Travel Guide: Things To Do in Salento, Colombia

by on 12th January, 2023

Some of the world’s finest coffee comes from picturesque Salento, a colourful town of 7,000 souls nestled among Colombia’s verdant Andes.

Growing coffee beans led UNESCO to bestow World Heritage Site status to the Salento coffee triangle for its contribution to the ‘Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia.’ And while this delicious brew is undoubtedly one of the town’s top draws, there any many more things to do in Salento.

There’s fun aplenty, from almost comically tall palm trees to zippy little transport buggies called Willy to bar games involving gunpowder. On top of that, outstandingly beautiful nature is rarely more than a short walk away from Salento’s streets and squares.

Is it your kind of town? Read on to learn more about things to do in Salento, Colombia’s rainbow-coloured coffee capital.


Where Is Salento?

Salento is a mesmerising Andean town sitting at around 1,895m/6,217ft next to Los Nevados National Natural Park. It lies around 100 miles/165km west of Bogotá as the crow flies.

Colombia is mountainous, and Salento is nestled among the Cordillera Central, one of the country’s three closely-knit Andean ranges.




Why Should I Visit Salento?

Salento is one of Colombia’s oldest coffee towns, replete with brightly-painted colonial houses, lovely places to stay, and proximity to beautiful scenery. People have lived in the area since around 1840.

Even today, local farmers wander the streets in their ‘Aguandeñan’ hats (a predecessor to the Panama hat), perhaps donning some wellington boots and dangling a machete by their side. Ponchos and moustaches also abound.

Much of the coffee grown here is Rainforest Alliance-approved, rubber-stamping its chemical-free and natural production. It also helped Salento become the hub for Colombia’s coffee triangle.


What is Colombia’s Coffee Triangle?

Colombia’s coffee triangle produces most of the country’s coffee, much of which is exported. This rural area includes Salento and covers several areas: Quindío, Caldas, and Risaralda with Tolima and Valle del Cauca in the north.

Cities within the coffee triangle include Pereira, Ibagué, Manizales, and Armenia. But Salento and the coffee triangle is not just about coffee and beans.


coffee cup colombia


Some of the Best Things to Do in Salento

From relaxing walks and leisurely chats over freshly-brewed coffee to fast downhills on bikes or horses, there’s plenty to see and do in Salento.


Salento Coffee Tours

There are many fincas, coffee plantations or estates offering guided tours. Most will involve a walk around the crop-growing areas, with detailed descriptions of the coffee-making process, from cultivation to processing. Many employ age-old coffee-producing methods.

Most tours last two to three hours, and there’s usually a chance to taste and buy coffee directly from the producers.

Some lodges offer overnight stays so you can experience life on a coffee plantation in Colombia’s coffee triangle.



Willy Jeep Tours

Think you know your Jeeps? Think again! A ‘Willy’ is the original Jeep, now more than 60 years old and still going strong in Salento. These often colourful vehicles are a feature of the area, local taxis for transporting people.

It’s almost impossible to avoid a ride in a Willy, as they often take you to treks, coffee plantations, or wherever you wish. Some let you ride hanging out of the back, an exhilarating way to see the landscape.


Hike in the Cocora Valley

The Cocora Valley (Valle del Cocora) is about a 20-minute Willy ride from Salento and one of the area’s main attractions. Here you’ll find wax trees, the tallest palm trees in the world, swinging gently in the wind.

There are many walking options in the Cocora Valley. Keep an eye out for toucans, kestrels, hummingbirds and more wildlife.


  • The short walk: It takes about an hour to get close to the wax trees and lovely views over the valley.
  • The day walk: Hike through cloud forests, wax palms, and jungle to stunning lookouts on this loop trek. Take the 20-minute detour to the Acaime Hummingbird House (Casa de Los Colibris) about a third of the way around.
  • The overnight hikes: We’ve pioneered some amazing 3-5 day hikes through Los Nevados. These take you from the warm Cocora Valley through different biodiverse zones up to and including paramó with views of snow-capped volcanoes.


Wax palms in Cocora valley Colombia


Take Photos of Calle Real in Salento

Salento’s streets are famed for their colourful painted doors, balconies, and windows. Calle Real is the principal street to see these effervescent colonial houses.

Top tip: Arrive before 9 am for the best pictures. Many doors and windows are part of shops and homes, and one cannot appreciate their full beauty once the incumbents open them up.



Mirador de Salento

Mirador means lookout or viewpoint, and Salento’s provides a lovely view of the town and surrounding countryside. There are signposts on Calle 6, and it’s a five-minute walk up a steep staircase to Salento’s mirador.

Sunsets are beautiful from the lookout, but also the busiest time to visit Salento’s mirador.


Salento’s Plaza de Bolivar

Unmissable in Salento is Plaza de Bolivar, where the church dominates the tree-dotted plaza. The Willy Jeeps congregate here, and the square is lined with coffee shops, restaurants, ATMs, and tourist information.

There is a weekend market with local handicrafts on sale and a chance to spot locals in traditional clothing, or just passing the time of day.


Local cyclist, Emerald ride, Colombia


La Aldea del Artesano in Salento

If handicrafts are your thing, then this artisan community is for you. Artists create jewellery, lamps, and other crafts from local natural resources.

La Aldea del Artesano, also known as Villa Flor, is located where Carrera 5 and Calle 12a separate.


Visit the Food Trucks of Salento

If all that touring has set your tummy rumbling, but you don’t fancy a sit-down restaurant, check out Salento’s burgeoning food truck scene.

Located down Calle 6, La Estación del Food Truck enchants with its picnic tables and string lights. The cuisine ranges from burritos to kebabs to arepas, all at budget-friendly prices. Vegetarians can find lots of options. There are even cocktails to wash it all down, which also helps the generally convivial atmosphere.




Eat Trout, a Salento Speciality

River trout is ubiquitous in Salento. Fried, grilled, or baked — there’s always an option. The variety of accompanying sauces and toppings is mind-boggling.

Many locals like their trout with a creamy sauce infused with cheese and garlic, often accompanied by patacones (fried plantains), rice, or salad.


Wild West Shoot Out: Play Tejo

Colombians love playing Tejo, and it’s no different in Salento. Players throw their tejo — a small circular stone — at a target board. The idea is to hit or get closest to the middle of the target. Should your aim go astray, paper-wrapped gunpowder parcels are waiting to explode on contact with your misplaced tejo stone.

Try Los Amigos bar or watch the locals.


Day Tours near Salento

There are plenty of coffee plantations, fincas, and natural parks to visit around the Salento area. Here are just a few.


coffee beans colombia


Santa Rita Waterfall (Cascada)

There are many cascadas (waterfalls) to see in and around Salento. Santa Rita la Cascada is around three miles / five kilometres from Salento and one of the best places to cool down.

Take a Willy Jeep to the entrance and walk around a mile / 1.6 kilometres on a mainly flat and winding road through farmland to the waterfall. Longer walking options exist for those wanting to stretch their legs a little more.


Otún Quimbaya Flora & Fauna Sanctuary

About an hour’s drive from Salento is the Otún Quimbaya Flora & Fauna Sanctuary. Here there are lovely trails used by wildlife as much as interested visitors.

Walking tours can often bring sightings of many beautiful birds and hummingbirds and even red-howler monkeys.




Horse Riding Tours in Salento

A variety of companies offer horse riding day tours through the region, from beginner’s level upwards. Be sure to check the health and general well-being of the horses before signing up.


Salento Mountain Bike Tours

There are adrenaline-pumping downhill routes like Alegrias to test your skills. Try the gentler dirt road La Carbonera if you want to see the palm trees and avoid technical descents.

Want something more extreme? There are paragliding day tours on offer.


How to Get To Salento in Colombia

Buses and airports service Salento. Flights are relatively cheap and frequent in Colombia, perhaps because its buses can provide harrowing journeys.

Salento sits among the Andean mountains, and some bus drivers use the winding roads as a racecourse. They’re not alone, and motorcyclists and car drivers often seem to be competing to overtake around hair-raising corners.

Bogotá to Salento takes around eight hours and about ten hours to or from Medellin.

Alternatively, take a one-hour flight to Pereira or Armenia and then take what is usually the more relaxed 45-60 minute bus to Salento.




Where to Stay in Salento?

Salento has everything from central hostels to boutique eco-resorts to glamping in the Andes. Calle Real and Plaza Bolivar usually offer the best value.


What’s the Best Time to Visit Salento?

Coffee trees love the humid and temperate weather surrounding Salento, with no substantial seasonal changes. Days are warm (13-23 degrees Celsius / 56-73 degrees Fahrenheit), with cool evenings making it easy to get a good night’s sleep.

There’s a good chance of seeing rain on most days, especially as afternoon showers. Some days can turn misty, adding a ghostly glory to the giant wax palm trees.

The warmest weather and best for being out and about are from mid-June to early September and from late December to mid-January.



The Best Things to Do in Salento Reviewed

Salento, for a town of 7,000 souls and dozens of coffee plantations, has plenty to offer the visitor. Many people visit for a day as part of an organised trip. Still, it’s definitely worth a few days, especially if you fancy the remote hikes into Los Nevados.

Only a few people have visited the higher slopes of the Cocora Valley. You’ll stay with locals whose lifestyles, high up in the clouds, have barely changed over the centuries.

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