Salento is a magical place in Colombia and a welcome break from the bright city lights of Medellin, Bogota or Cali. Salento is a sleepy colonial town that draws in visitors for its charm, coffee tours and surrounding Valle del Cocora. Salento provides the space and fresh air needed to disconnect and hit the refresh button.
Time in Salento is spent drinking coffee, meandering through the mountains, lazing in a hammock or having a few beers with the locals whilst playing a game of Tejo. The main attractions include hiking or horse riding through the Valle del Cocora and taking part in a coffee tour around one of the many Salento Coffee Farms.
Salento is very well connected. With most of the buses you will have to go through Pereira (45 minutes away) or Armenia (50 minutes away). Onward travel from these two places include:
Bogota to Salento:
- To get from Bogota to Salento it takes around 9 hours with a change in Armenia.
- Look out for Expreso Palmira, Velotax and Fronteras buses leaving from Bogota.
Armenia to Salento:
- From Armenia to Salento you can catch a mini-van (walk through the main terminal and out towards the back). The journey takes 50 minutes and costs COL $4,500 (€1 / $1.50). Buses depart every 20 minutes.
Medellin to Salento:
- Getting from Medellin to Salento is super easy. Take a Flota Occidental bus which costs around COL $47,000 (€14 / $15) and takes 6 hours, leaving from Terminal del Sur in Medellin. They are really comfortable with Wi-Fi onboard (most of the time!)
Salento is small and easily accessible on foot. I highly advise taking a stroll around the cobbled streets and narrow alleyways. There are lots of colourful buildings as well as impressive architectural structures. Head to the main square for the best spot to people watch.
Many people visit Salento to explore the surrounding areas and the bright green valleys of the Valle del Cocora. To reach these, shared jeeps or ‘Willys’, leave the main square regularly
Alternatively, you could ride around the streets on horseback in true cowboy style.
The Valle del Cocora is the number one attraction of Salento and it is BEAUTIFUL. Head to the main square early (7am) to get a spot on one of the jeeps (Willys) and avoid the queues. The journey out to the valleys takes around 30 minutes. If it is dry and you’re not health and safety conscious, I highly recommend standing on the back of the jeep!
Cost for jeeps to the Valle del Cocora, one way: COL $5,000 (€1 / $2).
The jeep will drop you off at the entrance of the park where the walking begins. The Valle del Cocora hike is completely self guided and includes beautiful river crossings, cascading, a bird sanctuary (at an additional cost COL $6,000 (€2 / $3), bright green pastures dotted with Wax Palms Trees (the national tree of Colombia standing at over 6m tall) and cloud forests.
There are different routes you can do but the most popular is a 5 hour trek. If you don’t fancy a hike, grab a horse from town and head for the hills
Cost hiring a horse, per hour: COL $25,000 (€7 / $8) per hour
Go Travel and Talk top tips: Head to Brunch (see below) first thing and order one of their incredible takeaway lunches and take lots of water with you. Don’t forget to pack layers, at the higher elevations on the hike and at the bird sanctuary, it gets fairly chilly! It is also likely to rain in the afternoon, so start early and bring a poncho or your waterproofs! To avoid the crowds, grab one of the first jeeps at 7am.
Salento is known as the Zona Cafetera, the coffee region of Colombia, so it is only fitting to take a coffee tour and learn all you need to know about how to make darn good coffee.
After walking around the coffee plantation and learning about coffee bean farming, the tour ends with a lesson in how to brew your own Colombian coffee!
You can book tours through any Salento hostel ~ Go Travel and Talk recommend booking with The Plantation House and visiting Don Eduardos Coffee Farm ~ who also offer volunteering opportunities (see below). The coffee tours in Salento usually last for one hour
Cost for a coffee tour in Salento: COL $20,000 (€6 / $7)
Tejo is a traditional Colombian sport, played when drinking beer and it is well known in Salento! No one really knows the exact rules of the game, but in essence it involves throwing a metal puck (Tejo) to hit a small bag of gunpowder. If you manage to hit the pouch, a mini explosion goes off and you win some points...
This is an amazing way to make friends with the locals of Salento and immerse yourself in some Colombian culture. Best place to head to is to Los Amigos, a small and rustic bar a few streets from Plaza Bolivar.
El Mirador in Spanish describes a viewpoint, and there is little better than this one in Salento, offering stunning views of the surrounding nature and mystical skies. To get there you need to head away from the Plaza Bolivar in the centre of Salento and down Carrera 6. Straight in front of you are 238 yellow, green and blue steps which take you up to the viewpoint. A little bit of a work out, but worth it for the view of Salento and on a good day you can even see the town of Armenia!
If you don't fancy the walk, head to the main square and people watch. This is one of my favourite things to do when I discover a new place and Salento was no exception. A hive of activity, there are fruit vendors, tourist touts, locals sipping on cool beers and Cafe Tintos, children running around barefoot and cowboys riding out to nearby finacs (farms).
Horse riding in Salento:
The surrounding valleys of Salento offer the perfect landscape for horse riding. There are many different options in Salento, just head to the main plaza and ask around. Or you can book through your hostel. You can ride to the surrounding waterfalls, head to Valle de Cocora or take a shorter ride through town and nearby rivers.
Cost: Ranges from COL $25,000-45,000 (€7-12 / $8-15).
Mountain biking in Salento:
If you are looking to get your heart rate up a little further, rent some mountain bikes and head out of town. Book through your hostel for the best deals.
Cost: COL $40,000 (€12 / $13) for 4-5 hours.
Coffee Tree Boutique Hostel is located on the outskirts of Salento's main town, but still within easy walking distance from the central plaza. This Coffee Tree Boutique Hostel offers luxury at backpacker prices.
In the main lounge of the house there is one wall made completely of glass giving unbeatable views of the surrounding valleys of Salento. The dormitories of Coffee Tree Boutique Hostel are spotless and each bed has its own privacy curtain; the free breakfast is hailed as one of the best in Salento and the chilled out but social atmosphere is a big draw for backpackers.
Cost for a mixed 6 bed dormitory: COL $38,000 (€11 / $13) but book early, it gets full very quickly!
When you stay with El Viajero hostel you receive a 20% at their other hostels. Since I stayed with them in Cali, my best money saving option was to stay with them in Salento as well. Whilst El Viajero Salento is a great hostel, the beds are rock hard (as they are in Cali) making for a very uncomfortable nights sleep. But they have hammocks, a cool bar, good breakfast included and amazing view over the valleys of Salento. Perfect for when sipping on your morning coffee.
Cost for a mixed 6 bed dormitory: COL $38,000 (€11 / $13) but take 20% off if you qualify for the discount.
- Fried coconut dusted in sugar; arepas (plain or with cheese); golden fried chicken and of course empanadas. There are also solteritas, a small fried waffle with a cream filled centre made of lots of sugar, vanilla and cornflour!
- Trucha a la plancha (around COL $12,000 / €3 / $5) ~ fried trout with rice, beans, salad and plantain, and don’t forget to try patacones (fried plantain with guacamole and salsa and A LOT of cheese!)
- Head to Brunch ~ a cafe set up by an American expat who knows exactly what backpackers desire when they are on the road! They do unbeatable burgers which are PERFECT for a post hike meal. The portions are huge and the service is incredible.
- Or head down to Carrera 2 / Calle 6 in the evening where you will see a little dusty courtyard full of food trucks treating your taste buds to Mexican, Indian, Moroccan, Colombian and Lebanese delights! There is also a cocktail truck with the most insatiable mojitos!! Sit on one of the park benches under the night sky and enjoy!
- There are so many options in Salento: Brunch has many vegetarian dishes and a firm favourite on the backpacker map; Veggie Salento and Makao.
COFFEE in Salento!
- Coffee ~ what Salento is famous for! Don’t miss out on hunting down the perfect cup. I suggest starting with an espresso at Jesus Martin, an unassuming cafe half a block away from the main plaza ~ you won’t be disappointed.
Why not do something a little different with your time in Salento and volunteer with a traditional Colombian coffee Farm?
The volunteering will depend on the time of the year you visit, you may ending up picking or planting coffee or you may end up digging holes, painting or working on the trails. You need to be fit and have plenty of enthusiasm. It would certainly help if you had a basic understanding of Spanish - but don't let this stop you ~ The Plantation House also offers discounted Spanish lessons for volunteers of the coffee farm.
The Plantation House offers either an exchange of work for food or discounts their prices on accommodation for volunteers.
This is a unique and very special experience in Salento. There is a small cost for volunteers, but it is minimal. The package typically includes lunch, drinks and all necessary equipment (wellington boots, gloves, wet weather gear etc) and is only available from Monday to Friday and only for Plantation House guests.
Check it out ~ it is a great way to get under the skin of Salento and understand more about their history, culture and community.