Colors, Coffee and Crowds: Salento Colombia

Country Colombia | Dates July 28-31 | Accommodation Coffee Tree Boutique Hostel & La Serrana

Our first stop in Colombia was Salento, a picturesque town in the central coffee region. Known for its beautiful streets lined with brightly painted houses, coffee farms, and “small town” feel, Salento has become a major tourist spot. As such, it is both awesome and awful at once.

What to Do in Salento Colombia’s Downtown

We spent ample time exploring the colorful streets overflowing with tourists. We wandered in and out of shops, restaurants and bars and basically took it easy in Salento — until we did a 6 hour hike, anyway. The town was so crowded, the only time I could get a quiet photo was Sunday at 6am (by 7, other gringos with cameras got the same idea and were out, too). In addition to shops and coffee places, there were 2 miradors in Salento. Accessible from the main road – Calle Real – some beautifully tiled stairs lead up the mountain to the first viewpoint overlooking the city. Honestly, it’s kind of lame. The second, more official, viewpoint was down the mountain and boasted better views of the beautiful green valley. On our way, we met a strange man who insisted on guessing what states we were from and who was overly enthused about mountain biking.

We also spent a lot of time relaxing, first at our amazing hostel Coffeehouse Boutique and then at the less amazing La Serrano located outside of town. While walking between the two hostels, about 30 minutes in the mud, we wanted to die and heard passing locals playing a game of “guess how much their backpacks weigh.” They severely underestimated.

Tejos & Los Amigos

Apparently, no trip to Salento is complete without a try at a “traditional” game called Tejos. And so, we spent an evening playing at a local bar called Los Amigos. Tejos involves pitching a giant metal puck at a metal ring lined with paper triangles filled with gunpowder. The ring is nestled in a heap of filthy mud, backed by discarded tires painted yellow. We watched as experienced locals threw their pucks across the room (our court was only half as large) creating ear-splitting explosions with their skill, sipping local Poker and Aguila beers between throws.

Coffee Farm Tour: Finca El Ocaso

There are several coffee plantations within the vicinity of Salento so we choose the one we could walk to – El Ocaso. Of course, the walk there took twice as long as expected (over 1 hour) and we became weak. We arrived just in time for the last tour (they have about 8 per day), and joined a large group. Our guide was unnecessarily rude and looked as though she hated everyone (I think she was just tired), rushing through the details. In any case, we had an interesting tour learning about the intricacies and phases of coffee growth and production. The highlight was when we strapped on straw baskets, went into the fields and picked coffee ourselves, using the information we learned about which beans were the prime color for picking (bright red).

We then opened the coffee to see if they were good (2 beans per pod indicating yes!) or not-so-good (1 bean per pod, may result in weird taste). We even tasted the coffee beans, which are more slimy than expected, slightly sweet and if over-ripe may contain worms. Our guide breezed through the tour, and we ended with a taste of the coffee which was, surprisingly, bad. While most people piled into the Willy (jeep) back to town, we again waked the hour – uphill this time – as the cost was egregious.

Eating and Drinking

Street Food || We enjoyed many a snack in Salento, which was a great introduction to Colombia’s food scene. Arepas | A favorite of the entire trip, we enjoyed exceptional arepas in Salento — a sweet corn from a man on the corner with a small flat grill, and a not sweet and buttered one from a tented stall with a metal grill. Solteras | Weird, bright orange pastries with a strong sweet taste – slightly crispy, slightly smooth. Made even sweeter by the drizzle of condensed milk. Lunch || We also enjoyed an amazing lunch at El Rincon de Lucy (fixed menu for about $2.50), which included delicious meat and rice as usual, plus an unexpected sweet plantain and hush puppy-like bread. 

Drinking || We checked out a local spot La Fuente located on the main square downtown for the typical bottles of cheap Colombian beer. We also checked out the Bogotá Beer Company, a Colombian brewery based in Bogotá, as you might guess from the name. They have a small bar in Salento also right off the main square, and for 8 Colombian pesos, you can enjoy one of their three craft drafts on tap.

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