Nestled in the lush green mountains of Colombia, Salento is a colourful little town filled to the brim with character. It is known for being the gateway to the tallest palm trees in the world in Cocora Valley, but the town offered for much more than that! We played our first game of tejo here (scroll down for an explanation), visited a coffee plantation, and experienced tons of good food and shopping while exploring the small town. This is a great place to find some unique, locally made souvenirs, and some lovely people. It’s simply a super fun place to spend a few days, with the added bonus of some outstanding views and hikes nearby!
How to Get There
To get to Salento, you first need to get to Armenia. It is more of a working town, though it is getting some more touristy restaurants and attractions. From the main bus terminal in Armenia, a mini bus costs 4200 COP and takes about an hour to get there. Walk through the terminal to the small buses on the east side, and walk along the sidewalk to the right. You’ll see signs for Filandia, the buses for Salento are just past there. They leave every 30 minutes, and will collect the fare about halfway to Salento. The buses do fill up, especially on weekends, so make sure to get there early if you’re on a tight schedule.
How to Get to Armenia: We got to Armenia from Ecuador, through Ipiales (the town you cross into on the Colombian side of the border). We couldn’t find an overnight bus direct to Armenia, but there was one to Calarca which is a 10 minute taxi ride from Armenia. Our bus driver was nice enough to drop us just outside of Armenia anyway, and we caught a taxi from there to the main bus station. We left at 8:30 pm and were dropped in Armenia at 10:30 am. The bus left about 30 minutes late, stopped in Pasto, Popayan (at 4:30 am), bypassed Cali, and stopped just outside Tulua for breakfast at 7:30 am (which lasted an hour!). We took Bolivariano bus company, and the trip cost 68,000 COP. The bus had great wifi, and outlets that worked and they had TVs with Spanish movies. It was super cold though so bundle up!
We also bussed from Armenia to Medellín. There are plenty of buses leaving from the main Armenia bus station, which is easy to get to by taxi or public bus. Once you’re at the terminal you want to head upstairs towards the east side of the building, and you’ll see a long hallway of bus companies advertising their destinations. Simply ask when their bus leaves for Medellín, and how much it costs. We were quoted between 35-45,000 COP, and chose Flota Occidental for 45,000 COP as it left the earliest. Beforehand, we were told there was only one bus that left at 7:00 pm, but there were tons of buses leaving all the time, some as late as 11:00 pm. We ended up in Medellín around 1:30am, so the trip took about 7 hours.
Where to Stay
- Hostal Peregrino – This small hostel provided us with an affordable and clean private room with a shared bathroom for 50,000 COP/night. The rooms all entered off the main lobby/hallway, and there was free coffee and a little kitchen in the main area. There was wifi in all the rooms, so it made for a great budget stay. Our only issue was that since the hostel was right next to the road, with only wooden window coverings, so we were woken up by traffic the next morning! There was also only one outlet in our room, which made charging electronics a little difficult.
- There is no shortage of colourful hostels in the area, but some of them can be quite expensive. A private double room in a hostel will run you anywhere from $15 – $30 USD/night. You can find lots of options online here.
What To Do
- Valle de Cocora (Cocora Valley) – Located twenty minutes out of the main town, this valley is filled with the iconic Quindio wax palm trees stretching up to 150 feet tall (the largest palm trees in the world!). A friend described it perfectly; the valley’s landscape looks like a Dr. Seuss book in the sunlight, and like Jurassic Park on foggy, cloudy day. We couldn’t agree more, and luckily we got to see the Dr. Seuss trees in the sunlight before, it rained and turned into Jurassic Park! To get to the valley, head into the main town square in Salento. There is a little hut surrounded by jeeps; simply tell the person inside you’d like to go to Cocora Valley and you’ll pay 3800 COP and get a ticket. Then it will be easy to find the right jeep or “Willy” as the drivers will be looking for people to take! A new Willy leaves approximately every 30 minutes and it takes about 20-30 minutes to get there. When you arrive in the valley, you’ll see the trees immediately. Walk toward them down the dirt road and eventually you’ll come to a fork in the path. You can head straight to simply visit the trees and hike up to a nice lookout (a mirador) over the valley, or you can turn right and down a path that takes you to a longer (up to five hour!) hike where you can also visit a hummingbird centre! There has been a debate about if you have to pay to enter; the answer is yes. It will cost 3000 COP for the shorter hike, or 2000 COP for the longer loop. We chose the shorter hike and stayed for about 3 hours total. We recommend bringing hiking shoes, water, snacks and a raincoat! Fair warning: the paths are incredibly muddy. Willys depart from where you were dropped off, and leave when full. There are a few smalls stalls/restaurants to grab some food where you get dropped off as well. Enjoy one of the most beautiful sights in Colombia!
- Visit a Coffee Plantation – Salento is in Colombia’s delicious coffee region, so if you’re a coffee lover like Devon, this is an awesome opportunity to visit a plantation. There are a few in the area, the most popular one being Finca El Ocaso. It sits 2 kilometres outside of the town. We would recommend taking a Willy to the plantation. Similar to getting to Cocora Valley, head to the main square where you can purchase your transportation AND your coffee tour of the plantation. It costs 15,000 COP (including 3000 COP transport each way) and you’ll receive a wristband for entrance. The tour is thorough, engaging and lasts about an hour and a half. At the end you get to sample some of their coffee! You can also buy coffee to take home as a souvenir. A Willy will take you back to the main town in regular intervals. Tour times can be found here.
- Mirador Alto de la Cruz – At the end of the main street (Carrera 6) you can climb up some stairs for a great view of the city! On the other side of the lookout you can see the lush valley.
- Shopping – The insanely colourful streets of Salento are not just there for cute pictures, but filled with amazing shops! There is everything from jewellery, to clothing to paintings and other hand made goods. Devon might have gone a little crazy while we were there! Spend an afternoon strolling the streets and grab some souvenirs for your family.
- Visit Filandia – This is a fun town to visit with delicious restaurants, a less touristy vibe and an awesome view. We did not get to go as getting to Filandia from Salento is actually harder than getting from Armenia to Filandia. We would have had to double back or pay a taxi driver a lot of money. However, we have heard that there are NOW willy’s (jeeps) that will take you back and forth the same way they take you to the Corcora Valley! Score! From research we found that the willy’s cost around 5,500 COP/person one way.
Where to Eat
- Stroll Down The Main Street – Our best advice is to find your own favourite spots by exploring. This town is filled with amazing local and international fare, and it’s a fun adventure to try things out. We stumbled upon a little Italian place called Piccola Italia that served personal pizza and TROUT ravioli! Apparently trout is a Salento specialty, and the ravioli was amazing. We also found a little candy shop for dessert and it was perfect and unique to our own experience. We encourage you to do that same!
- Brunch – If there’s one place you’ll be told to eat at in Salento by everyone, its Brunch. Located in the town proper, you definitely can’t miss this popular backpacker hangout. With MASSIVE portions, absolutely delicious burgers, and a signature peanut butter chocolate brownie, put this one on your list! Mains will run you about 9500-19,500 COP in this awesome restaurant.
El Rincon de Lucy – Great cheap set breakfast that includes eggs, ham, arepa, rice and coffee. Costs 6000/7000 COP.
- Café Jesús Martín – This adorable and colourful café makes for a great place to enjoy some delicious Colombian coffee!
- Beta Town – This restaurant doubles as a hostel and includes a large menu with lots of options (both local and western). The prices are high, so we recommend going only for their happy hour. From 3:00pm-7:00 pm drinks are 20% off and appetizers are 10% off and there’s free tejo (check out what tejo is below)! We weren’t too impressed, but on a busier night in high season, it might have a more fun vibe and give you a chance to meet other travellers.
- Limonada de Coco – This isn’t a place but rather a drink that you have to try! Its sweet, cold and perfect for a hot day. Buy it for 4000 COP at any one of the stands in the square and you can’t go wrong!
- Play Tejo – This is a popular game native to Colombia involving gunpowder and very often includes drinking. Yes, you heard that correctly. Backpackers and locals alike head to bars to play this throwing sport. The game is similar to horseshoes. Instead of throwing a horseshoe at a peg, you’re throwing a metal disk at triangle envelopes holding gunpowder, and you get points if you cause an explosion! There are multiple places in the town to head to. We were there on an off season night, so not all of the tejo places were open. We would recommend Cancha de Tejo Loz Amigos but you can also check out Beta Town. At Cancha de Tejo you can play for 2000 COP as long as you buy a drink (5000 COP for a beer, 12000 for a cocktail).