4° 38′ 0″ N, 75° 34′ 0″ W
HIDDEN IN THE MOUNTAINS OF COLOMBIA, THIS ADORABLE MOUNTAIN OASIS IS POPULAR FOR TRAVELERS AND ADVENTUROUS TRAVELERS IN PARTICULAR. AND AFTER SPENDING SOME TIME THERE, WE TOTALLY GET WHY. LEARN MORE ABOUT THE TOWN SALENTO BELOW.
Tucked away into the verdant green hills of the coffee region, Salento is a positively magical place to spend some time. While many people pass through its colorful streets for the famous Cocora Valley - home to the largest palm trees in the world - we instead believe that the true magic of Salento is found within its lively streets, its surrounding coffee farms and its cool, crisp mountain air. Below is an in-depth guide to everything travelers, and adventure travelers in particular, need to know about exploring beautiful Salento, Quindio, Colombia.
THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO SALENTO, COLOMBIA
\\ A Quick History of Salento
While it might seem surprising, Salento is actually the oldest town in the Quindio department. The town was first established in the colonial era thanks to the creation of a transit route from the city of Popayán (in southern Colombia) to the capital of Bogotá over the Quindío Pass (located nearby). This route would become known as La Línea. The transit line became even more important in 1830 when Simón Bolívar traveled the route and ordered that it be upgraded due to its poor condition and strategic importance. However, these improvements would not really begin for another12 years.
Eventually, political prisoners from the War of the Supremes (Guerra de los Supremos) were sent to the Salento area to work on upgrading and maintaining the Quindio Pass line. After completing their sentences, the political prisoners would then be given a plot of land in the area. This penal colony/town would eventually become known as Barcinales.
Soon families of the political prisoners arrived and built their own houses in the nearby town of Boquía, which became the main settlement in the area. But sometime in 1854, the Quindío River flooded and destroyed the settlement of Boquía and the survivors then decided to rebuild their houses in Barcinales - but the citizens decided to keep the name Boquía for the new settlement (instead of Barcinales) and changed the name of the original settlement to Pueblo Viejo.
In 1865 Boquía was officially declared a municipality (town) and its name was changed once again - this time to Villa de Nueva Salento. And the name Boquía actually reverted back to the original settlement in the valley (we know, kind of confusing). Today, Boquia still stands and is another neat area to explore near Salento.
For a while, the main route between Popayan and Bogota still passed through Salento. But when the route was eventually diverted, the town became quite isolated and did not develop as rapidly as the rest of the region. For this reason, Salento was able to retain more of its traditional, colonial architecture than almost any other town in the Coffee Region/Triangle (eje cafetero). Today, the historic center of town is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Listed "Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia” which includes much of the Coffee Triangle region.
How Did Salento Get Its Name?
In its early history, Salento was actually named Boquía due to its proximity to a stream called Boquia (as well as the surrounding valley). But in 1865, the name was changed to Villa de Nueva Salento in honor of Salento, a region in the south of Italy. Soon it was just shortened to Salento. Today, there is still a town of Boquia, but it is down the valley from Salento (you will drive through it on the way up to town).
UNESCO Coffee Cultural Landscape
The Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia (CCLC) was created in 2011 to help protect and preserve the historic coffee growing landscape located in central Colombia; including, the various growing and cultivation processes put in place by the early Antioquian settlers who arrived in the 19th century, the overall culture found in the various small pueblos in the region and the different adaptations historic and present day farmers have had to make to grow so much coffee in the high mountain environment.
This UNESCO World Heritage site consists of six regions and eighteen urban settlements - including the colorful towns of Salento, Filandia, Buenavista and Pijao.
SALENTO'S NICKNAME: El Padre del Quindío or The Father of Quindío
\\ Where is Salento, Colombia?
This small mountain town is located in the northeastern part of the department of Quindío, Colombia (one of the three departments that make up the Colombian Coffee Region). Salento is located around 40 minutes from the capital of Quindio, Armenia, and roughly 50 minutes from the large city of Pereira (which is the capital of the neighboring department, Risaralda).
Salento, Quindio sits on a relatively flat plateau on the western slope of the Central Cordillera mountains (one of the three mountain ranges that cross Colombia) and above the mighty Quindio River, which is fed by the high tropical glaciers and snowcapped peaks of Nevado del Tolima (which can sometimes be seen from town on a clear morning).
The town, while located in the mountains, is relatively easy to reach from other Colombian cities; including, Medellin (about 6.5 hours away), Bogota (7.5 hours away) and Cali (3 hours and 45 minutes away). And, because of how popular Salento is for travelers, you can easily catch a bus up to town from the above major cities, including taking a direct bus straight from Medellin.
ELEVATION: 1895 meters // 6,217 feet
POPULATION: 7,247 people, of which around 3,600 live in the town itself
Weather in Salento
Due to its altitude and proximity to the high mountains of the Central Cordillera - the highest of the three branches of the Colombian Andes - the climate in Salento is quite temperate. In fact, the average temperature of the town is 15° C or 59° F. The rainy season lasts 8.5 months from March to December, with April usually being the wettest month. The dry season lasts from early December to the end of February (though even in the dry season you can still expect some heavy rain storms).
The Best Time to Visit Salento
Even though the weather doesn't tend to change too much during the year (thanks to its location close to the equator) you can still expect a bit of a difference depending on whether you are visiting during the dry season or the rainy season.
We have visited during both season and found that the major difference between the two was the higher likelihood of storms in the afternoon and a bit more fog and clouds during the day during the rainy season.
If you are looking to explore the natural areas around Salento during your trip (most notably Cocora Valley and Los Nevados National Natural Park) then we do suggest trying to visit during the dry season (just for a higher likelihood of sunshine). But if you just want to walk around town, then the rainy season should work just fine (bring an umbrella just in case).
The only time we don't recommend visiting Salento? During the Christmas and New Year's holidays. Not only is the town packed with people (so packed the road up to town backs all the way up with traffic and Calle Real is impassable), but the prices of lodging also go way up. Plus, unless you want to party every night, you will likely get quite annoyed with the blaring reggaetón music until 3 AM at night for the entire holiday season.
In our opinion, the best time to visit Salento is during early February (good weather, not too busy) or late August (also nice weather and very few people).
EXPLORE MORE | WHY WE CHOSE TO SLOW TRAVEL IN COLOMBIA
The Top 9 Things to Do in Salento, Colombia
Below are the top 9 adventures in and around the town of Salento. This list includes some quite popular things to do (Cocora Valley for one) as well as a few things that are a bit more off the beaten path. We have been lucky enough to live in Salento for over three months and have truly explored all that it has to offer - which is actually quite a lot. Keep reading to learn more about the top things to do in Salento, Colombia.