We heard through the grapevine that Salento was the place to go. In the heart of coffee country, it’s a small town with access to hiking, the wax palm valley and multiple coffee farms ready for backpackers to explore. We made our way from Cali via a five hour bus to Armenia and then hoped on another bus to Salento. The second was around an hour but was local–meaning it stopped throughout the bustling town of Armenia and along the way to Salento. Chels and I spread out on the bus station thinking it wouldn’t be that full… Just us and the five other backpackers. We were wrong and were soon squashed in a bus with locals along the expected windy roads.
We finally arrived in Salento after dark and got dropped off in the town square. We instantly fell in love: We could instantly feel the cute, small town, countryside feel. A woman approached all the backpackers asking where we were headed in English, so we found our way to Hostel Tralala with ease. We actually booked the hostel through Caelum Hostel in Cali through the owner so it came with good recommendations and certainly did not disappoint.
Our “dorm” was for three, which was heaven compared to an eight or 11-person set-up. Our room attached to the comfy TV room with access to an offset private bathroom and shower that didn’t make you feel rushed if you needed to take your time in there. And in addition to the multitude of flyers and hostel cards as in any hostel, the reception gave us a pamphlet with surrounding activities and restaurants. It was our bible while in Salento. We first found our dinner spot that night by wandering the streets. 6.500 COP ($2ish USD) for a soup and banana, rice, a meat, hush puppies and plantains. Woah. We then headed to the grocery store for some breakfast items, snacks and water for our next day.
El Valle Del Cocora is known for its gorgeous scenery so we embarked on our five hour hike at 9:30 the next morning. You can do a shorter version, and actually read about it on another blog, but we figured we would make the most of it. From Salento you must take an old “Willie T” Jeep from the town square to the trailhead. They’re only offered at certain times and we weren’t about to get on the 7:10 a.m. one (although the views are supposedly much better the earlier you go). We hopped in the bed–imagine a pick-up truck–while three others stood on the back plate for a bit of an enhanced experience. Once all 10 of us were in, we drove about 25 minutes to the gateway. Let’s just say we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. The hike was strictly uphill for the first full hour. And to be honest… the “lazy guide” we found online was right. If you’re only looking to get some incredible photos and see the wax palm valley, feel free to simply hike for about 45 minutes and head back down. But we continued on. We winded through farms with cows and horses, stopped for water and snack breaks and continued into dense forest where we joined two other girls. There is an option to take a break at a butterfly garden, but we skipped out on the 5.000 COP entrance fee and took another break before heading back down over the river and through the woods. Despite our struggles it only took us four hours–success! Once we finally made it back to the entrance, we had to wait for the next times that the Jeeps would be making their way back to Salento. We had about 10 minutes before the 12:30 ride, so we took a quick cat nap in the grass before heading back. This time, I got the adventure ride and stood up, receiving the wind in my hair and the views at direct eyesight.
To make the most of our time in the town, we headed straight to el finca de cafe to learn a bit about the coffee making process. Our hostel suggested Don Elias’ farm and gave directions to get there. It was an hour walk, but we powered through (hoping for someone to pick us up seeing our pain after already hiking for hours) and made it later that afternoon. Because the region has fincas as far as the eye can see, we were diverted by Elias’ competitor but a nearby farmer pointed us in the right direction for the specific one we were looking for. We arrived through a tunnel of banana trees at the porch of the family’s home and were greeted by Elias himself. Luckily our Spanish is at least at survival mode, so we could comprehend that we had to wait for a bit for other visitors to finish their tour. If you go to Salento and you visit a coffee farm, visit Don Elias. He is the sweetest man and is curious about you, where you come from and offers the best small-talk Spanish conversation a girl could ask for. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to simply talk to a coffee farmer about his life in (broken) Spanish and to then receive a tour from his grandson. The Spanish was very much at an eight-year-old’s level, but it worked for us and we learned all about the process. Everything from the changing of the beans to the 20 year cycles to the roasting process. We then sipped a cup and went on our way. An hour-long tour that I’ll never forget. And you bet we paid for the Jeep service to take us back home.
But there’s more! After a nap and dinner, we headed to Los Amigos for some tejo. A local game played by throwing stones into a mud pit. 6 points for hitting it inside the center circle and 9 for blasting one of the four dynamite packets in the pit. We met up with some other tourists and split into the English-speaking and International team. Ours consisted of Americans, Brits and Scots while the other team had some Germans, Spaniards and Swiss. It was a blast (literally) and I even got it in the center at
one point, scoring a point for our team and ending the round.
Again, going off our Salento-based bible, we booked a three hour horseback ride the next morning before leaving the lovely Salento and heading to Medellin. It was 40.000 COP ($12ish USD) and we got to pick our start time. So at 9:30 we heard the hostel’s doorbell and went outside to see three horses waiting and ready for us. Our guide, a 24 year old Salento-area native, helped us on Dola and Ceviche (the name we made up, as we couldn’t quite understand). From there we went through town onto the muddiest, steepest path available. It’s funny how you have no choice but to put all trust in another person, or in this case animal’s, hands.
The land then leveled out luckily and we headed onto a private farm (had to pay another 4,000 COP as a surprise) to navigate to a waterfall. It was a great way to see more of the area and beautiful countryside.
After all of our Salento adventures were over, we grabbed our pre-packed bags from the morning and walked to the town’s tiny bus station to hop on a one-hour ride to Pereira before another five hour ride to Medellin.