The colourful town of Salento is a must on every Colombia itinerary. Find out where to stay, where to eat and the best things to do in Salento as well as all my top tips!
Salento is the place to come for coffee, palm trees…and probably more coffee. Its location in the heart of Colombia’s well-known coffee triangle means that this is one of the best places to explore, sip and buy some of the best coffee this region has to offer.
Coffee isn’t however the only thing to do in Salento. Also famed for its main street – Calle Real- with colourful doorways and balconies, local trout dishes and seriously beautiful countryside, Salento is one of those places you could get lost in for weeks or take it all in in a day if you are pushed for time.
Keep reading to plan your perfect trip to Colombia’s coffee heart.
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THE BEST TIME TO VISIT
Salento and this part of Colombia is an all year round destination with temperatures staying pretty much constant all year round with highs of 25°C/77°F and nightly lows of 11°C/50°F. The best time to visit really depends on the levels of rainfall that vary throughout the year.
Salento is generally a rainy place and both times I visited we got rained on quite a bit. The driest months are December and January. The wettest months are April and May and then October and November. These months also coincide with rainy seasons all over Colombia so it’s generally better to visit outside of those months.
Note that Colombians take their vacations in January so you might want to avoid this time along with Christmas, New Year and Holy Week, right before Easter when things get really busy not just here but around the whole country.
Finally, try not to visit Salento on a weekend if you can. It’s generally a super popular place for locals living in the surrounding cities of Pereira and Armenia and things can be pretty busy during the weekends. It’s much more enjoyable to come on a weekday.
HOW TO GET TO SALENTO
Car– If you’ve rented a car to drive around the surrounding area, getting to Salento from you’re starting point is pretty straight forward providing you aren’t coming from too far away. From Armenia and Pereira, it’s an easy drive to Salento along the highway first and then on the winding round through the valley to Salento.
If you’re coming from Medellin to Salento it will take at least 6 hours. When we did this trip in March 2022 most of the major highway from Medellin south to Pereira was being built so expect big holdups. Allow the whole day to drive from Medellin.
The drive from Bogota to Salento takes about 6 hours too and while this highway is finished there are many tunnels to pass through.
Bus- Salento can be reached directly by bus from Armenia and Pereira’s bus terminals. There are quite a few departures per day and the trip takes just over an hour.
There are also direct buses from Medellin’s main terminal but from Bogota, you’ll need to get the bus to Armenia and change for a local one to Salento. From Medellin and Bogota expect the journey to take over 6 hours- oftentimes the journey is much longer than what the bus companies expect due to things like landslides, congestion and accidents.
Fly- If you prefer to fly into this area, you can fly into Pereira or Armenia- Pereira has the bigger airport of the two therefore more destinations and onward flight options.
From the airport you can take a taxi to the bus terminal and continue by bus to Salento or you can also take a private taxi all the way to Salento but this would be quite costly.
WHERE TO STAY IN SALENTO
There are two areas you can choose in Salento and the ultimate question is whether to stay in town or just outside town, in the countryside. There are pros and cons to both. Staying in town means that you’re within walking distance to all restaurants, cafes and services, including the Jeep taxis you can catch from the main square to go to places like Cocora or Filandia.
If you decide to stay in the countryside you’ll most probably have access to incredible views of the beautiful region, peace and quiet and privacy. As the town is small you can also find a few gems on the edge of town that have the best of both worlds.
Hotel Kawa Mountain Retreat
A beautiful wooden mountain retreat surrounded by countryside and rolling green hills. It’s the kind of place you make a cup of coffee, wrap yourself in a blanket and relax on the terrace as the sun comes up every morning. The rooms here are well-lit, clean and colorful. The hotel also has a great restaurant on-site and a hot tub for those cooler evenings.
Another great option in the countryside surrounding Salento is this beautiful, eco-conscious rustic hotel that is great for nature lovers. Rent their private cottage in the jungle and relax amongst the gardens, birds and sounds of nature or opt for the suite with bath spa where you can spend the evening soaking in the tub looking up at the stars. It’s located off the main highway before getting to Salento. It’s easier to get in and out of town if you have a car.
Coffee Tree Boutique Hostel
If you’re looking for a great option in town, this is one of the best hostels located on the edge of Salento. With amazing views of the county-side and just a short walk away from the centre of Salento, this place has the best of both worlds.
With dorms and rustic- lux privates, a great living area to meet other travellers and plenty of garden space to enjoy, this is a great pick for your time in Salento. I stayed here when I first visited Salento in 2017 and had a wonderful stay.
WHERE TO EAT IN SALENTO
Coco Bowl – A great healthy option for plant-based eaters, this little cafe at the base of the stairs to the main viewpoint is full of great dishes like açai bowls, buddha bowls, and tofu banh mi sandwiches as well as drinks like coconut lemonade and fresh juices and smoothies. This was one of our favourite eats in Salento.
Cumana Bistro food – Great Venezuelan food a block or two from Calle Real. Make sure to check before going as they seem to just be open towards the later part of the week.
Donde Laurita – A uniquely decorated and adored restaurant, this is one of Salento’s most popular restaurants specialising in Colombian classics. It’s here you can try giant patacones, bandeja paisa and the Salento speciality- trout. While the menu doesn’t seem very veggie-friendly, they can do a veggie/vegan bandeja paisa and a veggie patacon– just ask inside.
El Cacharito – If you’re craving a rest from Colombia food then this is the best burger place in town. They have several burger options including a healthy lentil one as well as a falafel wrap which is also vegan.
Serendipia Veggie Food – Another great fully vegetarian option right on Calle Real, this is a great evening spot for a few entrees to share with friends or a warming bowl of soup on a chilly or rainy evening.
TOP THINGS TO DO IN SALENTO COLOMBIA
Hike the Cocora Valley
The stunning, palm-filled Cocora Valley is on everyone’s Salento and Colombia bucket list. Hiking around this valley is one of the best ways to get to know the surrounding countryside and the endemic wax palm- Colombia’s national tree- which can grow to heights of 60m/200ft.
Arriving at the Cocora Valley you’ll need to pay an entrance fee of about 5,000 COP each before following the path to the trek. There will be two paths in front of you, you can opt for the stair path to take you straight up to the first viewpoint or you can take the path that goes around. I highly recommend this way, as even though it’s longer, you’ll walk through a magnificent area of wax palms the other stair route misses.
Keep hiking the path and you’ll get to viewpoint 1 and later viewpoint 2, which is the highlight of the trek in my opinion. From here you can continue to the farmhouse at the top and the Hummingbird Reserve.
In theory, this trail is in fact a loop trail, you can loop and come back around the other side of the valley. This was closed however due to landslides when we did it so visitors could only go up and come back down the same way.
Make sure to keep your eye out for wildlife, especially if you arrive early in the morning. We saw so many amazing birds species and animals in this area. Have your eye out for the yellow eared parrot in particular as it’s endemic to this area as it lives in the wax palms.
To get to the Cocora Valley you can drive if you have a car, and the road is in good condition. Alternatively, the easiest way is to get on a Jeep ‘Willy’ on the main square. Tickets cost 4,000 COP per person return. The first Jeep leaves at 6.30 am and they go every hour after that. I recommend going as early as you can.
Visit the Carbonera Valley
You won’t find much information about the Carbonera Valley and that’s because it’s a well-coveted secret spot that makes a brilliant alternative to the Cocora Valley.
You will find no tours to the Carbonera Valley and you won’t see it on any blogs or being talked about by locals. It’s a heavily guarded secret because locals want to keep this treasure away from mass tourism. The Carbonera Valley is located just south of the Cocora Valley, almost right outside Salento and what makes it so special is the sheer amount of wax palm forest.
Let’s be honest, the Cocora Valley is great but there really aren’t that many trees- definitely not dense forests. It’s in the Carbonera Valley that you can see real palm forests, so many species of birds and animals and pretty much ZERO other people.
To visit the Carbonera Valley you’ll need to hire a private 4×4 and a driver/guide unless you have your own. You’ll also need a full day to be able to experience the whole valley well. To organise this head to the Jeep Willy’s ticket office on the main square and ask there. We got quoted 280,000 COP for the Jeep and driver for the day. It’s not a budget option, compared with the Cocora Valley but it really is worth it.
Take a trip to Filandia
Filandia is another lovely town, similar to Salento with a less crowded and more authentic feel. In terms of day trips outside town, it’s one of the best things to do in Salento. Located a 40-minute drive from Salento, taking a trip to Filandia is a great alternative experience for half the day.
In Filandia, you can walk around and explore the town, pop into the shops and boutiques, and have a coffee and lunch before coming back. There are also many coffee fincas located around Filandia that are open for tours.
If you’re in Salento on a holiday or a weekend and feel like it’s a bit too much, Filandia is a great alternative.
To get there you can take a Jeep Willy from the main square. Jeeps leave every hour.
Sample the Coffee
Coffee is the reason many travellers end up in Salento and Quindio- one of the hearts of coffee production in Colombia. Known as the zona cafetera these areas produce some of Colombia’s best coffee and if you’re a huge fan there is so much to learn and so many cups of coffee to be drunk in Salento.
There are two main places and ways to sample the region’s coffee, either through drinking cup after cup in cafes in town or by visiting the fincas or coffee farms around Salento.
The coffee shops are a great place to start. You’ll be able to get a cup of coffee almost anywhere in Salento but our favourites include industrial-chic Concreto on the Main Street and the more traditional Cafe Jesus Martin. They have some of the best coffee in town and they source their beans locally.
Other coffee shops to note are Finca Ocaso’s coffee shop right on the main plaza and Andariego! on the southeast corner of the main square both of which are also excellent.
Another way to sample the region’s coffee and to learn about its production is to visit and tour a coffee farm or finca. More on that later.
Have a Game of Tejo
With indigenous roots and vibrant history, Tejo, is one of the best and most unique games you’ll find anywhere in the world and definitely one of the best things to do in Salento.
The sport involves throwing a metal disk called a ‘tejo’ twenty or so meters into a ‘cancha’ or pitch made from mud/clay. The aim of the game is that your disk comes into contact with a ring in the mud that’s loaded with gunpowder. When you’ve thrown well, you see an explosion and potentially be jolted by a very loud bang.
One of the best places in Salento to to play Tejo is Los Amigos bar. Here you’ll need to buy and pay for a beer before paying a small supplementary charge to play the game. Certainly one of the best nights out we had in a while.
Climb up to the Mirador
After walking around Salento town for a while, you’ll soon notice the hill at the northeastern end and the stairs leading up to its summit at the end of Calle Real. Not only does the mirador provide great views of the town it’s also a nice way to get your bearings if you’ve just arrived.
It’s only a short walk to the top up a few flights of stairs. Once there you’ll get a magnificent almost- 360 view of Salento town and the surrounding countryside. From here you can see the main church spires and most of the town. If you walk to the other side you’ll see the rolling hills of the Quindío countryside covered in thriving coffee plantations.
Make sure not to come down the stairs the way you came up. At the top you’ll see a path that winds down towards the right of the stairs- take that past a few cafes and you’ll arrive at another amazing viewpoint for a stunning view of the backside of the mountain towards the Cocora Valley.
Go Boutique Shopping
Salento is a great place to buy arts, crafts and souvenirs so if you’re thinking about picking up gifts for friends and family back home, this is a great place to do your shopping.
Along Main Street or Calle Real and beyond you’ll find a number of great little boutiques selling local bags, clothes and accessories as well as coffee and other sweets. You’ll also be able to find quite a bit of jewelry. The best way to go about shopping in Salento is just walking around and popping into the boutiques that take your fancy.
The best way to explore and get to know the small town is just to walk around- it really is one of the best things to do in Salento. This way you’ll find so many amazing restaurants, cafes, boutiques and friendly locals to chat to.
While you should definitely walk down the Main Street (Calle Real) make sure to also explore further than that. There are many gems to be found on the vertical streets that run adjacent to the main street, around the main square ( Plaza Bolivar) and even on the outskirts of town.
Salento is small and can easily be walked in its entirety but be warned however, Salento is really hilly so get your legs ready for quite a bit of a workout.
If you love horses and horseriding, Salento is a brilliant place to go on a horseriding tour. Horses here are generally well-kept and well-looked after, or the ones we saw were anyway and the surrounding countryside is perfect for a ride.
Horseriding tours normally last for a few hours where you’ll follow your guide through coffee plantations, valleys and down unpaved country roads. You’ll be able to get to know the local countryside more and experience it in the same way Colombians did here hundreds of years ago.
It’s also possible to go horse backing riding in the Cocora Valley too. Actually, it’s the most beautiful place for it.
Go on a Coffee Tour or Visit a Finca
Coffee tours are one of the best things to do in Salento and a great way to sample as well as get to know more about the local coffee. A coffee tour in Salento means visiting a finca– a traditional country house and getting a guided tour around the coffee farm’s facilities and production areas.
On the tour you learn about how coffee is grown and harvested and about all the different steps the beans go through to make the everyday beverage we know so well. A knowledgeable guide will take you around and you can ask any questions you wish. Normally at the end of the tour, you’ll have a chance to taste the finca’s coffee. Some fincas also have a beautiful property you can relax at or even their own onsite cafe to sample some more exquisite brews.
The quality of coffee tours and fincas vary around Salento so make sure to get recommendations or read up about the best ones to visit. We decided to visit Finca El Ocaso, which was a short but bumpy ride away from town (you can also get there by Willy Jeeps or walk). The tour was really comprehensive and we learned a lot. Their cafe is also a beautiful spot to enjoy a delicious cup of coffee and take in the incredible views.
Stay at a Finca
Many of the coffee fincas around Salento also have their own charming, traditional Colombian accommodation. If you’re planning to do a coffee tour and you’d like to stay the night on a traditional farm with incredible countryside views then this is definitely something to look into.
As the fincas are normally quite a distance outside Salento, I wouldn’t recommend spending your entire stay there but splitting your time between town and a finca is a great idea, especially if you’re more inclined to spend time in nature.
Day trip to the Santa Rosa de Cabal Hot Springs
If you have a rental car and you’d like to do a bit more exploring outside the Salento area, then the Santa Rosa de Cabal hot springs are the perfect day/half-day trip.
Located deep in the rolling hills just outside of the town of Santa Rosa de Cabal and backed by the beautiful Santa Helena waterfall, the hot springs take advantage of the natural thermal waters in the area to create a space for people to soak in its mineral-rich water and relax. A visit here is a must if you’re looking for somewhere to rest and relax for the day.
The hot springs are located in one of the most beautiful and privileged locations and Colombia and this place might just be the most beautiful hot spring I’ve been to.
Santa Rosa de Cabal hot springs are located a two-hour drive north of Salento. You could try to go by public transport but you’ll most probably have to change buses in Pereira and it would take considerably longer.
Read the full Termales de Santa Rosa de Cabal Travel Guide here
What great things to do in Salento will you be adding to your itinerary? Let me know your questions and comments below, I’d love to hear from you.
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