Perched up on the mountains of the Colombian department of Quindío, the Andean town of Salento has a charm that sets it apart from anywhere else in the country.
The town is mostly known for being a gateway to the Cocora Valley, home of the tallest palm trees in the world, but there are also many other wonderful things to do in Salento that deserve some attention.
In this article, I will show you exactly what to do in Salento along with lots of foodie recommendations and some practical tips to make the most of your visit.
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Table of Contents
Map of the Top Things to Do in Salento
To make your life easier, I created a fully customized map that includes all the best places to visit in Salento marked with blue, the best places to eat and drink in Salento marked with yellow, and the best places to stay in Salento (green).
How to use this map: This map is fully interactive, so you can move around, zoom in/zoom out, and click on the icons. If you want to see a larger map, click on the bracket in the upper right corner. To see more details and the different layers, click on the tab in the upper left corner. If you want to save it for later, click on the star icon next to the name of the map. Then simply open Google Maps either on your desktop or phone, go to ‘Saved’/’Maps’, and open the map whenever you need it.
Best Things to Do in Salento, Colombia
Hike in the Cocora Valley
Cocora Valley is the one attraction that draws everyone to Salento. This dramatic landscape is dotted with the tallest wax palm trees in the world and towering summits in every direction.
To get to Cocora Valley, you have to take a Willy (a traditional jeep) from the main square. The first Willys typically leave around 6:30 am and then they run frequently through the day as they depart once a Willy is full (it usually means 8-10 people).
The ride takes around 30 minutes and costs 8,000 COP ($2 US) for a round trip. First, you need to get your tickets in a separate line, then wait for the next available Willy in another line.
After arriving at Cocora Valley, you can decide whether you want to do the full loop which is 12 km and takes around 4-6 hours, or if you just want to do a shorter version of the hike.
You have to start counter-clockwise and after you reach Mirador 1 and Mirador 2 (the two best viewpoints along the hike), you can either continue along the loop or take a shortcut that will lead you back to the starting point.
The full loop is considered moderate to difficult and takes you through different landscapes from cloud forests to pastures with cows and crossing rivers. The shorter version is roughly 5 km and it’s much easier but still gives you a glimpse of the incredible scenery.
Since it rained a lot in the last couple of days when we visited, we decided to skip the longer hike and just do the shorter one.
To be honest with you, I think it was more than enough. The shorter version includes the best views and you still get to admire the wax palm trees up close. Needless to say, seeing these palm trees was definitely one of the highlights during our 2 weeks in Colombia!
Entrance to Cocora Valley costs 6,000 COP ($1.50 US) and if you want to do the full loop, there’s another 5,000 COP ($1.30 US) to pay along the way. You can also join a guided trek in the Cocora Valley if you don’t want to do it on your own.
Saddle up and go horseback riding
If you’d rather explore Cocora Valley from a different perspective, why not go horseback riding? It’s one of the most unique things to do in Salento and it allows you to cover more ground in a shorter amount of time.
There are several horseback riding tours available, from short 2-hour rides to full-day adventures. You can also choose to ride through the Cocora Valley or explore other areas nearby such as coffee plantations, rivers, and waterfalls.
Whatever you choose, it’s a great way to experience the beauty of Salento and its surroundings.
The cost of a horseback riding tour varies depending on the length and destination, but most tours are between 30,000-100,000 COP ($8-25 US) per person.
Tour a coffee farm
If you’re a coffee lover like me, the one thing you definitely have to do in Salento is visit a coffee farm.
It’s no secret that Salento has a thriving coffee scene because of its location on Colombia’s famous ‘Coffee Triangle,’ which is made up of three departments: Caldas, Risaralda, and Quindío.
The Coffee Triangle spreads across a line from south to north of the central mountain and is known for producing the vast majority of the country’s coffee.
There are many coffee farms you can visit in Salento, most of them are located on the same winding road southwest of the town. Even the closest one is a 45-minute walk from the center, so it’s better to take a Willy ride.
Just like when going to Cocora Valley, you can take a Willy from the main square where you can also buy your entrance ticket to the coffee farm.
We chose to visit Finca Buenos Aires and it was an unforgettable experience. Our guide, Mauricio was incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about coffee, and we learned so much about the process of growing and roasting coffee.
Plus as we were the only two people opting for the English tour, we ended up having a private tour for the same price as a group tour (30,000 COP/$8 US per person).
The tour takes around 1.5 hours and includes a walk through the coffee plantation, learning about the different varieties of coffee beans, and seeing how they are processed and roasted. Of course, you also get to taste some delicious freshly brewed coffee at the end.
Another great thing about Finca Buenos Aires is that they are the furthest coffee farm from Salento. This means that on the way, you will be the first one to board the Willy (since you will be the last one to leave) and have a higher chance of getting a seat for the bumpy ride.
Since Finca Buenos Aires is the last stop, it also means that it’s the first stop on the return journey, so you will definitely have a seat on the way back as well.
If the Willy gets full anywhere along the way they won’t be able to pick up anyone else, so if you choose to visit a closer coffee farm you might have to wait for the next Willy.
Take in the views at Mirador de Salento & Mirador Alto de La Cruz
After all the hiking, horseback riding, and coffee tasting, you might want to take a break and just enjoy the stunning views of Salento.
The two best places to do this are Mirador de Salento and Mirador Alto de La Cruz. They are located right next to each other so once you make it to the top, you can easily visit both viewpoints.
To get to the Mirador Alto de La Cruz, you will have to walk up a steep staircase with more than 200 steps. It’s definitely a workout, but the view from the top is so worth it! You can see the entire town of Salento and its surroundings.
Mirador de Salento can be reached by following the steep Carrera 4 street. There’s a roofed viewing platform where you can take in the panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. The view is totally out of this world!
As I mentioned, you can walk between these two viewpoints. I recommend taking Carrera 4 on the way up to Mirador de Salento, walking over to Mirador Alto de La Cruz, and then taking the stairs down back to the town.
Of course, you can also do it the other way around, I just think it’s a little bit easier this way.
Both viewpoints are free to visit and open all day, but the best time for the views is at sunrise or sunset.
If you happen to be visiting in the morning, you can stop for breakfast at one of my favorite cafes, Coco Bowl, which is located at the lower end of the stairs leading to Mirador Alto de La Cruz.
People-watch at Plaza de Bolivar
I would describe Plaza de Bolivar as the beating heart of Salento, it’s where all the action is. This bustling square is right in the town’s center and is surrounded by quaint colonial buildings, a gorgeous church, beautiful flower beds, and cafes and restaurants.
The vibe around Plaza de Bolivar is unmatched, there’s so much color from the pretty infrastructure, plenty of fresh street food to be sampled from the vendors and gangs of locals out for their daily walks.
There are some sights to see at Plaza de Bolivar, like the Lady of the Carmen Church and the statue of Simon Bolivar. You won’t have to pay an entry fee to see either, but beware that the church will be busy during prayer times.
Photograph the colors of Calle Real
A stroll up Calle Real is a must-do for every visitor coming to Salento. It’s the town’s main street, lined with multi-colored houses and small handicraft stores.
Calle Real does get quite busy, especially on the weekends. The street isn’t hugely wide, so you can feel crammed when the crowds are out. If you can, I would definitely recommend going for a stroll in the early morning hours when most of the people are still asleep.
Another huge perk of visiting Calle Real early is that the doors on the multi-colored houses are closed, which means you get to see them in their full beauty.
But, after 9 am, they open up into shops, so if you want to do some shopping, you might want to hold back until then.
Join a game of Tejo
Give yourself a break from the sightseeing and indulge in a game of Tejo, Colombia’s national sport!
The game comes from Colombia’s indigenous people and involves throwing a small metal disk in the center of a ring to try to hit gunpowder-filled targets to try to make them explode. Plus, there’s a lot of beer drinking involved in between rounds.
In Salento, the best place to play Tejo is at Los Amigos, which is only a five-minute walk from the main square. All you have to do is ask the person at the bar if you can play. They’ll teach you the rules, and you get started.
Hike to Santa Rita Waterfall
Another one of the best things to do in Sarento is hiking to the tranquil Santa Rita Waterfall.
Not many tourists venture out to see this beautiful waterfall but if you love off-the-beaten places, then this is a must-do activity!
The trailhead is located a bit out of town, so your best bet is to catch a bus at the local bus station. Look for buses heading to Pereira or Armenia and ask the driver to drop you off at Santa Rita Waterfall (Santa Rita la Cascada).
If they are not familiar with the name, ask to be dropped off at the yellow bridge (you can find it as Puente Metalico on Google Maps), it’s essentially the same place!
It’s only a 10-minute drive from Salento and from the bridge, it takes around 20-25 minutes to get to the entrance of Santa Rita.
You’ll have to pay a small entrance fee of 7,000 COP ($1.8. US) but this gives you access to the whole area consisting of multiple waterfalls, a dark cave, and even a natural pool. If you want to take a dip, don’t forget to pack your swimsuits!
There are various hiking trails you can follow so depending on how much time you have, you can choose one that suits your plan.
We decided to skip the most difficult part of the trail as it was raining a lot the previous night and the trail was pretty muddy and slippery. But we still visited Santa Rita waterfall, the natural pool, and the Barranquero waterfall which were all amazing!
We spent about 2.5 hours exploring the area, taking photos, and relaxing by the waterfalls before heading back to Salento (not counting the bus ride and the walk to the entrance). It was definitely one of the highlights of our trip!
Visit the nearby town of Filandia
If you want to take a break from Salento and explore somewhere new nearby, consider visiting the charming town of Filandia. It’s only a 40-minute drive between the two and easily doable.
Filandia is less popular than Salento because there are fewer things to do there, but don’t let that discourage you, the beauty of this little mountainside town makes up for it.
There’s such a chill atmosphere in Filandia, life is at a much slower pace than in Salento, and it’s nowhere near as busy. You’ll find plenty of cozy coffeehouses, colonial buildings, and friendly locals willing to share their way of life.
Some of the main sights in Filandia include the Mirador Colina Viewpoint, Mirador Del Tiempo Detenido, the Centro De Interpretacion handicraft museum, and Iglesia María Inmaculada.
Sample the local cuisine
Colombian food is some of my favorite, and there’s no better place to try than Salento. You can find all kinds of little eateries selling famous bites and local delicacies all over town. It’s a pure dream for foodies!
Here are some of my favorite dishes you absolutely have to try:
- Trucha is a popular dish in Salento, considering the town’s proximity to trout-filled streams. It’s typically served with rice, patacones (fried plantains), and salad.
- Arepas de choclo is a traditional Colombian snack made from cornmeal dough and filled with cheese. It’s crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, making it a perfect snack while exploring Salento.
- Tamales are another must-try in Colombia, and you can find some of the best ones in Salento. They’re made from corn dough filled with meat, vegetables, and spices, then wrapped in banana leaves and steamed.
- Ajiaco is a hearty soup dish made with chicken, potatoes, corn, and guascas (a local herb). It’s perfect for chilly days in Salento and is often served with avocado and rice on the side.
- And of course, no trip to Colombia is complete without trying their famous coffee! Salento has plenty of cute coffee shops where you can sample some freshly brewed Colombian coffee while taking in the beautiful surroundings.
Where to Eat & Drink in Salento
Talking about food, I wanted to mention a few of our favorite places to eat and drink in Salento. Salento may not be the biggest town in Colombia, but it sure has some delicious options!
Here are some of my recommendations:
- Brunch de Salento – A hole-in-the-wall brunch spot with lots of options like tacos, burritos, and desserts. You can also get a takeaway breakfast if you’re planning an early morning adventure!
- Beta Town Restaurant – An indoor and outdoor restaurant serving a mix of Colombian and typical Western specialties. We actually stayed at their hotel as well and absolutely loved it.
- Café Jesús Martín – One of the best cafes in Salento, serving delicious coffee and tasty desserts and sandwiches.
- Coco Bowl – This cute vegan restaurant is located right at the foot of the stairway leading up to the Mirador Alto de la Cruz and they have the most amazing smoothie bowls.
- Restaurante Cocina y Horno Salento – A traditional Colombian eatery close to Bolivar Square offering everything from trout to bandeja paisa.
- El Cacharrito – A delicious burger bar with all kinds of combos to satisfy your cravings. They even have veggie options, too.
Useful Info for Visiting Salento
Where to stay in Salento
Salento is a pretty small town, so you won’t find any big chain hotels here. Instead, there are plenty of cozy guesthouses, boutique hotels, and hostels to choose from, each with its own unique charm.
For such a small town, there are a surprising number of options, so it all depends on your budget and preferences.
Most of the accommodations are located within the town itself, but you can also find some more secluded options in the surrounding countryside.
Some of my recommendations include:
- Beta Hotel – A beautiful and cozy hotel located a short walk from the town center with great service and delicious food. This is where we stayed during our visit and absolutely loved it.
- Hotel El Mirador del Cocora – Located at the edge of the town with breathtaking views of the Cocora Valley, this hotel is perfect for nature lovers looking for a quiet and peaceful stay.
- Panorama Salento by DOT Boutique – A new, modern, and stylish hotel with stunning views of the surrounding mountains. It’s also located close to all the main attractions in Salento.
- The Corner House Hostel – The top-rated hostel in town and also one of the cheapest options. It’s located just a corner away from the main square and has a great social atmosphere.
- Glamping Lumbre – If you want to try glamping in Colombia, this is the perfect place. Located close to the entrance of Cocora Valley, it offers luxurious tents with insane views.
How to get to Salento
Although Salento doesn’t have its own airport, flying to one of the nearby airports is still the most convenient way to get there.
The two closest airports are Pereira (PEI) and Armenia (AXM), both of which are about an hour’s drive away from Salento.
From the airport, you can either take a taxi or a bus to get to Salento. Buses from Armenia typically leave every 20 minutes but you will need to take a taxi to the bus station from the airport first.
We flew to Armenia but since the bus station is a 20-minute taxi ride from the airport and Salento is 1 hour, we decided to take a taxi directly from the airport which cost us about 120,000 COP ($30 US).
The bus from Pereira doesn’t leave that frequently and there are only 5 buses per day so make sure to check the schedule beforehand. If you fly to this airport, getting a taxi directly from the airport is probably your best option.
Another option is taking a bus directly from major cities in Colombia such as Bogotá, Medellín, or Cali. However, keep in mind that the journey can be quite long and may require transfers, so it’s best to plan ahead.
One of the most popular options is to take an overnight bus from Bogotá or Medellín. This way, you can save time and money on accommodation while getting to Salento.
The main bus terminal in Salento is just outside the center of town, so you can easily walk to your accommodation from there.
Best time to visit Salento
To really get the most out of your trip to Salento, you should visit between December and February.
This is when the town gets its least amount of rainfall, but be warned, in January, Colombians are known to take their holidays, so it can get crowded there.
Another thing to note is that the town celebrates its anniversary on the 5th of January. The festival takes place on the weekend closest to the 5th and it’s a great time to visit if you want to experience traditional Colombian culture and celebrations.
However, it also means that the town will be crazy busy, and getting in and out of town will be a nightmare. We didn’t know about this festival beforehand and accidentally ended up in Salento during that weekend. It was really chaotic!
Also, visiting during the dry season doesn’t mean that it won’t rain at all. Be prepared for occasional showers and pack a poncho or umbrella just in case.
Even though we visited in January we had heavy rainfalls every afternoon which limited our outdoor activities. Luckily we had some extra days in our Colombia itinerary so we still managed to see and do everything on our list.
How to get around Salento
Salento is a very walkable town due to its small size. If you’re going anywhere within the locality, you can do so by foot.
If you want to visit some attractions outside of town such as Cocora Valley or the coffee farms, you can either take a jeep (Willy) or rent a private car. Jeeps leave from the main square and go to different destinations in the area.
Horse rides are also available in town if you really want to ride around in style. They can be taken for short journeys or full-day tours, depending on your preference.
Planning a trip to Colombia?
Then you might want to take a look at all our other travel guides about Colombia. I promise, they are just as awesome as this article was!
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- 18 Best Things to Do in Cartagena You Can’t Miss
- Where to Stay in Cartagena: 6 Best Areas & Hotels
- How to Spend 3 Days in Bogota: The Ultimate Bogota Itinerary
- Where to Stay in Bogota: 5 Best Areas & Hotels
- 10 Unmissable Things to Do in Salento, Colombia (+ Tips for Visiting)
- 3 Days in Medellin: The Perfect Medellin Itinerary for First Timers
- Top 20 Things to Do in Medellin You Absolutely Can’t Miss
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