The Heart Of Colombia…
Nestled in the foothills of the Andes, the popular and charming traditional coffee town of Salento showcases everything we love about Colombia as a whole. Friendly smiles, tasty local dishes, lively cafe-bars, pristine countryside… And the overwhelming feeling that during your stay you’re not just a ‘tourist’, but part of the community.
We spent a weekend in Salento, but could have quite easily extended our stay to a week. This is what we recommend you should do if you get the chance to enjoy Salento for yourselves…
Hiking through the cloud forest around Salento.
Visit A Coffee Plantation
After a really interesting time visiting a tea plantation in Malaysia during our travels through Southeast Asia, we had already decided that a trip to Colombia would not be complete without visiting a coffee plantation! Known as ‘soft’ coffee because of the way it is washed before drying and roasting, Colombian coffee has both its own unique way of production as well as a unique taste.
Freshly roasted coffee beans from our tour.
If you fancy a caffeine fuelled coffee tasting adventure then Salento is the perfect place to do it. We recommend heading to Plantation House (located in the town on Calle 7, 6 blocks from the main plaza), where they offer a daily tour of their nearby working coffee farm, Finca Don Eduardo. ($20,000 Colombian pesos p/p. Approximately £6 GBP).
The Plantation House.
Preparing for the muddy track with wellies loaned from Plantation House.
Setting off… The walk to the nearby coffee farm takes 10-15 minutes.
This coffee farm uses clean, organic and traditional cultivation techniques, with the coffee beans picked by hand during harvest months, which are April, May, June and October, November, December.
Finca Don Eduardo
New coffee seedlings starting life in the greenhouse.
A mature coffee tree on the farm.
Coffee beans. They are not picked until they are ripe and red in colour.
Enjoying a tour of the farm.
The owner of the farm, Andreas, does the tour himself, with another guide to translate into English if needed.
First there is a tour around the farm. Then Andreas explains very clearly how the coffee is grown, harvested, washed, dried, husked and roasted.
Coffee beans in the different stages of peeling, washing and drying.
The machine that is used for separating the red skin from the bean.
Close up shot.
After the beans are washed in river water and dried in the sun for a week, the husk is removed from the bean.
Then a sieve is used to separate the bean from the husk.
Coffee beans ready for roasting.
Roasting is also done by hand, with Andreas stirring the beans in a hot pan as opposed to placing them in a large oven (the method big producers use). He then grinds the beans with a traditional grinder.
First heating the pan to the right temperature ready for roasting.
Andreas explaining the next stage in the process.
Coffee beans roasting in the pan.
Grinding is done with a hand operated machine.
The best bit of course is the tasting! Using the freshly ground coffee, Andreas pours everyone a cup of freshly brewed Colombian coffee to try.
Filtering and brewing the freshly ground coffee.
Enjoying a cup of smooth Colombian ‘Soft’ coffee!
Play ‘Tejo’ With The Locals
Something else we really wanted to do whilst visiting Colombia was to have a go at ‘tejo’ which is the country’s national sport. We had read about the traditional game and thought it sounded a lot like boules, however as with all things Colombian, tejo is a much more exciting version with the added element of gunpowder!
‘Gunpowder and beer’. How could we refuse?
In Salento there is a large tejo hall named Los Amigos just off the main square where you can play the game for free on the proviso that you buy beer whilst you play. It sounded good to us, so we headed there around 9pm on the Saturday evening of our stay. Busy with locals and gringos, the place had a great atmosphere and we had heaps of fun!
Wayne prepares the clay pit before we start.
To play the actual game, 1lb weights are tossed into a clay pit aiming to hit and explode gunpowder filled pieces of paper called ‘mechas’. These are positioned around a metal ring that is set in the centre of the clay pit.
Me holding a 1lb weight. They get heavy after a while!
Wayne taking aim and throwing…
Players organise themselves into 2 teams and take turns aiming for the central metal ring. If the player’s weight lands in the centre and stays there without setting off the gunpowder, they score 6 points for their team.
If the weight sets off the gunpowder, lands in the centre and stays there, then that is a top score of 9 points.
If the weight sets off the gunpowder but doesn’t land in the middle, this is a score of 3 points only.
If none of the above happens, then after each player has taken a turn, the player with the weight closest to the centre ring scores 1 point for their team.
Wayne showing the mecha filled with gunpowder that he set off!
Unbelievably I got my weight in the centre of the ring!
The winning team is the first to reach 21 points. This is actually quite difficult, especially once you’ve had a beer or two!
It’s quite hard to aim the weights even though as gringos they gave us easier rules and let us stand closer to the clay pit than they would themselves. In fact the Colombians stand and aim the weight from the opposite end of the room! We stood about halfway and Wayne managed a few hits. After a lot of dodgy throws from myself I couldn’t help but perform a victory dance when I landed my weight in the centre of the ring!
Posing with the owner of Los Amigos, a really lovely guy!
Hike Through A Cloud Forest
The other great thing that Salento has to offer is the opportunity for hiking. We have found that Colombia has some good, well-maintained trails compared with other South American countries so it is easy to throw on your backpack, grab your walking boots and set off into the countryside on your own. We’re not fond of hikes where you’re required to have a guide, so the misty green hills around Salento were perfect for us.
In the midst of the cloud forest over 2,500 metres.
We had never hiked through a cloud forest before, so the Valle de Cocora just outside the Parque Los Nevados, a twenty minute drive from Salento, makes for a fantastic day hike. It is a circular route that takes 4-5 hours, however we added in an extra 5km that took us on a strenuous uphill walk to the Estrella de Agua Biological Station, then 5km back down again, making our hike around 20km in total.
Catching a Jeep from the main square at 7.30am to the start of the trail. (The Jeep will only depart when full and costs $3,400 pesos p/p).
Wayne raring to go at the start of the trail…
We set off anti-clockwise on the circular route along the valley bottom.
The terrain is quite muddy in places.
Beautiful crepuscular rays of light filtering through the trees.
Just one of the 6 swing bridges we had to cross over the river.
View from one of the bridges.
Nervously crossing, one person at a time!
We added in the extra uphill hike to Estrella de Agua.
Skirting the rock by the river.
Long exposure shot of the river for that silky smooth effect.
In the middle of the forest… Check out the huge fern leaves!
After a couple of hours of walking gently uphill, we had a rest stop at the Acaime Natural Reserve. It costs $4,000 pesos to enter the reserve, but included in the fee is a drink of your choice. We opted to try the ‘chocolate con queso’, a bowl of hot chocolate with a slab of thick acidic cheese. A strange combination but we never shy away from trying traditional food!
Sampling ‘chocolate con queso’ at the Acaime Reserve.
The reserve also proved a good rest stop as it is a haven for humming birds. They were constantly flying in and out of the nearby trees and hovering over bowls of sugar water, making it perfect for us to capture them on camera (with a little patience).
A striking green hummingbird at the Acaime Reserve.
Hummingbird in motion.
A split second in time.
Patience and persistence pays off.
From the Acaime Reserve we continued on up to the Estrella de Agua Biological Station. This was a strenuous uphill climb through the forest on switch backs that added an extra 10km to our total route. It took around 3 hours walking at a good pace for us to reach the Estrella and then return back to the original trail.
Map of the trails in the Cocora Valley.
Stopping at the Estrella for our packed lunch. We also made a friend!
Returning back to the original trail through cloud forest.
The palm trees are really striking against the cloud.
Standing tall and proud, the ‘palma de cera’.
We discovered that the wax palm Palma de cera, is the tallest palm in the world reaching heights of 60 metres (197ft) and it is the National tree of Colombia. It is also a protected species.
‘Palma de cera’ – The National tree of Colombia.
After reaching La Montana House, another rest point on the trail, we hiked down through the cloud forest and returned to the start of the trail around 4.45pm where several jeeps were waiting to drive visitors back to Salento.
If you enjoy walking and are up for a challenge, the Cocora Valley is a beautiful day hike where you can lose yourself in the tranquility of the lush mountains and admire the pure nature of Colombia. In our opinion it is a MUST DO!
Make Colombia Your Next Travel Destination
Colombia undoubtedly has been one of our favourite countries in South America. Don’t be put off by its turbulent history. Yes, we all know about the guerrilla fighters and drug cartels. But this is now a country coming out of a dark period that is both proud and positive about the future.
Many travellers we’ve met stick to the big, popular and most well-known cities like Cartagena and Medellin. To get a taste of the real Colombia however you need to get off the beaten track a little. Salento proved to be everything we were looking for…
If you enjoy a good cup of coffee, display a competitive streak when it comes to game playing and have a love for the great outdoors, then Salento is the place for you! We loved it!