Most travellers heading to the Cocora Valley or the Parque Nacional de los Nevados tend to start their journey in Salento, a quaint little town in the coffee region of Quindío. Tucked between the rolling hills of the Western and Central Andean cordilleras, it is renowned for it’s breathtaking 360° views and colourful, painted traditional houses. It is about an hour away from Pereira (NW) and Armenia (SW), the closest airport and major bus terminals.
It’s really tiny, you probably only really need a day to wander about the town. I’d recommend 2 days for a Salento-Cocora trip, with 3 days being perfect for a more relaxed trip and giving you a day to recover from the hike, wander the surrounding hills or have a day in Filandia.
What to see
Like all traditional plazas in Latin America. Small, church, restaurants. Park in the centre, at the weekends surrounded by stalls selling fruit, coffee, and traditional Colombian food. V lively at the weekend, people drinking beer, playing music and dancing. Always lots of 4×4 Willys parked. Looks like a step back in time!
Although all the houses in Salento are traditionally painted, Calle Real is perhaps the most striking. The colourfully painted doors match perfectly with equally vibrant balconies which overhang onto the bustling street below, which is dotted with wooden park benches and old-fashioned street lamps. It is a street of artisanal shops selling local handicrafts and cafés.
Calle Real connects the the main plaza with the steep steps that lead to the mirador Alto de la Cruz.
Alto de la Cruz
There are two main viewpoints, one that looks out onto the valley and another over the town. Most people take the horribly steep 250 steps at the end of Camino Real. Save yourself the pain and take the scenic route with a more gentle incline. Take a short walk up Carrera 4, which takes you to the viewpoint “Ecoparque el Mirador”. Enjoy the views from there, and then take a concrete path by the fence on the right of the viewpoint, which will take you up to the other mirador which looks out of the town. It’s a bit gritty to be honest. Then you can take the steps down to Camino Real.
In the coffee region you can find coffee tours left, right and centre, walking around town you’ll see posters and most accommodation will also have recommendations. Here are some popular ones with varying reviews:
Finca Don Eduardo Coffee Farm $30,000COP 3 hours
Family run, Don Eduardo does the tours himself. A Brit who has lived there for over 13 years.
Finca las Brisas (Cafe Don Elias) $8,000COP 1 hour
Smallest and only organic coffee farm
Finca Ocaso $15,000 1.5 hours
Big production, most “touristy” options with regular tours in English
Day trip to Filandia
Filandia is a smaller, less touristy version of Salento, where there is also a natural reserve if you enjoy hiking. It’s absolutely gorgeous, although there isn’t much going on, it’s a lovely way to spend a half a day and there are plenty of food options. Helena Adentro is worthy of its fame, it has a stunning patio and serves delicious Colombian-inspired tapas. I’d especially recommend the maranitas, chorizo santarrosano and berenjena.
You can arrive from Armenia or Pereira, but buses from Armenia run more frequently.
Cootracir $3,600 5.20am – 8pm every 20 minutes
Expreso Alcala $3,400 5.40am – 8pm every 20 minutes
Expreso Alcala $7,000
Weekdays 6.30am, 8.40am,10.00am, 11.40am, 1.40pm, 3.00pm, 4.40pm and 6.40pm
Weekends 6.30am – 6.40pm every hour
Pereira – vía Salento – Salento (until 9pm) $6,500COP + $2,800COP
If you miss a bus, you can get a bus to Armenia but ask the driver to drop you off on the vía a Salento, where the bus from Armenia will pick you up on its way. You will see a turn off the main road which goes to Salento. When you get off the bus, you just need to cross the road and you will see a bus stop. You shouldn’t have to wait long for the next bus!
Buses leave from Carrera 2 between 4&5, next to a school.
Salento – Armenia Every 20 minutes from 6.00am to 9.00pm
Salento – Pereira 07.50am, 10.00am, 12.50pm, 2.50pm, 5.50pm and 8pm (more frequent at the weekend).
Getting to Filandia from Salento (en route to Pereira)
Take any bus towards Pereira and let the driver know to drop you off at the desvío to Filandia. From there, cross the road and wait for a bus or hitch with any car taking the turn towards Filandia. Expreso Alcala $6,300COP
Buses to Pereira leave from 6am, every hour until 7.30pm.
Salento – Filandia $7,000COP
Filandia – Pereira $6,300COP
Where to Stay
Salento is a well-known tourist hub, so there is plenty of choice when it comes to accommodation. Don’t worry about being “close to the center”, Salento is so tiny, it will take to 5 minutes to get to the main plaza. There are also options of staying a bit out of the town.
We stayed in Luciernagas Hostel, which had the best of both worlds. It is location just 5-10 minutes’ walk from the main plaza, on the edge of town with breathtaking mountain views. The dorms have real beds, is it spacious and all the rooms have a balcony with a view! Dorms $22,000COP / double $75,000COP.
Where to eat
Patacon stalls, main plaza
Salento is known for its delicious patacón (mashed plaintain, which is fried). This normally comes in two small round pieces, but here they have a huge patacón the size of your plate, with your chosen toppings. Like a pizza!
Even if you don’t stay here, it’s definitely worth going to their café/restaurant/bar for a meal. The views are not only incredible, but the menu is a European dream by Colombian standards. They serve delicious Latino-Eurpean brunches – sourdough toast, avocado… I even spotted kale on the menu!
Serves a range of international food, including some vegetarian options (hard to come by in most of Colombia!). I’d reccommend the parcels of chicken which has the most delicious soft filo-style pastry. And the chocolate cake with crushed peanuts and strawberries is absolutely divine.