Things to do in Colombia: coffee tasting and mud hiking in Salento

Colombia is one of the largest producers of coffee in the world, second only to Brazil. The quality of the coffee beans is excellent – after all, the climate and altitude are perfect for growing coffee. I thus expected coffee boutiques everywhere, millions of ways to prepare coffee, coffee shops and tastings. But this was not necessarily the case: more often than not, I had to make do with Juan Valdez, which is pretty much like the Starbucks of Colombia, or with the “taza sucia” (literally, dirty cup) that I could have at the many stands in the street.

The best coffee beans are exported and what is left to the locals is a lower quality coffee, which incredibly is imported from Ecuador. Thus, interestingly, when I travelled to Colombia I wasn’t be able to really have anything more than just decent coffee and often had to make do with tinto (a small cup of weak black coffee) or other coffee based drinks. I am a coffee puritan, I like my coffee with no milk and most importantly with no sugar, so to me the most horrifying coffee I tried was the one made with agua de panela, unrefined sugar melted in hot water – which gives coffee a tremendously sweet taste. One may like it if having a seriously sweet tooth though.

Things to do in Colombia

Having this in mind, one of the things to do in Colombia is visiting the Eje Cafetero. This is one of the most spectacular places to visit in Colombia and will allow visitors to see at least one of the many coffee fincas in the country, where they will be able to experience the full process of coffee production, from picking to toasting and sipping.

Places to visit in Colombia: Eje Cafetero, or else the Colombian version of Switzerland

Places to visit in Colombia: Eje Cafetero, or else the Colombian version of Switzerland

The best starting point for a visit of the Eje Cafetero is Salento, located at 1800 meters above sea level and one of Colombia tourist attractions in itself. This is a picturesque village, where colonial architecture meets the paisà style. It is a lovely, small and colourful colonial town surrounded by hills and forest, with a main street full of artesania shops, many relaxing bars, a chilled atmosphere, making it one of the places to visit in Colombia. From here, it is possible to visit a number of fincas.

Salento is also very close to the gorgeous Valle de Cocora, perhaps the very best of Colombia attractions. One of the top things to do in Colombia is hiking the Valle de Cocora. This is a lush, tropical valley surrounded by high peaks and cloud forest. Jeeps leave several times a day from the main square of Salento to take intrepid travelers to the valley. Arriving well early before departure, may ensure getting a seat. I leave things last minute so my I had to stand: getting to the valley thus turned into yet another adventure.

Things to do in Colombia: ride on the back of a jeep

Things to do in Colombia: ride on the back of a jeep

Once in Cocora, most people rent wellies. I surely did and I highly recommend it, along with carrying a good rain jacket as it does rain a lot there! Visitors then embark on a difficult, muddy hike that offers gorgeous views of the spectacular palma de cera (wax palms), some of which are as tall as 70 meters.

Things to do in Colombia: renting wellies to go on a hike in Valle de Cocora

Things to do in Colombia: renting wellies to go on a hike in Valle de Cocora

What I loved the most about it was that it really looked like a tropical kind of Switzerland – weird and amazing at the same time. Everything is green – many different shades of green. There are cows happily chewing grass everywhere. And there is a thick fog that covers the palm trees and the mountains, giving it a mysterious aura. It just is magical. A tiring hike (imagine getting deep in the mud!), but definitely one of the most amazing things to do in Colombia.

Valle de Cocora is one of the most spectacular places to visit in Colombia

Valle de Cocora is one of the most spectacular places to visit in Colombia

There is one main path that takes hikers to the beautiful hummingbird reserve (there is an admission fee of about 2 dollars which includes a drink), where it is possible to spot thousands of hummingbirds zipping by. On the way back, it is possible to also take an alternative path that takes visitors closer to the palm trees and to the Finca de la Montaña, where Don Luis Alberto and his family will give them a warm welcome and a good cup of coffee and from where the entire valley can be admired.

How to get to Salento

From Bogota, it is possible to take a bus to Pereira or Armenia. It takes about 9 hours to drive the 350 km, as the road cuts through the mountains and thus it is curvy; there is also lot of traffic. However the views are spectacular. It is best to carry some motion sickness tablets. I definitely needed them. Once in Armenia or Pereira, a local bus will take about an hour to reach Salento.

Where to sleep, eat and drink

There are many hostels in town, some better than others. I enjoyed my stay at Hotel Las Palmas, a family run guesthouse whose owner is a lovely, caring lady. Breakfast is included in the price and all rooms have a private bathroom with good hot showers. There are also two lovely cats in the house, which to me is always a bonus.

During the weekend, I ate in one of the many stalls in the main square. Otherwise, a good option is La Funda de los Arreiros. The local specialty is trout, which can be prepared in many ways and is usually served with a huge patacon (fried plantain, which here is pressed to make it thin and crispy). The local trout gave me a good break from the otherwise slightly monotonous food I ended up having while traveling.

For a drink, I went to Billar Danubio Hall. It really can’t be missed: located on the main shopping street, this is a huge bar with many pool tables, and is packed with locals playing pool, sipping beer or aguardiente and singing famous Colombian traditional songs. At some point while there I was the only woman in the entire bar. But everybody was so friendly that it never was a problem.

Colombia tourist attractions: Salento

Colombia tourist attractions: Salento

Looking for more places to visit in Colombia? Click here.

Click for a more detailed Colombia Travel Guide.







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  • Chaitanya Shah
    26 November 2014 at 17:04

    Colombian Coffee! That’s paradise. I’m a huge fan of coffee. I hadn’t heard about the ‘mud hiking’ though. Not a big sacrifice for coffee ! 😉

  • Hayley Swinson
    1 December 2014 at 13:02

    Sounds like you’re having a really interesting trip! Enjoying following along. Can’t wait to follow in your footsteps next summer 🙂

  • Globalmouse
    23 May 2015 at 10:17

    Wow that is some mud!! Were you worried about getting stuck?! It looks like such an interesting place to visit, really beautiful and atmospheric – tasting coffee in Columbia would be a dream!

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      23 May 2015 at 10:24

      I wasn’t worried – I GOT STUCK, seriously! It was just hilarious though. I had a blast. It was a fun hike and I highly recommend it among one of the top things to do in Colombia. And the scenery is amazing!

  • Sarah Ebner
    23 May 2015 at 10:44

    This looks beautiful – even with the mud (as long you didn’t get stuck for long). Love the greens and love the sense that you get from these photos. Wonderful.

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      23 May 2015 at 10:45

      Hahahahah everybody seems worried that I was stuck in the mud. It wasn’t bad, I was wearing wellies 🙂 It was a fun thing to do for sure.

  • Fiona @ London-Unattached
    23 May 2015 at 11:51

    Gosh – it is so different to anywhere I’ve ever visited. I love those trees coming out of the mist. What a stunning place!

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      23 May 2015 at 11:58

      They are not just trees. They are wax palms 🙂 hehehe. You should go, you’d love it!

  • Sophie
    23 May 2015 at 12:06

    Thanks for sharing. Colombia looks amazing!

  • Peter Parkorr
    23 May 2015 at 12:28

    Oh wow, the hiking looks incredible and the food sounds so good. The 9hour bus ride sounds a bit death defying though, and not being able to get good coffee in Colombia?? I’m shocked!!

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      23 May 2015 at 12:39

      My mistakes: I should have taken a flight from Bogota to Armenia and then a bus from there, had I known that those 350 km where a trip from hell! Yeah I was also buffled by the quality of coffee. But this should never discourage other people from trying it!

  • Leah
    23 May 2015 at 12:37

    I love Colombian coffee. You’re right that it can be difficult to find anything other than Juan Valdez in most places, but in Medellin there is a strong cafe culture with boutique coffee suppliers and amazing, impeccable brews. I love Salento as well for its quaint charm!

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      23 May 2015 at 12:40

      See? I haven’t been to Medellin! I knew there was something I was missing. Perhaps among the things to do in Colombia I should also write: visiting Medellin!

  • Natasha Amar
    23 May 2015 at 12:49

    The first thing that comes to my mind when you say Colombia is coffee. So ironic that the best coffee gets exported and you can’t find the famous Colombian coffee in the country. But the mud hiking looks like my idea of fun.

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      23 May 2015 at 13:06

      There are many more things to do in Colombia. Check my other posts if you like, for more inspiration on activities and places to visit. Colombia should be on any traveller’s bucket list!

  • Revati
    23 May 2015 at 14:51

    Salento has such an earthy vibe to it! Lovely to see more than just coffee being discussed about Colombia!

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      23 May 2015 at 15:34

      You bet!! I loved it and wish to go back!

  • Dana
    24 May 2015 at 17:23

    Lots of great tips for Colombia. I couldn’t handle the super sweet coffee either. I do like a little sugar but just a dash. Putting on the mud boots and exploring looks like a lot of fun.

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      24 May 2015 at 19:55

      I am really glad you find it useful. Check my other posts for things to do in Colombia 🙂

  • Penny Sadler
    24 May 2015 at 22:13

    Very nice article – and love the photo of the hills and fog. Great resource. thanks!

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      25 May 2015 at 9:21

      I am glad you enjoyed it!

  • Pyro System
    1 July 2015 at 2:09

    Hello! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading this post reminds me of my previous room mate!

    He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this page to him.

    Fairly certain he will have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!


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Hi, my name is Claudia. One day I packed my life and started travelling... except I packed too much. Follow me as I fill my life with dreams, drop the weight and inspire you to live your dreams. Learn more about me here...


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