After 3 bus changes, Calima Lake – Buga – Armenia – Salento, we arrived at the beautiful main plaza of Salento.
Famished and before attempting to try to find the hostel recommended to us by our friends, (no camping, we needed a good nights sleep!) we went in search of El Rincon de Lucy, a restaurant serving cheap local food for less than 2 euros! Soup and an enormous plate of everything and anything, a banana and a drink. Bargain.
Once finished, JM went to find the hostel whilst I stayed with all the bags on the main high street. It was easier that way than lugging everything around. 30 minutes later I could see JM up the street laughing with lots of locals, but it looked like he was having no luck in finding Los Tres Leones hostel.
The luck of Sophie
Meanwhile a friendly guy on a scooter stopped in front of me asking if we needed a hostel. I asked how much, only 10 euros a night for 2 people, private room with en-suite. JM was on his way back anyway with no luck but he’d had fun with the locals in trying. That’s what makes Colombia so great and he asked the guy on the scooter if he knew Los Tres Leones. Surprised it was actually him!!!! JM did all the hard work walking around the town with no luck. I sat people watching and the hostel comes to me! Bingo!
Leo took one of our bags on his scooter and we walked to the address he gave us. No wonder we couldn’t find it!! There were no signs nothing. It was his family house, that’s it! It was tucked away near one of the roads heading out to the coffee farms but it was perfectly situated for us and peaceful. 2 minute walk to the square. The ‘hostel’ was a bit of a mish mash with things everywhere, but the room he had for us for 3 nights was ideal and cheap! We were welcomed with the best freshly squeezed orange juice we’ve had all trip and drank it on the half built terrace. We were trying to count the number of rooms/bed in the house. We think there were 2 private double rooms and 3 dorms with 2-4 beds in each, plus room for a tent or two on the terrace but they were scattered all over the place and people just popped up everywhere over the 3 days that we’re not quite sure.
After settling in we headed to explore the town. The sky was grey but it was dry and it didn’t affect the impact of the beauty of the town. Near the main square the building doors and windows were all painted in bright colours. The Main Street was buzzing with tourists. It was actually the first spot in Colombia where we’ve seen tourists everywhere and the souvenir shops as a result, spilled out into the roads. There’s a mirador viewpoint over looking the town which can be reached by car around the back way or straight up a long flight of stairs at the end of the main street. You can’t miss is. The view at the top was ok but it only takes a few minutes to walk up and there’s a playground at the top to keep you entertained for 5 minutes too.
Salento is famous for its coffee with numerous coffee farms scattered around the surrounding hills, many of which provide tours for the tourists. We decided to try one of the cafes in the village to test some of the local coffee out. A lot of the cafes were expensive and rather posh, definitely designed for the tourists. We found Matteo Coffee Cafe in the middle of an artesianal courtyard. The coffee was delicious, strong and not too expensive. It was a machine too so it was ready in 2 minutes!! We would be drinking a lot of their coffees the next few days.
The beautiful Cocora Valley
Our first full day in Salento, we got up early and headed to the famous Cocora Valley part of the Los Nevados National Park. To get to the valley we hopped onboard a WW2 American jeep called a Willys (pick-up in Salento’s main square) and drove 30 minutes to the start of all the walking trails in the area. The morning sunshine was beautiful in the valley and we were happy to arrive before the ‘crowds’.
Before we even arrived in Salento we had contemplated a lot on whether or not to do a 3-4 day trek in the National park, climbing to the top of Nevado del Tolima Volcano at 5276m. Due to time restraints and an enormous amount of incredible things to discover still in Colombia we decided against it and instead do a day walk in the valley, visiting the Hummingbird farm and seeing the incredible wax palm trees.
Two full Willys arrived at the same time and everyone started walking to the right, straight to the hummingbird farm. We decided to go left and do it the other way round. The first hour of walking was the best. The sun was shining and the wax palm tress were gorgeous. Everything was green and lushous.
We decided to take a different route than the norm and go up and over the mountain between two valleys, hoping for some good views before head down to see the hummingbirds. Although it was a good work out that was about it. We couldn’t see much. The clouds were coming in low and we saw nothing. Not discourage we carried on and headed down the other side passing a beautiful house with so many flowers and hummingbirds and it was free of charge!
After 3 hours of walking we arrived at the ‘official’ hummingbird farm, along with 30 other tourists coming from the opposite direction! There were hummingbirds everywhere – there are so beautiful. The farm is popular with hummingbirds because they feed them a sugary liquid to keep them interested. It was great to see them close up even if they weren’t feeding naturally. The entrance fee was 5000COP with a free drink included. We had a famous chocolate con queso, hot chocolate with cheese but unfortunately it didn’t really do it for us. It just tasted like hot chocolate and we ended up pulling the cheese out and eating it normally. It still tasted like a chunk of cheese…..bizarre.
We stayed a while attempting to take photos of the birds in the trees and flowers rather than on the man-made bird feeders. We weren’t very successful, they just moved too quickly…. not surprisingly!
After the farm visit we didn’t really know which trail to take back. In the end we took the original track everyone had taken. It was really lovely running parallel to the river, criss-crossing it and walking over very dilapidated wooden swing bridges until the valley opened up and we were walking alongside lush green fields full of cows.
Unfortunately the heavens opened and we spent the last hour in the rain. We had planned to walk another path to get up close to the wax trees but in the end it wasn’t worth it in the weather. We thought if it was nice the following day we’d come back. The valley was beautiful and definitely one of the main and best things to do whilst in Salento. However if it’s raining wait for a better day.
The clouds and rain just cover every view and potentially you could feel like you’re in the north of England on a winters day!
Wet and tired after 7 hours walking, and a little disappointed we didn’t get to have our picnic in the sunshine under a wax tree, we headed back to Salento and had our picnic in our room waiting for the rain to stop. A brilliant 5/6 hours, shame about the end.
Our plan for later in the day was to potentially visit a coffee farm for a tour. Most tours last 45 minutes, cost 2 euros each with a small tasting coffee at the end. Since we’d been to a few coffee farms over the years and the coffee in town was half the price we decided to just go drink great coffee rather that take the tour.
Filandia – The hidden gem
The rain didn’t stop all night or the following morning. Our idea to head back to the Cocora Valley soon disappeared. We had breakfast in town where we decided to check out Filandia, a neighbouring town which we’d heard from locals was prettier than Salento. To get there we needed to take the bus direction either Armenia or Pereira. We then stopped and waited on the side of a main road for a bus direction Filandia. We got off a little late the first time round and ended up going back on ourselves more than we would have wanted and then on the way back we got off too early and actually needed to take a third bus to take us a little further along the main road. It was actually pretty straight forward, we just had two stupid moments! Oh well.
Filandia in our eyes was much prettier and nicer than Salento. There were more colourful buildings, more locals going about their own daily business. The main square was gorgeous, we had a great walk wandering around the town, there were no other tourists in sight and we ended the visit with a decent cup of coffee!
The town had a huge viewing platform purposefully built for a 360 degree view of the surrounding hills. We walked out of town to have a look but low cloud and a 2 euro fee dissuaded us and we headed back. We spent a good 3 hours in the town, there were no other tourists and the shops sold everything 1/3rd cheaper than in Salento, not that we bought anything and the selection not quite the same!
Back to Salento
For the rest of the afternoon we headed out for a walk towards the coffee farms, all a good hour from the town. The views were beautiful and the sun finally came out – A lovely end to the day. We ate at a cheap Italian restaurant at the corner of the main square and entertained ourselves watching the supporters watching the Colombia, Venezuela football match.
Salento was a great stop on our tour of Colombia. Unfortunately the rain really affected our trek but the rain just about held off for 5 out of the 7 hours, better than nothing and we got some lovely photos first thing. It is a must-see whilst in Colombia.
Time to move on again, this time to Jardin (yes the same as JMs name) located in the middle of nowhere and difficult to get to from Salento or anywhere in the south!