The Backpacker’s Guide to Salento, Colombia | 2023

The charming town of Salento is nestled in the rolling hills of Colombia’s eje cafetero. Contrasting against those lush, green valleys are Salento’s all-white buildings with their vividly colored doors and balconies. As a backpacker traveling through Colombia, I couldn’t imagine a more ideal destination than Salento and the neighboring Cocora Valley and national parks. It is a beautiful town with a laid-back pace of life and an abundance of adventure.

There are dozens of hostels to choose from, accommodating to any budget. While it doesn’t boast much of a nightlife scene, you don’t really come to Salento to party. You have Medellin, Cali, and Cartagena for that. You come to Salento to immerse yourself in nature with a cup of hot coffee in hand. Of all the places I’ve been in Colombia, I’ve enjoyed Salento the most. Here’s everything you need to know about this village and the breathtaking region around it.

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Table of Contents

valle de cocora salento colombia travel guide

How To Get To Salento

Salento is a small town, so it does take a little more effort to get there. It’ll be worth it, though. The quickest way to get to Salento is to fly into either Armenia or Pereira. I flew into Pereira, although both airports are similarly-priced to fly into and almost the same distance from Salento. Roundtrip flights from Medellin cost me $120 USD. If you’re on a budget, use Skiplagged to find the cheapest flights possible. Skiplagged is free to use and I’ve saved thousands of dollars on flights since I started using it religiously.

From Pereira Airport, I took a taxi to the bus station and then hopped on a local bus to Salento. It takes about an hour to get from Pereira’s bus station to Salento. Once you get dropped off at the bus terminal, you can simply walk into town. It takes about 10 minutes to get to the main plaza, and most accommodation options will be less than a 10 minute walk from the village center.

Alternatively, if you don’t want to splurge on the flight, you can take a bus. A bus from Medellin costs about $12 USD and it takes around six hours. Again, you will have to take the bus to Armenia or Pereira first and then transfer to Salento. The same goes for Bogota. There are no direct buses to and from Salento outside of Armenia and Pereira.

Oh, and before you go, make sure to have good travel insurance handy whenever you’re out adventuring. I use SafetyWing, which specializes in health and travel insurance for long-term travelers and digital nomads, to keep me covered throughout my travels for as low as $40 a month.

Where To Stay in Salento

Finding a hostel in Salento is easy. Choosing the right one is tough. There are literally so many to choose from. While walking through town, it felt like there were two or three hostels on every street. I stayed at Coffee Tree Boutique Hostel, which has dorm rooms for $15 a night. It is a beautiful hostel with stunning views, but my favorite part is that it has two friendly St. Bernards that greet you every time you come home.

It’s only a five minute walk from Salento’s main plaza, but that five minutes makes all the difference. You’re still in town, but it’s much quieter, calmer, and less touristy in this area. For travelers looking to fully immerse themselves in Salento’s laid-back pace of life, Coffee Tree is the hostel for you. Although I stayed at Coffee Tree Hostel, I would occasionally hang out at Viajero Hostel. It’s on the same road as Coffee Tree, so location isn’t really a factor when choosing between the two. I’d sum it up like this.

If you are looking for a chill place with a cozy, home-y feel to return to after a day of hiking, I’d recommend Coffee Tree Boutique Hostel. I seriously love those two St. Bernard’s with my whole heart. However, if you want something a little livelier and more social, Viajero might be the hostel for you. They have a bar, social events, and a beautiful garden with a stunning view of the countryside. The beds are small and not particularly comfy, but it’ll do. Both are great for solo travelers.

Another hostel that I heard great things about was Yambolombia. It is further out of town, though. You’ll be walking for about 30-40 minutes to and from town unless you can hitch a ride. I walked past it and it seemed like a cool vibe, and definitely more of a hippie haven than the hostels in Salento town. There’s also apparently a friendly horse that acts just like a dog, which I wish I knew about because I might have stayed there instead.

The Best Things To Do in Salento

For a small town, Salento boasts a lot of big adventures. The best things to do in Salento usually involve hiking and immersing yourself in the region’s natural beauty. Of course, there’s one thing that stands tall above the rest, literally and figuratively.

Hiking in Cocora Valley (Valle de Cocora)

The best thing to do in Salento is trek in the Cocora Valley, home of those sky-scraping wax palm trees. Cocora Valley is arguably Colombia’s most iconic attraction, and it’s easy to see why. I’ve never seen landscapes like this anywhere else in the world. These palm trees can grow to be as tall as 200 feet, and with thousands of them littered throughout Cocora Valley, it truly makes for a magnificent sight.

To get to Valle de Cocora, first head to the main plaza of Salento. You can hitch a ride on a Jeep for about $2-3 roundtrip. The time table says that the Jeeps leave hourly on the half hour mark, but I’m pretty sure they just leave when they’re full. It takes about 25 minutes to get from Salento to Cocora Valley, but dang is it a beautiful ride the entire way there.

The Jeeps will drop you off and you have two options for the hike. The hike is a 5-6 hour loop, and you can decide whether you want to start with the wax palm tree viewpoints or save the best for last.  Although most of the hikers I met wanted to save the best for last, I decided to start with the wax palm tree forests. It’s sunny in the mornings, but can often get cloudy and stormy in the afternoons.

The full hike takes about 5-6 hours, but if you just want to see the palm trees, you can do that portion of the hike in about 1-2 hours.

Mountain Biking in Cocora Valley

I met a guy at a hostel who worked as a mountain biking tour guide in Salento for a couple of a months. Although I didn’t get a chance to do this myself, he said it blew him away. Despite doing this day in and day out, he never got tired of this. The company was called MTB Salento, and the route is all downhill. He claims that it takes you far deeper into the valley where you’ll see thousands upon thousands more of the palm trees as opposed to what you’ll see from doing the normal hiking loop.

Tour of a Coffee Farm (El Ocaso, Las Acacias, Luger)

Next to Valle de Cocora, this is probably the most popular thing to do in the area. There are a few different coffee farms close to Salento. You can hike for about an hour or take a Jeep from the main plaza. Most hostels and hotels are usually partnered with a coffee farm that they’ll recommend to you. A tour costs about $8 USD and last around two hours. It involves a hands-on walk through the coffee making experience, including planting your own coffee plant, picking beans, and capped off with a coffee tasting at the end. Few countries have the coffee culture of Colombia, so this is a must-do while in Colombia.

Hiking in Los Nevados National Park

There are some amazing multi-day treks that one can do from Salento. Most of them will be in Los Nevados National Park. I unfortunately didn’t have enough time to go on a multi-day trek while in Salento, but ask around at any tour agency and they’ll have quite a few options to choose from. Whether you want to summit Nevado de Tolima, one of the Andes’ towering peaks, or explore the paramo, you’ll find something for you.

Play A Game of Tejo

Tejo is a traditional Colombian game that can only be described as cornhole-but-with-explosives. You basically throw a rock at a square of mud with a metal ring in the middle. That metal ring is lined with explosive packets. I know there’s a scoring system or whatever, but that all goes out the window when you realize just how fun it is to try to blow up those explosive packets.

Salento has a local spot where people go to play Tejo. It’s well worth visiting if you want a fun and quintessentially Colombian experience.

Drink at the Billiards Bar

There’s not much nightlife to be found in Salento. Like most small towns, there’s only a handful of bars in town. The main hangout is the billiards bar on Calle Real less than a block from the main plaza. It’s a great place to meet other travelers and the locals that have been frequenting this spot for years. Honestly, it’s my kind of vibe: drinking cheap beer with good company and then fumbling around with a pool stick for a few games. That’s really all you need to have a good time.

Take a Day Trip to Filandia

Close to Salento is another small town tucked away in Colombia’s lush valleys. It’s called Filandia, and you can get there by hopping on a Jeep from the main plaza. It’s about a 45-minute drive, and buses are less frequent, so be sure to check the schedule so you don’t get left without a ride back to Salento. It’s another cute and colorful town where you can do some hiking, including to a waterfall.

Hike up to the Viewpoint Overlooking Salento

Within the town of Salento, there isn’t too much to do. However, a short hike to the mirador can give you a beautiful view of the town and the natural landscapes. There are two miradors close to each other. Mirador Alto de la Cruz gives you a view of Salento Town. I prefer the other one, Mirador de Salento, which has a view of the endless green valleys.

Calle Real

The main street of Salento is called Calle Real and it is lined with boutiques, restaurants, and cafes. It’s the liveliest part of town, so you’ll likely find yourself here many times. It’s a great spot for taking photos and people watching.

Other Things To Know Before Going To Salento

Salento is a safe, small town with friendly people. While safety can be a concern in parts of Colombia, you have nothing to worry about in Salento. It was one of those places where I felt totally comfortable walking alone everywhere, talking to strangers, and not having to worry about a thing. I know that sounds silly, but if you’ve been to the big Colombian cities, you’ll know what I mean. Salento is perfectly safe with welcoming people who don’t have any ulterior motives when talking to you.

The only thing I would note is that ATMs might not be the most reliable in Salento. A lot of places are still cash only, so be sure to bring enough cash with you. You won’t have a problem paying with card at nicer hostels or restaurants, but bring cash for transportation, groceries, and souvenir shopping. Besides that, there isn’t much else to be wary of in Salento.

Life is good here. If Salento isn’t on your bucket list already, tack it on there.

Buy Me A Beer!

If this post helped you out, show some love and support for the blog and help keep my adventures going by buying me a beer! My adventures are entirely self-funded, so any show of support is greatly appreciated, and allows me to keep writing helpful travel guides and creating travel content to help you all travel the world on a budget.

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