Latin America

An Insider’s Guide To Salento, Colombia

Colombia is a rich and diverse country filled with so many amazing places to visit and some of the most beautiful and picturesque small Spanish colonial towns. 

When you need a break from the large cities like Cartagena, Medellín, and Bogotá, consider heading to one of the small towns like Salento. You’ll see a very different slice of Colombian life and will you enjoy the welcome respite of a much slower pace.

Three Reasons You Should Go To Salento, Colombia

Salento may be a small town, but it has a lot of great things to do. Here are my favorites:

  • Learn all about coffee production in the top-producing area in Colombia. Take a tour of a Finca (farm) to learn all about the process and enjoy one of the best cups of coffee in your life.
  • Salento is the closest town to the Cocora Valley, one of the most incredible hikes in the country offering a lot of geographic diversity. Hike through a cloud forest and see the crazy tall wax palm trees all in one amazing day.
  • Wander the streets of this beautiful, colorful, and picturesque small town nestled in the mountains with a perfect representation of Spanish Colonial architecture. There are more things to do there than you might expect.

In this article, I’ll share more about each of these reasons why you should go to Salento, and why I know you’ll love it as much as I did.

Enjoy The Lure Of Colombian Coffee

Colombia is the third-largest coffee producer in the world thanks to its rich volcanic soil and the long rainy season. Interestingly, coffee isn’t usually a drink the locals enjoy as the best is exported. For coffee lovers, little can compare to a good cup of Colombian coffee.  

Salento is nestled in the mountains in the heart of the Coffee Triangle (Eje Cafetero). 

The location in the mountains doesn’t provide for large production high-yield farms, but instead, it is known for small boutique farms that focus on very high quality.

Finca Don Eduardo is one of these small farms. The owner is incredibly passionate about making the highest quality of coffee and prioritizes quality over profits. He proudly shares that his coffee is “deliberately non-certified organic.” They are exclusively organic, however, he chooses to not pay for the label but instead, funnels the money into the beans.

The finca grounds are just a ten-minute walk from town located on a ridiculously-steep hill. Considering the beans are picked during the rainy season, coffee farming is not for the weak of heart.

On the tour, we learned about the kinds of coffee available and walked through the entire growing process from seed to cup. We got to walk the grounds and then enjoyed the pièce de résistance of magic in a cup. After choosing the type of beans we wanted and roasting them, we enjoyed what was one of the best cups of coffee I have ever had. 

There are several boutique coffee fincas in Salento, and both Don Eduardo and Finca El Ocaso have great reviews.

Hike Cocora Valley 

The Cocora Valley (Valle de Cocora) hike is one of the top attractions in Colombia. Many people go to picturesque small-town Salento as it is the closest to the valley. This epic hike features lush green valleys, a cloud forest (high-elevation rain forest), and the interestingly cartoonish wax palm trees.

Parts of this hike may be tough for beginners but it’s worth doing. It is a loop that is almost 8 miles long and takes around 6 hours, depending on your pace. There is also a shorter in-and-out hike that leads directly to the magical area of wax palm trees. Grab a bagged lunch from Brunch de Salento and grab a “Willy” jeep from the square in town. Be prepared for amazing adventure.

Most people hike this trail in a counter-clockwise loop and start in the cloud forest. It is so peaceful and beautiful. One warning about this hike is that there are seven dodgy suspension bridges you have to cross as you weave over a stream. Yes, seven. They took some getting used to, but even my fear of heights did not dissuade me and I pushed through. They are not overly high up, but they are quite rickety so it’s a bit unnerving walking on them.

There is also a hummingbird sanctuary called Acaime in the rainforest where you can take a break to enjoy the birds. Here you can try a local specialty called aguapanela caliente, a traditional Colombian hot drink made from caramelized sugar cane. It’s often enjoyed with a chunk of cheese melted in the drink.

Next, you head towards the toughest part of the hike trekking up to Finca la Montaña. You will be rewarded with the most amazing views of the valley and they are worth it. 

Once you catch your breath and grab lunch, start heading downhill on the sloping path to Bosque las Palmas where you can wander among the 200-foot tall wax palms. Hug a wax palm, or two! They are incredibly skinny and you can get your arms completely around them! 

Take In Small-Town Life

Salento is a sleepy small town begging to be wandered, with beautiful Spanish colonial homes and a quaint town square, Plaza Bolívar. It’s a nice change from the crowded streets and the pace of the larger cities.

Plaza Bolivar is where the Willies take off from to go to the valley, so it’s always bustling with people. There are a number of shops and restaurants on the square, and one of the restaurants even turns into a roaring discoteque by night! There are lots of carts with food, juices, and other items for sale. 

Visit Calle Real right off the plaza, full of tourist shops, galleries, and restaurants. It is mostly a pedestrian-only street so the locals are out mingling with tourists. Head to the colorful staircase at the end and up the hill to the lookout point, or mirador. You will see the most incredible views of the Quindío River (Rio Quindío) and if you are there for the sunset, you are in for a special treat.

When you get hungry, there are a lot of great places to go and everything is a five-minute walk or less. Try the local specialty of trout (trucha) offered many different ways at Restaurante Meraki or Donde Laurita or go to one of the food carts in the plaza. You can’t go wrong. 

The fruit juices are simply amazing, and something you should try while in Colombia, and if you want a sweet snack, try an obleas. It’s made from two thin wafer cookies with sweet flavors inside to your choosing like arequipa (sweet Colombian caramel), mora (blackberry) jam, chocolate, and shredded coconut.

If you’re looking for something fun and uniquely Colombian, try Tejo. You play by throwing rocks at paper packets filled with gunpowder—how could it be anything but fun? 

Salento is a magical place and it was one of the highlights of my trip to Colombia. It’s a perfect dose of small-town life in Colombia and a worthy addition to any trip to this wonderful country.

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