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I fell for Salento Colombia. It came with high expectations, for every single Colombian I mentioned it to responded with great fondness, “Oh, Salento,” or “Ahhhh, Salento Quindio.” I didn’t think it could live up to the hype.
But it did.
I had spent three weeks in Medellin, a city of almost 4 million, and I found the 7-hour bus trip to Salento Colombia, along narrow twisting roads in the Andes mountains, a welcome relief from the noisy city.
Walking from the bus station in Salento Colombia, uphill to the plaza, the chill vibe embraces you. The roads are narrow, the shops family-run and no one is in a hurry. It was a Sunday night and Calle Real, the main drag, was bursting with the weekend crowd sauntering and window shopping. Plaza de Bolivar was abuzz with locals eating roasted corn, arepas and deep-fried trout. Pull up a stool and someone will surely strike up a conversation with you in Salento Colombia!
Sometimes you love a place for the scenery, the atmosphere, the history and the people you meet. Salento Colombia checked all those boxes for me.
Salento Quindio is sitting at the top of my favourite places in Colombia, even though I have more to explore. Here’s what to do in Salento – it might become your favourite pueblo in Colombia too!
What To Do In Salento Colombia
1. Wander and People Watch In Salento Colombia
Sit in Plaza de Bolivar, find a bench on Calle Real and Salento will undoubtedly fill your soul. Singing and music will greet you along with men, in their sombreros and ponchos, chatting away. In the evening, stores and restaurants close rather early but there are friendly gatherings with music and laughter in the streets. Try an arepa or empanada from the lady on the corner. There is a long line of locals which is always a good sign and the arepas are delicious!
2. Salento Colombia | Gateway to Valle del Corcora
One of the best things to do in Salento Colombia is seeing the country’s national tree in the Valle del Corcora. This hike is the highlight of everyone’s visit to Salento Colombia. Hop on a colourful Willys jeep waiting in the main square. The 25-minute drive through the countryside passes avocado trees growing on the hillside and perhaps the trip will be slowed by a cowboy and his son, wound ropes in hand, driving cattle down the road.
The wax palms soar to the sky. You can make this day whatever you want! A chill picnic under the palms or a long hike over suspension bridges and through the cloud forest are both wonderful experiences.
3. Eat Trucha (Trout) in Salento Colombia
Trucha is the main dish on order in Salento Colombia. Every restaurant serves it in a variety of ways. Not only was the trout delicious but the best way it was eaten was at communal tables. In Rincón de Lucy, found on Calle Real, you grab a seat, order from the waiter (there is no written menu) and lo and behold, the table is full. Everyone is relaxed and open to conversation with strangers.
One of the most memorable things to do in Salento Colombia is making new friends. It’s a small town and you run into the same people over and over! I met a couple from France in Salento and three years later we are still friends.
4. Play Tejo |A Slice of Local Life in Salento
Tejo is a true Colombian game. Explosives and all! Enter the oldest bar in town, Los Amigos, and ask at the bar where the tejo is happening. You will be led down the stairs to the basement which holds the tejo courts. A lot of gringos come to play but my first choice was to watch the locals of Salento Colombia.
I lucked out one afternoon as a team of “campeones” was in the midst of a serious game. The bartender was insistent that I understand that these 4 men were champions (“campeones”). They must have been as they hit the target frequently.
The price to watch was a beer. However, I also bought a round for the team of champions and they kept buying me beer. So you get the idea – it is a game of strategy, aim and a lot of drinking on the side.
5. Climb to The Mirador in Salento
One of the most beautiful things to do in Salento is to climb all the steps (yup, there are a lot) to watch the sunset over the town and the Andes. Many people relax on the hilltop watching the stunning vista!
6. Stroll Along Calle Real In Salento Colombia
This is the main street in Salento Colombia. It is lined with colourful buildings which are full of restaurants and stores. Look carefully, there are creatively crafted artisan wares for sale. The creativity in Colombia in clothing and artisan goods is impressive. There were purses made from recycled plastic which were really trendy. Too bad I am “carry on only” this trip!
The other delight is that no one hassles you. Peruse at your pleasure.
7. Take A Coffee Farm Tour
You are in coffee country in Salento, thus add to your list of things to do to visit a coffee farm. It’s an eye-opener to understand where that morning cup of coffee really comes from. Have the name of a coffee farm in mind, head to Plaza de Bolivar and grab a jeep to get there. I headed to Finca de Don Elias.
I love Colombia – on arrival, it was evident that there were no English tours but was assured that the guide would speak really slowly! A few more people arrived (this was on Colombian time) and luckily a couple from Mexico arrived and the man offered to be the translator.
What an incredibly bountiful area. Amidst the coffee bushes were banana, avocado and orange trees. Our passionate guide explained the whole process of coffee production from the plant to your morning cup of coffee. This fact stuck with me: Coffee bean pickers need to watch for biting snakes. The snakes come down from the trees eat for three days and then go back up to sleep and digest for the next 3 days.
The entire coffee production is done by hand at Finca de Don Elias and most of the beans are exported to Europe. The tour ends with a cup of coffee overlooking the verdant countryside.
Getting to Finca de Don Elias in Salento:
If you are going for a morning tour, walk to the farm. Find the yellow bridge at the edge of town and follow the signs for Finca de Don Elias. It will take about an hour and the walk is all downhill.
Take a Willys jeep back to town.
I took a jeep in the morning and walked back in the scorching midday sun. It’s all UPHILL on the way back and took almost 2 hours. Good thing the views were great!
Solo Woman Walking:
I asked the Willys driver if the road was safe and he assured me it was. I walked for 2 hours and felt safe the whole time. There are locals riding by on their motorbikes and many Willys jeeps.
Cost: Tour 12000 COP ($5.00 Cdn). Pay the Jeep driver 3000 COP ($1.25 Cdn)
You can pay for the tour right at the farm or if you take a Willys jeep from the plaza, purchase the ticket at the booth and pay the driver separately (3000 COP).
Coffee for sale: Do you have room in your luggage to buy their beans?
8. Relax At The Local Coffee Shops
After the long Corcora Valley hike, I wandered down to Café Jesús Martin and what a café! My cappuccino frio was outstanding and shared with the loveliest French couple I had met a few days prior.
They recommended the Café de la Esquina – Café on the Corner. Before leaving Salento, I popped in for a coffee (about 60¢ ) and what a bustling fabulous atmosphere here too.
I’m going back to Salento Colombia just for the coffee shops!
9. Make A Wish In Salento Colombia
I love hanging out with locals and luckily met Beatriz and her son who were also visiting Salento. She shared with me the Colombian tradition of making a wish when you enter a church for the first time. We parted ways so she could make her wish at Our Lady of Carmen in Plaza de Bolivar. I followed suit, of course.
I am going to be making a lot of wishes around Colombia!
10. Where To Eat In Salento Colombia
Rincón del Lucy on Calle Real: Walk in and the waiter will tell you the choices. When I was there, the choices were trucha (trout) or chorizo (sausage). Dinner comes with juice, soup, fried plantain, a small coleslaw, rice and a choice of lentils, beans or vegetables. The price: 9000 COP ($3.75 Cdn).
The restaurant named Abuela was recommended by a local and the trout dinner was delicious. It also came with soup.
A brand new restaurant named Quindú is a bit more of a splurge. The views over the town at sunset are lovely. Worth having a drink there.
Travel Tip: If trout is not your thing, there is a vegetarian restaurant that serves a “menu del dia” for 12000 COP ($5.00 Cdn).My experience was delicious and welcoming. Although not exactly large communal tables, when I showed up the place was packed and a young Belgian couple invited me to join them.
As I left Salento, I stopped for a grilled arepa at a street stall. I glanced at the man waiting for his order and said, “I don’t want to leave.” He grinned and replied in Spanish, “That’s why it’s called Salento. Sal-Lento. Leave Slowly.”
I sauntered on to the bus station knowing in my heart how fortunate I was to have experienced Salento.