Salento, Colombia: Guide to Visiting

Salento, Colombia is a charming town of around 9,000 people nestled in the Andes Mountains. The “zona cafeteria” or coffee zone of the country, is also home to the world’s tallest palm trees in the Cocora Valler. Colombia is one of the world’s largest producers of quality coffee and Salento is a perfect base to explore this stunning region. Last month we spent 10 days in Colombia to celebrate our 13 year wedding anniversary and it was a memorable trip. Here’s tips for visiting Salento, Colombia!

Where to Stay in Salento, Colombia?

Reserva Monarca

We chose to spend two nights just outside Salento at the beautiful Reserva Monarca. The views of the lush Andes Mountains and Salento off in the distance from the balcony of our room and at breakfast are strikingly beautiful. Rooms are comfortable and the property also has a jacuzzi, sauna, massage room and private gazebo bar. After a breathtaking hike in the Cocora Valley, a dip in the jacuzzi was a fantastic way to unwind. Rooms at Reserva Monarca offer excellent value. Rates include breakfast with a breathtaking view overlooking the Andes Mountains from their terrace!

Coffee Tree Boutique Hostel

As Bell and I originally met in a hostel over 16 years ago, we decided to spend two nights at the Coffee Tree Boutique Hostel to try out a “luxury hostel.” The staff is really friendly and the hostel is nice, but it’s still a hostel so understand that beforehand. There are no TV’s in the rooms, but one of the things that makes the experience boutique is that they have a massage room.

Bell and I both booked a massage during our stay at Coffee Tree Boutique Hostel. It was extremely relaxing, and a great deal at around $20 US each for an hour long full body massage. The property also has an excellent view of the Andes Mountains and Salento. We enjoyed watching horses and children walk the streets from the balcony of our room. Private rooms at the Coffee Tree Boutique Hostel in Salento offer a tranquil small town Colombian stay.

Salento, Colombia

Why Visit Salento?

Collage of Andes Mountains and over of Salento houses

Salento is a charming and colorful town, with good food and drinks at good prices. It’s also a great town for artisan shops, and we both picked up some new clothes and Bell purchased a crotched wayuu bag. The view of Salento and the Andes Mountains from the top of the stairs on the Mirador (looking point) is a must.

Unlike much of Bogota, Colombia, which has many pros and cons to visiting, it is generally safe to walk around Salento after sunset. The receptionist at Coffee Tree Boutique Hostel in Salento said “nowhere in Bogota is safe to walk around at night” with a slight chuckle. The front desk was surprised that I asked how much a jeep from the main square would be at night. “Why would you need a ride? It’s only a 5-minute walk to the main square” was her response. We found that walking back to the hostel around 9 pm was a good time, as there was still a steady flow of other tourists and locals moving around at that time.

Cocora Valley and the World’s Tallest Palm Trees

The Quindio wax palm trees majestically dot the lush Cocora Valley. They are the world’s tallest palm trees, growing to a height of 60 meters (196 feet). This is the highlight of a visit to Salento and should not be missed.

Palm trees, rancher on his horse and cows in the Cocora Valley

The best way to reach the Cocora Valley is by taking a 30 minute shared ride in one of the Jeeps, aka Willies. You can find lots of Willies in the main square of Salento. You can’t miss them when you arrive, but it can be a bit chaotic. Just let the person in the booth know where you want to go and stick around until a jeep is ready. We never waited more than 15 minutes. They pack the jeeps and will even allow willing participants to hang on exposed from the back. If you do not wish to do this, just insist on waiting for the next jeep and hop up front.

Shared jeeps run frequently as there are a lot of tourists traveling between Salento and the Cocora Valley. I was not willing to hang from the back (perhaps Bell would have). You can also pay extra to hire the jeeps for private rides, and we needed to do this when ordering a ride into Salento from Reserva Monarca, which is a 30-minute drive away.

Collage of the Willie jeeps that get you around Salento

Cocora Valley: Advice for Hiking

Collage of Alex and Bell hiking in the Cocora Valley

Be sure to pack snacks and plenty of drinking water for the Cocora Valley hike. If you forget to stock up in advance, there are some restaurants and vendors around the campgrounds at the entrance to the Cocora Valley. But once you start the hike, there isn’t anyone selling anything for around 5-6 km, the distance to the Acaime hummingbird sanctuary where you can get a coffee or hot chocolate. We were lucky with the weather and enjoyed a beautiful sunny day, but we recommend starting early as it often rains in the afternoon.

Coffee Plantation Tours Near Salento

Colombia is the world’s 3rd largest exporter of coffee. If you’re a coffee lover, this is a wonderful region to visit. Just a few miles outside Salento is the Finca El Ocaso coffee plantation. We took one of the shared open air Jeeps (aka Willy’s) from the main square of Salento to the coffee plantation for just a few dollars each roundtrip. You can walk the dirt road to Finca El Ocaso, which takes at least an hour. If you do, we recommend walking there as it’s downhill.

Collage of coffee farm, with the beans, trees and girl making coffee

Finca El Ocaso sits in a lovely spot with a beautiful view of the Andes Mountains. After the tour, be sure to allow for a little time to sit in their cafe and soak up the peaceful ambiance. Their friendly staff also taught us more about various coffee brewing methods in the cafe after the tour.

The tour of the plantation begins by learning about coffee beans and understanding when they’re ripe (referred to as coffee cherries at that point). We then had the opportunity to pick coffee beans for a bit before seeing the rest of the process in action. We left with a new appreciation for the work that goes into making a good cup of coffee.

Play Tejo: The Colombian National Sport

Tejo is the national sport of Colombia. It involves throwing a heavy lead object at a clay pen that has some paper packed with gunpowder. When the lead object hits the paper, the gunpowder ignites making a loud crack and small explosion. This is a popular game typically involving alcohol, and it is good fun (just don’t be foolish playing).

We played tejo at Beta Town, which also offers a tasty restaurant, hotel, football field and adventure activities. The staff were really friendly about explaining all the rules of tejo. It was super cheap to play, at just 2,000 pesos each (around 75 cents). Games take awhile – especially when you’re not good at tejo, and we certainly weren’t. It was fun to play tejo to overlooking the soccer field, where a local game was taking place. The entire experienced offers quintessential Colombian culture and a friendly vibe.

Collage of around Selento, Alex at Betatown, Bell drinking a coconut drink and a stand selling drinks

Eat Trucha (Trout) and Bandeja Paisa – Favorite local dishes in Salento

One of the most popular things to eat in the area is trout (trucha). It comes prepared in a variety of ways, typically grilled with several sauce options and often accompanied by hogoa sauce (a Colombian tomato-based Creole sauce). It’s impossible to miss trucha in Salento as most restaurants serve it and it’s frequently advertised in their specials. We ate it a couple times and the best was at La Casona in the main square.

Trout and plantains for dinner with beers

Another popular Colombian dish, which was also plentiful, good and cheap is Bandeja Paisa. Bandeja Paisa includes an assortment of meats, rice, beans and a crispy fried flattened plantain. It’s sorta like a buffet of Colombia eats in a single dish.

These two massive and tasty dishes at La Casona only set us back 16,000 and 17,000 Colombian pesos (basically around $6 US each). Beers were the equivalent cost of around $1.25- $2.50 US depending on the brand. Club Colombia beers go down pretty smooth and accompany both dishes well. We also enjoyed some of the craft beers by Bogota Beer Company.

I also highly recommend the fresh coconut lime juice that’s common in Salento. They blend coconut cream with lime juice and sprinkle some fresh coconut on top. It’s rich, decadent, delicious and inexpensive.

Salento For a Romantic Trip?

Colorful shopping street with stands in Salento, Colombia

We absolutely do. It’s stunningly beautiful and very relaxing. We both really enjoyed the Cocora Valley, coffee plantation, town of Salento and our stay at the Reserva Monarca. There were a couple of stressful moments, partly due to language barriers. But everything worked out fine and it was well worth the mild hassle.

How to Reach Salento from Pereira Airport

The major inconvenience is that you have to connect in the nearby cities of Pereira or Armenia. They are around 45 minutes – 1-hour drive from Salento. We flew from Bogota to Pereira Airport on Avianca. We prefer to use Uber over taxis, but Uber is technically illegal in Colombia.

An Uber picked us up from Pereira Airport but insisted on logging out of the Uber platform and negotiating a price. We didn’t like this as it was unprofessional. But his ratings were good so we eventually agreed and the ride was fine. The driver told us that Uber didn’t recognize the highway toll and took too high a commission. He spoke English and was friendly. He was formerly in the military, so the conversation was interesting.

Bus from Salento to Pereira

On the return to Pereira Airport, we took the bus from Salento bus station to Pereira bus station. We then ordered an Uber from Pereira bus station to Pereira Airport, which picked us up at the gas station across the street. Poor Spanish complicated matters with the first Uber ordered, who ended up canceling the ride and telling us off in Spanish that we should just get in a taxi. Certainly not a very romantic part of the journey, but that’s travel sometimes. You have to deal with some frustrations to experience the great parts.

You can also fly into Armenia Airport, which is near Salento.

Sunrise over the Andes mountains

Thinking about a visit to Colombia and have questions? Email me at [email protected] or leave a comment below to add to the conversation! You may also want to read our article on the Pros and Cons of Visiting Bogota.

Salento pin for pinterest

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  • Alex&Bell

    Alex and Bell originally met while solo traveling after finishing university in 2002, in Brugge, Belgium. Alex grew up in the USA and Bell hails from Australia. During our nearly 20 year marriage we've lived around the world, including spending six years living in the Netherlands and Ireland. We have traveled to nearly 70 countries and enjoy giving readers authentic and quality travel tips. Alex is an award winning travel journalist and travel planner, who also freelances for other outlets. Bell is an award winning PhD scientist who currently works for a non-profit lung cancer advocacy research organization called Lungevity. Happy travels and if you have any questions leave a comment or drop an email!

10 thoughts on “Salento, Colombia: Guide to Visiting

  1. Happy Anniversary. Those palm trees are crazy. Salento seems like a beautiful place to spend your 13th anniversary at. I don’t know which anniversary is the coffee anniversary but 13 is a pretty good choice.

    1. Thanks Jenn and Ed! Yes, perhaps 13 years should be re-branded the coffee anniversary. Great idea! 😀

  2. I’ve just been on a tea plantation but I would definitely choose something like this as a place to visit. I love how you are reliving your “meeting place” by going back to a luxury hotel. Hmmm uber is not allowed in columbia? Good to know that. I usually depend on uber for a ride nowadays but glad you had a good time,

    1. Cheers, Karla. Ha, yes, though the hostel we met in 16 years ago in Brugge (Bauhaus) isn’t quite as nice as the Coffee Tree Boutique Hostel. Bauhaus has a lively bar with a lot of Belgian beers on tap, where even some locals hang out in. Coffee Tree is more low key, not a party hostel like that 🙂 But you can still order drinks from reception at Coffee Tree and enjoy them in the common area or in your room which is nice. It was a generally young crowd, but not big partiers.

      While Uber is technically illegal in Colombia, you can still order Ubers in many places. But drivers will often ask someone to sit up front so it’s not obviously an Uber. We found ordering Ubers to be much easier in Bogota compared to this area of the country. We didn’t try to order Ubers in the Salento area as the Jeep service is so prevalent (and honest).

  3. I have a soft spot for South America, and Colombia is the next country on my Latin wish list. Just the other day I got coffee from Colombia, actually, so this trip would be absolutely up my alley! I don’t normally stay at hostels, but I’m intrigued by this one. Not just because of the name, but the luxury aspect and massage room. Sign me up. 🙂

    1. Great to hear, Pola! Have a wonderful trip to Colombia in the near future! Let us know if you have any questions on traveling in the region 🙂

  4. This sounds like such a fun trip! We visited a coffee plantation in Costa Rica as well! Seems like transportation and language are the main concerns. I wonder how much more expensive it is to ride a taxi (vs Uber).

    1. A Costa Rican coffee plantation sounds wonderful! The price of a taxi from Pereira Airport to Salento was 140,000 pesos, which is about $50 US (takes close to an hour and there is an expensive highway toll for them). We ended up paying the Uber driver 110,000 pesos which saved us $10. But for us, we also prefer to use Uber because there is a record of our ride, and we can cancel the ride if the driver has poor reviews. The Uber driver that came to Pereira Airport had around 90 good reviews, so we accepted the ride. In Bogota the price difference between Uber and taxis depends on the time and company you choose.

  5. I didn’t know Columbia was known for having the tallest palm trees! The prices at Reserva Monarca are really good! I would love to enjoy that view in person. Cocora Valley is stunning — is it always that beautiful green? Looks like you also enjoyed good food and great fun, too. Thanks for sharing your Salento explorations with us!

    1. Thanks for the lovely comment, Tami! Yeah Reserva Monarca was really wonderful. Gorgeous vista, good food and relaxing amenities. Great value too.
      It’s always really green in this region because there’s a good amount of precipitation. We were lucky it didn’t rain much during our visit. Happy travels! 🙂

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