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The Cocora Valley has become one of Colombia’s most famous tourism symbols, and thousands of travelers flock there every year to enjoy the beautiful hike and surreal giant palm trees. However, there’s a lot more to the little town of Salento – the base for the hike – than just this stunning valley, so here are 10 things to see and do in Salento beyond the Cocora Valley.
You can’t really visit the heart of the Colombian Coffee Region and not visit a coffee farm, now can you! Luckily Salento is home to several local coffee farms that offer excellent guided tours explaining the entire coffee production process, giving you a valuable insight into how those magical little beans make it to your cup. The best of the bunch are Finca El Ocaso and Don Elias.
Colombia’s national sport isn’t football: it’s tejo. This crazy game basically involves throwing large chunks of metal at gunpowder until it literally explodes! All done while drinking copious amounts of local beer. It’s the dream backpacker sport and you can play it in Salento at the popular local tejo place – which has probably introduced thousands of foreigners to it over the years – called Cancha de Tejo Los Amigos.
The mirador overlooking Salento is a simple and easy little trip with a great reward: the viewpoint is a steep climb up some steps on the edge of town but offers truly lovely views over the tiled roofs of Salento, and the stunning green valleys and mountains around town too. On a clear morning, lucky visitors can even be rewarded with a glimpse of the snowy peak of Nevado del Tolima volcano in nearby Los Nevados National Park!
The winding mountain roads and trails around Salento are perfect for mountain biking, so it’s no coincidence that there are several operators offering bike tours and that most hostels offer bikes for rent so you can explore on your own. Whichever way you choose to do it, keen cyclists will definitely want to put aside a day to get out on the bike and explore the Salento countryside.
The two iconic food and drink products of Salento are practically a tourist industry unto themselves. Most restaurants on the main square serve delicious meals of fresh trout, and local coffee is served in several excellent cafes. The best cafe is definitely Jesus Martin – just half a block from the square – which serves the best espresso in town by some distance.
Just half an hour outside of town is Kasaguadua Natural Reserve, a stunning little private reserve protecting around 14 hectares of tropical Andean cloud forest. You can either take informative guided hikes through the forest with the passionate owners of the reserve or you can stay overnight in one of their unique bamboo – or guadua – cabins. It’s an excellent trip for any nature-lovers in Salento.
If racing down mountain lanes on a bike doesn’t appeal to you, then you could always try a more sedate option. Many tourists come to Salento to enjoy horseback riding excursions into the surrounding mountains – and up to the Cocora Valley as well – and there are a number of tour agencies offering different horse-riding packages, from short trots around the town to longer trips into the countryside.
The Aldea del Artesano is a local community of artisan craftspeople just outside Salento. Even if you’re not in the market for anything, you can visit the community to learn about the work that goes into crafting these beautiful products, and even take classes in things like jewelry-making. It’s the perfect day-trip for the handicraft enthusiast backpacker.
Salento is undeniably a tourist town, with all the little shops and souvenirs stalls that come with that reputation. However, just because some of these places peddle the same old tourist tat, that doesn’t mean they all do, and you can find some lovely little artisan products that will make perfect gifts from your trip to Colombia.
Salento is, thanks to its burgeoning position as the backpacker town of choice, home to some of the best restaurants in small-town Colombia. Visitors can enjoy top-notch Indian food, vegetarian and vegan restaurants, the aforementioned trout dishes, excellent steakhouses and much more. Salento is definitely not the place to make use of the hostel kitchen!