When you hear that a town is located in Colombia’s coffee region, you know it’s an essential stop on your route. It also boasts excellent hiking, stunning scenery and a lively town center on weekends.
Salento is located at almost the midway point between Bogota and Medellin. We took a Friday afternoon bus after finishing our final day of Spanish lessons. We hit terrible traffic leaving Medellin and for about two hours were waiting at temporary lights while traffic was down to one lane. Every bus in Colombia took at least 25% more time than we were told. This supposed five hour journey took eight. If you visit Colombia in a few years you might have some considerably shorter journeys.. or perhaps their roads are constantly in a state of repair.
When you see the terrain they’re dealing with it’s not hard to see why road conditions are poor. It’s seriously mountainous. There’s a saying in Cali, “Cali is Cali, the rest is just mountains”. It’s not a lie. The 8 hours were like a rollercoaster. You don’t need a book on these bus journeys. And you won’t be able to read it anyway. Most of our journey was spent on the wrong side of the road overtaking like we were in a Mario Kart grand prix.9
Hiking in the famous valley
All these mountains make for terrible bus journeys and great hiking. On our first day in Salento we did a five hour hike in the Cocora valley. The valley is famous for its extremely tall palm trees that sit in an extremely green valley. It makes for quite dramatic scenery. We ended up doing the hike backwards, starting at what’s supposed to be the highlight (the valley) and walking backwards. As it turns out we actually found the later part of the hike more enjoyable. The hike takes you down along the river and across several times over bridges that feel like they’re out of an Indiana Jones adventure park. There’s also a hummingbird sanctuary a little off the trail. It add an extra hour or so and another hour again trying to get a good picture of a hummingbird in flight.
Naively saying yes
The following day we decided to get on horseback to give our legs a break. A group of seven of us with zero horse riding experience set out with one guide on an hour and a half journey to a local coffee farm. The journey started out exactly as expected with the horses taking complete control of the situation and taking several of us off in the wrong direction before we’d even left town. We got our first sight of our guide in full flight as he ran after his unruly horses. Eventually we got a handle on them and made our way out of town and in the direction of our intended destination.
El Ocaso Organic Coffee Farm
After a few more hiccups with the horses and one of our group being taken into an adjacent farm at a canter, we got to El Ocaso coffee farm. We were met by a lovely guide who took us around the farm and showed us the full process from bean to cup of how the coffee is made on a family run organic coffee farm.
Having been on far too many brewery tours, it’s genuinely fascinating to see how coffee is made, and even better that you can taste it all along the way – first eating the fruit, then the beans at different stages of roasting and later obviously drinking it. That being said, I think most people in our group could have done with something considerably stiffer than coffee after the horse ride and probably were wishing it was a brewery tour, of any kind.
After the tour, we had a chat with our guide that was as intense as the coffee itself. Being a barista himself, he was fascinated to hear about the coffee scene in Melbourne and seemed genuinely appreciative to talk with people at least half as passionate about coffee as he was, and not just there for a token tour.
Several coffees later and we were back on our horses.
Saturday night in the Columbian countryside
We were fortunate enough to be in Salento on a Saturday night to find a Tejo bar called Lucky’s open. Tejo is a game involving large stones, gunpowder and beer. Yes, you do have to drink while playing. It was our first time trying this Colombian national sport and we were absolutely terrible at it – which didn’t prevent it from being great fun.
Salento is an excellent spot for two or three days and even better if you catch it on the weekend.