I had never heard of Salento before coming to Colombia until it was casually mentioned by other travelers. This mystical town in the southern hills with towering palm trees and lush forests. It just sounded like a dream, rolling coffee bean farms, horses and jeeps the only means of transport on the dirt trails, I just had to go!
It was kind of on my way too, I had to travel the length of Colombia to get to Quito the capital of Ecuador. I was in Medellin at the moment, and was planning on heading down to Cali, the Salsa capital of Colombia, Salento would be a little detour. It turned out to be the best detour of my life. Not only did I learn a valuable lesson which you can read about here but it was also one of the most beautiful places I have stayed.
So now that I have got you all excited about visiting Salento let me give you some tips on how to do it!
How to get there
From Medellin it is extremely straightforward and there are links from Cali as well although I did not personally take that route. First you need to get to Terminal Sud the South Bus station. Now you can get a Taxi there or be a cheapskate and take the amazingly efficient metro to station Poblade COP 2000 (EUR .50) From here its a 15 min walk to the South Terminal and I used Google maps (offline) to navigate.
Once you get to the station you can buy the ticket on the same day there are at the moment 3 departures a day 9:00, 11:00 and 13:00 with Flota Occidental and the journey takes about 6 hours. The roads are windy and the bus is really a mini van but its a nice trip and the scenery was stunning. Cost COP 43000 (EUR 12) When I got to Salento the van stopped outside a cafe called Brunch de Salento, I’m not sure if this was normal or if I even got off at the right stop but the driver seem adamant that this is where I should get off. Warily I got off and was immediately greeted by the cafe owner who helped me in from the pouring rain and arranged for me to get a jeepny (small jeep) to my hostel with two other lost looking backpackers. The owner spoke perfect English and seemed to be used to helping people off the bus so maybe this was a regular occurrence. I went back to Brunch later during my stay and I can highly recommend the food and ambiance it’s a real awesome place!
Where to stay
There are plenty of hostels in the small town of Salento but I opted to stay a little outside, a pleasant 20 min walk at a Finca (Ranch) called La Serrana. I paid EUR 10 for a 5 bed dorm and even if the water was a little patchy and the wifi not quite there it was still an amazingly beautiful and peaceful place that I highly recommend. If you don’t want to walk at night you can get a jeepny from the main square in Salento for COP 8000 (EUR 2) But apart from the first day with my bags I walked with no problems. You can book coffee tours, horse riding and other activities from the hostel.
What to do
The biggest draw for this sleepy village is the Cocora valley and the magnificent wax palms. Since its the biggest attraction its also the easiest to figure out. You start off your journey by going to the main square in the morning, there are rows of jeepnys waiting for their customers cost COP 3400 (EUR 1) and when they fill up they will head off into the hills on a 15 min ride towards the Cocora valley. Go early and if possible don’t sit outside but hang off the back, its the best way to experience the ride and trust me you will get some awesome photos. The jeep drops you off at the beginning of the loop, you can take the long way or the shortcut directly to the valley of the palms. DONT DO THIS! you will miss out on incredible scenery and the satisfaction of a hiking a few hours. So at the entrance of the trail, take the path to the right. (You will see a gate) From here you go through an open valley then make your way into dense rainforest. The trail follows a river which you will have to cross back and forth a few times. There are bridges so don’t worry about getting your feet wet.
Eventually you come to a signpost, one way to a hummingbird sanctuary, Acaime and the other to Finca La Montaña. Acaime is 1 km uphill off the main trail and costs 4000 COP (EUR 1.15) to enter. You get a free hot chocolate and cheese and I got to see hundreds of Hummingbirds and Coatis, which are the weirdest looking cross between a racoon and a lemur.
Once you make your way back to the trail you keep walking for another hour or so climbing steadily uphill, finally you will reach the lookout and will be rewarded with the sight you have come for. Spoiler alert: Its mindblowing! Once you make your way to the bottom of the trail again you catch a jeepny back to Salento.
Coffee Farm Tour
Salento is famous for its coffee and there are plenty of options for a coffee farm tour, you can even take one on Horseback. You can either book them through your hostel or in the city
You can go Mountain biking, Paragliding, Mountain climbing and so much more in Salento. A good website to get an overview from is BetaTown its a hostel, restaurant and activity centre that you can book tours from, that comes highly recommended. I wouldn’t book the Cocora valley tour though as that is easy to do on your own.
Salento is a beautiful village with colourful buildings and cute markets, make sure to walk up the steps to the ridge where you get a beautiful view of the valley once at the top turn to your left and eventually you will come to a covered lookout that is worth checking out.