People Watch in the Town Square (Plaza Bolívar)

Nuestra Señora del Carmen Church looks over the small town square that bustles with activity, day and night. During the day, the Willy jeeps line up to drive people out to the Cocora Valley for hiking and other activities like horseback riding and boating on the river.

At night, there are overflowing restaurants and even a small restaurant-turned-discotheque with some fun and lively local music and a small dance floor. Want to try a local drink? Try something with aguardiente, made from sugar cane, and dance the night away.

There was a hilariously inebriated couple dancing it out on the square for tips. It was quite funny to watch them and worth the tip.

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Plaza Bolivar Decorated for Christmas

10. Visit the Kasaduadua Natural Reserve

A visit to the Kasaduadua Nature Reserve is actually the #1 recommended thing to do in Salento, according to TripAdvisor. This is interesting to me, as it was never mentioned as a recommendation when I was in Salento.

While I did see it before I left and added it to my list of things I was interested in, it isn’t as readily available as Cocora Valley. According to reviews, it’s worth checking out.

There is an ecolodge that offers guided tours and looks like a great place to stay. Since I only had three days in Salento, I did skip this. If I go back, this would be high on my list and the reviews are quite amazing.

Where to Stay in Salento, Colombia

There are a surprising number of accommodation options in such a small town. It’s a backpacker enclave, so you’ll find a lot of hostels to stay at. Many of them do have private rooms if you like the idea of staying at a hostel, especially to meet other people, but prefer your own space.

There are hotels as well and there are some apartments on Airbnb (though I did see hostels and hotels listed as well). Here are some that either I can personally recommend, or I know people who stayed there and they recommend.

Plantation House Hostel

Salento has many hotel and hostel options. I chose to stay at the Plantation House Hostel, which is on one of the edges of the small town. It can get noisy near the town square and Calle Real, especially on weekends.

The Plantation House Hostel was far enough away to be quiet but just a few minutes walking from the action. The family that owns and runs the hostel is wonderful and very helpful.

It’s nothing fancy but has what you need for a comfortable stay (including hot water–yay!!) They do have dorm rooms and private rooms. I chose to stay in a private room and it was small but comfortable. The place was nice and quiet and everyone was incredibly friendly.

As mentioned previously, Don Eduardo’s coffee plantation tour is well worth joining and you get a substantial discount if you stay at the hostel. They offer private rooms and dorm rooms for 2 and 4 people.

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Hostel Ciudad de Segorbe

Someone I hung out with while visiting stayed here, and I had the opportunity to visit. The dorm rooms are spacious, with a lot of room for travelers, the staff is very friendly and helpful, a filling breakfast is included, and coffee and tea are offered throughout the day.

It is much closer to the main plaza and can be loud at night. Prices range at Hostel Ciudad de Segorbe from $21 USD to $80, depending on if you want a private room or a shared room.

Where to Eat in Salento Colombia

There are a lot of really great restaurants in Salento, and just like with the accommodations, more than I would have expected. I personally went to all of these and highly recommend them.

Rincon de Lucy

Rincon de Lucy is a lunch place on Calle Real. It was recommended by my hostel and offers really great food at a very low price. I got trout with rice, salad, beans, soup, juice, and an arepa for 8k COP (under $3 USD).

This is a modified version of a bandeja paisa, which usually has chicken though it can have other meats.

Restaurante Meraki

This place was recommended by some of the hostels in town and it was very good if you’re craving a mix of traditional local fare (trout, trout, and more trout!) or international types of food like tacos and pasta.

Everyone I dined with raved about their meals and prices were mostly under $10 USD.

Brunch de Salento

This place is owned by a man from Oregon, US. My hostel told me to go there to get a packed lunch for the Cocora Valley hike and I decided to try breakfast. I got a monstrous pancake with fresh-squeezed juice for only a couple of US dollars.

Lunch cost around 14k COP ($5.50 USD) and included a large sandwich with several options, a banana, homemade granola, crackers and cheese, small water, some peanut butter, and a peanut-butter brownie.

The owner came to say hello and to offer his guidance for the Cocora Valley hike. I believe he was from Oregon in the US!

Donde Laurita en Salento

We had a great meal here on our last night in town. The place is pretty big and quite festive inside. Two of us shared a traditional Bandeja Paisa with a twist, heart-shaped arepas! There was still food left on our plates and this meal with drinks was under $10 USD per person.

Cafe Bernabe Gourmet

This was my most expensive meal in Salento and so worth it! I first tried grilled trucha here (trout), served with rice and stir-fried vegetables. Accompanied by a great glass of red wine, the bill came to less than $15 USD. This restaurant is rated #5 on TripAdvisor and is located right off Calle Real.

Travel to Salento Colombia

Travel by bus is probably the most popular way to get to Salento, as the town does not have an airport. I had planned to take the bus from Medellin, which is around 6.5 hours typically.

However, I talked with several people in Medellin who had taken the bus from Salento and said it was taking over 11 hours due to construction. I had also read that some of the drive is a bit harrowing on narrow and steep roads.

I quickly decided to check flights to get closer to Salento and booked Easy Jet to Armenia, the closest airport and around 45 minutes away (less than $100 USD booked a day in advance).

You can get a bus outside the front of the airport that takes you to a bus terminal. There are a number of booths for different buses, and I was unable to find Salento. I finally asked someone in the best Spanish I could muster, and they told me to go outside.

I wandered around the buses (there were only 15 or so) and found one that showed Salento on the front. You pay for the ride on the bus, and it was only a couple of US dollars.

Another airport option is Perreira. I took the bus from Salento to Pereira and it only took around 45 minutes as well.

Bus from Medellin to Salento

If you decide to take the bus from Medellin, Flota Occidental is the company you’ll use. They leave from Terminal del Sur in Medellin. As of this writing, the scheduled times are 9 and 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Check the schedule when you are going to go, as times may change.

The cost is 47,000 COP (around $13 USD) for a one-way trip. I did read that it’s a good idea to arrive a little early to get your ticket, and I believe you can purchase in advance though are not required to.

Salento, Colombia Weather

The most popular time to go to Colombia is generally from December to February. The weather in much of the country is the best during this time. July through September is also usually a good time to go as well.

Given that Salento is in the mountains at a high elevation, the weather can change quickly. During the day it’s often warm or hot and it can get quite cold at night.

It also rains there often and at times can get quite foggy. There’s a reason the Coffee Triangle is lush and green! Make sure to bring a raincoat and good waterproof boots for your visit.

Packing Tips for Salento, Colombia

When you visit Colombia, you’ll find the weather can be dramatically different in the different parts of the country.

I visited Colombia for a little over two weeks. When I went, it was cold in Bogota, hot and humid in Cartagena, and rainy in Salento. It’s not easy packing for all of these situations, and I packed it all in a small international carry-on bag!

In fact, I wrote a post on how to pack for two weeks in a carry-on (and why!). And, I included a packing list I used for this trip! Check it out.

Here are a few packing tips specific to Salento, Colombia:

  1. Pack layers—it can be quite cold in the mornings and evenings at any time of year since you’re at a high elevation here. I love this Patagonia down jacket as they are comfortable and last forever. They make Patagonia down jackets for men and women. REI makes great ones as well at a lower price point. And this Colombia fleece came in handy. (Colombia fleece in men’s is here.)
  2. Bring a raincoat—This North Face Venture 2 raincoat is my go-to. It’s comfortable, has lots of pockets, and it’s breathable. You can get a North Face Venture 2 Rain Jacket for men, too. Or, grab this disposable rain poncho that packs up small and does the job.
  3. Take waterproof footwear—It rains often in Salento, and daily at many times of the year. Do yourself a favor and bring waterproof footwear, particularly hiking boots. Check out my guide on the top women’s hiking shoes and the top men’s hiking shoes for inspiration! Or head to my favorite shop for hiking gear, REI to look at other options. If you’re near a store, head on in! They help to fit you and even have a sloped frame you can stand on to see how the boots will fit when you’re hiking!
  4. Dry sack—It’s important to keep your things dry when you travel. Especially electronics and undies! Grab this dry sack multi-pack for options to store your things that you need to keep dry in rainy weather.

Why You Should Go to Salento, Colombia

Salento is beautiful, and charming, and there are so many outdoor activities to do that it is top of many lists of places to go to in Colombia. Active pursuits include hiking, biking, and horseback riding. There are also lots of places to relax and watch the small-town flow.

People are very friendly, even by the outgoing Colombian standards, and it’s a great place to get to know the locals if you’re inclined. Try some new things like a game of Tejo! You’ll be glad you visited.

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