For such a small town, Salento is well connected at least to the surrounding towns of the Zona Cafetera of which it is one of the area's true gems. We were coming from the Caribbean Coast of Colombia so flew from Santa Marta to Armenia on Avianca. After shopping around, we got a flight for 205,000 COP ($102) each one-way. Though we had initially wanted to travel by bus down to Medellin from the coast, it was a long trip and we were getting tired of the very long bus rides in Colombia. We were also starting to get tight on time so opted on bypassing that part of Colombia and heading right to the Zona Cafetera.
Salento sounded like the best of the lot and by flying, we also avoided having to stay in one of the regions bigger towns en route. Once at the Armenia airport, we took a taxi right to city's bus terminal rather than into town, saving more money to boot. The taxi was 17000 COP (nearly $9).
We then took a bus from Armenia to Salento for 6400 COP ($3.20) for both of us and it took about half an hour. The entire trip took about two hours, saving us about 24 hours of transit time. :)
On the way back out of town, we grabbed the same bus from Salento to Armenia for the same 6400 COP and easily caught a bus from there to Cali. That 3.5 hour trip cost 20,000 COP ($10) each and got us into Cali plenty early to secure a room and have dinner.
There is a regular bus service from Popayán to Cali and numerous bus companies are available, such as Expreso Palmira, Expreso Bolivariano and Velotax. Minibuses also serve the route. Though the bus terminal is only 10 minutes walk from HostelTrail, I took a taxi as I left quite early in the morning.
At the information desk I asked about the bus to Cali. They told me that the first one was going to live within 10 minutes. The company was Velotax (www.velotax.com.co) and the ticket was 12.000 COP (December 2008). The journey took 2,5 hours.
In Cali I had to take another bus to Armenia. There are frequent departures so I did not need to wait very long. I took Expreso Palmira minibus (www.expresopalmira.com.co) and the ticket was 20.000 COP (December 2008). The journey took four hours. From Armenia minibuses depart every 15 minutes or so to Salento and it took another 50 minutes to get there.
The route offers great views of this mountainous region out of the window. I very much enjoyed the journey.
To get from Salento to Cali you take a minibus to Armenia first. Buses depart from the main square. They also stop by the fire station at the end of the town if you find this more convenient. The journey takes about 50 minutes and you buy the ticket in the bus.
In Armenia I had to change for another bus to Cali. I went to Expreso Palmira office to buy the ticket. It was 20.000 COP (December 2008). They told me the mini bus was going to leave immediately but this was not completely true. It seemed like we were waiting for some more passengers. In the meantime the driver took a good care for the new bus that we were going to travel with. The journey took four hours.
From the bus terminal in Cali a taxi takes about 15 minutes (and costs 6.000 COP) to San Antonio, the colonial neighbourhood where Tostaky guesthouse was located.
Gorgeous Valle de Cocora (Cocora Valley) is about 11 km from Salento. To get there you can take a Willys jeep (an old jeep model typically used for people and coffee transport in the region) from the main plaza in Salento to the small village of Cocora. The jeep drops you by the restaurant where the trek starts. Horses can also be arranged here.
During the week the jeeps only leave a couple of times daily so you better ask in advance. They actually leave when they are full (or if you pay for the empty seats). A journey to Valle de Cocora takes about 35 minutes and it was 3.000 COP (December 2008). To get there, the jeep left shortly after our arrival to the plaza as there was another group of visitors willing to join. On the return we were less lucky and had to wait about an hour to get a seat.
Alternatively, you can make it from Salento to Valle de Cocora by foot for a pleasant two-hour walk.
It’s about 11 km from Salento to Cocora Valley and you can take a jeep from the plaza in Salento to go there. There are not many jeeps every day, but more at weekends. Ask when they are leaving the day before you plan to go. I went to the plaza to take the 7.30 jeep and as there were several people going two jeeps left, and they left a few minutes before 7.30 (so don’t come late). The journey takes about 35 minutes and it was 3000 pesos (July 2008). The jeep will drop you by the restaurants in Cocora Valley and near where the hiking tracks begin.
When I arrived back in the afternoon after a walk in the valley there was still a quite long time for the next jeep to return to Salento, so I asked the next car leaving if I could get a lift back to Salento and that was okay.
There are not as many buses from Salento to Pereira during the week as there are during the weekend. I made sure the day before that I knew when they were leaving in the morning. There was a bus leaving the square at 8.30 and a few minutes after I stopped it at the corner near the fire station. The ticket was 4700 pesos (July 2008) and the journey to Pereira took one hour. In Pereira I bought a ticket with the company Empresa Arauca to Manizales. It was leaving within 10 minutes and the ticket was 8000 pesos. There were road construction going on along the road and it took 1,5 hours to Manizales. From the terminal in Manizales I took a taxi with taximeter to Mountain House hostel and it was 5100 pesos.
I had flown from Guapi in the mornings so I arrived to the terminal in Cali with a bus from the airport (30 minutes, 3500 pesos). The terminal in Cali is huge with shops and restaurants on the first floor, the bus companies ticket offices on the second floor and from the third floor the buses are leaving.
I bought a ticket for Armenia for 20 000 pesos (July 2008). It was 12.40 and the bus was leaving at 13.00. I asked for an ATM, but was told I didn’t have time to go there as it was on the first floor and I had to be at the gate on the third floor well in time before the bus was leaving. At 13.10 we left Cali and 3,5 hours later we arrived in Armenia. Here I was lucky as there was an ATM just outside the terminal. After withdrawing money I went and looked for the bus to Salento. These buses are smaller and local and you buy the ticket on the bus. It was 3000 pesos. The bus left at 17.00 and it took 50 minutes to Salento. I asked to be dropped by the fire station in the beginning of the town, as it is closer to Mountain House. The end stop is the main square.
Jeeps depart Salentos main plaza for Cocora, which is about a 30 minute ride. The jeeps however only leave once they are full (usually 7 passengers) or if you pay the fair for the empty seats as well. The same applies for the return trip, though one jeep is scheduled to leave at 4pm regardless.
At Cocora, it is also possible to rent a horse to see the valley. I am not sure about the price on this, however, as we walked.
The local taxis around Salento, and other rural towns in Colombia, are called Willy"s. They are an old jeep that are usually shared taxis used by locals and visitors alike. I was told that the term "pop a willy" refers to the auto's front wheels leaving the ground because they pile on so many people in the back of these things. It's a good, cheap way to get around the small towns and out to the parks.