The small town of Salento is nestled in the middle of the Colombian Zona Cafetera. Only a few years ago, Salento was not a safe place to travel to. It was totally off the tourist grid, thanks to the guerrillas who had control over the whole region.
However, things have changed for the better in recent years. Like many other destinations in Colombia, Salento is now safe for travel. With tourists visiting from all over the country and from all around the world, Salento continues to grow in popularity.
It’s not hard to see why Salento has become so popular. It’s a quaint, colourful and stunning little town, so typical of what you would expect to find in Colombia.
Salento’s locals are super friendly and the surrounding scenery is as beautiful as the town itself. Of course, if you’re a coffee lover like us, there’s another reason to visit Salento. You can taste some of the best coffee in the country. After travelling for a while and having to drink many questionable coffees, we were certainly keen to try out Salento’s coffee!
Salento turned out to be our favourite place in Colombia and we wish we’d stayed longer than the four days we had there. There are plenty of things to do in Salento and you could easily spend a few days there or even a week.
Here are the best things to do in beautiful Salento:
This day hike is the highlight of any trip to Salento. You’ve probably seen pictures of those tall Wax Palm trees on your Instagram feed. Those Wax Palm trees stand 60 meters tall and are the tallest palm trees in the world.
The Cocora Valley is so picturesque that you’re bound to fall in love with it at first sight. There aren’t many places in the world that look beautiful in the rain but the Cocora Valley is stunning in any kind of weather. We started our hike in the sunshine and arrived at the Wax Palms valley in the rain and it was still picture perfect!
The start of this hike is a short drive out of town. You can jump on a shared Willy jeep in the town’s main square which will get you there within 30 minutes. You can read more about the hike here.
Whatever you do, don’t miss the Cocora Valley!
Explore Calle Real
Calle Real is the town’s main street and the most colourful street in Salento. There are some great restaurants on this street, along with many local artisan shops to do your souvenir shopping in.
But the best part is the opportunities for photographers. Visit the street early in the morning to avoid the crowds and then just click away. There are so many angles to shoot from; it’s a photographer’s paradise!
Climb up to the mirador
At the end of Calle Real are stairs leading up to the mirador (viewpoint); two hundred and fifty stairs to be exact. The climb is worth it because once at the top you’ll be treated to some stunning views over the town and the neighbouring valley. We happened to be there when there was a rainbow. Spectacular!
Visit a coffee plantation
Salento lies within a well-known coffee region, so you can’t go there and not visit a coffee farm. Not only will you taste some pretty delicious coffee but you’ll also learn how coffee is farmed and produced.
I have to admit to being addicted to coffee but even though I drink a lot of it, I didn’t know much about how it was grown or manufactured. I enjoyed finding out on the tour we took.
We visited the Finca El Ocaso which is about 5 kilometres out of the centre of town. You can catch a Willy jeep there or simply walk slowly and enjoy the countryside along the way.
During the tour, we walked around the plantation, picked some coffee cherries and planted some coffee seeds. Our guide explained how the coffee is processed after picking, including the washing, pulping, mucilage removal, fermentation, drying and roasting. Of course, we made a cup of coffee at the end. Nice!
The coffee tour costs 20,000 COP per person and includes the cup of coffee at the end. They also have a cafe where you can drink different types of coffee and enjoy some cafe-style food with a great view.
Tejo is Colombia’s national sport! It’s kind of a cross between the French Pétanque and a game of darts. Add in some explosives to the mix and you’ve got a super fun game!
The rules of Tejo are pretty simple. You have two teams. Both teams throw heavy metal objects (called Tejos) across the room at a circular clay base. On the clay, paper triangles filled with gun powder are placed around the bulls-eye.
If the Tejo hits a triangle at the correct angle, the triangle explodes! Whoever gets the closest to the bulls-eye scores more points and if a triangle explodes they get even more points. The first team to reach 21 points wins. Playing Tejo was so much fun! It’s even better with a beer in your hand!
Hire a bike and ride around the countryside
Take one of the organised bike tours that show you around the surrounding countryside and take you to a nearby waterfall. Alternatively, hire a bike and explore at your own pace. There are so many beautiful places to discover around Salento.
Try some trout
Trout is the most popular dish in town and you will find it in pretty much every restaurant in Salento. If you like to eat fish, be sure to try it. The trout is served up in different ways, fried, in soups, or as a garlicky dish. I even tried it as paté and it was delicious!
But if you are like Simon and don’t like fish, you can find many other meat options at most restaurants in town.
Relax with a coffee
That’s right, you can never have too much coffee! The best place in town for coffee lovers is “Cafe Jesus Martin”. It’s located just off the main square and they serve excellent coffees made by very good barristers. So get your coffee fix there.
Take a day trip to Filandia
If you have a spare half a day in Salento, hop on a Willy and head to Filandia. Filandia is another stunning little town that’s just a 40-minute drive from Salento. It is just as colourful and beautiful as Salento, if not more.
Once in Filandia, spend some time exploring its beautiful streets. Then, walk a short distance out of town to the mirador for some more beautiful views.
Make sure to book your Willy jeep ticket to Filandia first thing in the morning as they tend to fill up fast.
Where to stay in Salento?
We stayed in a small Hostal called Hospedaje El Buen Descanso. We loved it there. The rooms were nothing fancy but the owner was so friendly and helpful and the included breakfast was tasty. It changed daily from a traditional Colombian breakfast to eggs of your choice and bread. It is just 3 minutes walk to the main square, while still located in a quieter part of town.
Best on booking.com
Best location: The Corner House Hostel
Top rated: Real House Salento
Good value: Bosque de Niebla Hostel
Alternatively, if none of these are available or take your fancy, try using HotelsCombined to search across all of the major accommodation websites. We use it all the time.
How to get to Salento?
If you are heading to Salento from Bogota or Cali, you need to take a bus to Armenia first and then switch to another local bus to get to Salento. Both routes run frequently and you can book them on the day at the bus terminals.
If you are coming from Medellin, take a direct bus (with Flota Occidental) to Salento from Medellin’s southern bus terminal. As of mid-2019, this journey takes 8 -10 hours instead of 6 because of road works. Hopefully, this won’t last too long.