Salento is something of a Mecca for backpackers. The Spanish colonial town sits in the rolling green foothills region of the Andes, and it’s known most famously for its lively artisan market, rich natural splendor and incredible coffee selection. Read on for the ultimate guide for things to do while you’re here.
Perhaps the single best reason to come to Salento is to explore the enchanting Cocora Valley. This valley is home to the wax palm, which is the world’s tallest species of palm. These towering trees, which look like the Truffula trees from Dr. Seuss’ the Lorax, paint a surreal picture in the valley. Visitors have the option to explore this valley by catching a “Jeep Willys” from Salento straight to the trailhead. From there, hikers pass through a cloud forest to a cabin with hundreds of hummingbirds. After a break for lunch, the hike continues up the steep valley walls where you are greeted with a view down the mountain that is filled with hundreds of wax palms.
Another fun activity in Salento is horseback riding. Visitors in the Cocora Valley have the option to complete the first stretch by horse, which will save them some tired legs and dirty shoes from stomping around in the mud. There are also guided horseback tours that leave from the center of Salento and will take you around the idyllic countryside past coffee plantations and to breathtaking waterfalls. For the most part, the horses are well cared for while the prices aren’t particularly high.
If you visit Colombia, everyone is going to be asking you to bring them back coffee. Salento is definitely one of the most picturesque places to make that happen. On the coffee tour, you will be shown everything you ever wanted to know about how coffee is grown, harvested and sent to market. Many of the tours will even bring visitors out into the fields and let them pick their own beans. Also, this is a great chance for coffee-lovers to try out some delicious brews.
For the moderate adrenaline junkies out there, Salento offers the option to go mountain biking. Gear and bikes can be rented from hostels or rental shops. It’s not really necessary to get a guide if you’re just planning on biking really fast down the steep roads. However, there are guided tours available too for those looking for insider knowledge of the region and information on the flora and fauna as you pass by.
There’s no way to miss this one. Set adjacent to the main town square, the artisan market is set along one long block leading to the edge of town. In the colorful store fronts, you’ll find artists selling all sorts of creative work. At the end of the market, there are a set of steep painted stairs that lead up to a lookout point above the town. Venture up there during the evenings to catch the sun set, casting a rosy pink glow over the town’s red-tile roofs and white plaster walls.