Slow Down and Enjoy the Beautiful Cocora Valley and Coffee Region of Salento Colombia
Salento Colombia is a small town located seven hours west of the capital city of Bogotá. This destination is a must for a Colombia itinerary and is most known for the Cocora Valley, the iconic wax palm tree (the world's tallest palm tree), tours of a coffee plantation, and a small town bustling with Colombian culture. We hope you enjoy our guide to this iconic destination, if you want to see the stunning countryside of Colombia, drink as much fresh coffee as you want, and get out to hike the Cocora Valley packed with some of the most biodiversity in the world, then we recommend fitting Salento Colombia into your itinerary.
We spent three nights in Bogota prior to Salento and were pleasantly surprised by how much we loved the city. Although the city of Bogota has eight million residents, we were surrounded by natural parks, bike paths, delicious food, and people out exercising (not common in South America). A quick tip: if you plan to visit Bogota, we recommend staying in the Usaquén neighborhood. It's absolutely beautiful with cobblestone streets and flowers draping over balconies. Plus, it's one of the safest neighborhoods in the city. Even though we enjoyed our time there, we were ready to get out of the city and up close and personal with nature -- Salento, here we come!
As usual, we bused from Bogota to Salento, which turned out to be a long, tiring day. The bus station in Bogota was easy to navigate and find the bus we needed to get to Salento. There aren't any direct buses that run from one city to the other, so you'll have to make a connection in Armenia. After the long bus to Armenia, exit the bus terminal and search for the small shuttle vans that say Salento on the front. The journey is quite simple, but be prepared to spend an entire day traveling. If you plan to come to Salento from Medellin we also recommend taking the bus system which is also a long journey. Medellin is about the same distance from Bogota so plan a whole day for the bus ride. The ride from Salento to Medellin was a bit windier so be sure to have your car sickness medicine handy!
where to stay in Salento
Coffee Tree Boutique Hostel - If eating a delicious breakfast of fruit and eggs on a balcony overlooking the mountains is your thing (trust us, it is), then Coffee Tree Boutique Hostel is your place. Only a short walk away from the main square, the hostel is located far enough from the bars that sleeping at night is a breeze. The building itself is spacious with a large common room, wrap-around balconies, dorm and private rooms, and lush gardens. Coffee Tree really feels like it's designed by and for travelers. Every detail is well thought out and the staff is incredibly professional. Also, you can't miss the sweetest saint bernard that calls the hostel home.
things to do in Salento
Our favorite daily activity in the town of Salento was taking a stroll to the main square to eat fresh fruit and limonada de coco's from the fruit stand. This is where our limonada de coco addiction started, and we're still seeking out this tasty treat weeks later.
Play Tejo - Colombia has a famous explosive sport called tejo. This game is similar to cornhole or horseshoes, only you throw a metal stone at a pit of clay with a metal ring in the center. Placed around the metal ring are paper envelopes filled with gunpowder. If you have good aim, the two will make contact and explode with a loud bang! We played a few games of tejo at Los Amigos one night with some friends we met. There are several spots around town but this is the one that was recommended as the best spot in town. We were told that in order to play as the locals do, it's a requirement that you drink some beers or local aguardiente while playing. It will get loud and a bit wild, but that's what makes it a favorite Colombian pastime.
Tour a Coffee Plantation or Coffee Farm - prior to traveling to Colombia, we used to buy Colombian coffee beans at the grocery store each week for our french press. We knew nothing about why tasted so good, what variety of coffee bean it was, or even how coffee is grown and processed. We drink at least one cup of coffee each day but discovered that we didn't know much about coffee. That's why a coffee farm was at the top of our to-do list in Salento -- an area known as the coffee region. For about 10,000 COP/person ($5.00 USD) at Finca El Ocaso, we became experts on Colombian coffee and we discovered some shocking misconceptions about coffee. The organic coffee farm tour took us through the entire process -- from planting the initial seed to steaming a cup of java. Our favorite part of the coffee tour was strapping on baskets to our waists and trekking deep into the coffee plants searching for the ripest berries to pick. The farm is just outside of town so we recommend making a half-day out of the tour.
Hike Valle Del Cocora also known as the Cocora Valley Hike - And finally, the reason most travelers choose to visit Salento and the number one reason it's now a stop on the 'gringo trail.' Valle del Cocora also is known as the Cocora Valley is famous for growing the tallest trees in the world - the wax palm tree. These trees soar far above any other vegetation and can grow up to 60 meters (roughly 200 feet)! The tiny trunks seem inadequate to support the height of the trees, making them an icon of Colombia. This hike was one of our favorite experiences in Colombia that we recommend to everyone.
From Salento, catch a Willy (a shared jeep) to the entrance of the park. The jeeps leave a few times throughout the day, takes 20 minutes, and costs about 8,000 COP/person ($2.50 USD) roundtrip. Once you arrive, the direction you decide to hike is up to you. In fact, there's a lot of controversy over whether hiking clockwise or counterclockwise is the best. Coffee Tree Boutique Hostel strongly advised that we hike clockwise, so that's what we went with. Here's the main difference: the clockwise incline is long but gradual. You'll immediately head up a wide path, pass through the wax palms, walk for another hour or two before arriving at Finca La Montaña.
From the top, you'll turn and head down a steep, rocky path that can be a bit hard on the knees. For the last hour, you will continue on a mostly flat path and cross a series of suspension bridges. In total, we were hiking for 5 hours. The counterclockwise hike may be more of a challenge because you'd be hiking up the steep rocky path in the intense sun.
If you opt to take the first Willy of the morning as we did, you'll arrive at the wax palms around 8:00 am when the lighting is still decent for photographers. We saw this as a better opportunity as opposed to landing at the trees mid-day. Also, we were going against the flow of foot traffic which meant we had most of the hike to ourselves.
No matter which direction you choose, you'll be standing at 10,000 feet above sea level at the top of the hike. The hike isn't for the weak, so be prepared with snacks/lunch (thanks to Coffee Tree Boutique Hostel for the sack lunch), water, 5,000 COP/person for entrance fees, and good walking shoes. The hike is in a cloud forest which means the area gets a lot of rain. We were blessed with nothing but sunshine the day we visited, but it rains between 4 and 11 inches of rain per month. Don't wear your best tennis shoes and leave some spare time in case the rain/mud slows you down.
Make sure that you complete the hike by 4:00-4:30 because the last jeep heads back to town at 5:00. If you miss the jeep, you'll have a very long walk back to town.
Hike the Santa Rita Waterfall - still itching to get out there and hike? Haven't seen enough of this beautiful Colombian countryside and the incredible biodiversity? The Santa Rita Waterfall is another must for this area. We did not have time to experience this hike but other travelers were raving about it. It seems that it can be a bit complicated to get to this hike so we always recommend asking around with the locals. However, if you are a plan-ahead kind of person check out this very detailed guide from, Jen at Long Haul Trekkers.
Have you been to Salento? What did you think? Let us know!
For love & adventure,
b and d