Visiting Salento in Colombia is like stepping back in time. Undisturbed by the country's recent economic development, sleepy Salento is lined with colourful streets and quaint coffee shops where days are easily lost watching the world go by.
The entire town is easily walkable and has become a gateway to some of Colombia’s best hiking trails, like those in Valle de Cocora and Los Nevados National Park. It’s become a must-visit for travellers to Colombia, and for good reason. It’s not hard to imagine yourself staying here for a while.
With around 900 residents, the quiet town of Salento has become something a backpacker’s paradise in recent years. This is a place where you come to unwind, get out into nature, search for the perfect cup of coffee, and really get to know the country. The history of Bogota and the culture of Medellin are an absolute must when visiting Colombia for the first time, but it's in the little towns like Salento where you will really fall in love.
Salento’s brightly painted houses, and window boxes bursting with colourful flowers, look like something straight out of a Disney film. In fact Salento is said to be part of the inspiration behind the hit 2021 film Encanto. Other places in Colombia that appeared in the film include the Choco rainforest, Catedral de Sal, San Basilio de Palenque, and the Caño Cristales, which also appeared on David Attenborough’s series, The Green Planet.
Though there are plenty of hotels, nice places to eat and opportunities to buy souvenirs, Salento isn’t too touristy. It’s a great place for visitors to come and experience life in a small Colombian mountain town. The entire coffee region surrounding Salento is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, honouring its importance in the country's tourism scene. It’s not just foreigners that come to visit, Colombians also recognise the old-world charm of this small town and come to explore Salento on their holidays.
The best time to visit Salento is from December to February, these are the warmest months with the least amount of rainfall. Due to its location showers are likely at any time of the year so pack a waterproof. Temperatures average between 11 °C (52 °F) and 21 °C (69 °F) year round. If possible try to avoid visiting in January as this is when Colombians go on their holidays. If you are visiting Salento in January, you can expect higher prices and fewer accommodation options.
It’s possible to travel without a tour in Colombia. Public transport, although slow, is readily available and cheap. To get to Salento you will first need to get to Armenia, the capital city of the department, located around 24 kilometres away. You can easily fly to Armenia then get a taxi, or there are also regular buses to Salento.
Salento is walkable and you won’t struggle to see everything in town by foot. However for day trips out to Valle de Cocora and Los Nevados National Park you will need to hop on a jeep from the central plaza. Although these 4x4’s comfortably seat 7, they are often in high demand and can see up to 11 tourists holding onto bumpers and roof racks. Get there early if you want to secure a safer seating option.
Although the town isn’t big, it’s best not to stay right in the centre especially during peak season. It can be a little noisy at night near Plaza Bolivar, but choose a hotel just a couple of streets back and you can have all the convenience without any of the noise (or price tag)!
These are our recommendations for the best places to stay in Salento;
Terasu Hotel Salento has large comfy rooms, lovely views and great service on the edge of town.
Hotel Salento Real has fast WIFI and a great breakfast, located right near the centre of town, but far enough away to be peaceful at night.
Hilltop Hostel is a great place to stay if you’re looking to save some cash. Get stunning views of the surrounding area from the roof, plus it even has a pool.
Many will stay in Salento to get to the Valle de Cocora. Home to Colombia’s tallest trees, the Quindío wax palm, the stunningly picturesque Valle de Cocora is a highlight of any trip to Colombia. Hiking the Cocora Valley offers spectacular views and a chance to spot a wide array of local wildlife. From Salento, take a wild ride in a local ‘Willy Jeep’, to the start of the 12km loop. You will get to explore a unique landscape, climbing up steep vistas, crossing rickety bridges, and marvelling at the ginormous trees that make this place so special.
Salento lies right at the heart of Eje Cafetero, Colombia’s coffee triangle, home to one of Colombia's biggest exports. Do a coffee tour to get the full story on why this small bean holds such a great amount of pride for the country. From town it’s an easy walk to Don Elias, a small family-run farm where all the production is done by hand and all the coffee is sold to visitors. Another option is visiting El Ocaso, a slightly longer tour as the farm is much bigger.
Tejo is the national sport of Colombia, and possibly the only national spot in the world to incorporate explosives. Tejo, also known as turmequé, involves throwing rocks or metal spheres at envelopes of gunpowder. For a tourist friendly experience, head just a few blocks from the main square for the best place to play tejo in Salento, Los Amigos Bar.
Salento is a great place to just go for a wander. Explore the colourful streets, get a bite to eat at Brunch de Salento, and try every coffee shop in town. Plaza Bolivar is where everything happens in town. There are lots of great restaurants, a small supermarket, a few souvenir shops, and lively bars to spend the evenings in.
Probably the most famous coffee shop in Salento, Cafe Jesus de Martin boasts some of the best grinds in Colombia. Choose between a variety of brewing methods, try the finest local coffees, and chat to the friendly staff about the new-fashioned coffee culture in Colombia.
You can’t miss the colourful steps leading up to the viewpoint from town. It's an easy hike up 6 flights of stairs (242 steps) to the mirador, Alto de la Cruz, where you will be rewarded with beautiful views over town. Don’t miss the wonderful stalls selling handmade crafts on the side streets of the walk.
Trout is one of the most popular dishes in Salento, every weekend farmers and cooks bring their food carts to Salento’s town centre to take part in the Sunday trout market. They come served with patacones, and mushroom, shrimp or garlic sauce. If you’re not visiting on a Sunday, you can try this favourite local dish from pretty much anywhere in town, but Donde Laurita is known for the best trout in Salento.
If you have enough time in Salento, take a day trip to nearby Filandia, known as “the daughter of the Andes”. Filandia in the state of Quindío, is another small beautifully adorned Colombian town with scenic mountain views. Head to Helena Adentro "la casa rosada", said to be the best restaurant in the whole coffee region. It’s just a 40 minute drive from Salento, and is a great way to explore more of the area.
An easy hike, or ten minute bus ride from town, will take you to Santa Rita la cascada, a beautiful private nature reserve with waterfalls and clearly marked hiking paths. Much quieter than the other hikes in the area, Santa Rita is a great place to spot birds and go for a swim in the natural pools.
Salento sits at the centre of a triangle cornered by Bogota, Medellin and Cali, all are between a four to eight hour drive away. Each one of these major cities is worth a visit for different reasons. Head south to Parque Arqueológico De San Agustin to uncover one of the most amazing archaeological sites in South America. Or travel east to the beautiful whitewashed town of Villa de Leyva.
North you will find Salento’s rival for the most colourful town in Colombia, Guatapé, and the Piedra del Peñol. And make sure not to miss Colombia's Caribbean coast with tourist hotspot Cartagena, the stunning Playa Del Cabo and the iconic trek to the Ciudad Perdida.
Last Updated 18 November 2022