The Story of Salento, Colombia
The story of Salento is well known; it was established because of the Quindio pass that crossed from Popayan over to Bogota. When Simon Bolivar, a South American icon of independence, crossed over the Andes mountain trails in 1830, he ordered the pass to be improved. This was done by prisoners of war who built houses and settled on the land.
However, we were also told that the town got its color from a German couple who traveled here as tourists around 20 years ago. They fell in love with Salento, integrating themselves as part of the community and convincing the locals to paint their houses to draw more tourists to the town. We don’t know how true this story is, but it’s nice to imagine!
Things to do in Salento, Colombia
Salento has a lively center and colorful houses with matching flowers, plants, and painted ornaments. There’s also a small party scene to be found here if you look in the right places, with cute cafes hosting live music events and DJs. Here are some of the top things to do in Salento:
The Cocora Valley (Valle del Cocora) is what brings people from all over the world to Salento. It’s a stunning landscape filled with wax trees (the tallest palm trees in the world) native only to Colombia and northern Peru.
Cocora Valley Tour
Jump in a Willy (the original Jeep, which is about 60 years old!) at the town square before 9 AM so you can arrive before the crowds. Once you arrive, you’ll be met with a landscape that looks straight from a painting; towering palm trees emerge out of the low-lying clouds as the sun’s rays pass through them.
You can follow a couple of trails, whether on foot, mountain bike, or horseback. There is one main loop (trail) that passes stunning viewpoints which starts about here. However, be aware that the entire Valle del Cocora loop is about a 5-6 hour hike. It’s well worth the effort, though, as you pass through cloud forests, jungle, and wax trees. This is the best thing to do in Salento!
2. Calle Real
Calle Real is the most famous street and one of the top things to do in Salento! The pedestrianized street is lined with two-story white houses that have had their windows, balconies, and doorways painted in beautiful bright colors.
If you visit before 9 AM, you’ll get to see the colorful doorways. After this time, the doors open to show the shops, and the colors won’t be as visible. However, this is still a great time to enjoy a little shopping for souvenirs or enjoy a cup of coffee at one of the cute cafes. You could even head for the local pool bar, where you’ll find the men of the village sipping coffee and playing games; a great insight into the culture of Salento!
3. Mirador de Salento
Enjoy the best views of Salento and the surrounding countryside at the Mirador de Salento (viewpoint). It’s a steep staircase, but walk only 5 minutes up, and you’ll be rewarded with stunning views over the small town, the green mountains, and the luscious nature. Visiting at sunset is even more spectacular, although this is also the busiest time.
Best of all, the Mirador de Salento is free to visit!
4. Plaza de Bolivar
Plaza de Bolivar is a place where you can absorb the authentic Salento way of life. The lively square sits at the center of the town, surrounded by the church and beautiful trees. You’ll find most restaurants around this square and other amenities like ATMs. Plus, it’s the Willy collection point to take you to the Cocora Valley.
Twenty percent of the world’s bird population lives right here in Colombia, and the stunning landscapes of Salento are home to some beautiful species. Not only can you see exciting birds in the Cocora Valley among the wax trees (toucans and kestrels!), but you can even see parrots chattering and singing on the roofs of Salento town.
There are also plenty of other nature reserves surrounding Salento, where you can join tours to see hundreds of species of birds.
6. Play Tejo
Do as the locals do and join in on a game of Tejo! The premise of the Colombian game is to throw a rock at targets that sit among thick clay. But this is a game with a difference: the target contains gunpowder and creates a small explosion when hit. It’s more complicated than it looks!
Get a group together from your hostel, drink a beer, and enjoy a bit of competition with one of the top things to do in Salento. There are a few places you can go and play, and it should only cost under 10000 COP for a round of Tejo. Los Amigos is one of the most popular places to play in the area (here is the location).
7. Horseback Riding
Horseback riding in Salento is a bucket list experience, particularly amongst the wax trees of the Cocora Valley. You’ll get to see the beautiful landscape from a new perspective and learn so much more about the area from knowledgeable guides. Join a tour and ride through open meadows, across tranquil rivers and waterfalls, and end at the most spectacular viewpoints of Valle del Cocora.
As with all wildlife tourism, do your research very carefully to make sure you choose a sustainable, ethical business that treats the horses with love and care.
8. Santa Rita la Cascada
There are plenty of waterfalls around Salento, but Santa Rita la Cascada really is the most beautiful of them all! Just 5km away from Salento, the waterfall is a lovely corner of nature and the perfect place to cool down and swim.
Arrive at the nearby Finca, where you’ll need to pay 7000 COP to enter (as the waterfall is on private land) before starting the 1.5 km hike to the waterfall. It’s relatively flat the whole way, through open farmland, roaming cows, and along small winding rivers. If you want a longer hike, there is also the option to take a longer 6km trail.
Join a tour and head to a coffee farm. Here you’ll learn about the importance of coffee in Colombia, the growth, production, and process from bean to cup. You’ll get to try different types of coffee and brew as you picnic under the wax trees of the Valle del Cocora—bliss!
10. Day Trip to Filandia
Filandia is a beautiful town just 30 minutes from Salento. It’s got the same colorful vibe as Salento, filled with beautiful houses that have their doorways, window frames, and roof tiles painted in bright rainbow colors. However, Filandia is much quieter and a good option for a day trip to escape the crowds of Salento.
The town is also famous for its fantastic food scene, coffee farms, and the beautiful waterfalls located nearby (Doble Cascada is a favorite!).
Best Cafes and Restaurants in Salento
Salento may be famous for coffee, but it has some great places to eat too. You can find small cafes with pastries, traditional restaurants serving Colombian classics, and diners serving American-style brunch to backpackers. In short, Salento has variety!
Some of our favorites were:
- Restaurante Mi Tepuy (Vegetarian / Vegan)
- Coco Bowl (Vegetarian)
- Cumana Bistro Food (Venezuelan)
- Andariego! (Best coffee in town)
- Café Jesús Martín (Beautiful old style cafe)
- Cocina y Horno (Pretty good Italian)
- El Cacharrito (Hamburgers, veggie options)
Where to Stay in Salento
Salento is tiny, so wherever you stay in the town will locate you near the main streets and squares. However, if you’re looking for a more remote experience, there are some fantastic accommodation options out in the Cocora Valley. For example, glamping or boutique eco-resorts overlooking the most stunning landscapes.
Choose from hostels and guesthouses situated around Calle Real and Plaza Bolivar for a lower-cost option.
How to Get to Salento, Colombia
Salento is accessible by bus from major cities in Colombia, like Bogota, Medellin, and Jardin. However, if you’re leaving from Bogota, be aware that the Andes mountains sit right in the middle of your journey, making it tricky and lengthy to travel by road (a bus from Bogota to Salento takes around 8 hours).
For that reason, it’s easier to fly from Bogota or Medellin to Pereira or Armenia airport (around a 1-hour flight). From here, you can jump on a bus or in a taxi which will take you just under an hour. It’s a good road, just a little bit windy at the end as you travel into the mountains and valleys of Salento.
Getting Around Salento
Salento is very small, making it super easy to get around. You can walk everywhere in the town on foot or up to the nearby viewpoint, Mirador de Salento.
As it’s a popular town for tourists, plenty of taxis and tour groups are also leaving daily to take you to the Cocora Valley or local chocolate and coffee farms.
How Much Does Salento Cost?
Salento is very affordable, although its popularity with tourists can make accommodation a little more expensive than in other cities in Colombia. The majority of your budget will be spent on all the tours and experiences that Salento offers.
Best Time to Visit Salento
December – February, and July – September are the best times to visit Salento as this is the dry season. However, be aware that the weather is always a real mixture because of the location of Salento high up in the hills. This means the day can start warm and sunny but quickly turn to mist and rain (there’s a high chance of rain most days, especially at night).
This changing climate makes Salento unique, providing the opportunity to see the wax trees loom out from the low-lying clouds.
Is Salento Safe?
We felt safe during our whole Colombia trip, but Salento, in particular, felt very safe. The locals are incredibly friendly, and the town’s size makes for a lively yet cozy atmosphere both day and night.