Salento, Colombia: Figuring Out Why It is Such a Backpacker Hot Spot

We reluctantly headed away from Hacienda Venecia (oh the coffee!) outside of Manizales, Colombia and made our way south.  Ultimately I would be flying from Cali, Colombia to Panama City to Cancun (slowly making my way back to Belize) and we needed to keep moving.  There was lots more to see.  And really not enough time.This map, stolen from, shows the basic route from Medellin down to Cali (and a little beyond).

(Interesting site.  If I was a motorcycle person, Colombia would be THE place to ride.)

My friends (my ride and my heroes) Danni and Cesar follow a few different blogs of poeple that have done this PanAmerican trip before…and everyone seems to stop in the town of Salento.  Okay, let’s do it.  Salento it is…home to a town that seems sorta cute and has lots of great hiking (I would never put the words “great” and “hiking” together but I’m game.)

The road to Salento is up and down, some SERIOUS twists and turns.  Though a very short distance, it took us about 3 hours.  La Sarrena, the eco-farm/hostel, is about a mile outside of town.  Down a dirt road.  We pulled in.

Run by an American, his wife from Colombia and their new super cute baby girl, La Serrana is a large, almost commune style home sitting on some really gorgeous property.  There are people that seem to have been there for weeks…

Here is the view when you pull up the driveway.

You can camp out with all of this for $10,000COP a night (or a bit less than $5USD) per person.

And lots of people did.  There were about 4 tents and 3 or 4 vehicles with campers in them.

I chose to stay inside (for $20,000COP).  It actually gets pretty chilly up here in the mountains at night (about 6200 feet). I’m guessing that once the sun went down, the temperature dipped from the mid to high 80s to the low 50s.  Crazy mountain weather.  Definitely bring your wooly socks.

The rooms are mostly dorm style (ugh) but the house is spacious and nicely laid out.  And I guess dorm style is not THAT bad.  It really depends on how curtious your room mates are.  (In absentia rule for the ladies in my room:  Please don’t leave a giant dirty clothes nest on the floor for me to fall into when going to the bathroom in the middle of the night.)

You really wouldn’t know that probably 50 or 60 people are staying there.  Lots of common space, a kitchen with all the tours and bus information posted,

lots of bathrooms and decent (though a bit over tapped at time) internet.  There’s also a huge separate dining hall where they serve dinners (sign up by 5pm for group meals like “burrito night” or “Middle Eastern night”…they generally run between $5-8USD) and free breakfast of eggs, coffee and a pastry in the morning.

While Danni and Cesar did the right thing and went for the famous five hour hike through the acclaimed national park, Valle Cochore…home to Colombia’s national tree, the wax palm.

Here it is featured on the 50 MIL note.

I chose the lazy man’s way, a walk into town, maybe lunch and few beers.  The town is charming with some old style houses and architecture…

A main road with some cute shops…

I prefer less pastel and a little more old school…but that’s just me.

The national police were training about 5 new German Shephard puppies.  Police presence is HUGE in Colombia, just driving along the highways you pass tons of check points even when you think you are in the middle of nowhere.   And many of the military and policemen  have dogs with them…much more than you normally see in the US or Belize or Mexico.  The officer told this little guy to stay still while he went to check something…

that lasted for about 6 seconds.

I stopped and had lunch at a relatively new breakfast, lunch and dinner spot just off the main square, Brunch.  The combination of an American owner (from Oregon) who has been coming down to Colombia for years in the kitchen and a very friendly Colombian waiter named Felipe make for a good atmosphere and tasty food.

And an eclectic menu.

Apparently poutine has been on the menu for a few days now and no one is ordering.  Maybe you can be the first?

They take pictures of willing guests or not so willing guests to put on their facebook page

and have tons of colored markers so you can leave your stamp on the place.

If you are looking for more Western style night life…more of a pub feel, Salento Speakeasy seems very popular.  We never made it.

Stuffed, I headed back to the hostel and avoided that 20 minute walk by hitching a ride with a guy headed that way.  Perfecto.

Cesar and Danni arrived about 4 hours later, just before dark and both looked like they had been beaten.  Ah ha!  Just as I suspected.  Apparently hiking is not that much fun.  And BONUS…you could just drive up to the area at the edge of the valley and see the wax palms without even breaking a sweatl.

The next day, sore and cranky, they drove me to the spot at the edge of the Valle de Corcora…

And I took a look at those palms.

I didn’t get the greatest shots…maybe that’s what I get for skipping the hike.

But here is what you need to know if you ever get asked about wax palms on “Jeopardy”.  The palm is primarily located in the Valle De Corcora and is protected by the Colombian government.  The tree grows up to 160 feet, making it the world’s tallest palm tree, and is the national tree and symbol of Colombia.

So…in the end, Salento was a scenic stop on a drive packed with gorgeous scenery.  The town was cute but didn’t bowl me over.  And the hike?  You’d have to ask my travel mates about that.  But let’s just say they weren’t raving.

Next stop?  Santa Rosa Del Cabal.  Supposedly there are some excellent hot springs there.

And Happy Independence Day to one of my favorite countries in the world, Mexico.

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