Salento, Colombia: Your Complete Travel guide
March 18, 2018
Salento, Colombia is a tiny town nestled in the central Department of Quindio. The quality coffee made there and the beautiful Cocora Valley draws tourists to this somewhat remote location.
However, this hasn’t always been the case. Only a few years ago Salento, Colombia wasn’t even a safe area for Colombians to visit. Guerrilla groups had control over this region of Colombia which prevented any sort of tourist activity in or around Salento.
But now, Salento, Colombia is one of Colombia’s fastest growing tourist destinations. I went to check it out for myself, and I loved it there! The rolling green hills, quaint and colorful town, along with some of the friendliest people I have ever met made my visit fantastic.
I loved Salento so much that I want to encourage others to visit there as well! So, here I have written a travel guide of everything you could possibly need to know when planning to visit Salento in Colombia.
A little bit About Salento, Colombia (and why you should go!)
Salento. Colombia is truly a beautiful town, and that is mostly due to the fact that it has retained its historical charm. Many neighboring cities were destroyed and rebuilt as the main highway from the border of Ecuador through Cali on the way to Bogota was built. Salento remained off of the road, somewhat isolated, and therefore was untouched.
What does that mean for tourists now?
Well, tourists love Salento for its “back in the day” original charm and the peacefulness that seems to come with it. This relaxed vibe is not one that is not often found in Colombia and therefore Colombians love to visit Salento as tourists themselves!
Salento is often very busy on the weekends as many Colombians visit for a short holiday which can contradict some of Salento’s “peaceful” characteristics. For me though, this was a great added bonus for my visit. Colombians (especially when they are on holidays) sure like to have a good time. They are also very friendly, so expect to have a few laughs with them around town. If you do happen to be in town for a weekend, consider making the most of it and stop in at one of the pubs for a beer on a Friday or Saturday night or visit Los Amigos bar and play the locals favorite game of Tejo.
So besides historical looking buildings and friendly Colombia tourists, what else can you expect in Salento, Colombia?
Expect a small quaint town. And when I say small, I mean everything is walking distance. There is one main plaza where street markets set up and then some more touristic streets just off of it. There are endless cafes with amazing treats as well as boutique shops selling all sorts of souvenirs and arts and crafts.
I have yet to meet somebody who didn’t like Salento, Colombia.
Getting to and from Salento, Colombia
So now that you’ve decided to make the journey to Salento, how much of a journey is it really?
If you’ve traveled at all in Colombia you would know that Colombia is a big country. Luckily, the roads generally aren’t too bad and buses can be quite comfy.
Armenia to Salento
The first thing to note for getting to and from Salento is that you will almost always have to transfer buses in Armenia (unless you take the shuttle to/from Medellin, read below for details.)
Armenia is the capital city of the department and sits 24km from Salento. Don’t let the short distance fool you, the 24 km is a very bumpy and windy road which generally takes about an hour and costs $4,000 COP (about $1.50 USD.)
Buses between Armenia and Salento run very regularly until about 9pm each night. Just go to the bus station and there will be a bus departing within the next hour or so.
The bus station in Armenia is called “Terminal de Transportes de Armenia.”
The bus station in Salento is the only one and it is located at the end of Calle 5.
Both bus stations are clearly marked on the map on the App MAPS.ME.
Medellin to/from Salento
This is the only route in which there is a shuttle bus direct from Salento, Colombia. It is a mini-van style bus that operates a couple of times a day. There is no overnight shuttle. The company who runs this bus is called Flota Occidental. You can book the bus ticket and find all of the available times on Flota Occidental’s website here.
All Other Cities to/from Salento
Like I mentioned above you will have to go to Armenia first. The best way to find buses to Armenia from wherever you currently are is to use busbud.com.
I frequently use Bus Bud, not necessarily to buy the bus tickets, but to know what companies leave when, how much tickets cost, and how many seats are available. The only time I buy a ticket on their website directly is if I need a specific bus and the seats seem to be filling quickly.
Bus Bud is great because of a couple of reasons. The first is that it is in English and a Canadian company, so if you have any problems you can speak to someone in English on their helpline or via email.
Also, it shows real-time seats available. You search the route and date you want, select a bus as if you were purchasing and before you enter card information there is an option to choose your seat.Here you can see the bus layout and which seats are already booked!
There are frequent buses from all big cities in Colombia to Armenia.
Where to Stay in Salento, Colombia
There are two options for choosing where to stay in Salento. You can either stay right in town or stay on the outskirts of town.
Although some of the accommodations outside of town look amazing and so relaxing I always tend to stay away from these as it can be a hassle to buy food or go to the grocery town. Some of the best-looking accommodation in Salento are several kilometers from town, so unless you have a car or the patience to hitchhike everytime you want to go to town, this could be a bit of an annoyance.
However, staying in town will be more costly and can be quite loud. In addition, there won’t be any beautiful views or peace and quiet (the roosters all around town are extremely loud!)
The best option I can recommend is a hostel called El Viajero. It is about a five-minute walk from town but also is secluded enough that it feels relaxing. They have a beautiful view and offer activities such as yoga!
What to Do in Salento, Colombia
There are quite a few different activities to pass the time in Salento. Here I have details on some of the most popular, as well as a couple of different ideas to keep you busy!
Check out the Valle de Cocora
When I was in Salento I almost didn’t go to the Valle de Cocora. Why? Because so many others I spoke to didn’t go and I thought that if everyone was skipping it maybe I should too.
Luckily we met this lovely couple one day at a coffee farm who told us that we just had to go! They showed us some pictures and it was enough for us to agree on making the trip the following day.
What is the Valle de Cocora?
The Valle de Cocora is a beautiful valley full of the famous Wax Palms. A visit here could be a short walk in the fields to view the Wax Palms, a horse ride along some trails, or a circuit hike up the hill to a viewpoint.
Getting to the Valle de Cocora from Salento
It is very easy to get to the Valle de Cocora from Salento. Every day at the central plaza several different jeep-style 4 wheel drives wait to drive tourists to the Valle de Cocora.
The jeeps wait until they are full and then make the 30 minute trip to the entrance of the Valle de Cocora. They charge about 4,000 COP per person.
Be aware, the jeeps allow a certain amount of people in them, which is always more than the seats. They expect 1-2 people to stand on the back bumper and hold on! While this does sound more adventurous, I do question the safety and friends of mine who did it said their arms were sore from holding on by the time they arrived.
If you go to get into a jeep and there are no seats and you want to sit, refuse that jeep and the driver will try and shuffle everyone around to fit you or you can wait a couple of minutes at most for the next ride.
The same is true for the way back. Where the jeep dropped you off is where they all wait. Jump in one that is nearly full and you’ll be dropped off back at the central Plaza.
Hiking the Valle de Cocora
The most popular thing to do at the Valle de Cocora is a circuit hike. While you can visit and just do a short stroll, there is a hike through the forest and then back down through the valley giving some really pretty views.
Do beware though, the hike isn’t just a little walk, it is actually a real hike that will take about 2 hours and can be extremely steep in parts. There is said to be a longer hike as well that takes up to 6 hours, but I didn’t find this one. The paths are not marked so ask for a drawn map at your hostel before making the trip.
It is also not marked very well. I got lost at one point and ended up having to jump a couple of fences to get back on a trail. My sister did the hike as well after me and found that she also got lost. While it sounds intimidating getting “lost” everyone gets their way back on the trail eventually. It all makes for the adventure.
Go on a Coffee Tour
Salento, Colombia is a world famous coffee region. Although not one of the larger producers or coffee, it is said that some of the highest quality beans come from this region.
If you want to see various coffee farms and learn the most, it is best to book a full day tour.
For more information or to book a tour, click here.
Choose a Coffe Tour
There are several different places around Salento that offer coffee tours. Some companies are large and offer regularly scheduled tours of the coffee plantation, while some are small family run farms who d a tour on the spot for visitors who arrive.
In addition to deciding if you want a larger or smaller coffee plantation tour, it is important to take note of the location of your chosen coffee plantation. Taxis can be costly in Salento so choosing a plantation within walking distance is important, but that being said, you also want a plantation that is remote enough that it is a true operating plantation and not just a tourist trap.
Prices for tours range according to the plantation and what is included.
We personally did a tour at Las Acacias for 8,000 COP per person and it was great. It was about forty minutes long. It was one of the shorter tours, which was fine for us as we didn’t want anything too in-depth. The Las Acacias tour also included a coffee at the end which was a nice bonus!)
If you are a real coffee lover and want more information than you should possibly consider a longer tour such as the one offered at “Plantation House Hostel.” The tour runs for three hours and costs 30,000 COP per person. Times vary day to day so much contact them in order to book a tour in English.
Getting to the coffee farms
We walked to Las Acacias from town and it took about one hour. Just get on Carrera 5 and head out of town. Along this road, there are many different coffee farms and beautiful viewpoints. Although you can tax a taxi to any of the coffee farms, I would recommend walking as it was really beautiful.
Some coffee farms are just on the edge of town, such as the Plantation House Hostel. These are very easy to access on foot.
What are the coffee tours like in Salento, Colombia?
I only went on one tour so I can’t speak for them all, but I can tell you how mine went.
We started by wandering the coffee fields. Our guide explained to us about the ideal growing conditions in Salento which makes the beans of such a high quality. He showed us the different stages of a coffee plant and when to pick the beans. We were then able to pick some ourselves.
We were guided around the whole farm seeing all of the animals and pets the family had. Las Acacias was definitely a smaller family run business.
At the end we were shown the beans drying out and how they divide them all up by quality. Certain colored beans are of higher quality than others. The high-quality beans are sent overseas to where people will pay more money for good coffee, some of these countries include the United States, England, Australia, Canada, and more. The beans of a lower quality are kept in Colombia where they are roasted sold.
It was interesting to learn that all of the best coffee beans are exported. I found the coffee in Colombia to be alright, but not the absolute best, which would make sense as they use the lower quality beans!
Other ideas of things to do in Salento, Colombia
- Go on a horseback riding tour! Many companies offer the chance to ride through the beautiful surrounding landscapes of Salento for a couple of hours.
- Go to the Food Trucks one evening. Food Trucks are becoming a popular trend all over the world, and in Salento, it is no different. The food trucks are open each evening and are located on the corner of Calle 6 and Carrera 2.
- Play Tejo at Los Amigos Bar. Tejo is a very popular game among locals in Colombia. It’s not hard, it is a game kind of like bowling except you throw a ball with gunpowder which makes a sort of little explosion when you hit the target.
- Eat the traditional river trout dish. Most restaurants around the main plaza offer trout as their specialty. The trout comes from the river near Salento and is delicious!
- Hike to the viewpoint on the edge of town. There are many stairs but it is not a long hike. If you follow the tourist street of Carrera 5 out of town you’ll find the stairs.
Where to go next
After visiting Salento, Colombia there are many other options for great places to explore! Some you might want to consider are:
- Santa Marta
- Tayrona National Park
- San Andres Island
- San Gil
I hope this guide has been helpful in planning your trip to Salento, Colombia!
If Salento, Colombia sounds like a place you would like to travel let us know in the comments below!