On the western edge of the Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados, the pueblo of Salento (pop. 7,000) is one-stop shopping for those seeking a quintessential coffee region experience. The town, an enchanting pueblo, home to coffee growers and cowboys, is adorned with the trademark colorful balconies and facades of Paisa architecture.
It was one of the first settlements in the region during the 19th-century Antioquian colonization. In the nearby countryside, coffee farms dominate the landscape. Here you can be a Juan Valdez, the iconic personification of Colombian coffee, during a coffee tour in which you harvest coffee beans, learn about the bean-to-bag process, and sip the freshest coffee you’ve ever tasted.
Within minutes of town is the Valle de Cocora, where you can play tree tag in forests of palma de cera (wax palm, the Colombian national tree), the skyscrapers of the palm family. Some of these can reach up to 60 meters (200 feet) high. For a more challenging hike continue on to the Reserva Acaime, a private nature reserve of tropical forest, babbling brooks, and not a few hummingbirds. From here adventurers can ascend into the páramos (highland moors) and, eventually, the snowcapped mountains of the Parque Natural Nacional Los Nevados.
Read: Salento Treks
Salento is easily accessed from between both Armenia and Pereira, and in the town and nearby countryside there are hostels, hotels, and good restaurants. It is a popular tourist destination, so if you’d like to experience Salento without the crowds, go during the week.
The Plaza de Bolívar or Plaza Principal is the center of town and center of activity. The festive pedestrian Calle Real (between Cl. 1 and Cl. 5) is the most photogenic street in Salento. It is lined with restaurants and souvenir shops painted in a rainbow of colors. It starts at the Plaza Principal and leads up to the Alto de la Cruz Mirador (scenic lookout atop the Calle Real). At the cross you can get a great bird’s-eye view of the Calle Real and Salento. Farther on is another lookout with views over the surrounding jungles and valleys. But it’s really about atmosphere in this Quindío town.
In the outskirts of Salento, an excellent place to learn about the coffee process from seed to cup is the Finca El Ocaso (Vía Salento-Vereda Palestina. This family-run farm with some 12 hectares (30 acres) of coffee crops produces coffee that has several international certifications, such as the German UTZ and the Rainforest Alliance. Elevation here is around 1,780 meters, a good altitude to grow coffee.
For the real Paisa experience, horseback riding is a good way to enjoy the countryside around Salento. In the Plaza Principal there are usually horses at the ready, especially on weekends. One popular excursion is to some nearby waterfalls.
Salento, along with the neighboring countryside, is a nice place for a bike ride. Most places can arrange bike rental. Additionally, CicloSalento rents out good quality mountain bikes with helmets. Caution: The winding road leading into town from the Valle de Cocora does not have a shoulder for bikes. Vehicles tend to speed along this road, making this a dangerous stretch for cyclists and pedestrians.
Also read: Things to do in Colombia
Information and Services
Hostels usually provide the best tourist information, but there is a city-run tourist kiosk, the Punto de Información Turística (10am-5pm Wed.-Mon.), in front of the Alcaldía (city offices) in the Plaza Principal.
Getting There and Around
There is frequent bus service from Pereira, Armenia, and other cities to Salento. The last bus from Armenia leaves at 8pm (under COP$4,000). From Pereira, there are four direct buses each weekday, costing under COP$6,000. There is more frequent service on weekends. As Salento is well established on the tourist route, thieves are known to prey on foreigners on late-evening buses traveling from Pereira to Salento. Keep a vigilant eye on your possessions. Buses to Armenia (every 20 mins., COP$4,000) and Pereira (COP$6,000) depart from the the intersection of Carrera 2 at Calle 5, with the last bus departure at 6pm daily. For Filandia you have to first go to Armenia.