While Salento is quite stunning in its own right, most who venture to the small town are here to visit the justifiably famous Valle de Cocora. This nature reserve is home to Colombia's national tree, the wax palm, which just happens to be the tallest palm in the world at heights of up to 60 meters!. A trip to see this amazing trees is on just about everyone's agenda and why not, it's easily accessible and inexpensive to get there. For a mere 3000 COP ($1.50), you can jump into a group jeep and another 3000 gets you into reserve. Look for more details in my upcoming Valle de Cocora page.
While staying at The Plantation House we got our second view of the Motmot on our first morning there. It is indeed a colorful bird, with a near electric blue crown and equally stunning long tail. The large bird can reach 50 centimeters and is found in highland forests from Mexico to central South America. Colombia is a prime place to spot one and we were lucky to see one in Barichara weeks earlier and were very happy to see a second one. More amazingly, it was there again the next morning too.
Calle Real (Carerra 6) is the main drag of town and runs from Plaza Bolivar up to a hilltop lookout. Though primarily lined with artisan shops selling local wares, it retains an authentic enough flair with the town's hallmark colorful paisa architecture. Though Salento is a small and simple town, it does have beautiful well-preserved typical paisa architecture that is wonderfully painted in bright colors that makes even gray days seem brighter. This colorful trimming of otherwise white buildings is the town's hallmark feature. The doors are particularly colorful and when you find a cool door knocker, it's time to pull out the camera once again
It's still obvious this is a tourist town and while backpackers are a part of that geographic, they by no means dominate it. In fact, what one notices right away is that this is a tourist town for Colombians who visit from all over the country. Whenever we mentioned to Colombians that we were either going here or had been, they just smiled and gave us a nod of approval as if to say we'd done our homework in finding the best their country had to offer.
One of the highlights of visiting Salento is certainly doing a coffee plantation tour. There are many to choose from and most are obviously in Spanish. We had done an impromptu one with the owner of Reserva Natural Sacha Mama. Though it was not at his plantation, we got the gist of the coffee world according to him, and though it was very informative, we wanted to do a tour in English. Since we were staying at The Plantation House, it seemed easiest to do the tour with them since their plantation was a short walk away and we liked the owner who was doing the tour.
The grounds were quite lush with many banana trees and a huge strand of bamboo for good effect. The tour was very informative and easier for me to follow since my Spanish is mostly oriented towards travel vocabulary. The hostel owner is English and has a wry sense of humor and his knowledge of the area and of coffee in general is pretty extensive. It is also a very photogenic area and you will get some great shots of the surrounding hills as well as the very pretty coffee beans. The red beans are the ones ready to pick but it's nice to get some shots of a mix of the red and green beans for contrast.
The cost is 5000 COP ($2.50) which seems standard in Salento. This included a very sour lemonade which if you like sour beverages will have you puckering for days. We do and we did.
At the far end of Calle Real is a set of stairs leading to Alto de la Cruz, a hill with the ubiquitous cross well worth climbing. From the top, you get grand views of the town itself and surrounding verdant hills. It is said that on a clear day snow capped volcanoes can be seen but while we had very nice weather while in town, it was never totally clear.
The key feature of Plaza Bolivar is Nuestra Señora del Carmen, the town's only church. Though simple from the outside, the interior has a beautiful wood ceiling and overall, it has a light airy feeling to it. The park just out front is the focal point of Plaza Bolivar and provides not only a great place to sit down and relax but also a great vantage point to take photos of the church.
The towns' main square, Plaza Bolivar, is very much the focal point of not only all local socialization but is also the tourist hub for trips around Salento as well as the entry/exit point. It does all that and still manages a nice relaxed air and with all the colorful paisa architecture surrounding it, it is also quite photogenic. Though white is the base color of most of the buildings, the trims are done in quite bright colors which adds to the town's festive atmosphere. Looking for the supermarket? Look no further. The town's only ATM is located here and though not always working, we were lucky to find it functioning when we were there. My guess is going early in the morning should ensure it still being stocked with cash!
Climb on a Jeep (together with at least 14 other people) at the main square in Salento for a short drive to the small hamlet of Cocora. From there hike the well sign-posted trail along the Cocora Valley, criss-crossing a creek, to the Ranger House at Acaime. Stop there for a cup of tea, then backtrack for about 1 km and turn up the steep trail to the Casa de Montana. While the first part of the trail to the Ranger House slowly goes up in elevation, the second part of the trail to the Casa de Montana climbs up to almost 9000 feet.
Beautiful scenery, grassland, cloud forest, lots of hummingbirds at Acaime.
If you hike all the way to the Casa de Montana, take the loop on the forest road back to Cocora. Incredible views of the valley and the giant palma de cera (wax palms) that grow to 60 m tall.
Most people who visit Salento visit the Valle de Cocora, a picturesque green valley of the Rio Quindío, famous for its concentration of palmas de cera (wax palms) - Colombia's national tree. The landscape is surreal! There are many hikes, both low-altitude and high-altitude, as well as horseback riding opportunities. Several trails take you up the mountains, along the river and further into the valley. The trek starts in the village of Cocora. As you arrive, it is on the right.
In Salento I was going to meet a Colombian-American couple, Johana and Mark, from Calarcá. We decided to visit Valle de Cocora together. It must be great to see the valley on a horse back. Unfortunately, my companions did not like horse riding, and due to a lot of rain the path was very muddy, so we just took a short walk. On the return we made a stop in one of the restaurants in the village of Cocora. The area is famous for trout.
more pics in the travelogues
While you are in the coffee growing region of Salento you can visit a number of coffee fincas (coffee farms) outside of town. They can vary in size and the coffee making process. I visited the small scale traditionally run family finca of Don Elias. Don Elias is a genial old guy and he looks exactly like Juan Valdez, the well-known figure that represents the Colombian coffee farmer and appears in advertisements for 100% Colombian coffee. He wears the typical hat, has the mustache, and owns his little organic coffee farm full of banana trees and pineapple plants.
He showed me around his farm. The tour was in Spanish (7.000 COP) and involved a practical explanation of the traditional process of making coffee from seed to cup. On the hillside plot there are 1.500 coffee plants in addition to various fruit trees, such as avocado, lemon, mandarin, banana and others. He says the banana trees keep the beans from getting too much sunlight. Everything is organic, though he can't have a certified organic farm because it costs too much to get the inspection and go through the paperwork. Don Elias makes coffee by hand, the old fashioned way, drying the beans and grinding them by hand. At the end of the tour I was invited in the kitchen of his two-room house to have a delicious cup coffee, made from freshly toasted and grind coffee beens from his plantation, and was soon surrounded by his lovely grandchildren.
To get to the finca of Don Elias it is a pleasant walk from Salento. The landscape is stunning. You pass green meadows and cows grazings, coffee plantations, eucalyptus trees along the road and see the mountains. There was a lot of rain during my visit of Salento so the dirt road was very muddy and almost impassable on foot. Fortunately, the route is covered by jeeps that run hourly from the main plaza (2.000 COP) and back.
more pics in the travelogues
From the end of Calle Real the path leads up to Alto e la Cruz, El Mirador, the viewpoint of Salento. You have to climb the 200 stairs to the big cross at the top of the hill. Along the way you'll find signs that tell the story of Jesus. It is well worth the climb as the hill provides some great views over this stunning region. You'll get a birds-eye view of the colourful Salento and see the green Valle de Cocora and the high mountains that surrounded it, from the other side.
Just off the Plaza Bolívar running up towards the steps to the view point Alto de la Cruz is Calle Real (Carrera 6), the main street of Salento. The street is lined both sides with excellently preserved two-story houses in blue and green, brown and beige, green and ochre, orange and brown and many more pairs of colours, with the lovely details on doors, windows and balconies.
Along the way you pass many bars, restaurants, small hotels, souvenir shops and a handful of up-market art and jewellery shops. A number of shops specialize in coffee and local foodstuff, especially cafequipe (coffee arequipe). There are several bars with billiard tables where local men in ponchos and cowboy hats use to come.
Calle Real is an attractive little street offering endless of photo possibilities.
Centre of the town is the expansive palm-shaded Plaza Bolívar (the main square) around which you'll find a pretty church Nuestra Señora del Carmen, Town Hall, police station, bank (with the only ATM in Salento), town's biggest supermarket SuperCocora and a number of restaurants and bars, with a park in the middle. Buses to Armenia and Pereira leave from here and also jeeps to Cocora Valley and the nearest fincas.
Around the church you'll find a line of homes with multicolour balconies, a lot of flowers and engraved doors, such in the times of the antioquenian colonization. Two-tone facades give the main square a very cheery atmosphere even on a dull, grey day. During the week Salento is a sleepy little town. But in weekends and holidays, when a lot of Colombians from the surrounding towns of Armenia, Pereira and Cali visit the town, it completely changes and gets more festive feel. The spacious Plaza Bolívar fills up with food tents where you can get trout (local speciality), and music is coming from everywhere.
Salento is a small town and you will probably come to the main square many times during your visit. The houses around the square have got colourful details like the doors, balconies and window shutters in different colours. Here you find the police office, the Town Hall and the bank (there is one ATM, but it is not always working). Buses to Armenia and Pereira are leaving from here, and so are jeeps to Cocora Valley. The church, Nuestra Señora del Carmen, is standing on one side of the square and in the middle there is a park with some trees, a statue and benches. There are a few souvenir shops and a good supermarket. Around the square are also several restaurants, cafés and bars. The first evening of my visit it was a holiday and around the square there was full of food stalls selling trout, out door tables and a lot of people, but the next evening it was quite empty.
Cocora Valley is situated 11 km from Salento. A lot of tourists come to Cocora, especially at weekends. Here you have an amazing landscape of green valleys, cloud forest and the famous wax palm. There are many good hiking trails and you can also go horse riding in the valley. There are also three restaurants where you, among other things, can eat trout, which is famous for the area.
The wax palm (palma de cera) is Colombia’s national tree. It is a tall growing palm tree, actually the highest palm tree in the world, and the trees can be 60 metres high. It is a beautiful sight to see the top of the palm trees tower above the forest were it groves. The wax palms grove at an altitude between 2000 - 3000 metres. The number of wax palms in Colombia have been reduced because of cultivation, livestock, cutting for Palm Sunday and tapping of the wax, but since 1985 it has been prohibited to cut the palm tree for commercial use. In Cocora valley you can see the wax palm in a beautiful environment and a lot of them in the same area.
Cocora Valley belongs to Los Nevados National Park.