A Concise Guide To Salento, Colombia

Salento is one of the most charming, scenic places in Colombia and the absolute center of Colombia Coffee Region. It’s a very popular destination among locals, who love spending their weekend there; whereas during weekdays it has a chilled, almost sleepy feel.

The town itself is lovely, but it’s the surroundings that are truly worth the trip. So, if you are planning a trip to Colombia, make it a point to go and spend a few days there. If you are curious about this small town, you are in the right place. This post highlights all the unmissable things to do in Salento, Colombia and shares some practical information to organize your visit.

Salento Colombia
The gorgeous Valle de Cocora is a must see

14 Things To Do In Salento, Colombia

Hike in Valle de Cocora

Located east of Salento, this is easily the highlight of any trio to Salento, and a place you really can’t miss. Just imagine mountains and deep green colors; and trees, lots of trees everywhere. Except they are not regular trees, they are palm trees! Cocora Valley is famous for its wax palm trees that can reach up to 60 and even 70 meters.

The best way to explore Cocora Valley is on a hike and there are several trails of varying length and difficulty.

I have described the hike more in depth in my post A Complete Guide To Hiking Valle De Cocora, Colombia.

To get to Cocora Valley, get one of the jeeps that depart more or less every couple of hours from the main square. The first one goes at 6:10 am and the last one to come back at 4:00 pm. The ride costs 8000 COP ($2 USD) roundtrip and takes about 30 minutes each way.

You can see Acaime when hiking in Cocora Valley

Visit Reserva Natural Acaime

Located in the Cocora Valley, Reserva Natural Acaime is a hummingbird haven. It takes about one hour to get there from the place where the jeeps drop you off at the entrance of the Cocora Valley trail, and there is a small fee to visit – which actually includes a drink which, at that point, will be welcome. There are at least 6 varieties of hummingbirds and you can spot all of them as the zip past people. Other wildlife you can spot in the region include toucans.

Go to Santa Rita waterfall

One of the nicest places to visit at a short distance from Salento, and which can be reached on a nice hike is Santa Rita waterfall. There is a small fee to get to the waterfall, but worth it to enjoy a place that is blissfully isolated and refreshing.

Go mountain biking

One of the most popular things to do in Salento is mountain biking. Several companies in town run expeditions to explore the region and the coffee plantations. Alternatively, you can rent bikes directly from your hostel. Make sure to get a good map not to get lost!

A great alternative to mountain biking to explore the region is horseback riding. 

Los Nevados
Salento is a good starting point for multi-day hikes in Los Nevados National Park

Hike in Los Nevados National Park

Salento, as well as the larger Manizales, is a good starting point to visit Los Nevados National Park, which is at about four hours drive north – so not really a good place for a day trip. This truly is one of the most breathtaking places in the country, with incredible mountain peaks, lakes, glaciers and the paramo ecosystem, which is unique to this region. 

The best way to explore it with a local guide that can make sense of the trails, which at times aren’t well marked – not to mention the clouds and the mist will make it extremely easy to get lost. I recommend joining this 4-day hike that includes climbing to Nevado Santa Isabel and the Tolima Volcano – but keep in mind you need to be properly equipped with crampons for that! 

Salento Colombia
Salento is a very colorful little town

Explore Salento

Salento is charming place, and there is nothing better than a stroll around town to get a feel for it. The main square, Plaza Bolivar, is the best starting point to explore. There you will find Nuestra Señora del Carmen church. The square is surrounded by cafés, bars and restaurants so it’s also a good place to stop for a bite.

From the square, you can then head to Calle Real, the main pedestrian street. It’s a pop of color, with white buildings adorned with colorful banisters and windows, souvenir shops, a couple of restaurants and some interesting bars.

Admire the view from the Mirador

For incredible views of Salento and its surroundings walk up to the mirador Alto de la Cruz. It’s an easy walk from Calle Real, at the end of which you will find a staircase. Once up, you will find people selling street food and souvenirs, and you can walk the easy trail to the shelter for even better views.

A walk around Salento

Go shopping at Aldea del Artisano

At a short distance from Salento town center there is a small community of artisans that you can visit to observe how local souvenirs are made, and where you can buy a thing or two to take home with you. It’s much better than shopping on the crowded and overpriced Calle Real.

Play Tejo

Referred to as Colombia’s national sport, tejo is a lot of fun to play and watch. The game consists in throwing a very heavy metal puck (called tejo) at gunpowder targets placed over a metal ring across the court. It literally explodes loudly whenever you hit the target.

The best place to play tejo in Salento is Los Amigos, a few blocks from the main square. There is no fee to enter or play, but you will have to buy a drink – which actually is the perfect way to enjoy a game. If you don’t feel quite ready to go for a full game, opt for the mini-tejo court: it’s perfect for newbies.

Calle Real Salento
Calle Real is where most bars are located – including Danubio

Have a drink at Billar Danubio Hall

As you’ll walk along Calle Real, you will inevitably spot a large bar where men of all ages are sitting drinking beer or aguardiente or playing a game of pool or domino. I’d dare say that 95% of the customers are men, but it’s a nice place to hang out and have a drink even for women. i can testify it’s perfectly fine, safe and fun to do so.

trucha frita
Photo by Inspired By Maps @shutterstock

Eat trout

There is no way you can visit Salento and not eat trout. I think I had it for virtually every meal when I visited. All restaurants serve it. You can have it with just about a million toppings. Locals love it grilled and then topped with a creamy, cheesy and garlicky sauce. If that isn’t your thing, opt for the plain grilled one for a lighter option. The typical sides include rice and patacones – twice fried and pressed plantains which in this part of Colombia are flat, crispy and massive.

The best place to try trout is a local restaurant called Rincon de Lucy. Portions are huge and prices fair.

Make sure to also read my post The Best Colombian Food To Try.

Try the food trucks

Oftentimes, street food is the way to go in South America – and Colombia is no different. In Salento, you’ll find a whole area lined with food trucks. It’s a few blocks from Plaza Bolívar down Calle 6. Trucks sell all sorts of food: from arepas to Mexican burritos, sandwiches, burgers and even kebabs. It’s a very budget friendly place to eat.

Colombia coffee region
A visit to a local coffee farm is a must

Visit a coffee farm

You can’t go to Colombia Coffee Region and not visit a coffee farm. What’s interesting in Colombia is that the best coffee gets all exported, and there hardly is a coffee culture in the country.

Having said that, one of the best things to do in Salento is visiting a coffee farm – or finca, as they call it here. There are several near Salento. I recommend Don Elias, an organic farm at about one hour walk from town that offers tours in English and Spanish. Tours last about one hour and at the end of it you are offered a cup of excellent coffee.

Another excellent coffee finca is El Ocaso, which is a few km outside of town. The tour around the coffee farm lasts around one hour and at the end of it you are even taught how prepare coffee the Colombian way.

You can book your visit to Finca El Ocaso here.

café con agua de panela Nerman Riuso
Photo by Nerman Riuso @shutterstock

Then have coffee in town

With so much coffee around, Salento has some lovely coffee shops. The most popular one is Jesus Martin, where you can have a cup of good espresso (so says the Italian here) or regular coffee, as well as a slice of cake or a cookie to go with it.

Salento Colombia
Colorful buildings in Salento town center

Practical Tips To Organize Your Trip To Salento, Colombia

Guided tours of Salento and Colombia Coffee Region

Salento truly is the most charming small town in Colombia Coffee Region, and if you plan on visiting you should base yourself there.

If, however, you’re planning on staying in a bigger city nearby, you have the option of visiting Salento on a day trip such as this Cocora Valley, Salento and coffee tasting or this wax palms, Salento and coffee tour from Salento or Pereira

If you have more time, definitely stay longer in the area and explore independently, or opt for a multi-day trips departing from either Bogota or Medellin such as this one or this one.

things to do in Salento
You’ll find some excellent accommodation options in Salento

Where to stay in Salento

For as small as it is, Salento has some excellent accommodation option suitable for all tastes and budgets. I have selected the best:

Salento Colombia
Photo by Ortiz R @shutterstock

How to get to Salento

Salento is easily reached from Pereira and Armenia, the two largest cities in Colombia Coffee Region.

FROM ARMENIA – Buses from Armenia to Salento run around every 30 minutes and the ride takes about one hour. T

FROM PEREIRA – There are about 6 daily buses connecting Pereira to Salento, and the ride takes about one hour and 15 minutes.

FROM MEDELLIN – There are no direct buses. You will have to change in Pereira and the overall journey will take you up to 8 hours, depending on how quickly you manage to get a connecting bus to Salento.

FROM BOGOTA – You can either fly to Armenia or Pereira and then take the bus to Salento; or opt for ground transport all the way, with (preferably) a direct bus to Armenia, from where you  can take a bus to Salento. It’s a long trip that will take anything between 10 and 12 hours in total.

GOOD TO KNOW: The good news is that the views along the way to Salento are beautiful and that buses in Colombia are comfortable. The bad news is that then road is very windy and that Colombian bus drivers aren’t exactly champions of safety. Make sure to take dramamine!

How to move around 

Salento is quite small, and the best way to explore it is on foot. If you want to visit the surroundings, you can opt for a day trip with one of the many agencies in town, or you can hire a taxi for the day (make sure to haggle the price for a flat fee) or even rent a motorbike.

Photo by Daniel-Alvarez @shutterstock

When to visit Salento

I visited Salento in March and there was no way of escaping the rain. On any given day it would start pouring between 12:00 and 2:00 pm, and it continued raining for a few hours. I guess this explains why the region is so lush and green.

Temperatures vary slightly throughout the year, remaining between 27 and 30 during the day and dropping to about 17 at night. The driest months are July, August and September.

Salento is a popular destination among Colombians, so your experience will vary a lot depending on the time of the week you visit: it can get really crowded at weekends! If you want to experience Salento when it is both charmingly quiet and fantastically lively, make sure to stay for a few days and include a weekend. There are plenty of things to do in Salento to keep you entertained anyways!

What to pack for your trip to Salento

Chances are you will be visiting Salento during a longer trip around Colombia – either way, keep in mind that you will be outside for most of the day, and that it rains A LOT every day. With this in mind, here’s a list of what you should bring.

Other useful information

Don’t forget you’ll also need travel insurance for your trip to Colombia! 

Make sure to read my post Why You Need A Good Travel Insurance. Get your travel insurance here.

Further Readings

For more information and for inspiration on things to do and beautiful places to visit in Colombia, check out my posts:

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Discover what to see and do in Salento, Colombia - via @clautavani

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