Salento, a vibrant town in the heart of Colombia’s coffee region
For those visiting both Medellín and Bogotá, a stop-over in Salento, Colombia’s coffee region gem, between them is a must. Deep in Quindío, Salento is a small town that has managed to maintain its misty mountain charm. Two of the most popular (and famous!) things to do in Salento are to hike the Cocora Valley to the world’s tallest wax palm trees, and to take a Salento coffee tour at one of the many working fincas that are scattered all around the pueblo. Much more on these later!
Instead of taxis, Salento is run by Jeeps called Willies. They fit 6-8 people sat inside, with 2-3 standing outside holding onto the back. The main square (Plaza de Bolivar) is where you can always pick up a Willy, so try and get accommodation close.
We’ve visited Salento three times so far; in April 2018, March 2019 and August 2019. The increase in tourism during that time is really noticeable (reports say up to 300% in a year), though it still hasn’t lost its appeal. This rise in interest has brought with it much better organisation and infrastructure for things like the Cocora Valley hike, but also longer queues for getting willy rides, etc.
Check out the highlights of our second visit here:
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How to get to Salento, Quindio
Bogotá to Salento
There is not yet a direct bus from Bogotá to Salento, but you can get a bus to the nearby towns of Armenia or Pereira and change. We recommend travelling from Bogotá to Salento by bus overnight as you don’t want to arrive in Salento too late should there be delays (top tip: there will be). You can then pick up the 45-minute minibus to Salento from Armenia’s main square for 4,500 pesos (last bus at 8pm) or get a taxi for around 85,000 pesos.
If changing at Pereira, head to the bus terminal and pick up one of the direct 90-minute buses to Salento for 6,500 pesos. Note that while these are hourly until 5:30pm on weekends, on weekdays the direct bus from Periera to Salento only leaves at 6:50am, 1:30pm and 4:30pm.
Medellín to Salento
There are 7-hour direct buses available from Medellín to Salento with Flota Occidental for 47,000 pesos, which leave from the Terminal del Sur a few times a day, but depending on time and availability you may have to get a bus to Armenia or Pereira and change. If that’s the case, follow the instructions in the above Bogotá to Salento section!
Taking a bus to Salento vs. flying
No matter how long the bus companies say a journey will take, expect major delays on the bus routes, mainly because there are so few roads between the regions that it’s likely you’ll end up trawling behind a freight lorry up a mountain for an hour or two… or six. Bus drivers are notorious on this route for getting peed off at slower vehicles and overtaking them on blind mountain corners. Lozzy’s dad almost soiled himself sitting on the front row of the bus with full view of the drivers’ poor decisions. Suddenly, hiring a horse and navigating the Andes yourself doesn’t seem like all such a stupid idea!
If this doesn’t sound all too appealing, you can fly into the nearby towns of Pereira or Armenia and get a bus or taxi from there. You can also arrange private transfers, like this one from Pereira Airport. Luckily, flights in Colombia are mega cheap!
When leaving the coffee region, note that bus times are pretty rubbish from Salento, and the bus terminal is only open a few sporadic hours a day, so make sure you arrange outward travel at least the day before.
What to do in Salento
Salento coffee tours
One of the main things that attracts tourists to this area is the coffee farms (fincas). There are many fincas offering tours; we have so far visited three: Finca Momota, Finca Las Acasias and Finca El Ocaso. Here are our reviews of the three Salento coffee tours:
Salento coffee tour at Finca Momota
Finca Momota was newly opened when we took its coffee tour in April 2018. It’s run by a Spanish couple who spend their lives living out their passion for permaculture; after such adventures as Christmas-tree-farming in New York, this coffee farm in Salento is their latest long-term project. They bought the finca off a family that was no longer able to maintain the coffee farm (a fairly typical story of younger generations moving to the city to find better work and older generations not being able to physically till the land).
It isn’t too far out from town (20-25 minute walk from the main square in the centre, however, it can be a little hard to find, so make sure you get instructions on how to find it from them when you reserve a place. We chose to get a Willy from the main plaza to the end of the drivable roads, then walk the last 300m or so down a dirt track.
The cost of the Momota coffee tour is 30,000 pesos each, and includes around 3 hours on the finca, learning about how they plant, maintain, harvest and process the coffee beans; the history of the land and Colombia’s coffee co-operatives; how permaculture works, and then a tasting of some of the top-notch coffee that Finca Momota produces. Tours are available once a day in English or Spanish, so sign up in advance to let them know which you would prefer. Of all three Salento coffee tours, we did prefer the coffee tasting at Momota as it was a lot more in-depth and informative about brewing techniques around the world.
Salento coffee tour at Finca El Ocaso
Probably the most frequently recommended (and therefore also the busiest) Salento coffee tour is at Finca El Ocaso, which we went to on our second visit to Colombia’s coffee region. This is a lot larger and the furthest out of the town of the Salento coffee tours we’ve tried, but comes with excellent reviews. We had a hire car that took around 20 minutes on the fairly bad mountain roads, but you can arrange a willy from the main square, and El Ocaso will arrange one back to town for you for 27,000 pesos. They a conveyor belt of tours every day, in English or Spanish, so check here for the best one for you.
The tour is shorter (1 hour in total) and in a larger group than Momota, and the whole thing feels like a really slick operation. Finca El Ocaso is the coffee tour featured in the video at the top of this page. The cost per person for the El Ocaso coffee tour and tasting is 20,000 pesos. The staff at El Ocaso were very friendly and informative, and the finca itself is beautiful. Although you learn less about permaculture and farming, you learn just as much about the specific processes coffee goes through from flower to cup, and during the tour you have the chance to go into the trees with a basket and pick coffee cherries of your own. There’s a small café on site for you to chill at with views of the whole mountain before or after your Salento coffee tour.
Salento coffee tour at Finca las Acasias
This Salento coffee tour was sort of a mix between El Ocaso and Momota. The tour touched on permaculture, gave you a chance to pick your own coffee cherries off the trees and went through the whole flower-to-cup process. The coffee tour was an hour long, and you just have to turn up and wait in the little café with a coffee until the next one starts in your language. The group sizes are similar to those of El Ocaso. The guide, José, was fantastic, and we feel like we learnt a lot more about the plight of the local coffee pickers as he used to be one himself before teaching himself English.
Finca las Acasias is slightly closer to town than Finca El Ocaso, but only by 800m. You still have to get a few kilometres down a very bumpy road, so most people take a Willy or go as part of a horse tour. If you go with your own car, there are some parking spaces available on the road, but not a huge amount.
At 12,000 pesos, Finca las Acasias was by far the cheapest Salento coffee tour we found, but it didn’t compromise on quality of the tour itself. Less fascinating was the coffee tasting, which came with no explanation at all, and was more of a freebie at the end to sit and enjoy with the other people in your group.
Visit the cloud forest of Salento
Just outside of Salento, you can take tours of the cloud forest in the 12 hectare Kasaguadua national reserve. The 2-hour Natural Interpretation & Sustainability tour starts at 9am in English or Spanish, and costs 30,000 pesos per person. You need to reserve your place on the tour the day before. There is also an ecolodge on the Kasaguadua reserve if you fancy getting fully immersed in the forest.
Take a stroll down Carrera 6
Just off Plaza de Bolivar. you’ll see a pretty little street that’s more bustling than most. Carrera 6 is lined with nice restaurants and shops – this is gringo street, but it’s actually not all that bad. Ironically, if you want a super-local vibe with some of the cheapest beer in Salento, you can find them in the snooker bar on this street. It will be full of old local men, so expect a few stares if you’re not very good at blending in. However, you won’t be unwelcome!
El Mirador de Salento
At the end of Carrera 6 is a series of steps up to a mirador (viewpoint), from which you can see all across the town. Salento gets beautifully misty in the mornings and early evenings, so perhaps plan your climb around those times. If you don’t fancy the climb, get a taxi up the road around the back to the Mirador. You won’t be disappointed by the view!
Hike the Cocora Valley from Salento
Then of course there is the beautiful Valle de Cocora, home to the world’s tallest wax palm trees. You can only see them by taking one of 3 hikes ranging from 1 to 5 hours. We followed a misleading blog that took us up the wrong trail, adding an extra 4 hours to our hike, so to avoid this make sure you read our post: Cocora Valley: Don’t hike up the wrong mountain!
Hike in the Patasola National Reserve
This is a protected forest that only costs 5000 pesos, but does not allow camping. It’s located 10km from Bonquia, a tiny collection of restaurants, hostels and local tourist agencies about 10 minutes drive downhill from Salento. One of the trails leads to a fairly impressive waterfall; ask the locals at the restaurants near the entrance to the national park in which direction to head. It’s a hotspot for bird-watching in Salento, and a key place for bird conservation.
Explore Los Nevados National Park
Mega hikers can explore the landscapes deeper with hikes into Los Nevados National Park. This is best done as a multi-day trip. We’ve found you a guided 3-day hike through the park with stops at Laguna Otún, the Cocora Valley, the glacial edge of Santa Isabel, La Asomadera look-out and plenty more natural wonders as you walk through the countryside of Colombia’s coffee region.
Visit Filandia from Salento
Filandia is a sister pueblo of Salento, only half an hour’s drive down the road. To get from Salento to Filandia, you can either get a Willy from the main square, or you have to get the bus towards Armenia and ask the driver to drop you off at Flores, which is where you need to change buses for one heading to Filandia. You can also stay in Filandia if you don’t fancy the increasing crowds in Salento. Read our Filandia, Colombia guide to decide whether to stay in Salento or Filandia.
Where to stay in Salento
As mentioned previously, the best place to be is around Plaza de Bolivar. We stayed at the wonderful Hostal Ciudad de Segorbe, which had a shabby charm to it and super helpful staff (plus free coffee!). It was a block and a half from the main plaza which was perfect for us.
There was a very quiet vibe at Hostal Ciudad de Segorbe; for something more backpacker-esque, El Viajero is a bit further out but well recommended by many.
Bigger parties looking for something uber-peaceful should consider Real House, a private property which comes complete with 6 beds and a porch overlooking the beautiful garden.
Where to eat & drink in Salento
Probably the most well-recommended place by hostels is Rincón de Lucy on Carrera 6. Unfortunately we never actually got to eat here because it is always. so. packed. It seemed pretty impossible to get a table of 4 without hanging around for ages, but we take that as a good sign of the food – which from what we saw looked like hearty Colombian cuisine. If you don’t get into Rincón, head off down the same side road to Makao, which has both incredible fish and awesome curry. Should you fancy something a little lighter, El Tejadito serves excellent sandwiches – and is a great place to sink a few beers, too.
Recommended stay to enjoy Salento: 2-3 days
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