I was looking forward to this part of the trip! Salento is known for the Wax Palms in Valle de Cocora and I love palm trees in general. See below the inspirations for you; why you definitely should not skip Salento in your route through Colombia.
The bus ride with Transportes Armenia from Cali to Armenia last about 3 hours and costs around 23,800 COP. The journey was beautiful, in Armenia you have to take the local bus to Salento for another small hour for 4,200 COP. The public transport is in general well organized in Colombia, not too much hassle and both the temperature and seats in the busses are comfortable. I find the Colombian people are very helpful, despite my simple Spanish; they are really interest in why you visit their Colombia. After a long day of traveling, everybody in the bus helped me to get out of the bus right in front of my hostel.
The route from Salento to Medellín runs with the bus organization Flota Occidental, it goes straight for 47,000 COP at different times during the day and even at night. If you want to have the 8:00AM bus you have to get your ticket in advance. The bus ride is long but beautiful. Be prepared I arrived including all traffic jams and break ups at my hostel in Medellín at 5:30PM…… long day. I heard people doing this trip by night, I would not suggest to do so, bus has smaller seats and the route is quite curvy and straight thought the mountains, I would probably not have slept at all.
I booked three nights in a private room in The Coffee Tree Boutique Hostel. I was proud of myself I made a very good pick, I liked the hostel very much and the view from my balcony was breathtaking.
I don’t sleep in dorms anymore; I have passed that stage in my life “Did that, not doing it again haha”. I still love the hostel vibe though; meeting other fellow travelers and exchange experiences. Especially when you travel by yourself it is the perfect way to meet people. The hostel severed breakfast and coffee and tea was available all day long. The hostel is clean and has a good service at the front desk. Be early with your booking to get your preferred room in this popular hostel.
Tip: Bring cash to pay your room, when I was there I could not pay by card. I could pay by Paypal in case of an emergency in the end…..
I stayed tree days in Salento, the first day was more of an arriving day and organizing the planning for the next two days. The main activity is the hike in the Valle de Cocora. Besides that you are in the Zona Cafeteria, so another must do is visiting a coffee farm.
1. Valle de Cocora
The Valle de Cocora is packed with Palmas de Cera (wax palms), it is the largest palm in the world; they can grow up to 60 meters tall and it is Colombians national tree. The area is beautiful with low hills to high peaks at the top.
You have to be lucky with the weather when you are visiting the Valle de Cocora, if you have more days check the weather and ask the locals which day is the best to depart to this beautiful place.
What to take?
To get to the starting point of the Valle de Cocora, you have to take a jeep for about 20 to 30 minutes. The jeeps leave in the center of Salento. When the jeep is full of people it leaves, especially in the morning you don’t have to wait that long at all (3,600 COP).
It is quite a long and heavy walk; I suggest to prepare before you do this walk. Take a backpack with enough water, food (banana/fruits, granola bars, sandwiches), toilet paper and money for the Jeep and entrance fees. The weather can change and because you are climbing up to 2860m (the Mirador) it could get chilly in the clouds; bring a sweater and maybe even long trousers.
The whole 5 to 6 hour hike is like a big circle, you can go both ways, left and right. My hostel gave me this map which I found very handy and clear which you could do easily by yourself.
And looking back at the walk I preferred this route better than the other way around and I will tell you why. The way up via the wide path is way more comfortable than the narrow, small, steep and busy path through the jungle at the end. Many people did it the other way around, my route was more quite and relaxed. So don’t go via the blue gate, go straight ahead then go right and pay the entrance fee (3,000 COP, you get a paper bracelet you show you have paid). After this you can only follow one route to the Mirador at 2860m. Then down again, if you want to go to see the colibries/hummingbirds (Reserva Natural Acaime) you have to go up again, pay the 5,000 COP to get in, try to make a nice picture, get a free chocolate milk and rest a bit!!
After this stop the route is all the way down now, if you think down is easier than up, you are mistaken. The second part was fun with crossing water and small bridges through the jungle.
After the jungle, you will see the wax palms again and you walk over green fields between the mountain range. You will pass a trout fish (truche in Spanish) farm whereafter you arrrive finally back at the starting point with the blue gate. The Jeeps are already waiting for you to bring you back to Salento!
What a hike, very beautiful, passing different nature zones with climate changes. The misty clouds made the trip so mysterious, so the clouds are not too bad at all!! I was so tired of hiking 5,5 hours but LOVED IT, fell asleep with a big smile on my face!!
2. El Ocaso Coffee Finca in Zone Cafetaria
What a beautiful hike again; Salento is located in an amazing scenery. I walked for 1,5 hours and passed many wild flowers and plants and heard the birds singing. Finally I reached the Farm which was located at a cliff with all green wherever you look.
The entrance was 25,000 COP for a tour and tasting. We did the picking of the fruits, explanation of the process; planting, growing, picking, drying, graining, transporting, tasting and selling. Good to see the whole process. Bought a package of coffee as a souvenir. I recommend this trip, a must do in Colombia, taste the original Colombian coffee!
Luckily you can go back with the jeep, no way I was going to walk back!!!
Souvenirs and Coffee in Downtown Salento
I really like the vibe of Salento. The way it is situated in the green mountains give you a really relaxed feeling. Everywhere you walk in town, you see colored houses, shops and restaurants. I bought some nice souvenirs here as well, even cheaper than in Cartagena!
My most favorite cafe and lunch place is: Le K’ffee at the corner of carrera 4 & calle 3. The food is fresh and healthy and the place has a good vibe. Went there three times in three days….
After my Valle de Cocora hike I was so hungry that I already had my diner at 4.30PM at La Eliana. I had a very tasty Indian curry, good recommendation! The restaurant is close to the bus station; easy to get your ticket out of Salento at the same time!
Another nice place was the place Veggie Salento. Had a big portion of hummus and falafel with vegetables.
In Salento there are uncountable souvenir shops, I bought the most fantastic dream catchers for me and my sister. And I already bought some typical Colombian colored bags. Love them!! You can find them everywhere in Colombia but here in Salento the choice is the best and the cheapest.
Enjoy your stay here in Salento, there is a lot to see and explore!!