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.
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.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: 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.
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.
GOOD TO KNOW: 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!
GOOD TO KNOW: A great alternative to mountain biking to explore the region is horseback riding.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Guided tours of Colombia that also go to Salento and Colombia Coffee Region
If you would like to visit Colombia and include Salento and Colombia Coffee Region in your trip, but aren’t a fan of planning and would rather leave the job to the experts, you can count on some great guided tours of Colombia run by G Adventures. These are the best:
- Classic Colombia – a 16 day tour that crosses the country from Bogota to Cartagena and Tayrona National Park.
- Colombia Journey – a 9 day tour covering strictly the best of the country.
- Colombia express – a 9 day tour that goes to the most famous destinations, including Colombia Coffee Region.
- Colombian culture, Caribbean and Lost City – a 22 days tour that goes to the most famous destinations, combining adventure and relaxation.
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:
- COFFEE TREE BOUTIQUE HOSTEL – A good hostel with nice private rooms with beautiful mountain views, and some very good dorms. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- HOTEL SALENTO PLAZA – A small hotel with plain, clean rooms set around a beautiful garden. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- CASA BORBON – Located right in the heart of Salento, it has plain rooms with incredible views of the mountains. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
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.
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.
- Osprey Manta 28 – an excellent daypack that has lots of pockets to organize your stuff. Recommended for short hikes.
- A 10 L drybag – use it to store your camera the minute it starts raining.
- Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX or another pair of excellent hiking boots – if you plan to hit the trails, you can’t go without them. Make sure to get a pair that is water repellent.
- A pair of hiking pants such as Horizn Convertible.
- A couple of cotton t-shirts such as the Kuhl Intent Hoody t-shirt, and the Kuhl Laurelshirt. For short sleeves opt for Kuhl Acacia and Kuhl Sona t-shirt.
- A sweater or a micro fleece for those times it gets cooler. I love Lea Pullover.
- A rain jacket or a poncho. Kuhl Hydroflex rain jacket protects nicely from rain and wind.
- Water bottle and filter – avoid using plastic.
- An umbrella – this really is an essential item.
Other useful information
A travel guide such as this Lonely Planet Colombia Travel Guide may come in handy. 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 about Colombia
For more information and for inspiration on things to do and beautiful places to visit in Colombia, check out my posts:
- 17 Unmissable Things To Do In Bogota
- 7 Great Day Trips From Bogota
- A Complete Guide To Where To Stay In Bogota
- 30 Incredible Things To Do In Cartagena
- 15 Useful Things To Know Before Visiting Cartagena
- The Best Day Trips From Cartagena
- Where To Stay In Cartagena – The Best Neighborhoods And Places To Stay
- An Excellent Guide To San Gil, Colombia
- A Concise Guide To Villa De Leyva, Colombia