Salento is a small town nestled in the department of Quindío. I chose to visit the area for two reasons: the coffee and to explore the Cocora Valley.
Once in Salento you realize that it is actually really small, peaceful yet lively, and with many travelers that usually end up staying longer than planned-which happened to me, too.
What makes it so special? It might be the fact that it has retained its historical charm and the peacefulness that it seems to come with it. This easygoing vibe is not commonly found in Colombia and therefore Colombians love to visit as tourists themselves.
Besides historical looking buildings and friendly locals what else could you expect? A great tourist destination jam-packed with fun things to do, incredible places to visit and genuine Colombian culture. If you want to know everything this beautiful town has to offer, stick with me!
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Here I share my favorite memories of my visit to Salento and my top recommendations including information on why you should go, the best things to do, how to get there, where to stay and more!
What and Where is Salento
Salento is an Andean town west of Colombia smack in the middle of the coffee zone (eje cafetero) and surrounded by lush landscapes. It's the base town from which to explore Cocora Valley with it's famous wax palms, and the gateway to Los Nevados National Park.
What to Pack for Salento
Salento is a lush green paradise, so naturally it rains a lot. That being said, you should consider bringing these items:
- Portable water filter: use one in Salento or anywhere in Colombia. While tap water is generally safe to drink, your stomach might not be used to it still, and kids will be even more sensitive. Lifestraw and Sawyer are your best (and most compact) options.
- Rain poncho: climate can change drastically, so you need to be prepared. To avoid getting soaked in an afternoon rain shower I’d recommend you buy a reusable one before going; you’ll likely use it more than once.
- Lightweight rain jacket: it serves for the same purpose as the previous item. Make sure to bring a jacket that stuffs well in your suitcase, nothing big and bulky.
- Umbrella: because it could rain anywhere and anytime. Some hotels may provide them but it won’t hurt to have a small travel sized one with you.
- Hiking boots/shoes: this is probably the most important item of this list, as you’ll be walking/hiking the majority of the time. You should use ones that you don’t mind getting muddy or you can rinse off and dry quickly. At the very least, be sure to wear sneakers or sandals.
- Sun hat: even though it periodically rains and the temperature is mild, when the sun comes out it’s scorching, and if you don’t protect yourself against the solar rays, you can go home with sunburn.
- Mosquito repellent: this is totally a must! Otherwise, you’re going to get bitten by all kinds of insects.
Top Things to do in Salento Colombia
As small as Salento may be, there is quite a bit to do if you like the outdoors and enjoy taking things slowly. There are also some day trips to enjoy nearby, which will also teach you quite a bit about on of Colombia's most famous areas.
Stroll Down Calle Real and Plaza de Bolívar
Calle Real can't be overlooked when deciding what to do in Salento. It is the main thoroughfare for visitors and the perfect place for some photo taking. It has plenty of souvenir shops and almuerzos where you can buy gifts and fill up your hungry stomach for around 2 USD.
Here you'll also find the most beautiful buildings in town, cute cafes and bars where you can drink something and chill out. Combine your visit to Calle Real with a stroll at the nearby Plaza de Bolivar and the humble church of Nuestra Señora del Carmen.
Then Walk Up to the Mirador
The Mirador is a simple and short little trip where you'll be rewarded with truly lovely views over the tiled roofs of Salento. It’s an easy climb up a colored staircase at the very end of Calle Real.
Much more than a photo opportunity, they lead up to a viewpoint over the Valley - Mirador Alto de La Cruz.
The very best views happen when you hike a little further to your left and make your way to a second, less obvious viewpoint - Mirador de Salento. There you'll be afforded with impressive, uninterrupted views of the stunning green mountains.
Take a Short Hike to Santa Rita Waterfall
If the sun is shining, this is an excellent option to stretch your legs and will allow you to see one of the lesser explored attractions in Salento. While the waterfall itself is impressive, the walk takes you through beautiful scenery.
Tejo is Colombia’s national sport and a must-do activity for foreign visitors. It basically involves throwing a heavy metal disc at gunpowder stuffed envelopes until they literally explode.
Yes, you read it right – you’ll be playing with EXPLOSIVES! The game is usually played in a bar while drinking copious amounts of local beer.
You might think Tejo is a recipe for disaster, and you’re probably right. It can be crazy and is something that surely only Colombians could have come up with, but is really fun and absolutely worth playing.
Cancha de Tejo Los Amigos is probably the best place in Salento to play Tejo. The staff is tourist-friendly and has introduced thousands of foreigners into the game’s dynamic over the years.
Los Amigos is just two streets north of Calle Real and there’s no entrance fee, so if you want to play you just need to buy a beer. But if you don’t see yourself playing this unusual sport, you can just chill with your drink and then watch the locals play.
Visit the Acaime Hummingbird Sanctuary
This is definitely one of the most special things to do in Cocora Valley and can be reached on a 45-minute detour from the main hiking loop.
I highly recommend the Acaime Hummingbird Sanctuary to anyone visiting the coffee region in Colombia. Why? It does add an additional 2 hours to your already demanding 5-6 hours Valle de Cocora hike, but it also gives you the unique opportunity of admire the friendliest hummingbirds you'll ever see while you sip on some of the best local coffee.
The entrance fee is just 6,000 COP and the staff is always willing to give information about the different species of hummingbird living there.
The trails are well-maintained and there are also a large number of feeders for the birds so you can be mesmerized by them whizzing around your head.
Take a Coffee Tour
The Colombian coffee is world-famous, and Salento is set smack in the middle of Colombia’s coffee triangle, specifically in the Quindío, which is arguably the best coffee region in the country.
That being said, you’re kind of required to visit a coffee plantation or finca that specializes in growing coffee plants.
There are several coffee farms nearby, most of which include a guided tour and coffee tasting workshops, ranging from 5 to 20 USD per person. I was lucky though because I was walking with a couple of Colombian travelers and we found a plantation where two workers kindly explained everything to us for free.
By visiting a coffee farm you get a necessary insight into the coffee growing and manufacturing process, not to mention the opportunity to try and buy high-quality coffee directly from the producers.
Coffee Farms in Salento
One of the most recognized is Don Elias, a family-run coffee hacienda where all the production is done by hand. It offers a fantastic introduction to Colombia’s coffee without the use of sophisticated infrastructure or large scale production. The tour cost 12,000 COP per person and last around one hour.
For a bigger operation and longer tours, check out El Ocaso. They offer a ‘sensorial workshop’ in their coffee lab which aim is to educate your smell and taste buds to the real scents and flavours of a good cup of coffee.
Both fincas are easy walkable from the center of town. It takes about 45 minutes or so along an unpaved dirt road, but you can always hop into one of the Jeeps leaving from the main square to save some energy.
However, the walk is pleasant because of the views and silence, and if you bring a bottle of water it can be quite enjoyable.
Don’t have time to take a coffee tour? The Jesus Martín coffee shop in Salento’s bustling town center is known as the best place in town for a high-quality cup. They have a vast menu of coffee drinks and the baristas are incredibly skilled.
Did you know that world famous coffee grower Juan Valdez never existed? He’s an iconic figure created in 1960 to represent all the coffee growers of Colombia.
Hike the Cocora Valley
Hiking the Cocora Valley (Valle de Cocora in Spanish) is definitely one of the best things to do in Salento Colombia, and should be included in any Colombia itinerary.
Travelers come here from all over the world just to see the iconic postcard views of the world’s tallest wax palm trees – they can grow up to 60m (200 feet), the height of a 14-story building!
Between the incredibly green landscape, the cloud forests, the enormous palm trees and the invigorating hiking trails, Cocora Valley is nothing else than breathtaking.
You could either walk to the entrance of the Valle or take one of the colorful jeeps that constantly leave from Plaza de Bolivar (the first departure happens at 6:10 a.m.)
A timetable does theoretically exists, due to the increasing popularity of the hike, but the jeeps only leave once they fill up, which is usually every half hour. Just show up, buy a ticket (4,000 COP) and wait your turn.
Though you can rent horses to ride out to the best of the palm trees viewpoints, I highly recommend making the hike yourselves (it takes between 5 and 6 hours, depending on how many photo stops and picnic breaks you do)
Not only does ensure a whole bunch of extra views, but you also get to enjoy the forested part of the hike, home to a beautiful river and a few waterfalls.
If you’re doing the long loop pack some snacks, lots of water and make sure not to miss the Cocora Valley Hummingbird Reserve’s side-trip, which I previously mentioned in this post.
But if you just want photos of the impressive palm trees or you’ve unfortunately arrived later in the afternoon, take the short path straight to the valley – it’s only an hour or so round-trip and you’ll be able to see the trees at the beginning of this hike, one of the best hikes in Colombia.
How to Get to Salento
Getting to Salento is faily easy, but how much time it takes will depend on how you want to get here. These are your best options from the main cities:
There are no direct buses operating the Bogota-Salento route. Instead, you'll need to catch a bus from Bogota's Terminal De Transporte Salitre to Armenia (if you zoom in the map below you'll note that it is conveniently located near Salento, 24km to be precise).
The journey takes 9hrs and cost 45k-50k COP. Once in Armenia you'll need to catch a bus in order to reach your final destination.
However, this is not the only option, you can also fly to Salento from Bogota with the national airline of your preference. If you do so, you have 3 airport options to choose from Pereira, Armenia and Manizales.
From each of these you need to take a bus into Salento, or a taxi if you want to save time and energy.
Salento is only 248km (154 miles) away from Medellin, making it an easy trip that takes 6 to 7 hours by bus and under 1 hour via direct flight to one of the nearby cities (Pereira, Armenia or Manizales).
To travel by bus, travellers need to transit either via Pereira or Armenia, as there are no truly direct connections to Salento. Buses depart daily from Medellin’s Terminal De Transportes del Sur and make the long 6-7hrs journey in relative comfort.
Other passengers will get on/off during the trip but you won’t be required to disembark the bus at any stage. Tickets (54,000 COP) don’t need to be purchased in advance, but if in doubt, go to the bus station beforehand to secure your spots.
The cheapest and most convenient way to get from Cali to Salento is by bus, travelling via Armenia. There are two bus companies that cover this route: Bolivariano and Coomotor.
Services depart hourly from Cali’s Vias Internas Terminal and operate every day.
The bus ride takes about 3.5 hours (with some very enjoyable views along the way I must say) and tickets can be booked online or at the station in advance. Once you arrive in Armenia you can catch a bus or a mini-van to Salento – this journey takes 50minutes and cost 4,500 COP ($1.5).
Where to Stay in Salento
Coffee Tree Boutique Hostel is the best budget option I can recommend , which is also a firm favorite among backpackers who love the top-notch facilities. Don’t let the price fool you, this farmhouse has been touted as the ‘Best Hostel of South America’ and is conveniently located six blocks from the town’s center. Check rates
Casa La Eliana- If you’re looking for another recommended budget option, Casa La Eliana has dorm rooms and private rooms at around. It's also home to one of the best restaurants in Salento, which serves very decent non-Colombian food. The staff is really friendly and the rooms are good, but it is probably the superb food that makes Casa La Eliana so popular. Check rates
Hotel Salento Real is a 4-star venue perfect choice for travelers who are budget conscious but still want to be as comfortable as possible. The hotel is located just a few minutes’ walk from the main square of Plaza de Bolivar. Here you can get a large room for two people with private bathroom, free Wi-Fi connection and a hot (included) breakfast for as little as 100,000 COP. Check rates
Luxury - Montana Guesthouse:
Montana Guesthouse is absolutely not a budget accommodation, but if you’re on a short trip and looking for something special, this 5-stars venue is a fantastic option. It is located five minutes’ drive from Calle Real and features one of the best views of the area.
It also has a pretty epic giant hammock and a rooftop Jacuzzi where you can relax and enjoy a glorious sunset. They offer the perfect combination between the comfort of a hotel and the warmth of a country house – close enough to all Salento things to do, but far enough away to be calm and serene. Check rates
What & Where to Eat
Local Food – Donde Laurita
This cute little restaurant is pricier than others in town, but considering the huge size of the portions, the price is totally worth it. Their Bandeja Paisa is epic (22,000 COP) and the service is outstanding. All their offerings are incredibly well done and will leave you more than happy.
Widely popular between foreign visitors, Brunch is the hippest restaurant in Salento. The owner is an American expat who knows exactly what backpackers desire when they are on the road. This place is known for their vast menu and massive portions, which are perfect for a post-hike meal.
They serve everything from Colombian staples to classics like wings, burgers, pasta and salads. Did I mention their soft, chocolaty brownies, topped with vanilla ice cream, and drizzled with chocolate and a creamy home-made peanut butter sauce? They’re out of this world!
Best Cheap Eats
Look no further than El Rincon de Luci. This authentic little place ranks high on every ‘Best restaurants in Salento’ list, and for good reason. It’s located right along the main street and serves some of the most delicious food in town.
There’s no menu, you’re simply given a few choices. First, you pick your meat: pork, chicken or trout. Next, your sides: mashed potatoes, vegetables, beans or lentils. That’s it, now you wait.
Within a couple of minutes your feast arrives. Along with the choices you made, your meal comes with an arepa, corn fritter, fried plantain, salad, soup of the day and a glass of juice.
The whole thing cost around 8,000 COP or roughly $3 USD (unbelievable!). They not only have one of the simplest concepts you’ve ever seen, but also some of the tastiest and cheapest.
Veggie/Vegan Food – Coco Bowl
Coco Bowl is considered one of the best vegetarian restaurants in Salento. It’s a bright, colorful café that specializes in vegetarian and vegan food with a focus on using organic, locally grown products only. From smoothies and coffee drinks to veggie bowls and burgers, if you’re looking for something healthy and delicious, this is the place to go.
Is Salento Colombia worth visiting?
In spite of its small size, Salento is not a town you can expect to be bored in. It has everything you need to provide entertainment and variety, without losing its rural small town feel.
Is Salento safe?
A few years ago Salento wasn’t a safe place to visit. Guerrilla groups had control over the region which prevented any sort of tourist activity. But now, it’s one of the fastest-growing tourist destinations in Colombia, so there’s no need to be worried about safety anymore.
How many days do you need in Salento?
You didn’t come all this way to stay for one day, right? Okay, you can do it, but you shouldn’t. You couldn’t do and see the best of Salento without at least 3 days. Believe me, once there you’ll want to stay longer than expected.