Exploring Small-Town Colombia: Salento

Exploring Small-Town Colombia: Salento

 

We walked through Salento’s busy town square, stopping to talk with every Colombian in cowboy boots. Our Mission? To find the best deal for a day of horseback riding. Eventually, we made a deal with two teenagers who promised us a full day of horseback riding including a visit to a local coffee finca and a waterfall for 60,000 pesos, an equivalent of 20 USD. We followed the teenagers to their parents’ small horse farm down the street.

 

 

I should’ve known better when the Colombian cowboys asked our group who was the most experienced rider. Being the Mississippi native, all fingers pointed to me. They directed me to the overly energetic black horse, and I hopped on without too much hesitation.

 

Five minutes later, we’re all geared up and ready to go. My horse, who I’d creatively given the name Blackie, decides he’s done enough walking for the day and takes off full gallop down one of the main roads in town, passing by cars and food trucks. I pull back on the reins enough to keep with the pace of the whole group, but Blackie wasn’t going to have it. He rears back, standing on his back two legs, nearly causing me to seriously damage my face on one of the town houses tin roofs. In this state of pure chaos and panic, my natural instincts from the Mississippi farm days kick in. I handled the situation in a cool, calm, and collected manner, but I knew things between Blackie and I were done. There was just no chemistry; I had to break things off.

 

Unfortunately the only horse left was in fact not a horse. It looks as if I’ll be stuck with the mule. From that point on, I’d be begging for Old Mule to go any faster than a slow trot.

 


The first stop of our tour was the local coffee finca. Here, we were greeted with free espresso from the coffee made from the finca. It was by far the most delicious coffee I’ve ever tasted. I had three shots of espresso before the bartender cut me off. I attempted to protest this decision, but the others in my group pulled me away and led me to the start of the tour.

 

 

During the tour, we learned about the entire process of growing and cultivating the coffee beans. The farm also cultivated avocados, bananas, oranges, lemons that looked deceivingly like oranges (learned that one the hard way), and other delicious foods.

 

After we finished touring the finca, we hopped back on our horses (and Old Mule), and continued for an hour and a half to the waterfall. Along the way, we passed little roadside restaurants, hidden countryside houses with children playing outside, and enjoyed the insanely beautiful mountain views.

 

 

The closer we got to the waterfall, the more tropical the atmosphere got as we were nearing full on rainforest. Old Mule resentfully stomped through muddy paths and crossed rivers. The path got more narrow until we had to hop off our horses and walk the rest of the way. The view at the end of the mossy, damp path was a massive waterfall.

 

We took our time meandering around the scene, snapping photos and saying hello to foreign plant life we’d never seen before. After Josh took a mermaid dive into the pool below the waterfall, we relaxed another quarter of a hour there before we headed back to the horses. Before we started back for the journey to town, we took a group photo to forever capture the beautiful day.

 

 

That evening, we all agreed to go to the pueblo’s highest rated restaurant, Brunch, (#TreatYaSelf) where we devoured huge portions of delicious food. We even opted for the sinfully good peanut butter brownie with vanilla ice cream for dessert. Just based on that menu item, I knew the owner was American. It turns out he was, and the dessert was out of this world good. Sometimes when you’re traveling abroad, the only thing you want is a little taste of familiarity in the form of peanut butter brownies.

 

We took the night bus that evening to Medellín, an estimated 8 or 9 hours away. As we took the bus out of town down the bumpy dirt road, we looked back at Salento in the rearview with gratitude.

 

Stairway to Heaven: La Piedra del Peñol

Stairway to Heaven: La Piedra del Peñol

Heaven on Earth

Colombia’s Piedra del Peñol

“The Best View in the World”

Just outside of Medellín lies the legendary Piedra del Peñol, a massive granite rock with rewarding views of the surrounding lakes. With an entrance fee of 18,000 pesos, you can climb 740 steps to see what locals call “the best view in the world”.

Hiking the Cocora Valley in Colombia

Hiking the Cocora Valley in Colombia

Colombia's Cocora Valley

A trip to Colombia wouldn’t be complete without checking out the Zona Cafetera, Colombia’s coffee region, and after a few days taking in the hustle and bustle of Colombia’s massive capital city, Bogotá, it was time to make the transition to Colombia’s countryside.

As some background, I’m traveling through South America with my boyfriend, Dani. We plan to go from Colombia to Bolivia over the next couple of months, staying at backpacker’s hostels along the way. The night before we left for Salento in Colombia’s coffee region, we met a lovely human named Josh from Australia who decided to join us for a part of our trip through Colombia. So now you have it! The Three Musketeers voyaging through Colombia with backpacks, a faithful red hat, and a contagious sense of adventure.


We arrived at Bogotá’s main bus terminal where the city’s chaos continued. Imagine walking into a busy airport and every employee runs up to you in absolute panic, trying to convince you to buy a ticket to an arbitrary destination. This is how it goes at most bus terminals in South America. Aggressive and chaotic, but also quite helpful.

“Cali, Cali, Cali, ticket a Cali, compra, compra, Cali, ahora, sale en diez minutos,” they yell. I blink. They try another destination.

“Medellín, Medellín, señorita, quiere comprar un boleto a Medellín?” asks an overweight middle aged man with sweat rolling down his forehead.

I manage to form a response, “Salento?” They usher me to a man who ushers me to an unamused woman behind a counter. She announces a price and five minutes later, I’m sitting on a huge, brightly-colored bus with wifi and A/C.

Well, that was intense. 

Eight hours later, and the bus clunked to a sputtery stop in Salento’s small town square. We took a few minutes to adjust to this new world we just stepped into. Various vendors with fresh juice and empanadas. Bachata music blaring in tiny bars. Kids running around while parents socialized. There was a lot to take in. We were just about to steal wifi to find a decent hostel for the night when a deafening siren sounded throughout the town. Locals went about their evening as normal. I jumped for the bushes. Earthquake? War zone? What’s going on?!

I asked a 80-year-old local and he smiled, kindly explaining that it was the 9 p.m. curfew for the local kids to go home. We got back to our search and found a really nice hostel for only $10 per night, breakfast included.


I woke up the next morning to the sound of roosters crowing and horses trotting along the pavement. I walked out to the balcony that was only pitch blackness the night before and was greeted with endless mountain views and lush farmland. Yes. Life is good.

Later that morning, we set out for a five-hour hike through Cocora Valley, which is home to hundreds of wax palm trees growing up to 60 meters tall. To get to Cocora Valley from Salento, there are Jeeps that leave from the town square every 20 minutes or so. For a total of 3,400 pesos, about $1, you can get a ride 20 minutes away to the starting point of the hike.

The scenery throughout the hike was unreal. Farmland with cows and donkeys slowly transitioned into a flourishing cloud rainforest. We walked along the muddy path, crossing Indiana Jones bridges that looked as if they could break at any moment. Halfway through the hike, we heard loud footsteps behind us only to discover five mules obediently carrying sacks of food to the top of the mountain. We waited for them to pass, expecting to see a farmer or someone behind them, but no, they were just trained to walk through the rainforest until they got to the restaurant at the top. I found this strangely fascinating.

A few hours into the hike, we reached the small restaurant where we had lunch, and for around 5,000 pesos (less than $2.00) we could enter the hummingbird reserve. It was a nice place to relax and take in the scenery. On the way back to the village, we hiked even further up to a finca perched on the mountainside. From the top of the mountain, it felt as if we were in the middle of the clouds with misty views of the green countryside all around us.


 

I highly recommend this hike to those of you planning on traveling to Colombia! It’s a great way to get in touch with the natural beauty Colombia has to offer.