7 Reasons Why You'll Adore Salento, Colombia
Given that I'm the ultimate water baby, I'm still surprised that the Colombian city I fell for most is located nowhere near the Caribbean coast. Rather, it was Salento, found in the heart of Colombia's Zona Cafetera (coffee region), that stole my heart. This colourful (if chilly) valley town located not too far from the Andes mountains is the perfect place to take a backpacking break and soak in local Colombian life alongside some fresh air and some seriously delicious coffee.
If you're travelling through Colombia or backpacking through South America, stopping in Salento is an absolute must. Read on for the ultimate travel guide on what to see and what do in Salento so you can fall in love with it too.
1) Hike the Cocora Valley: The views along this stunning valley were by far the most spectacular across all of my travels through South America. Those mountains dotted with wax palms and covered in mist make for a truly unforgettable sight. Fun fact: wax palms are the tallest palm tree species on the planet and indigenous to Colombia. Not to mention they make for an epic photo backdrop for the Gram.
Cocora Valley is located approximately 30 minutes outside of Salento town itself but you can get there very easily from the city centre. You can hike, cycle or hop on a jeep that will drop you off at the foot of the mountains. Once there, you can either hike your way to the top (there's an short three-hour loop or a full six-hour loop) or go horse-riding through the valley, but the entrance itself is free.
2) Go horse riding: Admittedly, I'm not the best with horses (or any animal for that matter), but I’ll always give horse riding a go when I’m travelling and the Cocora Valley felt like the perfect place to dip my toes in again. And though terrified, the experience did not disappoint! Sitting atop our horses and strolling through those misty mountains was a major ‘pinch me’ moment. Horse riding is also a great option if you want to skip a massive hike or are feeling pressed for time. It costs about 50,000 COP (£13) to hire a horse for a round trip journey, though the agencies are pretty flexible with your requirements. We booked one way only so we could hike at our own pace on the way back down.
3) Spend an afternoon touring a coffee farm: There are plenty of tour options, but we opted for Ocaso, a fairly well-known and renowned finca, and it was worth every penny. You can choose from two tour options. There is the hour-and-a-half long tour that walks you through the coffee-making process from start to finish. But if you're a coffee connoisseur, you can extend this to a three-hour tour which also includes a coffee tasting and sampling session. Either way, the tour is really immersive and so much fun! You'll plant your own coffee seeds, pick a few ripe coffee beans and walk through every single step of the roasting process. The sampling session is great too; you'll learn to pick out specific flavour notes and try coffee prepared from a variety of methods including the Chemex and some traditional Japanese coffee machines.
4) Take a ride on a Willy: Willy is the local term for jeep. Most likely you'll take one to get to the Cocora Valley or a nearby coffee farm. But if you don't find an excuse to jump on one of these babies, make one. Riding on a Willy is a rite of passage in Salento. The driver fills them to the max (helllooo, Health and Safety) but you'll have such a laugh befriending your fellow passengers in such close quarters. On my favourite trip, I was hanging off the back of the jeep, wind whipping across my face as I soaked in the mountain views around me.
5) Overdose on coffee: Well, not literally. But if there's a place to do this, it's certainly Salento. And if you only make time for one coffee spot then it's got to be Jesus Martin. This artsy little space simply has the best coffee around. I mean it's to-die-for good. My friend and I both ordered a Viennese (two shots of expresso infused with whipped cream) and loved them so much we ordered two more before we'd even finished our first round.
6) Wander the city's colourful streets: Salento is a darling of a town. Plus, it's small and walkable. So even if you only spend a few days in the city, it's easy to explore (and get lost in) its charming streets. And the houses are uber-colourful so there are insta-worthy moments at every turn. And the locals are very hospitable, so you'll probably bond with your neighbours before you know it. We were lucky enough to arrive on El Dia de Las Velitas (Day of the Candles) - a day in which locals light candles and paper lanterns along their front porches to honour the Immaculate Conception. So our stroll through the town was particularly magical.
7) Check out the beautiful miradores (viewpoints) that overlook the city: Salento's prime valley location makes for some seriously out-of-this-world views. Hike to the top of the hill (it lies about 15 minutes from the city centre) and you'll be rewarded with some stellar views of the surrounding verdant mountains. We timed our visit for sunset to kick off a perfect evening in Salento.
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