Looking for the absolute best things to do in Salento? I’ve got you covered! Read on for all the details.
Out of all the places we visited during our trip to Colombia, Salento was *probably* our favorite spot (Cartagena makes it tough to choose, though!). We loved the beautiful rolling hills, the mountains in the distance, the lush greenery, the towering wax palms, the colorful streets, the laid back vibe… I mean, the list is never-ending!
Salento is part of the coffee growing region in Colombia (sometimes referred to as the Coffee Triangle). This entire area was actually named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2011.
Salento is most known for its proximity to the stunning wax palms of the Cocora Valley, but there is a lot more to do here than just hike. Despite being a small, rural village, there are actually a whole bunch of exciting things to do in Salento!
14 Best Things to Do in Salento, Colombia
Let’s dive into the list of our favorite things to do in Salento. However, definitely read to the end of the post for a whole bunch of other helpful information, like when to visit, how long to stay, where to eat, how to get around, and more!
1. Plaza de Bolivar
Plaza de Bolivar is the heart of Salento. This vibrant square is filled with palm trees and places to sit, and surrounded by colorful buildings and the village church.
There are stalls and food vendors lining the square. On one side of the square, you have more street-food-style trucks with takeaway items, plus some craft stands. On the other side, there are “restaurant” food trucks with dedicated seating set up. These offer an affordable, but delicious, meal.
At night, there is often live music or street performances going on, and it has a really fun vibe.
Plaza de Bolivar is also where you can find the willy trucks, the main form of transportation around Salento. (Point #4 will get into this more!)
2. Iglesia Parroquia Nuestra Señora del Carmen
This church, the Our Lady of Carmen, is the main church in Salento. It is located on the Plaza de Bolivar and is open for visitors during the daytime hours. You can see the steeple rising high above the rooftops from some of the viewpoints in town.
The inside of the church is really stunning. Highlights include a tiled floor, the ornate capitals on the columns, and above all, THAT CEILING! I loved the wooden designs, it definitely made this church a standout for me.
3. Best Things To Do in Salento: Stroll Calle Real
Calle Real is an adorable street in Salento, full of colorful doors, windows, balconies, and even colorful chair-rail molding on the buildings.
This is the main tourist street in Salento, but even though it has a bit of a touristy feel, you can’t skip it! During the day, the doors are all open, revealing shops and restaurants. You can find a whole bunch of shops selling souvenirs, but also some really nice handmade jewelry, clothing, and home décor items. Overall, there is still a fun feeling even with the crowds.
If you come before 9am, a whole different experience awaits. The shops and doors are closed. Just a few locals move about, mostly tending to early morning deliveries or cleaning the areas around their stores.
In these peaceful hours you can simply walk and admire the street with maximum color and vibrancy! The closed doors bring a sense of wholeness to the buildings and allow their rich colors to create a beautiful tapestry all along the street.
Block after block you get unique combinations and new sights. Walking down Calle Real early in the morning was truly one of my favorite things to do in Salento.
The rest of Salento is also very, very colorful, with a similar style of bright, painted doors and windows. It’s just a bit more extra on Calle Real!
Travel Tip: Calle Real is also known as Carrera 6. In Colombia, all East-West streets are Calle and North-South are Carrera. So, Carrera 6 is the official street designation and Calle Real is the nickname, with Calle being Spanish for “street”.
4. Take a Ride in the Willy Jeeps
Taking a willy jeep is THE way to get around the Salento area. It’s cheap, easy, and convenient to get a ride to the Cocora Valley, a coffee farm, Kasaguadua, or other attractions in the area.
It can also be very thrilling, as usually they have several people standing on the back and holding onto the roof as they drive you through somewhat bumpy, unpaved backroads. It’s a mode of transportation, but it’s also an experience in its own right.
To get a ride, the process is very simple and straightforward. Just go up to the little shack by all the willy jeeps (you can see it behind the jeeps in the picture above, you definitely can’t miss this spot in the square) and buy tickets. There will be posted departure times and hours on the stand, so you can consult the time schedule ahead of time.
Hours do change throughout the year, but generally, the first jeeps depart for Cocora Valley around 6-6:30am. Jeeps for other destinations will depart a little bit later in the morning.
If you don’t see your destination posted on the list, no worries! Just go up to the counter and ask for a ride to wherever you want to go – they are very familiar with all the attractions in the area and regularly take people to them. For example, when we went to both the Ocaso Coffee Farm and the Kasaguadua Nature Preserve, it was no problem to get a ride there, even though there is no schedule posted for those locations.
Additionally, the willy jeeps are familiar with the schedules at the destinations, and will swing back around when the tours are ending to pick people up and bring you back to town.
I would plan to arrive at the ticket shack 10-15 minutes before you need to leave, in case there is a line or there are any questions.
Ticket prices are generally around 6,000 COP round trip (about $1.50) per person for destinations closer to town, and then about 11,000 COP round trip (about $3) per person for the Cocora Valley.
5. Finca Osaco Coffee Farm Tour
As Salento is part of the so-called “Coffee Triangle” in Colombia, there are a number of coffee farms (finca, in Spanish) close to town that offer guided tours to visitors. This is definitely a must-do thing to do in Salento.
While there are a lot of farms to choose from, we really enjoyed our tour at Finca Ocaso, and I would highly recommend it. Here’s what its like:
First, you need to get out to the coffee farm, which will involve walking about 4 km or taking a willy out. It’s a pretty decent walk, with some good hills and no sidewalks, so I would just take the jeeps. The jeeps usually leave about 30 minutes before the tours start, so arrive at the ticket shack around 45 minutes ahead of time.
For tickets to Ocaso, you can make reservations ahead of time on their website, or just show up and buy tickets on the spot. The regular tours are capped at 30 people. When we went in the summer, there were only around 15-20 people there, but tours can sell out.
There are both Spanish and English speaking tours, with several times for both languages throughout the day. You can view the schedule here.
There is a way to make reservations on their website, but it wasn’t a great form (e.g. for “which language do you want the tour in”, the options were “Espanol” or “Spanish.”). Personally, if you want to reserve, I would just message them on Whatsapp to reserve your spot – their number is at the bottom of the webpage. We took the route of showing up and buying tickets on the spot.
The tour starts with everyone receiving a traditional woven picking basket for harvesting the beans, which you tie around your waist. You then learn about how they start the sprouts of the coffee plants and prepare them for planting.
Then you are taken into the fields, where you learn about the different types of coffee plants, how they are taken care of, and what a ripe coffee berry looks like. You’re given 10 minutes to wander through the coffee plants and find ripe coffee berries to collect in your basket.
Afterwards, you pull the beans out of the berries, put them in the grinder, and see the greenhouses where the beans are dried and the ovens where they are roasted.
Finally, you are taken through a demonstration of the different methods of coffee drink preparation, from grinding the beans to steeping in water. This was a really fun and engaging demonstration, and people in the tour get to participate in the brewing process. At the end of it all, you get to try a cup of coffee from beans that were grown, harvested, and prepared at the Osaco coffee farm.
There is time afterwards to enjoy the grounds – with beautiful views overlooking the hills and valleys, and some cute tables and spots set up to relax and enjoy.
The tour was given in English and was the perfect amount of time for us – less than 2 hours, with several interactive activities.
- Price: 30,000 COP per person (about $7)
- Time: Tours last between 1.5 and 2 hours
Best Things to Do in Salento #6. Hike Cocora Valley
Doing a hike in the Cocora Valley (or Valle de Cocora, in Spanish) is the main reason that most people visit Salento and with good reason: it was absolutely breathtaking.
The primary draw to the Cocora Valley is the wax palm trees, which are the tallest palms in the world, growing up to 200 feet high! The wax palms are also the national symbol of Colombia.
The Cocora Valley is really a magical place, with the towering wax palms dotting the valley and lush mountains providing absolutely gorgeous views.
In fact, Disney’s Encanto is actually set in the Cocora Valley. Apparently the writers were traveling around Colombia, gaining inspiration for the film. When they visited Cocora, they knew it was THE place – it just felt magical. Honestly, I have to agree, it really had this fairytale feeling to it.
The Cocora Valley is about a 30 minute ride from Salento via willy jeep. You can see the Wax Palm Grove with only about 1/2 hour of hiking, but the entire Cocora Valley trail is about 8 miles/12 km, and takes anywhere from 5-7 hours to complete.
This trail climbs about 2500 feet/762 meters as it winds up into the mountains and rainforest. In fact, the valley is an entrance to the Los Nevados National Park, which continues on farther into the mountain regions.
We have a lot to say about this hike (how to prepare and what to expect, plus which direction is the best to hike, etc), so check out our dedicated post about Cocora!
7. Go Horseback Riding
Horseback riding is one really fun and popular way to experience Salento and/or the Cocora Valley.
There are a couple options for horseback rides near Salento. The first, and definitely most popular option, is doing a horseback ride through the Cocora Valley. This is a great option if you don’t want to hike, but still want to see the wax palms and the sights.
However, it could still be a good option for you even if you also do the Cocora Valley hike separately, as the horse back riding path is somewhat different from the footpath. On this horse ride, you’ll visit the Wax Palm Grove, then go through a farm, cross the river, and go on horse paths up to viewpoints high in the mountains.
Alternatively, you can do a horseback ride to the Santa Rita waterfall, which is a waterfall a couple miles outside of Salento. Ride through the rainforest to the waterfall, enjoying the unique experience and beautiful views.
8. Mirador Alto de la Cruz
Mirador (Spanish for viewpoint) Alto de la Cruz is a beautiful viewpoint over the town of Salento and the surrounding hills and mountains.
You can access the viewpoint at the end of Calle Real. The street ends at the staircase up to the mirador; you really can’t miss it!
The stairs are quite steep, and there are some little booths on the stairs selling some trinkets, and there are several stalls at the top selling water and food. At the top, you’ll also find a playground for children, a workout station with several different machines, and several benches to sit at overlooking the city.
Fun Fact: The name for this viewpoint comes from the fact that there is a large cross at the summit. The 14 stations of the cross (a Catholic tradition) are highlighted as you climb the steps.
9. Mirador de Salento
From Mirador Alto de la Cruz, follow the trail toward the playground and continue on the backside of the hill to get to Mirador de Salento, a covered balcony with views over the Cocora Valley. You can also access it from town by going up Carrera 4.
While the other mirador has a better view over the city, this viewpoint has much better view over the countryside, and generally just had a nicer setup. The viewing area had a nice deck and railing, and the vista and landscape were absolutely gorgeous.
It’s also really fun to see the Cocora Valley from farther away! You can’t reeeaaaallly see the wax palms, but you can certainly see where they would be. Or, you can zoom in a lot on your phone and see them!
10. Kasaguadua Nature Preserve
The Kasaguadua Nature Preserve is a bit of a hidden gem, but was one of my absolute favorite things to do in Salento and should definitely be on your Salento itinerary as well.
In a nutshell, the Kasaguadaua Nature Preserve offers a daily guided hike through this lush and primal jungle preserve. Throughout the hike, you learn about the jungle ecosystem and some of the plants that grow there. This hike does have some elevation change, so be prepared and have some water.
Here’s what a visit is like: You will be met at the gate by one of the caretakers at Kasaguadua, who takes you into the jungle. You descend through a section of jungle that is in the process of recovering after having been cleared.
The guide will teach you about the recovery process, the different plants that grow at the different recovery stages, how they help the soil and each other, and how the plants work together.
You will tour old growth jungle that has not been cut down and see the difference between that sort of the jungle and the recovery jungle section. You will learn more about the wax palms and see them in different stages of growth (from babies to teenagers).
As you go through, the caretaker highlights how the cloud forest is wildly different than forests in almost every other part of the world.
The whole thing was an incredibly interesting, engaging, and funny tour. I was also super impressed with the sustainability work they are doing at the nature preserve. They are using the resources of the land, but making substantial efforts to do so in a way where humans can use what they need, while also preserving the integrity of the forest.
When we visited, Carlos was the guide for the day. He was a fantastic guide, sharing super interesting details about the forest, and making everyone feel like a big group of friends by the end. Kasaguadua is definitely one of the most interesting places to visit in Salento.
There is one 10am English tour offered every day. Send them a message on WhatsApp (+57 320 425 8075) the day before to reserve your spot. The tour lasts for 2 hours, and a 30,000 COP donation per person is suggested.
You can walk out to Kasaguadua or pick up a willy jeep in town. I would recommend taking the jeep, as you’ll be walking mostly on hilly, unpaved roads that don’t have sidewalks. The willy will stop and pick you up after you are done with the tour.
Stay at the Kasaguadua Ecolodge
As part of the tour, you stop in at the lodge and cool geodisic domes made of bamboo they have built on Kasaguadua, where people can stay in the forest and participate in the sustainability systems they have implemented. There are a limited number of pods, so it’s a very private and exclusive experience.
I was very impressed with the welcoming, and really architecturally cool setup they had created right in the middle of the jungle. In fact, if we hadn’t done this tour on the last day of our visit (and were leaving for the airport later that afternoon), I would absolutely have booked a night or two at Kasaguadua on the spot.
11. La Aldea del Artesano Artisan Workshop
This artisan workshop is a compound-like area on the outskirts of town. Artisans all live in the buildings surrounded a little garden courtyard area.
There are about 6 houses and shops that are open in the daytime hours. However, there is the major caveat that these people are also living their lives here, and there are no set hours for when the shops are open. Sometimes the owners are in town, working privately, or just having personal time. So, how many and which shops are open really just depends on when you show up – it’s just part of the fun!
Still, it’s a nice place to visit. They have some fun and unique wares, and it’s a peaceful place to do some shopping. When we went, we visited two shops that had mainly jewelry, figures, and sculptures for sale. This is definitely an off the beaten path thing to do in Salento.
12. Best Things to Do in Salento: Try Your Hand at Tejo
Tejo is an exciting, unique game that is the national spot of Colombia, and definitely one of the funnest things to do in Salento. I have never participated in anything quite like it!
The idea is that you throw a metal disk towards a target – if you hit the target, there’s a small explosion of gunpowder. It makes for some exciting rounds! We had a ton of fun playing Colombian tejo!
If you’re curious about the details, a metal ring is secured on a bed of clay, where you are throwing the metal disk. On the metal ring, you arrange 4 paper triangle packets that have gunpowder in them. If the metal disk makes correct and sufficient contact with the gunpowder in the packets on the metal ring below, you are rewarded with a satisfying bang.
In Salento, the main tejo bar is Los Amigos. It caters mostly to tourists, but from what I’ve seen, the tejo room was very authentic for this Colombian pasttime.
While we read that there is no entrance fee to play tejo, only the requirement that you buy drinks, we’re pretty sure we paid an entrance fee + for the drinks at Los Amigos. However, the conversation and transaction was only in Spanish, and our Spanish is pretty bad, so the specifics are a little unclear, ha!
In total, we paid 24,000 COP for the two of us (6000 x 2 drinks, and then another 5000 per person). Once you’re in, you can play as long as you want, and we were given a large supply of packets. No minors are allowed.
Address: Carrera 4
13. Eat Trucha (Trout)
Trout is THE dish to eat in Salento, as trout are caught fresh daily in the Quindio River, just outside of town. It is a very traditional dish and just about every restaurant will serve some variation of trout.
This delicious trout above was served with a herb cream sauce at Restaurante Meraki in town. It was flaky, tasty, and large enough to share.
14. What NOT to do in Salento: Walk from Mirador de Salento to the River
When we arrived at the Mirador de Salento, we noticed a path that started at the viewpoint and seemed to lead down to the river, which we could see in the valley below. We had read beforehand that walking to, and along, the river was a great activity to do.
So, we asked one of the workers there about it, and he confirmed that yes, that path would lead you down to the river and it was about a 20 minute walk.
Well, that was great news! We headed down. Unfortunately, the very nice-looking path quickly turned a lot more rough, and then became incredibly overgrown (Matthew had to bushwhack our way through one section of it).
Then the path turned into a somewhat steep, narrow, precarious stream. By this point we were too far in to want to turn around, so we kept pressing on. (We’ve gotta be close, right?)
By the time we finally reached the road we were tired, a little muddy (I had a nice wipeout at one point), and a bit frazzled. We walked along the road until we reached the entry point to walk along the river. Except… the area along the river was closed off with barbed wire. So we ended up just walking back up the side of the paved road back into town.
I would 100% recommend NOT trying to access a river trail via the path from Mirador de Salento. It’s not a very nice trail and there’s really no payoff at the end! (Definitely made for a good adventure, though!)
Where to Eat in Salento
There are a variety of restaurants and places to eat in Salento, and enjoying the local cuisine is definitely one of the best things to do in Salento! Here are our favorites:
This restaurant had the most adorable exterior and decorations (which… may be why we chose it, ha!), but it also served a very good and economical traditional Colombian breakfast.
Address: Calle 6 #4-44
La Fonda de Los Arrieros Restaurante
Right off of Calle Real, this restaurant had a really cute garden courtyard seating area and delicious food.
Address: Carrera 6 #3-21
This restaurant was on a quiet street and had a cute dining area. We liked the trout, the rice plate, and the jugo con leche (essentially a juice milkshake) here! I recommend getting jugo con leche anytime you see it – it’s so good and there are many flavors to try.
Address: Carrera 3 #5-56
If you are looking for a break from Colombian fare, this pizzeria was really a delicious option. I loved my personal sized lasagna, Matthew liked his pizza, and the jugo con leche was top notch. And don’t worry, it still has a Colombian twist as pizza here is quite different from what you’ll find the USA.
Address: Carrera 6 #4-42
The Food Trucks at Plaza de Bolivar
We ate at the food trucks twice. It’s actually a great way to eat lunch, as there is covered seating, the food is really good, comes out fast, and the price is very reasonable. These are set up right along Plaza de Bolivar Square!
The Fruit Stands at Plaza de Bolivar
For sure stop here at least once for some fresh cut fruit or fresh pressed fruit juice!
The Snack Stands at Plaza de Bolivar
There was a variety of snacks available on carts around Plaza de Bolivar, but I want to spotlight two.
The first are obleas – a thin wafer sandwich with dulce de leche (or other toppings) inside. It is an extremely popular treat in Colombia and we saw locals eating them frequently.
The second one was this pineapple ice cream sundae. It came with four types of ice cream and other fresh fruit served inside a fresh pineapple. Delightful!
A Few Other Things to Note About Dining in Salento
- Most places just take cash. There are several ATMs in town, so it is easy to pull cash out. There is also a cash exchange (with a reasonable rate) inside Centro Artesanal Los Guayacanes – located at the intersection of Carrera 6 with Calle 6 (Google maps may try to lead you to the wrong spot on this one).
- When you are done eating, you can ask a waiter/waitress for the check, but you can also just go up to the front counter to pay.
Other Helpful Information for Visiting Salento
How Many Days Do You Need in Salento?
I would plan for most of one day to visit the Cocora Valley, and another 1-2 days for the other attractions in and around town. We did three (almost) full days in Salento, which I thought was a perfect amount of time.
Is Salento Safe?
We felt really safe in Salento, day or night. While I would still exercise caution at night, we did walk around in the dark and felt perfectly fine.
Is Salento, Colombia expensive?
We did not find Salento to be expensive at all. We spent around 10-15 USD for a sit down meal and 5-10 USD for a quicker meal for two. Willy rides were around 1-3 USD. The Cocora Valley had a nominal fee, and the coffee farms and Kasaguadua were both about 7 USD per person. You can find accommodations at a range of price points, but there are many options for private rooms for two people between 25-40 USD/night.
Note: While prices are given here in USD for convenience, Colombia uses the Colombian peso (COP) and you cannot pay in dollars. At time of writing, about 4300 pesos = 1 US dollar.
When Is the Best Time to Visit Salento?
Weatherwise, Salento has very stable (and pretty nice!) temperatures year round. Average highs are steady around 72F/22C, with lows around 55F/13F, year round. Days tend to be overcast, with June-September and December-January having the highest percentage of clear skies.
Salento receives rain year-round, with January and February receiving the least amount of rain, followed by July and August. The spring and fall months do tend to have higher amounts of rain and cloud clover. You can look at weather trends in Salento further here.
Tourism does tend to be higher in the winter. And any time during the year, weekends and holidays are much busier than weekdays. We went in July and had great weather and manageable crowds. But, the first day we arrived was part of a 3-day weekend in Colombia and the crowds were much higher.
Overall, I would say that July and August are the best times to visit (with June/September also being pretty good times), followed by December-February.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Securing some travel insurance is an important part of prepping for any international trip – you never know when something might happen, and your regular insurance generally won’t cover you overseas. Costs for a medical emergency on vacation can add up extremely fast, so it’s just better to be safe than sorry. (If covid has taught me anything, it’s that you never know what could happen!)
I like booking insurance at Insure My Trip, as they offer a variety of plans with different coverages to choose from, so you can find the right option for you. Plus, they have great customer support if you need help before, during, or after your trip.
What Should I Pack for Salento?
This isn’t a comprehensive packing list, but these are a few different things I would recommend packing for Salento:
- A poncho/rainjacket: (or umbrella, but I would recommend a poncho or rainjacket when you’re hiking)
- Hiking leggings: These are my favorite leggings – I wear them around the house and also for exercise! They were perfect for hiking Cocora.
- Good hiking shoes: The better grip you have, the better.
- Comfortable shoes for walking around town: My favorites are these really cushy white sneakers, and these soft and supportive sandals.
- A battery pack: Between the coffee farms, the colorful town, and the wax palms, you’re going to be taking a lot of pictures. I always carry this battery pack with us so I can charge my phone as needed.
How Do I Get From Pereira to Salento?
Many travelers choose to travel between major cities in Colombia, including Salento, by air. However, Salento does not have its own airport, and the closest airports are in Pereira or Armenia, which are both about 45 km/27 miles away.
There are several ways you could consider getting from the airport in Pereira to Salento, and I have a whole post dedicated to all the details about how to get to this village!
Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Salento
We loved our time in Salento! It has plenty of exciting activities, beautiful sites, delicious food, and charming locales keep you busy for several days. I definitely think Salento is worth visiting and would recommend it to anyone who loves nature or charming villages!
Read More Colombia Articles:
- 28 Unique Things to Do in Cartagena
- A Detailed Guide to the Cocora Valley Hike in 2022
- What Does a Trip to Colombia Cost? Our Colombia Travel Budget
- 34 Traditional Colombian Foods to Try in Colombia
- The Best Things to Do with 3 Days in Bogota
- How to Get from Pereira to Salento: 5 Different Options
- Where to Stay in Salento, Colombia (3 Different Areas + Hotel Recs)