Traveling to Colombia, you'll be met with stunning nature views, including lush green jungles, snowy mountains, and a tropical coastline.
It's also a journey to beautiful colonial-style towns that are UNESCO World Heritage sites. In addition, you'll be able to visit coffee plantations that grow some of the best coffee in the world.
Salento, a small and colorful colonial town, is a must-visit during any Colombian travel itinerary. Once in Salento, your first stop should be the stunning Zona Cafetera coffee region, where substantial coffee plantations dominate the landscape.
This guide will include all the best places to visit in Salento and how to explore the mesmerizing coffee scene of this incredible country. All to make sure you have filled your cultural coffee cup before returning home.
What is Salento famous for
When you think of Colombia, you might think of lush landscapes, the Andes, drug cartels, and of course, coffee.
Salento is a cozy, brightly colored colonial town in Colombia's coffee region. You can buy locally-made handicrafts or stroll around in the charming streets. From the city's main ropeway, you can follow Calle Real to a so-called "Mirador," with the most beautiful view over the coffee area.
Zona Cafetera is the area in Colombia where there are the most coffee plantations. Lush green mountains and stunning nature surround the area, and for this reason, it's a must-see experience. The coffee region was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2011 and has attracted thousands of visitors since.
Where are Salento and the Zona Cafetera
Salento is a small town and municipality in the northeast part of the Quindío region of Colombia. The city is located 24 km northeast of the regional capital of Armenia.
Colombia is known to be one of the most important coffee producers in the world. Within the country, specific areas focus on producing coffee: Caldas, Risaralda, and Quindió, which make up the Zona Cafetera.
How to get to Salento and Zona Cafetera
Transport in Colombia is cheap! So cheap that even for longer distances, it's sometimes as cheap to fly as it is to take the bus.
The local buses cost a few euros for a few hours. However, these are often buses without air conditioning and are a bit uncomfortable. In contrast, long-distance buses in most of Colombi are large tour buses with air conditioning, luxury seats, and often a TV.
Direct flights to Salento are frequent from Medellin, Bogotá, Cartagena, and Santa Marta. If preferred, it's also possible to take a night bus even though the price is approximately the same as airfare. Cali is only a 3- hour bus ride away from Salento, and there are several departures daily.
Best time to visit Salento and Zona Cafetera
While you can visit Salento and the Zona Cafetera all year round, the most interesting is during the harvest season. These harvests run from April to June and again from October to December.
December to March is the dry season with warmer weather. Throughout the year, Salento and Zona Cafetera receive consistent rain, with October being the wettest month of the year.
The history behind the coffee farms and culture
Colombian coffee is known for its quality, but what makes it so special?
Coffee was introduced to Colombia in the mid-1700s by the Jesuits, and one in particular, named Francisco Romero, found an ingenious solution. Legend says that Francisco asked that believers plant 3 to 4 coffee plants whenever they went to confession.
As soon as the Archbishop of Colombia became aware of what Francisco was doing, he ensured that all Jesuit priests did the same. So, Francisco's actions paved the way for the beginning of the history of Colombian coffee. However, it was only in 1835 that this delicious coffee was marketed outside Colombia's borders.
To date, Colombia is the third largest producer of coffee in the world, behind Brazil and Vietnam. Colombia's production comprises mainly of Arabica species, including the Bourbon variety, Typica, Maragogype, and Caturra.
Best coffee farms to visit in Salento
There are plenty of full-day excursions that immerse you in the coffee-making experience! You'll be able to learn about how the coffee is planted, cared for, picked, washed, peeled, dried, roasted, etc.—yes, the whole process. It's an intense and highly educational experience that you'll remember every time you drink a cup of coffee for many years to come!
Choosing which coffee farm to visit in Zona Cafetera is difficult because there are endless options and most of them are worth the visit. Every place has its charm and should be chosen based on your unique interests. Some of the plantations are big, some are family-run, some focus on sustainable production, and some combine all those factors.
If you're looking for your own coffee adventure, let's deep dive into some of the most popular coffee farms to visit in Zona Cafetera.
Finca El Ocaso
Finca El Ocaso is a beautiful traditional coffee farm located 5km from Salento's central plaza. This finca, or country estate in English, offers magnificent views of the coffee valley and the Quindió River below.
El Ocaso boasts a robust plantation that produces Arabic-variety coffee, which is collected manually and later packed in their own branded coffee label. "El Ocaso" translates to "the sunset," and the farm aims to preserve and share coffee culture with its visitors. Finca El Ocaso is certified both ethical, sustainable, and organic.
Finca El Ocaso can take 10 visitors at a time and teach them the step-by-step process of their Colombian coffee production. There is the option of doing two different tours, the Traditional Coffee Tour and The Premium Coffee Tour.
The Traditional Tour takes 1 hour and 30 minutes and includes a cup of filtered coffee for tasting at the end. The Premium Tour takes 3 hours and includes a workshop with a tasting of various types of coffee.
Finca Don Eduardo
Finca Don Eduardo is a part of The Plantation House in Salento, which offers accommodation for visitors in a traditional and welcoming set-up. Staying at a large estate in Salento is a great alternative to hotels that provides a more local experience.
The Finca Don Eduardo is a coffee farm on the property that produces sustainable coffee from four sub-varieties of Arabica coffee. This includes two traditional plants and two modern hybrids. The coffee varieties they make are the Bourbon, Arabica Tipica, Caturra, and Variety Colombia.
The Finca Don Eduardo is only a 10-minute walk from the city center of Salento. Tours are offered daily in English and Spanish, where visitors get to walk through the beautiful gardens of the plantation's house. The tour takes 3 hours in total, and guests are invited to try the different flavors of the coffee blends.
For those interested in getting an even deeper coffee experience, Don Eduardo offers a 1-day or more work experience. This is for anyone who wishes to get a hands-on experience with tasks such as picking and planting coffee plants, digging and maintaining fields, or working on trails. Here lunch, drinks, and all necessary equipment are provided by the farm.
The Hacienda Venecia is one of the top-rated coffee farms in the Zona Cafetera. This plantation has won several awards for its coffee and is a famous location in the area.
The farm offers incredible views of the coffee valley. It is a well-preserved farmhouse that also operates as a charming boutique hotel. The Hacienda Venecia is a 2-hour drive from Salento but is worth the travel time for anyone craving an excellent Colombian coffee experience.
The farm offers tours in English and Spanish. These go deep into explaining Colombian coffee production, offer a walking tour through the beautiful plantation, and include a class in coffee preparation. The coffee tour takes roughly 2 hours and 30 minutes.
In addition, Hacienda Venecia provides other experiences, such as a chocolate workshop, bird watching, and bike tours, just to name a few.
What to know about doing a coffee tour in Zona Cafetera
The Colombian coffee farmers have, unlike some other South American countries, maintained the traditional harvesting method. Traditional means that the coffee is picked by hand so that only the ripe berries are harvested, and this ensures the best quality.
Some of Colombia's best coffee is produced in Salento and the surrounding areas. Colombia's beautiful nature takes care of that, with its lush soil and humid climate!
There are many coffee farms, and tourists are welcome at most of them. Don't miss out on a coffee farm tour so that you get a unique insight into how a cup of coffee is made. From a green, unripe bean on a meter-high bush to a finished drink, ready to be enjoyed.
You can participate in the entire process, from picking to roasting to milling to brewing. And afterward, you can buy as much coffee as your bag can carry.
How to get to the coffee farms around Salento
There are many coffee farms located around the area of Salento. While some are within a 5 km radius, others take longer to reach. There are two popular ways to reach the coffee farms in Salento, and these are either by getting on a Willy or walking on foot.
The Jeep Willys are the most popular way to get around in Salento. They operate like taxis and do daily shared departures to many popular attractions in the area.
The Willys are parked at the town's main square called Plaza de Bolívar. There is a small wooden kiosk where you can purchase your tickets nearby.
Talk to the people working and explain where you want to go. They're very friendly and will help organize transportation with more people heading in the same direction. Note that they fill up the jeeps well and usually even have a few people standing and holding on to the back of the car.
This is one of those unique, somewhat crazy local experiences you should partake in when you're in Salento.
If you have the time and don't mind walking, then walking is another great way to get around in Salento. Here you can take your time and marvel at the incredible view. If you get tired, it's possible to flag down a passing Willy and pay directly to the driver in cash.
Some destinations are further away and difficult to organize by Willy. These trips can be organized by taxis instead. Simply ask around for the number or have your hostel or hotel call for transportation for you.
Other things to do in Salento
While Salento is most famously known for its coffee scene and stunning views of the valley, there are many other great things to do around this charming town.
Take a hike in Valle de Cocora
You can't be in Colombia's coffee country without taking a trip to the Cocora Valley! The nature here is unique, and the palm trees are some of the tallest in the world—they reach up to 70 meters high!
The wax palms you'll find in Valle de Cocora are Colombia's national tree and are used in many different ways. Wood, for example, is used as a building material, and the wax from the trunks is turned into candles.
Jeeps depart daily from the main square of Salento, which will take you to the hike's starting point. You can then choose between the long or the short hiking route, and the long hiking route takes approximately 6 hours, and the short one takes about 2 hours.
If you're physically ready, I would recommend taking the long one as it takes you through beautiful fields with breathtaking views. Then you walk through the forest with rivers and waterfalls to finally reach the best part, the valley with palm trees.
After the walk, jeeps are always ready to take you back to Salento. Make sure you have enough to eat and drink with you because you will come across only one restaurant during the walk. Also, remember to bring enough money to pay the entrance fee.
Visit a cafe
While in Salento you should pass by one of the many cafes brewing magnificent local coffee. Cafe Jesus Martin is one of the best, and most popular, cafes in town and is well worth any traveler's time.
Here the menu is appealing with its many coffees brewed in various ways and the display of delicious cakes at the cafe counter.
Finally, the owner, Jesus Martin, is famously known to have saved the Colombian coffee industry. He revolutionized the coffee industry with his focus on quality, which shines through in every cup prepared at his cafe.
Try to eat some local Colombian food from the area while in Salento. El Rincon de Lucy is a great and authentic place to visit for lunch. This restaurant's lunch of the day is served to locals and visitors.
Often the lunch includes soup, rice, salad, fish or chicken. They also have a vegetarian option for anyone who wishes. The prices are low, and the experience is very local.
Additionally, while in town, try a serving of trout. This local specialty is prepared in many ways, and the best is either grilled or cooked in cream with garlic.
Do a horse riding tour
A horse-riding tour around the Salento area is a great way to experience the stunning surroundings. There are various tours you can book depending on what you want. Some are a few hours, and some are a half or full-day experience.
Ask at any hotel, estate, or hostel, and they'll know someone and organize it for you. Usually, you are picked up straight from your accommodation in the morning—talk about convenient! The tour should include a nice ride through the valley, visiting a coffee farm, and sometimes even visiting a waterfall.
If talk about waterfalls interests you, there are several waterfalls around the area of Salento to visit. The Santa Rita waterfall is one of the most popular ones since it is beautiful and easily reached from Salento.
Located just outside of the small town of Boquia, the Santa Rita Waterfall is found on the Finca Santa Rita. The fastest way to reach the waterfall is to take a bus to Boquia, a nearby town, and then walk from there. It's also possible to organize transport by Willy as the site is only about 5km away from Salento.
Enjoy the hot springs
There are many hot springs in the area around Salento. A great way to spend half a day is to grab a taxi for 1 hour and head for Santa Rosa de Cabal. The hot springs of San Vincente Reserve Thermal Hotel and Spa are a great spot to unwind and enjoy the warm natural water.
The surroundings are beautiful and include a marvelous waterfall spilling into the lush jungle, which a small hike can reach.
Experience the world's best country at the source
Whether or not you're a coffee lover, there are so many beautiful things and unforgettable experiences to have during a trip to Colombia. However, if you really are a coffee enthusiast, then you have to start planning your Colombia trip! You won't regret it once you immerse yourself in the Colombian coffee lifestyle and have easy access to it during your entire vacation.
To make sure you have the best opportunity to see everything coffee, you should plan your trip with Pilot!