By Hunter Thornfeldt
No trip to Colombia is complete without a visit to its famous Coffee Triangle. Whether you are a lover of coffee, hiking, or wildlife, this area is packed with beauty and charm. The Coffee Triangle not only produces some of the world’s best Arabica coffee, but is also home to the world’s largest palm trees and many beautiful species of birds.
Perhaps the most popular destination in the Coffee Triangle is the small town of Salento. Known for its coffee, wildlife, and easy access to the Cocora Valley, Salento is one of Colombia’s most tranquil vacation spots. Located in the Department of Quindío, Salento is located a 6-8 hour bus ride from Medellín. Car-sick travelers beware: the route is full of winding turns, typical of many roads traversing Colombia’s Andes. Those who (understandably) choose to avoid traveling the country by car or bus can take a quick flight to the city of Armenia, which is a mere 30-45 minute drive from Salento.
Finding accommodation in Salento is quite easy. Traditional travelers can find lovely Colonial-style hotels and quaint AirBnb stays. For backpackers, the town is filled with vibrant hostels, where the atmosphere can range from relaxed to raucous. While many are located in the center of town, eco-hostels such as La Serrana and Las Camelias lie on the edge of town, offering a more tranquil atmosphere and incredible views. For more adventurous travelers, rooms are available at Casa de los Colibríes (House of the Hummingbirds), a hostel and hummingbird reserve located midway through the famous Cocora Valley trail. Here you can spot several rare species of hummingbirds darting about, their brilliant colors adding to the already incredible landscape.
No visit to Salento is complete without a trip to the Cocora Valley. To get there, head to the town square and look for the colorful Jeep Willys – there you can purchase a ticket and enjoy the beautiful 30-minute ride to the trailhead.
Hiking the Cocora Valley loop takes about six hours and is best done in the morning. The counterclockwise route is recommended; this route takes you first along the river Quindío, past the Acaime reserve, and finally through the mountains to the viewpoints overlooking the valley’s most famous vistas.
Along the way, you’ll see the famous Quindío wax palms. The tallest palm trees in the world, these giants can reach heights of up to 60 meters (nearly 200 feet). Midway through you will find the aforementioned Casa de los Colibríes. This highly-recommended spot is a perfect place to relax, drink some delicious aguapanela con queso, and watch several species of hummingbirds fluttering about. These hummingbirds are so familiar with humans that they have even been known to land on people from time to time! After leaving the hummingbird house, continue hiking to reach several viewpoints overlooking the valley and its famous palm trees.
Another must-see attraction in Salento is the Mirador Alto de la Cruz. Located at the end of Calle Real, this incredible viewpoint can be reached by hiking up 238 stairs. This is a perfect spot to watch the sunset after hiking the Cocora Valley. Here you will find many locals and travelers enjoying the panoramic mountain views. Indeed, it’s hard not to be happy from this scenic spot overlooking the town and its surrounding mountains. After heading down, enjoy the town’s many traditional restaurants and unique night life. At night, you’ll see locals drinking, dancing, and riding horses in the town square, making for a charming end to an adventure-packed day.
Whether you enjoy coffee, nature, or relaxing in Colombia’s mountains, Salento is truly a jewel of the Andes. While the town has become a popular tourist destination, it still preserves the authentic Colombian spirit – kind people, beautiful nature, and wonderful surprises around every turn.