On the surface, Salento is just like a dozen other colonial towns in Colombia; it has colourful buildings, a large town square and, of course, the obligatory church. However, the main route between Cali and Bogota which used to pass through Salento was diverted, meaning the town didn’t develop as quickly as others in the Quindio region.
This gave Salento the opportunity to evolve into a a thriving community of craftsmen and artisans as well as remaining one of the region‘s most prolific coffee producers.
The town of Salento itself is located 24 km northeast of the departmental capital Armenia. Unlike its colourful neighbour, Armenia itself has very little to offer tourists. As a result, most people travel to Armenia and immediately take the 45 minute bus journey to Salento, which I would advise you do too.
Salento attracts those wishing to learn about the coffee regions and for those who simply admire breathtaking scenery (the stunning Cocora Valley is near by). Even the bus ride is a highlight, and that’s something which can seldom be said in Latin America.
We spent 4 days in the town and have listed (in no particular order!) our favourite ways to spend time in this magical place. So here are our top things to do in Solento, Colombia:
1.Try the Local Sport Tejo:
The game consists of throwing a metal puck/disc across an alley about 15m long, to a one metre by one metre board covered with clay set at an angle. The metal disc is the tejo itself and the aim is to use the tejo to his small parcels of gun powder which are placed on the clay.
These parcels are usually triangle-shaped envelopes which are set on the edges of a metal ring within the clay. On impact with the tejo the parcels explode loudly in a puff of smoke. Different shots are awarded different points but, most importantly, tradition dictates the game should always be played whilst drinking beer. Alchohol and explosives… what could go wrong?
Head to Beta Town (a local hang-out in Salento) for some friendly Tejo instruction and some pretty decent food.
2.Have a Tinto and Cake in One of the Town’s Cafes:
How better to pass the time than sample some of the local coffee. There are plenty of places to choose from. Although, it is worth mentioning that the best of the coffee crops are usually for export, meaning the local coffee for domestic use is not quite as good. Head to Café Jesús Martín for a selection of the best Colombian coffees (read on for more info).
3. Cocora Valley:
As bizarre as it is breathtaking, the remarkable Cocora Valley is one of the main reasons why so many tourists flock to Salento. The valley is part of the Los Nevados National Natural Park and is the principal location of the national tree, and symbol of Colombia, the Quindío wax palm. The stunning landscape means you can spend a whole day here amongst the 60 meter palms and the tropical forests. Read our full review here.
4.Buy Some Authentic Colombian Coffee:
Your family and friends will be begging you to bring back some coffee fresh from the plantations on the green hills of Salento. You might even be lucky enough to taste some samples yourself, too! We bought our coffee from Café Jesús Martín, a local favourite. If you are feeling really adventurous, you can splash out on a cup made from the famous Geisha coffee bean, which can sell for as much as US$15 a cup!
5.Head to Aldea de los Artisanos (Artisan Community) to Watch the Local Artisans Make their Crafts:
We had a wonderful experience being shown around this small community, just a short walk from the town centre. Each artisan showed us what they were making and how and best of all…they didn’t try to sell us anything!
Thanks to some government funding these creatives have a place to live and work and so are encouraged to show tourists around. This is something a little off the beaten track and is totally worth an hour of your time.
6.Get Involved with the Local Games
There are a number of street vendors and games on the streets of Salento. If you have the eye for it, try your hand at shooting a feather dart from an air rifle to win sweeties or even cash prizes! If weaponry isn’t your thing, how about heading to the pool hall to mingle with the local folk.
7.Go Horseback Riding:
Bored of walking? Well saddle up and head for the hills! There are many places to go horseriding for a few hours where you will be shown the local sites with a guide. You can even enjoy a horseride around the beautiful sights of Cocora Valley if you don’t fancy the hike.
8.Head to a Coffee Plantation to Learn About How it is Grown:
A visit to the coffee region in Colombia is not complete without a trip to a plantation. We would recommend Plantation House who also own a great hostel. The tour is very thorough and explains the whole process from bean to blend…including many samples and fruits from the farm. Read our full review here.
9.Visit the Viewpoint/Mirador:
Walk up the coloured stairs (visible from the centre of town) for a beautiful view of the surrounding valley and mountains. When you get to the top it doesn’t seem all that impressive, but take the path on your left hand side and follow it round until you get to a concrete shelter where the views are sensational.