The tallest wax palm trees in the world, Salento Colombia

Salento, Colombia – Travel Guide

Situated among the rolling hills of Colombia’s coffee plantations lies the magical town of Salento. Located in the Zona Cafetería, Salento is THE place to get a good blend or even take a tour to learn more about how the world’s favourite drink is made!

It’s also the jumping-off point for visits to the Cocora Valley; verdant green fields cover these rolling hills which are embellished with the world’s tallest wax palm trees. Growing up to 60 metres tall, this hallucinatory landscape needs to be seen to be believed!

If you’re planning to set up base in Salento, this guide for travellers will tell you everything you need to know, from the best budget digs to the top things to do! 


Salento Map & Resources

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Travel Guide to Salento, Colombia 

Best Time to Visit Salento

The town of Salento is a colourful pueblo of quaint cafés, delectable eats, and plenty of local flavour, all housed within bright and cheerful colonial architecture. Even on a dreary day, the vibrancy of this town shines through. 

Viewpoint in Salento
The lush countryside surrounding Salento.

Despite this, there is no doubt that certain times are better to visit Salento than others. For a more laid-back visit, aim to arrive on a weekday. As one of the most popular destinations in Colombia, both with locals and international tourists alike, day trippers flock to town for the weekends and the crowds swell. 

Hiking is a popular activity in and around Salento and if you want to time your trip to get the best weather, you should visit between December and February. There is also a second dry season which spans from July to September. 

While these are (in theory) the driest times of the year to visit, the climate can be unpredictable year-round so you should always bring decent walking shoes and a rain jacket. As a general rule, Salento benefits from sunny mornings but showers are commonplace in the afternoons. 

Don’t forget your sunscreen too – Salento is located 1,895 metres above sea level, meaning it is easier to burn than you might think!


Where to Stay in Salento

Most people visit Salento as a jumping-off point for trips into Cocora Valley. As such, deciding where to base yourself can be a bit overwhelming. The nearby cities of Pereira and Armenia offer accommodation options for travellers but it is far nicer to get away from the cities and stay in the heart of Salento itself. 

Salento town
The colourful streets of Salento town.

As Salento is a small town, you won’t be too far from the action, no matter where you stay. There are a few accommodation options located on the outskirts, however, these tend to be on the main bus route into town, making getting from A to B pretty easy. 

Naturally, the most convenient place to stay in Salento is in the town itself. Here are some of our favourite options…

Top Hostels in Salento

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Coffee Tree Boutique Hostel – One of the loveliest and most popular places to stay in Salento, this gorgeous hostel is located in a beautiful old building and benefits from a great location. There are loads of activities to do around the hostel from horse riding to hiking and the hearty hostel breakfast (and strong Colombian coffee!) will set you up for the day! 

Viajero Salento Hostel – Part of the famous ‘Viajero’ chain of hostels across Colombia, their Salento offering is equally as popular as the city branches. With amazing views, plenty of opportunities to meet fellow travellers, morning yoga, free breakfast and lots of chill areas, it’s easy to see why this place gets top reviews! 

Hostel Tralala Salento – Located right next to the central plaza (a 1-minute walk) this place boasts clean rooms, fast WiFi, a communal kitchen, free coffee, and a great hammock hang-out area. The staff are super friendly and can help to organise tours and anything else you might need during your Salento visit. 

Yambolombia Hostel – One of the more unique housing options in Salento, this eco-hostel is located about 20 minutes (walking) from the centre of town, meaning that the views are incredible! Offering a more personal experience, a stay here feels more like you are living with a local family than in a hostel. An ideal choice for those wanting to be right in the heart of nature! 


Things to Do in Salento, Colombia

1. Hike in Valle De Cocora

Blanketing the foothills of the Los Nevados National Park are Colombia’s famous, towering wax palms. Plenty of walking trails are on offer in the valley, with the most popular being the full loop that takes you through the centre of the forest where you can play hide and seek among the massive palm trees! It takes around 4-6 hours (depending on how long you stop for photos) and is marked on AllTrails. 

Cocora Valley
The wax palms of Cocora can grow up to 60 metres tall!

To get to the park, take one of the Willy jeeps which leave from Salento’s main square. The trip takes about an hour and will cost around 5,000COP ($1.50USD) per person. Don’t forget to pack a waterproof jacket and wear your hiking shoes – it can get very muddy!

2. Go on a Coffee Tour

What’s the difference between Arabica and Robusta coffee beans? Well here’s a hint – it has to do with quality and when it comes to coffee, Colombia is at the top of the game! 

Take a tour around the plantations that cover Salento’s surrounding areas, sip on some of the world’s best joe, and get a better sense of how your morning pick-me-up is so perfectly prepared.

3. Hike Up to the Miradors

At the end of Calle Real (the town’s main street) lies a set of stairs leading up to grand views. Once you’re at Alto de la Cruz (the first viewpoint with the cross statue), take the other trail off to the left. This will lead you to another viewpoint which showcases an incredible view of the lush green hills behind town. 

Mirador views
View from the first mirador in Salento.

These viewpoints are best climbed in the early morning, when clear skies sometimes make spotting snow-capped volcanoes possible! Alternatively, make the trek in the evening to take in the sunset views over the pueblo and surrounding landscape.

4. Play a Game of Tejo

Ever heard of Tejo? Well, you’re about to! Colombia’s national sport sounds a bit strange on the surface but promises a night of antics you won’t forget (if you don’t overdo the beer that is)! 

The idea of the game is to throw rocks at a target laden with gunpowder. If your aim is good, expect both points and instant fame as the room is filled with the crackle of success. Be warned – tejo is much harder than you expect!

There are a few places to play Tejo in Salento but the most popular option is Los Amigos bar. They host games every night. 

Colombia: Anthony Bourdain tries a bar game that involves explosives (Parts Unknown)

5. Take a Day Trip to Filandia

On track to host five million tourists a year, Colombia has never been such a popular destination. And, as one of the most visited places in the country, Salento sees more than its fair share of visitors. But what if you want to experience the coffee belt without the crowds? 

Filandia, Colombia
Filandia is a wonderful day trip from Salento.

There is an alternative! While visitors should not skip Salento entirely, the nearby town of Filandia is a wonderful spot for those wanting to lap up coffee culture with the commercialisation that has played out in Salento. 

To head there on a day trip, go to the main square in Salento and take one of the Willy jeeps. You’ll need to buy your ticket at the small stand behind where the jeeps park. It should cost around 7,000COP (around $2USD) per person each way. 

6. Visit the Reserva Natural Acaime

Located a 4km detour from the most popular hiking loop in Cocora Valley lies the Reserva Natural Acaime. This hummingbird reserve (Acaime La Casa de Los Colibríes) offers a welcome break from the trail and gives you the chance to see one of the most beautiful species of birds up close.

Hummingbirds
Hummingbirds at the Reserva Natural Acaime.

There is a modest entry fee to enter the reserve but this includes a hot drink. What better way to fuel yourself for the return journey than a cup of aguapanela surrounded by nature?

7. Go Birdwatching

One of our favourite facts about Colombia is that it is home to more bird species than any other country on Earth. With the country boasting that kind of variety, it would surely be a missed opportunity not to try and see some of this exotic birdlife for yourself! 

While it is easy to visit Acaime La Casa de Los Colibríes (above) independently, those wanting to spot many different types of birds will definitely benefit from a guided tour. While these tours can be a little costly, they are well worth the money – you’ll see far more with a guide than without! 

8. Try Horse Riding

If hiking isn’t your thing, consider tackling the trails of Cocora Valley on horseback. There are plenty of tour operators offering guided horseback riding experiences which is a novel way to explore the area.

Horse riding tour salento
Horse riding is also on offer if you’re not much of a hiker!

As with any kind of animal tourism, you should always do your research to ensure that you are supporting a company that holds the animal’s welfare at the heart of what they do. 

9. Explore on Two Wheels

Another alternative way to explore Cocora Valley is by mountain bike. There are a number of trails suitable for biking, including some epic downhill sections that should satisfy any adrenaline junkie! When it comes to choosing a tour provider, make sure you view the bikes before you commit to an experience. Some are much better quality than others! 

10. Eat Trout (if You Want)

Before visiting Salento, everything that I read told me that it is impossible to go there and not eat trout. Trout (trucha) is the local speciality of the town owing to the number of farms located in the surrounding area. While the trout is delicious, don’t let the internet pressure you into eating it if you don’t want to…! 😉

Trout in Salento
Trout is the most popular dish in Salento.

11. Chase Some Waterfalls

The benefit of a lot of rainfall is undoubtedly beautiful waterfalls. While there are plenty to choose from in the Salento area, the most popular is Santa Rita. This can be hiked independently or you can embark on a guided tour. Check AllTrails and Maps.me for offline maps. 

12. Shop for Artesanal Goods

The influence of tourism in Salento is clear for all to see. From expensive coffee shops to Willy jeep selfies, it is clear that this is a place where tourists flock. This can easily be seen in Salento’s shops too, where brightly coloured ponchos adorn every single doorway. 

Shopping in Salento
Shop souvenirs and clothing in Salento!

While most of these shops seem to offer a variation of the same thing, some of the clothing and souvenirs are really quite cool and all help to support the local economy. This is a great place to stock up on trinkets for people at home or treat yourself to some authentic-inauthentic Colombian garb. 

13. Ascend Nevado del Tolima

It is worth noting that the above is an activity for serious hikers only. Nevador del Tolima volcano sits at 5,276 metres above sea level and climbing it is no mean feat! If this is something that you are interested in, make sure you go with an experienced guide. The hike will take around four days to complete and prices begin at around $370USD per person.  

14. Learn Spanish

If you’re more of a countryside kind of person, why not make Salento your base while you brush up on those Spanish skills? There is a Spanish school based in town which offers lessons to backpackers and comes very well-rated.

Colourful Salento
Why not make Salento your short-term home to study Spanish?

Food and Drink in Salento

As Salento is a tourist town, you will find far more food options geared toward tourists. This means that vegetarians have real options here! And for those looking for cheap menu del dia options, you won’t be disappointed either. Here are a few of our favourite places to eat and drink around town:

El Rincón de Lucy

Offering a budget-friendly menu del dia which includes the famous Salento trout, the food at El Rincón de Lucy is traditional, filling and delicious! Expect to pay around 15,000COP for soup, juice and main. 

Cumana Bistro Food

This cosy restaurant serves up traditional Venezuelan food without pulling too much on the pursestrings. A hearty portion of veggies or salad is served with many dishes – a welcome relief from the abundance of fried food routinely found in Colombia. Don’t miss the amazing tequeños on a visit here!

Cumana Bistro Food
A traditional Venezuelan dish from Cumana Bistro Food.

Los Amigos Bar

This is the place to go if you want to try your hand at Colombia’s national game Tejo. First, gather a crowd of like-minded backpackers, then head to Los Amigos, buy copious amounts of Aguila and get throwing! 

Coco Bowl 

And for veggies and vegans, look no further than Coco Bowl. The food is healthy, the staff speak good English and the prices are great. What is not to love? 


Getting Around Salento

Salento is a pretty small town which means that it is very walkable. If you are looking to head into Cocora Valley, you’ll need to hop in one of the Willy jeeps which wait in the main square. These leave several times a day and cost around 5,000COP per person. 

If you’re staying a little further out of town, head to the bus station and jump on any bus leaving Salento. Alternatively, you may get picked up by a jeep if they have space – get ready to hang off the back! 

Jeeps in Salento square
The jeeps wait in the middle of Salento square to take travellers to the valley.

How to Get to Salento

From Bogotá Salento is located southwest of Colombia’s capital city, Bogotá. To get to the town you will need to first take a bus to Armenia, approx. 8 hours and once you arrive in Armenia, hop on a minibus which will get you to Salento in about ½ an hour.

From Medellín Previously, the only way to get to Salento from Medellín was to take the bus to Armenia and then transfer. These days, Flota Occidental run direct services to Salento from the south terminal several times a day. 

From Jardín  – It is possible to travel to the town of Salento from Jardín. Buy a ticket for the Coostransio bus the day before in Jardín (located in the same office as Rapido Ochoa). The bus leaves at 8 am for Riosucio, where you will need to transfer onto another bus for Salento. Look for the ticket booth for Flota Occidental. 


Where to Go Next:

Jardín: The small and often overlooked pueblito of Jardin should not be missed by travellers. Boasting a vibrant coffee scene, lush hills and smiling locals, this is a place you may struggle to leave!

Filandia: Just half an hour or so away from Salento lies the underrated colourful coffee town of Filandia. Spend a few days here soaking in the ambience, chasing waterfalls, sipping coffee streetside and taking in the incredible views. 

Medellín: The modern, progressive and innovative city of Medellín is simply one of the most friendly cosmopolitan centres of the world. Set up base for a while to get to know the people and culture firsthand. 

Sheree Hooker Bio Pic
Sheree Hooker | Editor @ South America Backpacker + Winging The World

Sheree is the awkward British wanderluster behind wingingtheworld.com, a travel blog designed to show that even the most useless of us can travel. Follow Sheree’s adventures as she blunders around the globe, falling into squat toilets, getting into cars with machete men and running away from angry peacocks.

Find her on: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest

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