Coffee is an international language spoken clearly, passionately and with melodic tones here in Colombia. Coffee was the original reason for the visit to Salento but the laid back lifestyle, friendly locals, beautiful landscapes and the colourful charming architecture were amongst the reasons we didn’t want to leave.
We only had 3 days in this pretty little pueblo because we were on a deadline to meet friends in Bogota. After a bit of research and heaps of advice from other travellers along the way here is what we decided to prioritise during our stay…
A coffee tour: there are plenty of tours on offer around Salento, we decided we wanted to take an english tour because although our Spanish has improved immensely there are presumably 100’s of words in Spanish we don’t know regarding the processing of coffee. We took our tour with Ocaso and it was OK. It went for about an hour and while I was impressed with the environmentally sustainable aspects of the place I felt it lacked authenticity. To get here you can either jump a willy (the beautiful WW2 jeeps used as taxis) for 25,000 total, or you can walk about an hour. We decided to walk. Aiming for the 1pm tour we unfortunately trusted the location given on maps.me which was wrong. So we took the wrong road out of the city and walked for an hour in the rain only to end up on the opposite side of the river… after asking many locals for directions we found a little bridge and a track up the bank and made it there for the 3pm tour, which was a big adventure! After walking all day we arrived to find the next tour was unfortunately in Spanish but luckily they had another tour at 4pm in English, so we drank a beer with a sleazy tour guide who was waiting for a couple of German tourists and enjoyed the views out over the rolling green hills. The walk back along the suggested path was all up hill but was pleasant, it took us an hour and half (even in the dark). After taking the tour with Ocasa we had another finca with an English tour recommended to us with Don Eduardo, but we missed out on that one.
Ride in a Willy: These pimped out WW2 Jeeps are very cool machines. It’s no wonder when the American army arrived in a convoy performing tricks in the main plaza to offload these babies to the farmers, the locals fell in love. I’m a little in love! Riding along clinging from the step on the back, or sitting in the front seat are the best places to ride as there isn’t much space with 6 squashed in the back!
Cocora National Park: We took a Willy from town and on our way there we went with 2 other girls so being 4 people we paid extra to leave straight away which cost us 7,500 each. To get back we paid 3,700 and the Willy was rammed with passengers so we were hanging off the back enjoying the lovely views. Inside the park we did the popular loop track which took us 6 hours including travel to the park and lots of breaks. The trail takes you through beautiful farmland dotted with the endangered giant wax palms, along a gorgeous tranquil river complete with shaky swing bridge crossings to a rustic Colibri Cafe. This is where you pay 5000 to enter, but you will be welcomed with a lovely hot coffee (with or without the local panela sugar cane) and some campesino cheese. Enjoy the refreshments while hummingbirds feed just metres away, buzzing around sapping sugar water from feeders set up near the cafe. We had never seen so many hummingbirds and were completely mesmerised, filling our memory cards with footage of these incredible little creatures. From here you back track a little and then head up towards the Finca Montaña. As you ascend the views out over the bush and the wax palms just keep getting more and more sumptuous, so taking many breaks is nice and easy to warrant. The finca at the top of the hill is surrounded by colourful gardens full of a vibrant selection of exotic flowers. They offer drinks and food for the wary hiker or if you’ve packed a lunch the path from here is all down hill and passes a few picnic worthy view points. The whole walk is soul enriching and if you are only going to do one thing in Salento make it this.
Eat trout: To call the trucha here mouth-watering wouldn’t even do it justice. We had it twice and it made me want to cry happy tears both times. The 1st time we tried it was when we walked the wrong way to the coffee farm. We found a simple restaurant perched next to the river under a bridge and I wept as we saw the bubbling skillet arrive at our table. A whole fish, halved and prepared in white creamy garlic sauce, served on a hot cast iron dish with patacones (a deep fried crispy platano chip) potato and salad for 13,000cp (6.50aus). The next time we had it was during the weekend, locals set up food stalls in the main plaza and everyone offers the same thing on the side of the road. This time I ordered the marinara version which also came with shrimps and had no potato or salad but the patacone was huge. So decadent and song worthy. If you like seafood in creamy garlic sauce this is the spot!
Play tejo: The game the locals play while they drink beer. The aim of the game is to throw a heavy weight at paper parcels packed with gunpowder, hit one and (as one would expect) it makes a big bang and catches on fire. It costs 2000 to play at Los Amigos and beers are 3000 each for the local drop “Poker”. Los Amigos is down the hill from the lookout when you take the road as apposed to the steps.
Enjoy the local artisanal shops: There are some top notch crafts here and all at pretty good prices which are also open to negotiation. I don’t normally make a mention of the shopping but the main street here is very charming and was fun to browse. Clothes, bags, art, jewellery, all very tasteful and well made. I bought some Colombian cotton shoes for 25,000cp ($12.50aus).
Soak up the views from the mirador: At the top of the main shopping street are 200 steps up to a hill that looks out over the town. If you follow the path around to the left it leads to the main viewing platform affording views out over the lush green hills behind Salento.
Of all the places we have travelled, I would really love to live here…