Salento is straight out of a Colombian fairytale – one with cowboys, enough freshly ground coffee to last a lifetime, and the tallest palm trees in the world. Walking through the sleepy streets of Salento will lead you past locals, up winding hills, through colourfully painted tiendas (stores) and leave you breathless (in all senses of the word at an altitude of approximately 1900 meters).
This countryside Colombian town gets under your skin; it just feels good – the mountain air, the aroma of fresh coffee grounds, and the stunning greenery create an unreal mirage of cows, coffee tastings, and colors you won’t find anywhere else. I only had a couple days to explore, but no matter how much time you have, start with these suggestions to begin digging into the magical layers of Salento…
Brunch is an American-run eatery known specifically for its homemade peanut butter, peanut butter brownies, and peanut butter milkshakes. This cozy, two room restaurant is open all day, and is the only place in town that has free coffee refills! This can be good or bad depending on your level of self control. I have none – so 7 cups of coffee later, I was ready to explore for hours on end.
Corcora Valley is a palm tree-filled hiking playground. Jeeps leave the main square of Salento (departing at 8:30, 9:30, and 11:30 am) and pack in as many as they can squeeze (usually around 12 people) for the 30-minute drive to the starting point of the hike. The trail winds through lush jungle, over old wooden bridges, through gooey mud, and leaves you gazing up at hundreds of wax palms (Colombia’s National Tree). Wax palms are the tallest species in the world, growing up to 60 meters in height.
You can take a 2km detour to the ‘hummingbird rest stop’ where you pay 5,000 COP (~2 USD) to watch humming birds, relax, and catch your breath by sipping hot chocolate with a side of a chunk of white cheese. It sounds so weird – but believe me after traversing through mud and terrain for 2 hours, there is nothing better than hot chocolate and cheese.
The entire hike takes around 4-6 hours depending on how fast you trek, how many palm tree pictures you take, and how much cheese and chocolate you consume. The hardest part of the trail is 30-minute uphill ascent post-cheese consumption. But, basking in the grass and gazing up at the sky-scraper like palm trees swaying in the wind is definitely worth it. For those not interested in hiking, you can opt to do the trail by horse back as well!
Being in the heart of Colombian Coffee country, Salento offers many different coffee tours. Signs for the Ocaso tour are lined throughout the town, but don’t let them fool you – it’s not just around the corner. It is more like an hour and a half walk from the main town, but a beautiful walk nonetheless. After walking downhill for seemingly ages, you will finally stumble across the bright entrance sign leading into coffee lover’s paradise. The Ocasa house is a beautifully painted with red and yellow shudders, and is nestled on a hill overlooking the steep hills covered in dark green coffee plants.
English tours run every hour and are extremely affordable at only 8,000 COP ($3.50 USD) for an hour tour and a complimentary cup of Colombian java. The tour guide explains the entire intricate process, the origin, and lets you pick your own coffee fruits with the beginnings of the bean inside.
Salento has an amazing array of hostels, and there are plenty of great ones to choose from. I stayed, and would absolutely recommend staying at La Serrana. If you don’t mind a 20 minute walk into town, and enjoy being nestled amongst some of the most lush and beautiful rolling hills on the planet, stay here. This hostel offers mixed dorms, privates, and serves dinner every night in it’s wine bottle-decorated, candlelit dining room. It feels more like a rustic hotel, with beautiful rich wood floors, and wine bottle infused lighting fixtures.
Price: 25-30,000 COP/ dorm bed ($15 USD)
80,000 COP/ private room ($40 USD)
Salento has a certain undeniable charm. This dreamy, coffee-filled, countryside town has something special. You can’t explain it, you have to just feel it – it makes you smile, rewind back in time, and allows you to appreciate the bliss in simply going for a walk, enjoying a cup of smooth Colombian coffee, or embracing the swaying sensation of a 20 storey palm tree. Time moves a little slower here, like a picturesque town frozen in time.
Have you ever been to Salento? If you have, what was your favorite part of the trip and would you return?!