Salento is a small town located seven hours west of the capital city of Bogotá. We spent three nights in Bogotá prior to Salento and were pleasantly surprised by how much we loved the city. Although the city has eight million residents, we were surrounded by natural parks, bike paths, delicious food, and people out exercising (not common in South America). Quick tip: if you plan to visit Bogotá, 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.
As usual, we bused from Bogotá to Salento, which turned out to be a long, tiring day. 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.
where to stay
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.
what to do
Our favorite daily activity in 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 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. 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.
Finca El Ocaso coffee tour - prior to traveling 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 tour was at the top of our to-do list in Salento. For about 10,000 COP/person ($5.00 USD) at Fica 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 tour was strapping on baskets to our waists and trekking deep into the coffee plants searching for the ripest berries to pick.
Hike Valle de Cocora - 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 de Cocora is famous for growing the tallest trees in the world - the wax palm. 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 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, the hike took us 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 for the packed 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 Salento at 5:00. If you miss the jeep, you'll have a very long walk back to town.
Have you been to Salento? What did you think? Let us know!
For love & adventure,
b and d