Colorful and full of life, the city of Salento is the perfect backpacker retreat for those looking to get away from the hustling and bustling of big cities like Medellin or Bogotá.
Salento is situated amidst the Eje Cafetero (coffee region) of Colombia. Its colorful streets and laid back attitude are only the beginning. The numerous coffee farms in the area and the hiking opportunities provided by the Cocora Valley make Salento a mandatory stop for anyone really wanting to see the real Colombia.
Back in the day, the route between Cali and Bogotá used to pass by Salento, but this is no longer the case, and this in turn caused for Salento to not develop as quickly as neighboring cities in the region. Stepping into Salento is like stepping back in time. Somewhat “underdeveloped”, what Salento lacks in modern technology it more than makes up in charm.
Coming from the sleepy town of Tierradentro which had no internet, I had to pretty much guess how to get into Salento. Once at the Popayán bus station, I found out that the only ways to get into Salento are through:
- Armenia (if coming from the south): which has buses running every 30 minutes up until 8PM
- Pereira (if coming from the north): which has buses running every hour and a half to two hours up until 6:30PM
A Day in Salento
Salento is small…very small. I’m talking about 10 blocks X 9 blocks guys! But that doesn’t mean that there is not much to do inside the city.
The colorful streets are a photographer’s delight! I must have spent countless hours going around streets looking for that perfect shot! I still consider myself a beginner but the setting did help me get these beauts 🙂
This one street is what could be considered the main artery of Salento. Starting in the main plaza, Calle Real bursts countless bars, restaurants and souvenir shops which share the street with colorful houses to make one vibrant and lively “calle”.
Towards the end of Calle Real go up the numerous stairs (I lost count) to get to the Mirador Alto de la Cruz for a bird’s-eye view of Salento’s rooftops and its main artery.
Walk left and follow the path towards the Mirador del Cocora for an amazing view of the Cocora Valley.
Home to Colombia’s national symbol, the Colombian Wax Palm, the Cocora Valley is an excellent place to get your hiking fix. Less strenuous than its southern counterparts, the Cocora Valley hike is quite easy but yet filled with beautiful sceneries including lakes and bridges hanging by metal threads.
The wax palm trees, or giant-ass-trees like I called them, are well….enormous. Like a scene from a Jurassic Park movie, these trees are both eerie and magical at the same time, specially when seen through the clouds.
If walking is not your thing, horse rides are also available. These can be booked in town (there are people offering them, actually yelling “paseo a caballoooo!!!”), or at the entrance of the valley.
To get to the valley head to Salento’s main plaza where the jeeps are parked (in front BanColombia and the supermercado). The first jeep leaves at 7:30AM or as soon as it gets filled with 8 people, for a cost of about 4200 COP. Other jeeps also leave every couple of minutes all depending on whether there are enough passengers to fill them or not.
Go See a Coffee Plantation Farm
There are SEVERAL of these, all within a few kilometers from Salento. From Calle 5, cross the yellow bridge and keep walking…all fincas are on that road.
The road to the fincas is a little hike in itself, as some farms are about a 1 hour walking distance from the city. Downhill to go, uphill to come back.
I went to Finca Don Elias, a small organic coffee farm which does not use any chemicals or pesticides. We were shown the coffee plantations and the different methods to grow and preserve coffee, as well as how coffee is made, from the beans to the cup.
A bit of knowledge…did you know that coarse coffee is NOT stronger than mild coffee??? I know right???
It seems that coarse coffee only smells stronger due to the coffee beans spending more time on the fire, but that this process actually burns the caffeine off them. Mild coffee seems to be the one to drink if you want a good dose of caffeine.
Expresso lovers??? They’re getting screwed!!!
This has turned my professional live upside down, no wonder I wasn’t productive in my old 9-to-5 😉
Smaller than Salento, the sleepy town of Filandia is definitely deservant of a day trip. Filandia looks and feels like Salento but on a smaller scale. The main plaza is charming, surrounded by coffee shops and restaurants. Prices are lower than those in Salento which makes it an affordable day trip.
The town has 2 “miradores” (viewpoints), the Mirador de los Angeles which is at the end of Calle 7, and the better known La Colina Iluminada viewpoint. To get to the second “mirador”, follow Carrera 4 as if walking towards the cemetery (the viewpoint is right in front).
To get to Filandia from Salento, take the bus going to Armenia and ask the driver to drop you off at Las Flores (the stop is called this way as there is a flower shop on the road). Cross the highway towards the flower shop and wait for the bus that goes to Filandia (directions are on the front window of the bus).
Overstay Your Welcome
When I came into Salento, I only had the intention of staying for 4 days…it has now been 8 days with no end in sight. Salento is really what I, and many other travellers, have needed to recharge our batteries.
But that doesn’t mean we stay in, there are still plenty of activities to do within the city:
Play Tejo: The game consists of throwing a puck made out of metal or stone onto a board covered with clay. In the center of the clay there is a ring, and on top of the ring there are small cubes with gunpowder. The weight of the puck and the friction it causes on the metal ring makes the gunpowder explode. There is a point system to this game, so find yourself a partner to play with.
Air-gun shooting: Specially on weekends, it is not strange to see these guys in the middle of the road advertising air-gun dart shooting. The bulls-eye consists of many prices, from cookies to chocolates to price money.
Visit Bar Danubio: This little bar fills with locals during the day. Try your hand at a game of pool, or sit down for a cup of coffee or a beer while chitchatting with locals.
I have fallen in love with Salento, and I might never leave!!! The laid back attitude of this city combined with its beautiful corners have made this my favorite Colombian city so far. Have you ever visited a place which you found so hard to leave? Leave it in the comments 🙂