Salento does not always receive rave reviews. Colombians, in particular, can be quick to point out its lack of authenticity. Indeed, tourism is more developed here than in other parts of El Eje Cafetero. Consequently, much of the town centre may seem to exist for the sole purpose of serving the gods of international travel…
Yes, it’s true that there are other more authentic towns in the coffee region of Colombia. Nearby Filandia, for example, possesses more ornate and brightly painted buildings. In fact, there is even a lot more coffee grown in places such as Quimbaya. Yet, for all that, travellers who look beyond its shiny tourist veneer can have travel experiences that are as real and memorable as they will find anywhere else in the country.
Walk to Acaime in Parque Nacional Los Nevados
The dramatic entrance has all the ingredients of a perfect tropical postcard. Tall wax palms on lush green mountains frame the scene. Cows graze incongruously amidst the giant trees, birds sing and butterflies flutter busily through the air. For that is what this park actually is- an abundance of nature, sometimes expected and occasionally surprising. The path through Parque Nacional Los Nevados leads visitors into a cloud forest. Steep steps, stepping stones over potential mudbaths and small waterfalls combine to make it feel like an obstacle course at times. It costs 5000 pesos ($1.72 US) to enter the nature reserve at Acaime, but it’s a price worth paying after a long hike. Relax over a cup of chocolate and watch the hummingbirds feeding playfully.
Soak Up the Atmosphere of Salento
It goes without saying that Salento is a tourist hotspot. In truth, many travellers will start their journey through El Eje Cafetero right here. Yet, all is not lost. Awaken to the sounds of roosters crowing and dogs barking. Enjoy a cup of Joe in the local coffee shop on the corner of the main street and Calle 2. Spanish speakers will be privy to all the local gossip. Then, wander the streets taking photos of the traditional buildings. For first-time visitors, the brilliant blues and pistachio greens create the feeling of walking into a film set. Mustard interiors and sackcloth bags of coffee underscore the agricultural roots of the town.
Enjoy the Coffee at Café Jesus Martin
Speaking of agricultural roots, Café Jesus Martín fuses the best of Third Wave Coffee with the original character of Salento. Rusted horseshoes and lampshades contrast with the stark black and white logo of the Specialty Coffee Association of America. This is truly rural rustic meets the 21st Century.
A refreshing breeze blows through the large front windows and the traditional central courtyard at the back. At night they turn down the lights and candles burn in the centre of every table- pure romance! Truly, Café Jesús Martín is more than a cool café, it is also a place that celebrates coffee. The café works closely with local producers, so patrons can expect coffee with complex floral notes. In addition to this, they organise high-end coffee tours in the region. Altogether, this is a place to visit and revisit on any trip to Salento.
Take the Premium Tour at Finca El Ocaso
The 55,000 peso ($19 US) price tag may seem off-putting at first. However, the premium tour at Finca El Ocaso is the Rolls Royce of coffee tours. As elsewhere, travellers will first visit the Finca to learn about the production process, including picking coffee from the coffee trees. However, this tour offers so much more. The taste testing session is quite literally sensational, particularly when they introduce the basic smells and tastes. Wine connoisseurs may already know Le Nez du Vin, but the tour at Finca El Ocaso introduces Le Nez du Café. After a morning or afternoon here, coffee will never smell or taste the same again!
Stay with a Local Family in Salento
With a rapidly developing tourist industry, Salento can sometimes feel a little like a Coffee Country Disneyland. On the other hand, Don Hugo and Doña Martha, a Mexican-Colombian couple, work hard to make you feel right at home. With only two rooms, visitors will quickly forget the industrial feel of some hotels and hostels. Those who want to practise or learn Spanish will appreciate this genuine homestay experience. Hostal Jerico is like staying with new friends.
Getting There and Away
Salento is about an hour from Pereira and Armenia. The latter city has more regular services to Salento (three buses per hour) and detailed information is available on the bus station website: www.terminalarmenia.com. There are only four buses per day from Pereira at present. Travellers should note that some of the guesthouses in Salento have issued warnings about thefts on these buses, so watch your belongings. To get to Pereira or Armenia from Bogotá, travellers can choose between taking a bus or flying. Flights are cheap if you book well in advance (keep an eye on www.skyscanner.com).
Getting around in Salento is easy. The town is small enough to navigate on foot. The walk to the coffee farms only takes 45 minutes, but it would be a pity to zip through the beautiful countryside. Only Parque Nacional Los Nevados requires road transport. For this purpose, jeeps leave hourly from the main square in Salento.
Apart from Hostal Jerico (see above), there are many other accommodation options in Salento. Hotel El Jardín, with its beautiful garden, will appeal to mid-range travellers. Many backpackers rave about La Serrana due to its tranquil out of town setting. Similarly, Estrella Sin Fronteras is popular with budget-conscious travellers who want lodgings close to the town centre. French travellers love this place!
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