Go to Salento, Colombia
January 1, 1970
by Cindi Bester
I arrived in Salento after a few weeks in the bustling cities of Colombia thinking, `I just need some space to breathe`. Salento turned out to be the perfect cure for the city blues.
Salento is a sleepy, really tiny town about 4 hours (by bus) north of Cali. To get to Salento, you have to change over buses in Armenia. The road to Armenia from Cali is really well developed so pretty much any bus would provide a smooth journey. I had taken a local’s suggestion and took a minibus from the station in Cali (COP20000) instead of a regional regular bus which (theoretically) would have taken longer.
Once in Armenia don’t expect to see any official signs for Salento. The buses, that look just like miniatures of regular buses, are parked outside and depart every half hour or so (COP4800), stopping along the way to pick up more passengers.
Once you’re out of Armenia, breathe and smile, it’s time to relax. The buses stop in the centre square in Salento and little jeeps, called Willys, can take you to your destination. The town in so small though that unless you stay in one of the few hostels out of town, you won’t be more than a 10 minute walk away from your destination.
During my time visiting Salento it rained almost every day, but it was nothing that a rain jacket and a 30 minute coffee break couldn’t fix. It is quite a few degrees cooler than the big cities in this region (this was a great thing after the heat of Cali) so pack something warm.
To eat, to sleep, to alleviate boredom
Things to see and do in Salento. Well, firstly, let’s discuss the food situation. There are three really special places to eat. Firstly, the restaurant called Brunch. They are situated three blocks from the main square, you can get there by taking the first street going right after the supermarket (with the supermarket on your right side) in the square. The food is seriously generously portioned, well priced and delicious. They serve more cafe style food with the occasional full meal. Definitely try the peanut butter brownie, it really is as delicious as advertised. Second, Makao, this time with the supermarket on your left, walk straight for two blocks and then turn left. Makao has similar food and is similarly priced to Brunch but with a more authentic flair. Try the Lasagna, I’ve heard only good things about it.
The third option for food should also feature on the great hostels and great entertainment write-ups. La Luciernaga is located a few blocks away from the main square, with some quite steep hills on the way. Luciernaga is a restaurant and hostel that features really good live music almost every night. The food is good, the craft beer is cold and the hostel dorms are clean, modern and really, really comfortable. From all the hostels I’ve stayed at throughout my three month journey, this is the one that I liked most.
For more entertainment, go play Tejo! Tejo is a traditional Colombian game where the aim is to land a concrete puck in the middle of a circle placed in clay. You’ll stand 5-7m away, but locals go as far as 15m. You also get points if you hit one of the paper pockets of gunpowder arranged around the circle, causing mini explosions. Beer is a very important (and as far as I can tell, prerequisite) part of the game. Alternatively, there are a few dance halls around the main square if you like Salsa.
I’m sure that most of the hostels are quite good, but three really stand out for me. Luciernaga
(which I’ve already raved about), La Serrano and Yambolombia. Both La Serrano and Yambolombia are situated a little bit outside of town, La Serrano at 1km and Yambolombia at 2km. Always check this first, but while I was visiting (Feb 2016), it was safe to walk from either those hostels to town and back, even alone and even at night. La Serrano is a little haven of luxury, it’s just a really solidly good stay. Yambolombia is a little bit more eccentric. There’s no internet, but the host is great and the breakfast is tasty. Staying at Yambolombia is like inviting a bunch of really cool people to your own house, it’s really comfortable. I volunteered at Yambolombia for 5 days (it’s as easy as showing up and saying you’d like you volunteer), go check out my mural in the dorm on the top floor. You can even sleep in a hammock if you’re looking for a very cheap place to stay.
Salento is synonymous with Valle de Cocora. This park is about 20 minutes by Willy from Salento. It’s about a 5 hour trip to walk up, see the ridiculously awesome, 60m tall wax palms and visit the hummingbird sanctuary along the way. Just make sure you don’t miss the entrance to the park as I did the first time I went, although, even if you do, you’ll end up on a slightly tough, but completely worth the effort, hike which will take you up and down the mountains surrounding Valle de Cocora.
About 2km from Yambolombia, on the same road is Ocasa Coffee farm. The walk there and the coffee tour is a fun day trip. The tour is entertaining and the coffee is really good. This can also be the start of various walking options (with or without a guide) through the valley and along the river. If you follow the river, you can check out some waterfalls (about 12km round trip).
I really enjoyed my time in Salento, the view, the slow pace, the town and it’s people makes it the best place to unwind after the busy city.
Getting out is pretty straight forward, all roads lead out from the station (just ask any local where that is). Buses to Armenia depart often, about every 30 minutes and you can get connecting buses from there. Alternatively, if you`re heading to Medellín, there is a direct bus from Salento (COP43000) leaving at 9:30 and 16:00 daily.