To me, visiting Eje Cafetero is about two things: nature and coffee. So when I arrived to the shining star of this region, Salento, those are the two things I set out to enjoy the most! This region produces the largest amount of Arabica variety in the world, and is said to cultivate some of, if not the best coffee beans in the world. A perfect 23 degree (C) average temperature and 1,895 meter elevation are ideal conditions for growing, and the result is world famous coffee.
In addition to coffee beans, Salento is also known for the world’s tallest palm trees and some of the country’s best bird watching. And since Colombia has more bird species than any other country in the world, you could also say it’s some of the best bird watching in the world. I spent three days exploring this glorious part of the country and want to give you the inside scoop on how to have the best possible time during your visit to Salento & the Cocora Valley.
TOP 3 THINGS TO DO
1. Go horseback riding in the hills of Salento:
If there’s one place I’d recommend to go horseback riding in Colombia, it’s Salento. I had only been on a horse one time before and it was in the hills of Tuscany. This sounds like a dreamy experience but au contraire mon frère… it was actually one of the more terrifying experience of my life, as I was put on a horse named “Bandito” aka The Bandit.
I didn’t think I’d be getting on another horse again, but with beautiful green rolling hills covered in coffee plantations, I decided to give it another go. I was put on a horse named Cinnamon, and I most certainly had a sweeter experience this time around!
This horseback riding tour was done on the private land of La Cabaña Eco-Hotel, so there were absolutely no other people around except for the farmers tending to the land. As we ascended up and up and up, the view just got better and better. The one hour ride with a guide costs 60,000 COP ($20 USD) and you can email firstname.lastname@example.org directly to arrange the details.
2. Spend the day admiring the world’s tallest palm trees at the Cocora Valley
The most popular thing to do in Salento (and for good reason) is to hike to the Cocora Valley, home to the wax palm, which is the national symbol of Colombia. These are by far the tallest (and skinniest) palm trees I’ve ever seen in my life, and had me mesmerized from the beginning to the absolute end of this hike.
The hike is said to be around 5-6 hours, but I took 7, as I couldn’t help but stop every minute to admire my surroundings, snap a copious amount of photos, and breathe in the special energy of this place.
In order to get there, you can grab a collective jeep from Salento’s town center which should cost no more than 4,000 pesos ($1.30 USD). The jeeps won’t leave until there’s more than 10 people, but it should fill up quick! This is the same for getting back to the town center after your hike. There’s a small parking lot near the entrance/end of the hike (it’s a big loop) where you will see all the jeeps gathered.
I’d recommend getting there early to beat the crowds and to avoid afternoon rain. I wouldn’t suggest going anytime after 12pm, as you don’t want to be hiking when the sun is going down! The paths are pretty worn in and clearly marked, but it’s better not to risk it.
The hike itself is relatively moderate, with some pretty steep parts, but mostly flat and not too difficult. I’d say just about anyone in somewhat decent shape can do this hike with ease.
After a few hours of hiking you will come to a sign pointing up to Acaime, where you can get a front row seat to some awesome hummingbird watching. This is a small detour from the main path, so you don’t actually need to go in order to get to the wax palms, but I wouldn’t suggest missing it!
I’ve never seen so many different types or that many hummingbirds in my life! Not to mention how close you can get to them. The people who own the land charge a few thousand pesos for the bird viewing, but you can redeem it for a cup of coffee or hot chocolate. It’s a nice halfway-point break anyways!
The hike finishes in the famous Cocora Valley, displaying those impossibly tall wax palms that everyone goes kookoo over (including me). It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before and kind of feels like you’re in a mystical land.
3. Stop for a coffee at Jesus Martin Café:
As I’ve mentioned, Colombia is meant to have some of the best coffee beans in the world, however, that doesn’t mean that the actual coffee you drink is the best in the world. It’s a long and complicated story, but the gist is that the majority of Colombians drink crappy instant coffee, and the whole cafe culture is really new in Colombia. That means that there aren’t too many well trained baristas or well established cafes in the country, especially once you’re outside of the major cities. Jesus Martin Café is certainly an exception, and in my opinion, makes the best coffee in Salento. I ordered a cappuccino with arequipe and it was excellent!
4. Wander the colorful streets of Salento’s town center:
I realize that “wandering the streets” always tends to make my list of things to do in a new place, but one, it’s the best way to get to know a city/town, and two, Salento is another one of those ridiculously colorful pueblos in Colombia.
I swear just walking around the streets to see what color combinations you can find is an activity all on its own.
The town center is constructed similar to many small towns in Colombia, with a small park in the middle and a big church as the focal point. The architecture is colonial, with colorful Colombian flare that I love so much.
TOP 2 PLACES TO ENJOY A MEAL
1. Indulge in everyone’s favorite Sunday activity at Brunch de Salento:
It’s always important to experience the local food whenever you travel, but it’s also nice sometimes to take a break and indulge in a good ‘ol Western brunch. And when brunch is in the title of the restaurant, you know that they know what they’re doing. Brunch de Salento is a fun and quirky diner made for backpackers that features all sorts of breakfast items ranging from huevos rancheros, to cinnamon buns, pancakes, and fruit & yogurt bowls. They make their own peanut butter & honey which they feature in many dishes, but is also available for take-away purchase. The coolest part about this place? The walls are covered in the tales of all the different travelers that visit the restaurant. You’ll find Instagram handles, travel quotes, and little anecdotes from fellow traveler that will make you smile. Such a cute place!
2. Take a break from all the meat with El Punto Vegetal
Most typical Colombian food involves meat. Actually, who am I kidding; ALL typical Colombian food involves meat. That’s why it was so refreshing to come across a great vegetarian restaurant while traveling in the Coffee region. (I’m not a vegetarian, but I need my veggies, mate.) El Punto Vegetal offers all sorts of vegetarian/vegan cuisine like hummus and falafel plates, fresh green juices, and even fresh coconut water. It was the perfect light, healthy, and super tasty meal after hiking for 7 hours to the Cocora Valley.
WHERE TO STAY:
La Cabaña Eco-Hotel
La Cabaña Eco-Hotel is located on a gorgeous finca in between Salento’s main town and the famed Cocora Valley, and is the perfect place for anyone looking to relax and to be close to nature. The grounds are stunning, with beautiful flowers throughout the property, a picturesque river flowing nearby, and green hills covered in coffee plants all around.
There are two houses that make up the property, the Mountain Cabin which is the main cabin where the restaurant and reception is, and the River Cabin which is just across the road next to the campfire and the river.
The property is home to a small dairy farm and is also a bird watcher’s paradise. In the back of the Mountain Cabin, there’s a small patio surrounded by flowers, greenery and a few hummingbird feeders which certainly draw the birds’ attention!
We saw at least three different kinds of hummingbirds pass through, and there is said to be at least six different species that you can spot in this area. It was such a treat to enjoy the complimentary breakfast (which was outstanding by the way) out on the patio each morning surrounded by beautiful birds and the adorable dairy cows lazing about nearby.
La Cabaña Eco-Hotel also serves excellent dinner, specifically the river trout which I was told to try while visiting Salento. My favorite meal however, was enjoying Hector’s “lomo” cooked over the campfire, and if you’re lucky you may even hear him play some traditional Colombian music on his guitar! I had a great night meeting new friends and enjoying a glass of wine next to the bonfire, with the hum of the river flowing behind us.
My experience at La Cabaña Eco-Hotel was top notch from beginning to end, and blew away my expectations. From the spacious and comfortable room, to the hospitality of the whole staff, to the beautiful nature surrounding me, it is a place I will always want to return to.
HOW TO GET THERE
By Bus From Pereira:
From Terminal de Transporte de Pereira (the main bus station in Pereira and in Eje Cafetero in general – you can get anywhere from Pereira), look for a ticket window selling trips to Salento. The bus ride is under an hour and should cost no more than 7,000 COP ($2.30 USD).
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary stay at La Cabaña Eco-Hotel in exchange for my opinions, but all opinions are my own. I only recommend places I would stay myself!