A Backpacker’s Guide to Salento, Colombia

Salento is cool; like really cool.  It’s one of those towns that you think you’ll only spend a couple days in, but end up staying a week before having to be dragged out of town.  There’s a lot to do, the climate is fantastic, and Salento might actually win the prize for having the friendliest people in South America.

Set into the hills of the coffee growing region of Southern Colombia, Salento is seemingly primed to become the hottest tourism destination in the country not called Cartagena.  As of right now, this is a backpacker’s town.  The vibe is set by youthful tourists and there isn’t really a demographic for tourists in Salento that are not backpackers, right now.  That said, the chilled out mood of town, coupled with the progressive attitude of tourism, and the friendly people make this a really easy place to never want to leave.

Time Needed: 2-4 days
Backpacker’s Budget: $30-40 a day for individuals, $50 a day for couples

Salento, Colombia

Things to do in Salento

Salento is a town for active people.  If you want to mountain bike, hike, or ride horseback this is the place for you.  Everything is outdoors, everything is active.

  • Coffee Plantation: There are a couple plantations in the Salento area that offer tours in both English and Spanish.  We went to an organic plantation called Don Elias, which was awesome.  The tour cost 6,000 pesos (1.75usd) and gave a nice look at the process of growing organic coffee in Colombia.  The farm also has other crops growing within the coffee such as plantains, oranges, and yucca.  We walked to Don Elias and it took about 45 minutes.  It’s downhill there, meaning it’s longer to get back, but you can always have Don Elias call you a taxi.
  • Valle de Cocora: This is the reason most people come to Salento.  The Cocora Valley is home to the wax palms which are the tallest palm trees in the world.  The hike can also take you to a hummingbird refuge which is an awesome place to visit.  The round trip hike through the valley is about 12km and sees about a 1km vertical gain at “La Montana” before starting to descend through the wax palm forest.  If you just want to see the palms, you can just catch a jeep to the start of the trail and hike up the hill.  The good palms start as quick as 500m away.  To get to Cocora Valley you’ll want to catch a shared jeep from the town plaza.  They leave about 4 times a day and it costs 3,400 pesos (1.40usd) per person.  Most hostels have a schedule for the jeeps listed.
  • Horseback Riding: The horseback riding in Salento is a good time.  We went on a 3 hour round trip ride to a waterfall.  The waterfall itself was beautiful, but the ride to get there was even more spectacular.  It’s not the easiest ride in the world as it is very steep and slippery in sections, but the horses are good.  We paid 35,000 pesos (13usd) each for the trip. If you want to do this trip, contact Omar Hernandez (or the La Floresta hostel).  Omar’s number is 314 600 6353 and he really only needs an hour or two notice before you want to go.
  • Mountain Biking: Most of the hostels rent good quality mountain bikes for pretty reasonable rates.  You can do a trip to the waterfall, and even combine it with a visit to a plantation or two.
  • Mirador Salento: At the end of the main street in town, you can climb a series of steps to a view point on the hill above town.  The views are great, and it’s a very nice place to watch the sunset.
  • Tejo: If you haven’t played tejo, you should give it a shot!  There are a couple places in town that offer to set up the “explosive” game for you.  It’s so much fun.

Cocora Valley, Colombia

Where to Eat in Salento

Salento has some great food options; likely a result of the backpacker culture in town.  There is, however, an obvious division between backpacker spots and local spots.  If you want “local” you might want to avoid the really touristy places.

  • BetaTown: I think this was my favourite restaurant in town.  The food is delicious (especially the breakfast), the menu is massive, and the price is decent.  If you’re hiking the Cocora Valley, they can even make you a fantastic boxed lunch for 13,500 pesos (5usd).  And, if you’re up to it, they also offer games of Tejo at night.
  • La Fonda de Los Arrieros: Up in the plaza, this is a bit of a fancy local spot.  The trout is their specialty, but you can also get local dishes like patacon.  It’s definitely more expensive than other local spots, but worth the splurge.  Expect the meals to be between 14,000-22,000 pesos (6-9usd)
  • Brunch: This is likely the most popular backpacker’s spot in Salento.  They are famous for their brownies.  However, I was a little bit surprised to catch a case of traveller’s diarrhea from lunch here.  For such a popular spot, I thought it would be safer.  That said, I’m not sure it was just a bit of bad chance.  Everyone else seemed to keep going back here.

Salento, Colombia

Where to Stay in Salento

There are a lot of backpacker hostels in Salento, and it seems like a couple more are popping up every day.  Some just offer dorms, others have private rooms, many even offer camping (including a few that provide the tents).

  • La Floresta: We stayed at La Floresta in a private room with a bathroom(25usd a night), and the room was quite nice. Although they really need to learn the joy of fans for circulation.  The hostel was a nice little safe property with garden and lots of nice common area for guests to mingle.  There was free coffee on tap all day long.  The drawback was the construction.  Every day the hostel had construction starting at 730am.  Personally, I thought that was a bit early.  Don’t they know backpacker’s sleep in?  Anyways, the staff was very friendly and helpful, and I would stay here again.  Dorm rooms go for 8usd.
  • La Casa Hostal de Lili:  I didn’t stay here, nor did I visit.  But, I talked to a couple people who raved about it.  Private rooms with shared bathrooms go for about $25 a night and dorms are $9.

hummingbird, colombia

Getting To and From Salento

Even though Salento is really popping as a destination, the bus companies haven’t really jumped in on the market yet.  So, you’ll have to switch buses and catch a shuttle the last little bit to town, this is how to do it.

From the north, you’ll catch a bus to Armenia.  However, ask the driver to drop you off at the road to Salento.  Then, cross the highway and wait at the bus stop at the turnoff to town.  There are minibuses that leave every 20 minutes and cost 2,000 pesos from the turnoff or 4,000 pesos all the way from Armenia.  If you’re coming from Medellin or Bogota, it’s about a 6 hour journey to get to the turn off for Salento.

From the south, you’ll still catch a bus to Armenia.  Then, in Armenia you’ll catch the shuttle for Salento that leaves every 20 minutes and costs 4,000 pesos.  It’s about 45 minutes from Armenia to Salento.  Note that the last shuttle for Salento leaves about 8pm.  If you arrive later you’ll have to catch a taxi, which I’m told costs about 60,000pesos (23usd).  From the south, the bus takes about 3 hours from Cali, or 5 from Popayan.

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