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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.

Latin America

Top 5 Experiences You Must Try in Colombia

Colombia–a place many of us have heard of, yet few have explored. It’s a country at a pivotal moment in time; politically, socially, and historically speaking. And you’ll feel it from the very moments you enter. As you step into the colorful world of Cartagena to the deeply rooted streets of Bogotá, Colombia has it all, and more. So we’re breaking down the top 5 experiences you must explore next time you’re in Colombia.

Must: Spend 48 Hours in Cartagena

As an easy introduction to the country, Cartagena soothes you into its culture. And there’s no better way to experience a place than tasting your way through it. Cartagena Connections unique gastronomic tours take people deep into the roots of Cartagena–through its street food. By diving straight into tasting some of the food of what true Colombians eat, you get a rare insight into the culture. And with the team at Cartagena Connections truly valuing producing nothing but authentic experiences for those traveling to Colombia, you’ll have an unparalleled look into the stories that hide behind the charm of these mesmerizing colonial homes. 

Staying in Cartagena is an experience in itself and there nowhere better to situate yourself than a night or two at Townhouse Cartagena. This intimate, eight bedroom boutique hotel sits perfectly in the heart of Cartagena’s historic walled city. Inside, the hotel is home to a decor of intriguing art designed by some impressive young Colombian artists. Their lively rooftop is one many have heard of as it’s constantly beaming with a mix of trendy hotel guests and young Colombian professionals.  The vibrant colors, luxurious rooms, and exquisite tapas menu are more than enough to convince one to stay. And as you walk out on your balcony at Townhouse Cartagena, you’ll hear the trotting of the horse-drawn carriages and Caribbean music buzzing all around you; all typical sights on the streets, evoking colonial nostalgia. With a solid 48 hours in Cartagena, you’ll quickly understand why this city has been enchanting visitors for years.  

Must: Visit Tierra Bomba

Colombia is a country lucky enough to be surrounded by both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. This gives way to a large number of coastlines and islands in and around the country. Many of these remote islands are uninhabited, privately owned, owned by hotels, or many are simply protected due to their fragile ecosystems.

Blue Apple Beach sits on the southern shores of Tierra Bomba, an island located within Cartagena’s harbor. This place came to be when owner and UK-native, Portia, stumbled across Tierra Bomba in 2015. What she noticed was a serious lack of good beach dining and some good rosé. Seeing an opportunity to change this, she opened her first waterfront restaurant on the island of Barú. As more and more visitors asked if they could stay the night, she realized there was a demand for this type of establishment. Her team decided to move to Bocachica to start Blue Apple Beach, where they now celebrate the magic of the Colombian Caribbean with their own international touch.

The island of Tierra Bomba is filled with beautiful beaches, mangroves, forest, and clear turquoise waters. Blue Apple Beach offers guests to come for a day trip or to stay for a night or two (okay, maybe a week!). This French-inspired boutique hotel boasts six rooms elegantly designed in local architecture.The small number of rooms are designed to give guests a highly personalized experience. Yoga classes, outdoor massages, scuba diving, paddle boarding, and kayaking are all available for guests. Their outdoor dining area is home to an opulent menu, including freshly caught ceviche and homemade coconut rice. And as the boat ride is a mere 30 minutes (with some great views of Cartagena), such an oasis is well-worth visiting. 

Must: Learn About The Peace Agreement 

After the enormous effort was made for the 2016 Peace Agreement, an agreement that gave an end to a more than 50-year old conflict, Colombia is in a crucial moment in time. To build a solid peace fabric for the future while also healing the wounds from the past, companies such as Impulse Travel believe it is necessary to look at things from different angles and try to comprehend the tremendous complexity of the Colombian history.

To do that, Impulse Travel offers a unique experience that allows travelers to gain an understanding of the key moments of Colombia’s history. By focusing on this new rebirth in the country and its future, Impulse Travel takes you straight to the voices of the true peace-weavers. These are the people who are working on new paths of hope and positive memories of the country. Many indigenous communities in Colombia were (and still are) vulnerable to growing illegal crops for the drug trade. What we are seeing now are communities taking back their power by turning to new and legal crops.

Places such as Café Wasikamas, an Inga indigenous community that serves and sells their price-winner specialty coffee are prime examples. Each week, they drive 22 hours to deliver it to their shop in Bogotá from the mountains of southern Colombia. Here, you’ll get to sit down over a cup of coffee and hear their story and learn about their suffering during the war. You’ll start to understand how they decided to replace illegal crops, such as poppy and coca, to fairtrade agro-products which have allowed them to make a living by, legally. Owners of Distrito Chocolate, a coffee and chocolate shop, are another great example of this movement. Here, the owners prepare specialties from dozens of farmer cooperatives from the country. You’ll come to find out how cocoa became the main resource for thousands of families, leaving coca illegal farming behind. An amazing day of learning and understanding some context, Impulse Travel brings you to the people who are a true symbol of what the peace agreement is looking like for Colombia.

Must: Check out the Archipelago Islands of San Bernardo 

If there is one thing you must see, it is the impressive archipelago that makes up the islands off the Caribbean coast of Colombia. While exploring this area, you’ll come to find many tiny islands. Some inhabited, and some with some trendy, laid-back ecolodges sitting on top. Places such as Isla Roots literally sits on its very own island. With a native-style type of architecture, Isla Roots is close to many ecosystems, mangrove swamps, places to swim and snorkel,  as well as an easy access to island hop around neighboring islands.

The team here offer a plethora of activities to do. One of them is a rare opportunity to see and mingle on one of the worlds most densely populated islands per square meter. Santa Cruz del Isolte is a 2-acre island with over 500 people living on it. They have a school, church, store, bakery, and more recently, solar panels that now power the island. It’s been 150 years since people have started living there and despite the challenging conditions, they have no intention of leaving the island. Even as knowledge of the outside world has become more accessible through modern technology and tourism, the locals here describe their life on the island so peaceful and calm, they wouldn’t trade it for anything else. 

Another island you must check out is Isla Root’s sister property, Mistica Island. This island has one of the most Instagram-worthy photo spots in all of the islands. We’re talking an entire private island with more than 22 acres of Caribbean beaches, jungles, lakes, wild animals. You’ll wake up to monkeys howling, flamingos chilling, and wild deer running next to you–an experience like no other. 

Must: Play Tejo in the Local Bars in Bogotá

Ah, the subtle art of throwing rocks at gunpowder. An interesting concept to us, is the country’s national sport. And all you need is some beer, gunpowder, and a strong arm. Tejo can be found throughout bars in Colombia, but companies such as Bogotá Pass can bring you to where the real locals go. The company offers travel experiences that are individually crafted to your liking. Luckily, I knew this was on my list and my guide took me to one of the best spots in the city (thankfully–as Bogotá is huge and has over 8 million people living there). He explained that the goal of the game is to throw your “tejo” (a steel rock-like-disc) inside the “bocin” (a metal ring). The bocin contains “mechas”, which are paper triangles filled with gunpowder. Basically, when you hit a mecha- BOOM.

I’ll admit, I was a bit hesitant at first. But, after my first thrilling hit and the explosion from the gunpowder went off, it was both amusing and gratifying. So, if you’re looking to discover Bogotá with local experts, Bogotá Pass has incredible ways to live out some of the best experiences in the city.


Latin America

9 Reasons You Need to Visit Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena, Colombia is known as the “Jewel of the Indies” and it’s easy to see why. This city is absolutely magical, with beautiful architecture, interesting history and culture, delicious food, and nearby Caribbean beaches.

Here are the top nine reasons you should visit Cartagena as soon as possible!

The History

History lovers will enjoy learning about the fascinating history of Cartagena. It was a bustling port during colonial times and because of this, was often attacked by pirates. The streets of the city were laid out in a confusing, maze-like way as a deterrent to pirates and other invaders who came into the city. There’s also an old fortifying wall encircling the Old City which you can now walk on.

The Food

Cartagena has amazing food options, especially awesome street food in the Old City and the hip neighborhood of Getsemaní. If you ever need to cool off from the hot, tropical climate of Cartagena, you can also find fresh fruit slices and fruit juices on almost every corner in the city.


The Culture

Cartagena has a unique blend of European, African, and indigenous cultures. One of the most unique cultures in Cartagena is that of the Palenque people. The Palenque formed the first freed slave settlement in the Americas about an hour outside of Cartagena. Now, Palenque women come into the city each day wearing their traditional, brightly-colored outfit to sell fruit.


The Beaches

While there are beaches in the Bocagrande neighborhood of Cartagena, they can be very crowded. The best beaches are located about an hour boat ride away from the city, in the Islas del Rosario. These islands are made up of secluded white-sand beaches and warm, crystal-clear waters.


The Photo Ops

Cartagena is a photographer’s dream. The city is extremely photogenic, from the colorful streets of the Old City to the unique murals and street art in Getsemaní. You could easily spend hours wandering around snapping photos of the bougainvillea-adorned balconies and brightly colored colors on every street.


The Hotels

If you’re looking for luxury, you can find it in the hotels of Cartagena. There are many upscale boutique hotels in the Old City, like the Casa San Agustin (pictured below) and the Hotel Bantú that are housed in reimagined colonial buildings. If you’re looking for more of a high-rise, Miami feel, you can find many luxury chain hotels in the Bocagrande neighborhood.


The Colorful Streets

The streets of Cartagena are some of the prettiest anywhere in South America. The city is very pedestrian-friendly, with many of the streets in the Old City blocked off to cars. Around every corner you will find gorgeous colonial buildings, brightly-colored houses with intricate doors, and bright, vibrant plazas.


The Music

Once the sun goes down, the squares of Cartagena’s Old City are filled with music. Street musicians and dancers will often congregate and perform. You can find everything from salsa to the Afro-Colombian folk dance champeta. There are a ton of salsa clubs around the city where you can watch the other dancers or even dance yourself!

The Magic

The literary genre known as “magical realism” originated in Colombia, and it’s easy to see why. Magical realism blends everyday and ordinary occurrences with the extraordinary and supernatural. It seems that everywhere you go in Cartagena, there is something strange and wonderful waiting around the corner!



Caribbean Guides Latin America

Insider Guide: Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena, Colombia is the vibrant walled city. Walking through the wide cobblestone streets of Cartagena, you will soon realize why this Spanish Colonial city was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The houses in the old city are painted in vibrant hues. The city is surrounded by defensive walls, built to keep out pirates. The walls have somehow captured an air of romance. The days are hot and humid yet the nights get even hotter as lively Latino music bursts through the squares. The heat is easy to escape due to Cartagena’s location on the Caribbean Sea and just as tempting to embrace with a cold Aguila beer by the city walls. As you hear the pitter-patter of horses hooves as a horse drawn carriage pull by, you realized that you have stepped back in time within the walls of Cartagena.

It isn’t necessarily about where you eat in Cartagena, it’s about what you eat. The main ingredient in all the food in Cartagena is coconut! There is coconut shavings and coconut water. Expect coconut in everything: in the rice, in deserts and even raw coconut. If you are crazy for coconut, this is the place for you.

The most authentic dish in Cartagena is fried red snapper with coconut rice and plantains. It looks intimidating; the bones and the eyeballs are still intact when the fish is served. It doesn’t look good but it tastes delicious. It is one of the freshest, most salty fish you will ever have. The best place to have this dish is in the Rosario Islands. Most of the Islands will serve snapper for lunch. (Substitutes for chicken are available at some locations). To get the full experience, have you snapper served to you at a table in the sea. Nothing beats eating seafood in the sea!

If you are looking for a snack, look no further than the streets. There are stands everywhere, selling everything from coconuts, fried food and fruit. Don’t pass up the fresh, exotic fruit. The fruit serves as a refreshing afternoon snack under the hot sun in Cartagena. The fried food on the other hand is a favorite for the late night crowd. Try the arepas filled with queso and the beef empanadas. These make for a great lunch or late night snack.

The best place to get a drink in Cartagena is at Cafe Del Mar located on the city wall. Here you can enjoy a glass of wine or a cold Aguila beer while watching the sunset over the Caribbean Sea. It’s a relaxing spot to unwind after a long day of exploring. Or you can have a few drinks at Cafe Del Mar before your night out.

To experience the nightlife in Cartagena take a chiva, a colorful wooden bus with on-board music. The chiva has a lively atmosphere and brings you all around the city. You can bring your own booze on the bus or you can buy some from the hawkers on the streets. They will come up to the chiva to sell you beer through the windows. After riding around for a while, the chiva will stop to let you out at the city wall. Here you can drink more, eat some empanadas and watch the street dancers. Lastly, the chiva will bring everyone to one of the many nightclubs in Cartagena where you can dance the night away.

Everywhere you look in Cartagena, there is someone selling something. You don’t even have to go inside a store to do your shopping. While walking the streets, keep your eyes peeled for canvas city painting and vibrant accessories. The top items to look for are patterned espadrilles and mochilas, hand-woven purses. The best spot to shop is Las Bovedas, a market under the wall in the old town. This market is open daily. If you are in Cartagena on Sunday, a market is set up outside Torre Del Reloj, the clock tower. Here you can find traditional clothing and souvenirs.

Take a horse-drawn carriage ride to get acquainted with the walled city. For 50,000 Colombian Pesos, the carriage will take you around Cartagena for 30 minutes. In that time you are able to see most of the walled city. It will bring you past the main sites of Cartagena, including the clock tower and the Heredia Theater. Taking a carriage ride through the cobblestone streets is a very fitting way to see the city that has been so well preserved in time.

Explore Castillo San Felipe De Barajas, a Spanish fortress strategically built on a hill to protect the land and the sea from attack. Be sure to arrive in the early morning to escape the crowds and the heat. The fortress includes intricate underground passages that you can walk through. The passages are dark and cool. Some are even so dark that you need a flashlight to navigate through them. Once you’ve seen the fortress from below, you have to see it from above. Take the steep steps up to the highest lookout point you can to get a better vantage point of the fort and Cartagena.

Spend a day in the Rosario Islands, an island chain off the coast of Cartagena. You can either rent a boat or take a ferry to the islands. Either option will allow you to swim in the warm, blue, Caribbean water. Renting a boat will allow you to island hop through the Rosario Island chain and to have access to swim in the coral reef. The second option is to take a ferry boat to a resort, such as Hotel Isla Del Sol. The resort excursion costs approximately 150,000 Colombian Pesos per person. This price includes hotel transfer, ferry ride, access to the resort and lunch.