A man peeks his head out from an opened window above a pizza shop, watching the mix of tourists and locals looking for things to do in Salento in the main square below. Waiters rush hurriedly from table to table at crowded restaurants, putting down plates of meat and bean dishes in front of hungry guests. Chorizos hang in a store windows and we promise to return after we drop our backpacks at the hostel.
We walk up the hill from where the bus drops us off and attempt to find our way. We don’t have a map with us so we peep our heads through a small doorway, our eyes adjust and we see it’s a corner store. A man is sitting out the front.
“We’re looking for this address,” I say, turning to the man, about to read from piece of paper ripped out from my notebook. “What is the hostel’s name?” he says, revealing that the small size of Salento makes addresses obsolete. You’re more likely to get the right directions if you ask someone for the name of a place, rather than what street it’s on. “Hostel Tralala,” I respond, before the man beams a smile at us and says: “Oh! Tralalalalalala!” before pointing us in the right direction.
Salento is a small town in the north-east of Quindio and because of it’s relatively remote location and distance from bigger cities, it has kept its relaxed, small town kind of vibe. Tourism is Salento’s biggest industry, though, so expect to see a whole bunch of backpackers who are just as enamoured with the place as you are.
My partner and I were in town during a festivo (public holiday), which meant it was particularly busy, but it just added to the atmosphere. There were temporary restaurants set up in the centre of the main square, there was a party vibe and lots of locals and backpackers alike, and it still maintained that small town vibe, which I love!
Things to do in Salento
There are so many things to do in Salento, and more than you’d probably expect from such a sleepy little town. Here’s what I’d suggest you get up to if you find yourself in this part of Colombia’s coffee region!
1. Spend the afternoon in Plaza Bolivar
Salento is a colourful little place. The doors are painted in bright greens, blues and reds and it looks great in holiday snaps – even the worst photographers among us can get some great photos from this place. Be sure to spend some time meandering about with your camera, taking some shots as you go. The main square in Salento is called Plaza Bolivar and this is where you’ll find restaurants, a little supermarket, bars, a couple of souvenir shops and the church. You could easily pull up a chair at one of the restaurants, order a couple of drinks and relax into the afternoon.
2. Buy a plantain the size of your head
One of the many things to do in Salento is to eat your way around the town. And one good place to start is with a typical dish from the region. The plato tipico in Salento is trucha (or trout) along with fried plantain which is literally the size of your head. You can also get what looks like a plantain pizza, with loads of toppings including cheese, chicken, mushrooms and sauces. I ate quite a few of these.
3. Take a stroll along Calle Real
Calle Real is the main drag in town and it buzzes which activity. Here you’ll find a couple of hostels and restaurants, loads of souvenir shops and a couple of cute cafes and ice-cream shops. This where you’ll find colourful paisa buildings and equally colourful characters.
4. Alto de la Cruz
Right at the end of Calle Real you’ll come to a steep stairway of more than 200 steps which will bring you to a lookout point called Alto de la Cruz. At the top you can expect a pretty stellar view of Salento and Calle Real below.
5. Valle de Cocora
Probably the most exciting and most popular thing to do while in Salento is a visit to the Cocora Valley and once you visit you’ll understand why. The place is absolutely spectacular. You can catch a jeep in the morning from the main square in two which will drop you off at the entrance point of Cocora Valley – it’s about a 20 minute drive. Once you’re there, take a look at the map and get ready for a day spent soaking in the surroundings. You almost feel like you’re on the set of Jurassic Park (minus the dinosaurs) because it is so visually breathtaking.
6. Acaime Hummingbird Forest
While you’re trekking through the Cocora Valley, make sure you look out for the signs to Acaime. This will lead up to the Hummingbird forest. It’s about two and a half hours from the starting point and absolutely worth it. Here you pay a $5,000COP entry fee, which includes a hot drink, and there you can see many little hummingbirds buzzing around. Don’t forget your camera!
7. La Montana lookout point
Once you make your way back down from Acaime, you’ll see a sign to your right that says La Montana. It is quite a steep little trek, but once you make it to the top, the view is majestic and worth getting short of breath for. It will take you another hour to get here from Acaime.
8. Mountain biking through Salento
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous then you can’t go past a ride through this beautiful region on a mountain bike. The greenery that surrounds Salento is stunning and riding through it a really fun way to spend an afternoon.
9. Visit a coffee farm
While you’re cycling through the region, why not stop off at Don Elias’ Coffee Farm? Here you can learn all about the process of cultivating coffee plants, drying the beans and the hard work that goes into each and every cup of coffee. Then you can sit down to a cup of strong, Colombian brew.
10. Horse riding
I don’t know what it is about horse riding, but it really freaks me out. Get me up on a horse and the adventurous part of me just disappears. In saying that, though, I did get on a horse in Salento and made a trip through the green countryside through to a waterfall in the forest. We did a four-hour horse ride up steep declines and through rivers and it cost around $40,000COP. Despite the fears (wait until you see the video!) it was totally worth it.
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If you’re thinking about travelling through Colombia, then these are my recommendations of things to do in Salento. Do you have any other suggestions? Let us know in the comments section below. Happy travels!
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