Salento is a small town located in the Zona Cafetera of Colombia.
There is lots to do around Salento but the most common activities are visiting a coffee farm, and trekking the wax palm valley. With 2 days in the town, that is what we did.
On the first full day we got up too late for hiking so decided to visit a coffee farm. Even these require a sizeable walk – around 45 minutes, from the town, but it is a pleasant one along a gravel road with some nice views out to the countryside.
There are no shortage of coffee farms to choose from, including a very slick commercial looking one, however we visited one our hostel suggested – Don Elias. It’s a very small family run finca (farm) and due to our below average Spanish we were taken around by Don Elias’s son who speaks excellent English.
He explained how 3 types of coffee beans are grown and how long they take to grow, harvest times etc. We’d never actually seen coffee growing before so it was really interesting.
We were then shown the hand powered machine to remove the husk from the bean. They are then dried in a plastic greenhouse (since it’s a rainy area) before being roasted and then packaged or ground.
The smell as he roasted and ground the beans was incredible. I’m no coffee expert but you could tell this was a quality operation. Totally organic, manually operated machines and family owned – what more do you want? He said they could make more if they expanded and used machines but they just don’t need to.
We were treated to an excellent cup of coffee (of course) at the end, and had some incredible tasting beans coated in chocolate. There was no way that we couldn’t purchase some coffee after all that, so I bought some beans for myself and Katy some ground coffee for her dad.
When we left we took a slightly different route back, walking alongside the picturesque Rio Quindio to Boquia, where I replaced all the calories I had burned walking by eating a giant empanada with 4 different meats, before hopping on a bus back to Salento.
That evening we ate the local speciality of trucha (trout) and went looking to play Tejo. It’s a game only found in this region of Colombia, and involves throwing metal discs at a pit of clay marked with targets. The fun part is that small packets of gunpowder are placed on the targets, giving you more points if you hit one and of course making a lovely bang.
We grabbed a beer and watched for a bit before we plucked up the courage to take a lane and have a go. I started off like I do with most new sports, by being utterly useless at it – I struggled to even hit the clay. But over time I got closer and closer and hit a few gunpowder targets. Katy, when she had stopped jumping from the bangs, was of course quite good at it, but we both lost to Jon, our Australian friend we’d been travelling with.
It was amazing fun and definitely a good drinking game. It did eventually get boring though so we called it a relatively early night in preparation for our hike the next day.
We got out for 9.30 to catch a ‘willy’ (lol) which is just a jeep, no idea why they call them that. This took us to the start of the trail.
The hike started off pleasantly enough, walking along paths next to green fields with hills and some wax palms in the distance. The trail soon entered a forest though and it became tougher and far more uphill. We scrambled across rocks, crossed wooden bridges and slipped in the mud.
After a good hour or two, we reached the first stop, a hummingbird sanctuary. Not everyone went in, there was a girl at the entrance scoffing that she saw hummingbirds all the time at home so what was the point? Well, we don’t, so it was worth the money to see hundreds of them flying and hovering.
As soon as we left the sanctuary, the rain really started, just as the toughest part of the trail began. The air was thin, the mud was slippy and the incline never seemed to let up. It wasn’t much fun but we stayed positive.
Eventually we came out of the cloud forest and could see the ranger station at the top of the hill. We got there just in time as the heavens opened as soon as we got under cover. We sat and ate our homemade sandwiches (we were so prepared) and waited. It abated a little so we continued.
From the point the trail was a gravel road so was easy. We were at the top of the hill so the trail would take us back down. The sad part was the views of the wax palms were supposed to be really good but because of the rain we could barely see anything.
However as we got further down we got under the low lying cloud and finally we could see them. Majestic, impossibly tall palms dotting the landscape all around. The beauty continued at the bottom of the trail, as we walked back towards the start. It really was stunning.
But something dawned on me as we reached the jeeps. We could have seen the most stunning sight with just a 10 minute walk in the other direction, and not got soaked doing the hike. So in that respect the entire hike was pointless, but it was good fun despite the weather so we’re glad we did it.
Exhausted, we got the jeep back to Salento. It had been an unusually active few days for us, but well worth the effort.
We stayed in Tralala Hostel, a short walk from the main square of Salento. Despite a bizarre booking which meant we had to change room each night, it really was an awesome hostel. The private rooms were probably the best we’d ever had an a hostel, the kitchen was good and the layout of the hostel was really cool.
They also lend wellies for very cheap, which we used for the hike and are highly recommended if it’s raining. We paid 55,000COP (£13.97) per night for our room.
To get to Don Elias Finca, find the yellow bridge to the west of the town. Cross it and follow the road for around 45 minutes, don’t make any turns. The tour cost 5000COP per person and the coffee I believe was about 12,000COP (£3.05)
We played Tejo at ‘Los Amigos’ which had a nice mix of locals and tourists. It is a bit intimidating to enter as it looks like the wrong place but walk through the bar and you’ll find the tejo hall. The game itself is free to play as long as you’re drinking, a beer was about 5000COP (£1.27).
The jeeps apparently leave at 06.10, 07.30, 09.30 and 11.30. We got the 09.30 and it was a struggle to get on one, there were more people than space on jeeps. They are supposed to leave from the main square but actually left from a couple of blocks north of it. There is a tourism tent to ask the exact location. Cost is 3400COP per person each way, it takes half hour. The whole hike in total including transport takes around 5 hours. Bring plenty of water and snacks!