Salento, a coffee paradise in the Colombian highlands
Colombia is an amazing country I’ve been there twice and for sure come back again soon, there are so many things to discover. What is Colombia famous for? Let’s leave its drug fame in the past! Of course coffee! I’m not a big expert in coffee but I do like the Colombian one. Colombia occupies fourth place in the world in coffee export, after Brazil, Vietnam and Indonesia. But Colombian coffee (sort Arabica) is considered the best coffee in the world (if we speak about beans quality). You ask why?
What makes good coffee?
First of all climate; climatic zone, altitude (1500-2000 m above the sea level), humidity, average temperature, soil etc. Many natural factors as you can see. Second, coffee beans in Colombia are picked up manually, only ripe red beans go into basket. Ripe berries are red color and taste sweet. Third, the control of origin (like wine in some countries), in Colombia they control the purity of their coffee, 100% Arabica no mixes.
The most famous international coffee brand from Colombia is Juan Valdes. You can buy this brand in many places outside the country. The main coffee region in Colombia – Paisa, so called ‘coffee triangle’ with three main coffee cities: Armenia, Manisales and Pereira. Salento is located right in the middle of the area.
Salento, a coffee paradise
Salento is a small colonial town in the heart of coffee region. Charming place with its cobble stone streets and colorful houses, surrounded by green hills and coffee plantations. The town is quite touristy, one of the must-visit places when in Colombia, with many guest houses, hostels, restaurants and souvenir shops around. Nevertheless its small size you won’t be bored visiting Salento, visit coffee plantation, go for a hike in Valle de Cocora, try traditional Paisa (farmer) food and have a cup of great coffee in one of the cafe while enjoying the view.
Must try food in Salento
Salento is very famous for its trout that you can find in abundance in surrounding rivers. Traditional dish fried trout (comes with rice, salad and soup) you can find in any restaurant of the town. Prices in local places are from 15 000/4$ including drink.
Bandeja Paisa (farmer tray), traditional not only for Salento but for all Paisa region. Bandeja means tray, yes, a trey full of stuff, mostly fried. On you bandeja you can find; red beans cooked with pork, blood sausages, minced beef, chorizo, rice, avocado, fried egg more or less that’s it. Delicious and unhealthy!
Things to do in Salento
Visit one of the coffee plantations
There are several in close proximity. To get to one of them you can walking, by taxi or with a tour. Walking takes about 1 hour; the way is beautiful with some stunning views over the mountain slopes covered with coffee and banana plantations.
For me it was the second time in Salento and we decided to visit the same finca (plantation) I’d visited before, El Ocaso. In three years from my first visit a lot has changed. It became more commercialized you do a tour in a group with a guide (English speaking) who shows around and explains the process ending with a coffee tasting. Luckily the price is just 10 000/3$. During my first visit there was no guide on the farm, one of a family members took you for a walk around, showed the process (everything in Spanish) and as a payment you were supposed to buy a bag of coffee from the finca.
Visit Valle de Cocora
The only place in the world where you can see the wax palms, that grow at about 1500 m above the sea level. These palms are like super models in the palm world, very tall and thin, average height 45 m, sometimes they can reach unbelievable 60 m! Wax palms look really impressive! Their trunks are very flexible every time the wind blows it looks like it’s going to break. Why wax palms? The trunk is covered with thin layer of wax, years ago it was used for candles and its wood for pipes and houses. Nowadays the wax palm is a national tree of Colombia and is under protection.
You can get to Valle de Cocora by Jeep-bus from Plaze de Armas (central square) in Salento, price 3400/1$ one way. They leave as soon as full, sometimes very full prepare yourself to be squeezed in. Jeeps stop right at the entrance to the valley, no entrance fee. From there you can either walk on your own or do a tour riding a horse. The first I was in Cocora I did a tour the trail was very muddy due to heavy rains. The second time we walked, there are some nice hikes in there, it took us 3 hours to do the whole loop.
Take a walk around the town
Salento is small, it won’t take you more than an hour to walk around it. The main square Plaza de Armas and nearby streets are the main tourist attraction. You can go upstairs to the view point from there you can observe all the town and its surroundings.
How to get to Salento?
You can get from anywhere to anywhere in Colombia by bus. There are direct buses to all more or less big cities, to get to smaller town you can with one bus switch. We got to Salento from Medellin South bus terminal. First bus Medellin – Armenia (35 000/$11), tell the driver you going to Salento, he’ll stop 10 km before Armenia, at the turn to Salento. From there you get a public bus to Salento (there is a bus stop), 2000/$0,6, takes about 30 min. to get to the main square. There is a direct bus from Medellin to Salento, leaves once a day, in the morning, from South bus terminal, we missed it. Probably there are direct buses to Salento from Bogota as well.
Buses to Salento leave from Armenia, Manisales and Pereira regularly, price from 4000/$1,2.
Where to stay in Salento?
Nevertheless its small size, there are plenty of places to stay, from cheap hostels to fancy hotels for any budget. We stayed at La Casona hostel (found in booking.com), bed in dorm for 6$. The place is ok, a bit dilapidated, our dorm was clean and spacious, shared shower and toilet. Good central location, wi-fi, kitchen with not much to use. Our friends stayed at Hostal La Floresta, 7$ per bed, new cosy place, with garden, hammocks, good kitchen etc. The only one minus is its location, outside the town, bus stop, shops etc. about 15 min. walk.
Budget for 2 days per person
- Transport: buses Medellin – Salento, 37 000/$11, jeep to Valle de Cocora and back, 6800/$2
- Accommodation: 40 000/$13 (bed in dormitory)
- Food (restaurant + shopping): 45 000/$14
- Other: 14 000/$4,5
Total 142 800/$46, $23 per day.
PS. Some book recommendations if you want to know more about Colombia before you go there.
- Of course Gabriel Garcia Marques and his numerous works e.g. “Hundred years of Solitude”, “Love in the Times of Cholera”, “The Funerals of big mama”, “News of a kidnapping” and many more.
- German Castro Caycedo “Perdido en el Amazonas”, “Mi alma se la dejo al Diablo”.
- And famous TV series “Narcos”.
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