Perched on a plateau overlooking the verdant Quindio River Valley Salento is awash with vibrant color, culture, and natural beauty.
Salento is undeniable beautiful. This colonial Colombian town has retained much of its old world charm, and serves as a portal to another time, another way of life. Salento’s colorful paisa architecture mixes with a distinctly laid-back approach to life that only a small town can elicit, creating the sensation of visiting the past. And that’s just inside the town itself.
Walk half a kilometer away from the center, find yourself on a winding dirt road, and inhale the many scents of Salento. Dew on lush grassy pastures, an earthy musk of fertile soil, cows, horses, and dogs going about life as the morning mist slowly burns away under the embrace of the sun.
Salento feels more than just vibrant; it literally thrums with life.
The small town has long been a popular destination for vacationing Colombians, and its popularity with international tourists is on the rise. Despite hosting increasing amounts of tourist traffic, Salento still feels genuine. Authentic, if we dare use that overly used word.
While backpacking our way across Colombia for three months last year we were exposed to the stunning, and varied, beauty of the country. While we had a great time exploring Colombia’s cities, it was its small towns that we truly fell in love with. Each one felt distinct, each one exposed us a little bit more to a wonderful culture and its smiling people, and each one carved a special place in our hearts. We stayed in Salento for a week, and we would have stayed longer had time allowed.
Based on our time there we decided to write up a small list of essential activities to partake in when visiting Salento. If you have time we suggest staying for a minimum of three days. And if you are in a hurry…well, just try to cram as much of the below list into your itinerary as you can. Happy trails!
Things to do in Salento
Explore the Valle de Cocora (Cocora Valley)
If you are visiting Salento for only a couple of days, you must absolutely take one of those days to explore the Cocora Valley. In fact, if you are heading to Salento, you probably already know this. The valley tops the list of things to do in Salento, and any traveler would be remiss to not visit it.
Part of the Los Nevados National Natural Park, the Cocora valley is the primary location of the distinctive Quindío wax palm, which is Colombia’s national tree. It also happens to be the tallest palm tree know to man. Which probably makes it the tallest palm tree, period, unless there are palm trees growing on one of Saturn’s moons. But we digress.
Activities in and around the Cocora Valley run a full gamut of adventure sports. There are a number of hiking and camping opportunities in the valley, and in the surrounding Los Nevados National Natural Park. You can also indulge in some bird watching, mountain biking, rafting, and general revelry of the emerald beauty that is the Cocora Valley.
Nature lovers should plan on staying in Salento longer than a couple of days. You WILL be completely smitten, we promise you.
Take in the View from El Mirador in Salento
The word mirador is Spanish for balcony with a commanding view, or a lookout point. There are many miradors throughout Colombia, and a lot of them offer spectacular sights. Few that we encountered, however, afforded a view as transfixing and captivating as the mirador in Salento.
If you look closely at the above photo you will see a river, the Rio Quindio, near the bottom center. Follow that river to reach the depths of the wondrous Cocora valley.
When you are done with views hike up on the little hill to the right of the mirador, and hang out with the locals on swing sets as you drink a cold beverage and take in the view from the opposite side of the valley. You will have a sweet vantage point above the town itself, and the rolling verdant horizon beyond it. If you visit in the late afternoon try to take in a sunset from this spot. You won’t regret it!
Play Tejo in Salento
Tejo is a traditional Colombian sport with roots dating back centuries. No one knows just how old the game is exactly, its origin is not document. Be that as it may, Tejo is pretty darn popular in Colombia.
One of the rules of Tejo is that it must be played while drinking beer. That’s all we needed to hear before signing up for our first Tejo match at Beta Town in Salento. Turns out, Tejo is pretty much like horseshoes…except with gunpowder. That’s right, things (sort of) explode during a game of Tejo. Cool!
So the super simplified rules of the game are as follows. You open a can/bottle of beer. You then attempt to throw a metal puck, which is called a tejo, down a narrow lane to hit a small pouch of gunpowder which is positioned on a metal ring situated in the middle of a box of clay. Hit a pouch with the metal puck, the pouch goes boom, and you get some points. There is far more to the game than that, but you get the gist.
So, when in Salento, head to Beta Town, acquire a bucket of cold beer, and blow up some gunpowder. It’ll be fun, and it’s a great way to spend a couple of hours in the evening if you are looking for things to do in Salento!
Take a Coffee Plantation Tour Outside of Salento
Salento is located in what is known as the Zona Cafetera, the region of Colombia that is famous for growing incredibly high quality and delicious coffee. When in town take a taxi, bus, bike, (or better yet) walk (as we did) a few kilometers outside of town to Finca El Ocaso where you can see first hand how coffee is grown, harvested, processed, and brewed.
You might be surprised by what you learn. For example, did you know that coffee grows on beautiful flowering bushes? Did you know that coffee seeds are green and grow inside berries that turn bright pink when they’re ripe? We sure didn’t. The informative, hour long tour of the plantation takes you through the process of growing and harvesting coffee. You will see how the beans are prepared once harvested. The tour ends with a lesson on how to brew coffee in the traditional Colombian manner and, of course, everyone gets nice hot cup of java to sample.
So when in Salento tour a coffee plantation. You will glean a fair measure of insight into the process of growing and harvesting coffee. You’ll also have a chance to sample insanely fresh grinds at the tail end of your tour. It’s an experience that should not be passed up, regardless of your stance on coffee, and is without a doubt one of the things you should do in Salento.
People Watch in Salento’s Town Square
One of the things we love most about small towns is how closely they can connect you to the culture of whatever country you are visiting. Big cities, by and large, tend to dilute local culture and customs; filled with commercialism, business, and busy busy people as they are. Colombia is pretty laid-back, but even so its cities are much alike in that respect to most other cities around the world. Things get lost in the shuffle. It is in Colombia’s small towns that the truly vibrant and friendly nature of the country shines through.
People watching in Salento’s town square was one of our favorite activities. You can see everyday life unfold here. Vendors selling local foods, teenagers flirting with one another, children playing, adults taking a breath to relax and let the time pass.
Salento’s square is small, but vibrant, and we highly recommend taking some time to sit here and just be. And once you have sat long enough, and perhaps worked up an appetite, you can go for a coffee in one of the numerous cafes within easy walking distance. Or have meal at the many restaurants. Order the fried local trout and a typical plate of rice, beans, plantains, and salad. It’s freaking delicious!
We hope you’ve given you some pointers on what to do in Salento during your visit. And we hope you get to enjoy this incredible town as much as we did. As always cheers and safe travels everyone!
Want More of Salento? Check This Out!
Where to Stay in Salento, Colombia
La Serrana Hostel
La Serrana Hostel sits atop a 20 hectare farm among vivid green pastures about a 30 minute walk outside of the town center.
The hostel, with its multiple common spaces, houses, and rooms, has a friendly communal and inclusive feel. Rooms are clean, comfortable, and well appointed, each with their own ensuite bathroom.
The hostel offers a multitude of activities like mountain biking, rock climbing, coffee tours, and trekking. Breakfast is free and the kitchen is well stocked. There’s even a popcorn machine for guests!
With it’s peaceful and tranquil location, beautiful decor, friendly staff, and loads of activities and socializing opportunites, La Serrana is our top pick as the best hostel in Salento. Hands down.