I was nearing the end of my research semester in Bogotá, where I anxiously awaited the arrival of my travel partner and love, Paul, to join me for a 10-day journey exploring the quaint small-towns sprinkling Colombia’s coffee region.
Up first on our coffee country bucket list was the colorful town of Salento. To make the most of your time in Salento, here’s my 3-day recap of our stay + our best tips on what to do in Salento, Colombia!
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Day 1: Arriving in Salento
We flew from Bogota to Pereira, which is where most travelers begin their Zona Cafetera journey. Our plan was to visit Pereira on our way back, on the way to the Termales Santa Rosa de Cabal, at the end of our trip.
Traveler’s Tip: Grab a bus from the airport straight to the center of Pereira. It is cheap and comfortable, so definitely save your money and take a bus. Otherwise, you’ll spend 5x more with a taxi. Ask the bus driver to drop you off near the main square. Mention the church, if needed, to give the driver a rough location of where you want to go.
From Pereira, we took a bus and arrived in Salento in the early evening. We hadn’t booked a room in advance, which was our mistake. Salento was unexpectedly busy!
Here’s our suggestion on where to stay and eat for your first night in Salento.
Where to stay in Salento, Colombia
We strolled the streets, asking random hostels how much it cost for a private room for a couple. Everything we found was at least 60K pesos, which was way over our budget!
And then we found the hostel Estrella de Agua. We slept in a private cabin that was tiny and colorful for 25K pesos/night. It was perfect. Just a stone’s throw away from the main square in Salento, the Estrella de Agua hostel is the ideal place to stay! It gives off a very artsy, nature vibe with friendly felines, a singing parrot, art sculptures and plenty of smiley faces.
The bathroom facilities were clean and reliable and the morning breakfast was so delicious. If you stay in Salento, book a tiny little cabin here! Tents and dorms are also available, for an even better price.
Where to eat in Salento!
Salento is fairly small, but there are plenty of food options to choose from. For a typical Colombian meal that’s moderately priced, head to Donde Laurita.
There, Paul and I had a proper introduction to the local specialties. Among them, the oh-so-delicious truta a la plancha (grilled trout). I had trout with garlic and patacon (plantain), which literally melted in my mouth.
Paul ordered the most famous bandeja paisa, which honestly could have fed a family of four. It’s loaded with rice, beans, pork rind, avocado, patacon, chorizo, shredded meat, plantain, arepa, and to top it all off—a fried egg!
For delicious coffee and cakes in the afternoon, don’t miss out on the Café Jesús Martín. Located just off the square!
Traveler’s Tip: Street food in Colombia is pretty safe to eat (at least I never had any issues), delicious and cheap! You can grab a few stuffed arepas (with meat or cheese, etc) at a local stand for less than 50 pesos. It’s definitely a must while in Salento and in other countryside small towns!
Day 2: What to Do in Salento, Colombia
There are plenty of things to do in Salento, Colombia.
Here are our favorite three activities to do in Salento which you can easily do in 1 full day:
1. touring a local coffee farm
2. shopping in Calle Real
3. sunset at Mirador de Salento (viewpoint atop Salento)
*Bonus: Salento is a favorite backpacker’s destination, not only because its adorable on its own, but because the incredible Valle de Cocora, is accessible via Salento. I touch base about the wax palm tree valley here, but you can jump to the full article here!*
Coffee tour with Las Acacias Coffee Farm
Actually, we just happened to stumble across Las Acacias Coffee Farm as we headed towards another more well-known coffee farm. A bright-blue eyed Colombian stopped us in our path.
He kindly asked us for a few minutes to explain his family’s traditional coffee farm. We listened eagerly, and without any pressure at all from his side, decided to take a coffee tour with them instead.
We were SO happy to have found Las Acacias and definitely recommend you do your Colombian coffee tour with them!!
The farm is next to the dirt path, which you take to head to the coffee farms (any local can point you in the right direction). It’s a nice walk outside of Salento, so no need to get a taxi.
The farm is set in nature, with loads of flowering plants, orchards, animals, fresh coffee aromas, and the friendliest of people! Before our tour, we got to try fresh coffee, and this cup of coffee my friends is unlike any other!
It’s real coffee, with a full and flavorful taste. It’s so creamy, slightly fruity, and sweet!
Our guide showed us the whole process and explained all the steps that it takes for the coffee bean to grow into a flowering plant, to harvesting, to sorting, to drying, to roasting, to grinding, to cup, and more.
At the end of our tour, we got to again taste the coffee. We ended up buying packets for all of our family and friends because they sell only to their guests; they do not export to big companies who can manipulate the coffee.
They provide fresh, natural, coffee, using only traditional methods. No fertilizers or chemicals to keep bugs away; instead, they use a natural mix of organic compost.
Shopping in Calle Real
Salento’s main square and the main street are adorably aligned with crazy colorful artisanal shops and boutiques. Definitely take the time to slowly stroll around and visit all the local stores and specialties.
We couldn’t resist and ended up buying a double hammock, some gifts, and Paul got me a Wayuu mochila bag for my birthday that I didn’t have the chance to get while in La Guajira, where the indigenous Wayuu people live. 🙂
Traveler’s Tip: Yes, you can bargain a little in Colombia! Don’t go overboard, but you can knock off a few pesos with a good deal (i.e. if you buy several things from the same shop!)
Sunset at the Mirador de Salento
At the end of the main street in Salento, you will see stairs leading to the top of a hill. There, you can take in the beautiful panoramic views of the Colombian countryside, as you overlook the quaint small town that rests below.
It’s the ideal place to sit and watch the sunset as you munch on a bag of chips and drink a refreshing beer. There isn’t much else to do up here, other than enjoy the view and company of friends or your other half. Don’t forget to take a few pictures before heading back down for the evening.
Traveler’s Tip: While in Salento, do not miss out on a wild experience playing Colombia’s national sport—Tejo! Tejo consists of three essential things: a good aim, beer, and plenty of exploding gunpowder. For a game, head to Los Amigos.
Day 3: Hike to the nearby Valle de Cocora
A trip to Salento isn’t complete without a hiking trip to the magnificent Valle de Cocora, where the world’s largest palm trees—the wax palm trees—adorn the vivid green valley and soar 200 ft/60 m in the sky!
To get there, it’s fairly easy. Colorful WWII jeeps line up on the main square, ready to be packed with locals and tourists alike. Get there early to grab one on time! The earlier you go, the more time you will have to hike the valley.
Traveler’s Tip: You can either do a short cut hike straight to where the wax palm trees are concentrated or, you can do a 5-6 hour tour, hiking through part of the Los Nevados National Natural Park. Hike over grassy fields and dense forests, across bridges and rivers and past goats, horses, cows, and more!
There is also a hidden gem that’s not to be missed on this long hike, the Acaime Casa de Los Colibris. Nestled deep in the hills, this hummingbird sanctuary is a must-see.
You won’t believe how many species and colors of hummingbirds there are buzzing just one foot in front of you! To this day, this place is still on my list of absolute favorites. I tell you about it more in my guide to the Valle de Cocora.
3 Days in Salento, Colombia
Salento, Colombia is already a popular bucket list destination among foreigners, and it’s no surprise why! Its small-town charm, colorful colonial stores, delicious local specialties, and nearby Valle de Cocora, all give Salento its uniqueness.
I hope you enjoyed this simple yet adventured-packed 3-day itinerary for exploring Salento on a budget. I can highly recommend every activity we did and the places we got to eat or stay.