This laid back small town in Colombia is the most touristed spot in the Coffee Triangle. And between its colorfully painted facades and proximity to the postcard-perfect wax palms of the Cocora Valley, it’s no wonder.
People flock here for chilled out vibes and the chance to experience the outdoors and local culture. From paragliding, hiking, and horseback riding to playing tejo, checking out the artisan crafts, and eating trout served every which way possible, you’ll probably fall in love with the place too. The whole town is walkable, with viewpoints and coffee fincas within your reach, but there are plenty of secluded places to hole up in the ridiculously beautiful natural surroundings for a while too.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Salento:
1. Hike the Valle de Cocora
For the iconic postcard views of Colombia’s tall Quindio wax palms set in lush rolling hills, psyche yourself up for this walk.
It’s about 5 to 6 hours of up-and-down hiking through beautiful green valleys, cloud forests, and streams.
The gorgeous trek lives up to all the hype, so hop in a 4×4 jeep leaving from Salento’s main square early in the morning to beat the crowds.
Pack some snacks, bring lots of water, and don’t miss the side-trip to the hummingbird reserve, Acaime, during the middle of the hike! But if you just want photos of the beautiful palms or you’ve arrived later in the afternoon, take the path straight to the valley where the trees are (don’t turn right onto the hiking path) – it’s only about an hour or so roundtrip.
2. Play Tejo
Salento is the perfect place to play Colombia’s favorite explosive sport, tejo! Hit the local cancha de tejo, Los Amigos, to try your hand at launching heavy weights at gunpowder targets across the room.
This bar is tourist-friendly and they even have a “mini-tejo” court here where the distances are shorter and your chances of hearing that satisfying bang are (hopefully) higher.
Los Amigos is just a few blocks from the main plaza and there’s no entrance fee – if you want to play, you just need to buy a beer! Or you can just chill with your drink and watch some of the more adept locals play.
3. Eat Trout
The specialty dish in town, you’ll find fresh trout or trucha on nearly every menu of every restaurant in Salento.
And you can get it served in different styles – fried, grilled, or baked – with almost any topping you can dream up.
A local favorite is trout baked in cream sauce with garlic and cheese.
Plates are typically served with giant patacones (thin smashed and fried plantains) and a little salad on the side, but sometimes rice, beans, soup, and juice can accompany your meal.
Local favorites include Rincon de Lucy and Restaurante Andrea on Calle Real for the budget-conscious and Donde Laurita just off the main square.
4. Tour a Coffee Plantation
Since Salento is the most popular tourist town in the Eje Cafetero – Colombia’s Coffee Zone – you’re kinda required to visit a farm or finca that specializes in growing the stuff. Everybody loves Don Elias, a small family-run farm where all the production is done by hand and all the coffee is sold to visitors.
You can take a tour of the lush property, learn about the coffee plants, see how the beans are harvested and dried, and then try a cup at the end.
For a bigger operation and a slightly longer tour, check out El Ocaso nearby.
Both fincas are a nice walk downhill from the center of town.
5. Reserva Natural Acaime
This hummingbird reserve – “Casa de los Colibris” – is a must-do detour off of your Valle de Cocora hike.
Even if you’re sweaty and out of breath, stop off for a brief respite while you sit in the middle of these flitting iridescent hummingbirds.
There’s a small entry fee, but in exchange you receive a hot drink and all the time you want to chill out and photograph the multicolored creatures.
This family home sets out large numbers of feeders for the birds and maintains the trails so that you can be mesmerized by them gliding in and out.
6. Stay at La Serrana
This stunning eco-farm and lovely hostel on the outskirts of Salento feels like a cozy retreat even though it’s super affordable.
Calm and tranquil with 20 hectares of farmland surrounding a Colombian-style hacienda, you’ll feel comfortable in a dorm room, private room, or “glamping” canvas tents.
Their onsite restaurant uses ingredients from the organic gardens and serves dinner every night using local foods, plus all the rooms come with breakfast.
The lodge is decorated in a warm, rustic style, and guests can take advantage of free popcorn, a selection of DVDs, comfortable couches, and the opportunity to purchase milk from their cows.
7. Walk Up to the Mirador
From the main square of Salento you can glimpse colored stairs leading up and away from town.
Head this way for a look at the city and its surrounding hills and green fields from the viewpoint or mirador, Alto de la Cruz.
There are lots of shops selling handicrafts, souvenirs, and refreshments as you work your way up the path.
Once you get to the top, take the trail to the left for sensational views from the nearby shelter.
If you want to keep going, head down the hill to see the river, local farmers, and cows grazing in verdant pastures.
8. Check Out Salento’s Coffee Shops
This is where they grow the beans, so try a strong cup of Colombian coffee in one of Salento’s cute cafes.
Jesús Martín takes the number one spot for most popular coffee shop in town.
They’ve got skilled employees and a cool ambiance with murals on the walls and eclectic decor and furniture.
Try your coffee straight or order a fancy drink, but be sure to grab a cake, cookie, or alfajor to go with it.
While lots of the highest quality beans are exported, they still serve a great selection of Colombian coffee here.
9. Stroll the Plaza Bolívar and Calle Real
Head to the colorful center of Salento for some wandering, photo-taking, people watching, or just some sitting and beer drinking.
Check out the church, Nuestra Señora del Carmen, in the main square of Plaza Bolívar where you’ll also see all the colorful 4×4 jeeps used for trips to the valley.
There are restaurants, a small supermarket, souvenir shops, and a few bars where you can relax outside.
Then check out the mostly pedestrian Calle Real off the corner of the plaza.
Brightly colored buildings pave the way for more restaurants, bars, hostels, touristy trinket stores, and a busy afternoon or evening hang out spot.
10. Go Horseback Riding
Once you’ve done all the exploring you can on foot, grab a local Colombian guide and hop on a horse to see more of the countryside surrounding Salento.
Arrange three to five hour trips that include steep hills, thick forests, and river crossings, as well as visits to waterfalls and viewpoints.
Hostels can book these trips for you, or you can check out companies like Cabalgatas San Pablo that take great care of their horses and provide excellent guides.
You can even organize horseback rides through the Valle de Cocora if you don’t feel like walking it – just be sure to do it with a reputable company.
11. Mountain Biking Tours
If you feel more comfortable pedaling your way out of town, look into an afternoon of mountain biking – mostly downhill – to explore the Andes, coffee plantations, and dirt tracks around Salento.
Depending on your fitness or the amount of exertion (or exhilaration) you want to undertake on your vacation, you can choose from different trails.
Head out through the pine forest, alongside local farms, or shoot downhill on more difficult routes like Alegrias, a famous adrenaline-filled, single-track route.
Or try the easier La Carbonera, a dirt road that glides past lots of wax palms.
Salento Cycling has excellent bikes, gear, guides, and lunch included.
12. Go Paragliding
These are the best views you’ll get over the lush green valleys and farmlands that surround Salento.
Contact a local tour company that’ll provide you with transportation out to the nearest launching point – aka, a huge hill about an hour away – and strap yourself to a professional guide who’s flown thousands of times.
BetaTown is well known for setting up these trips and providing a full safety briefing, insurance, and an experienced pilot to take you flying through the air.
If you’re brave and your stomach can handle it, ask to do a couple of loop-de-loops as you soar back toward the ground.
13. Visit the Food Trucks
This is one thing you might miss out on in Salento if you didn’t know it was there.
About four blocks from Plaza Bolívar down Calle 6, you’ll find La Estación del Food Truck.
There’s an eating area filled with pretty string lights, picnic tables, and a some shelter from the rain.
With several different food trucks to choose from, the atmosphere is great, prices are affordable, and it’s the perfect place to try a variety of of cuisine.
There’s a small community of artisans living just a short stroll from Salento’s center.
Pay a visit and learn how each one creates their crafts and artwork without the pressure to purchase anything.
The local government has funded a place for artists to live and work, and these creative people work together as a community to keep it going.
Each has a workshop that tourists can explore.
They craft things out of natural materials, like handmade jewelry and lamps made from gourds.
Slightly off the beaten path, head out to where Carrera 5 and Calle 12a split to visit La Aldea del Artesano (also known as Villa Flor).
15. Kasaduadua Natural Reserve
Much lesser known and explored than the popular Valle de Cocora, lots of visitors would tell you to come here first on your trip to Salento.
The team that runs this reserve and eco-lodge is incredibly passionate about what they do, and they can help you get a better understanding of the famous wax palms and other flora and fauna of the region.
Be sure to book ahead for entry and a two-hour tour of this Andean rainforest – you pay by donation.
If you’d like to stay for a night or two, they have amazing sustainable accommodation in the main lodge or their cool geodesic domes made from bamboo where you’ll be surrounded by nature.