I hate coffee. Detest it. I loathe coffee cake, coffee flavoured chocolates… even espresso martinis. People eye my suspiciously when I tell them this. Probably because there’s one coffee joint for every 3,000 Britons and we consume an estimated 2.2 billion cups a year. Contrary to the trend, I’m a tea-drinking girl, through and through. So why did I make a bee-line for Solento, Colombia’s famous coffee region when I made a trip to South American earlier this year?
It’s not that I don’t WANT to like coffee. I feel a little left out sometimes. I go to hipster barista coffee shops with friends and feel embarrassed by my unsophisticated pallet as I shun cold press, drip brews and pumpkin-spiced concoctions in favour of a boring old ‘builders’. When I went to Colombia, I was determined to acquire a taste for it and I thought that if I tried some of the best coffee in the world, I might finally be able to join the cool cult of macbook-toting caffeine-lovers who instagram their Flat White and can tell the difference between a medium or dark roast with just one sniff.
After arriving at South America’s coffee mecca via bus from Medellín, we trekked twenty minutes uphill with our over-stuffed backpacks to El Viajero Salento, a sprawling hostel perched on a hilltop. Don’t expect an oasis of calm – there’s a very lively bar open late but you can seek refuge during the day in the open-air hammock room upstairs. We stayed in a dorm with four messy boys but the private rooms are particularly lovely, with views across the countryside and huge beds. It’s an ideal location, within walking distance from an organic coffee farm and stumbling distance from the restaurants, cafes and shops of Salento’s main plaza.
The Manager, Ronald, is super helpful and you don’t need to do much pre-planning if you stay here – do as we did and just drop by the reception desk to get help organise your excursions and day trips. Salento makes a good base for 2 or 3 days and if you’re travelling solo, El Viajero is a pretty good place to meet other travellers.
So after checking in, here’s what we did in our 2 days in Salento…
WALK THROUGH THE WORLD’S TALLEST PALM TREES
One of the highlights of our time in Colombia. This is the country’s most spectacular half day hikes and well worth doing. Gazing up at the 60 metre wax palms dotted throughout the Cocora Valley is a dizzying sight. The walk back down arguably even more beautiful, you’ll feel like Indiana Jones as you wobble over swinging bridges and trek through lush forest. There is a specific route I’d advise you to take – don’t turn right from the carpark towards the finca and instead keep doing so that you being your hike in the Cocora Valley itself. Then turn right up the hill (there’s a man taking your entrance money in a field). At the top (the farm house, about a 2 hour walk), drop down through the narrow trail back towards the start – it’s a much easier way around to do the walk and means you’ll avoid the crowds who mostly do it the other way or just walk up the Cocora Valley and back down again.
From the main square in Salento you can jump in the back of one of these awesome Jeeps which go at scheduled times (or when full). Or just pose in front of them like jeep barbie…
This is basically Colombia’s unofficial national sport. It’s the most difficult but hilarious pub game ever. Try throwing a heavy metal puck at a box of sand from 20 metres away with the aim of hitting a little packet of gunpowder and making it explode. Sounds easy. The locals make it look easy. Then they stand and laugh at the gringos who make it look REALLY hard.
EXPLORE THE TOWN
Walk the short, steep steps up to the mirador, find a swing and enjoy a beer whilst watching the bustling town below go about its business. There’s also games up there like rifle-shooting. If that’s your thing.
There are lots of horse riding outfits in and around Salento but pick carefully, make sure you vet the horses and choose a company which treat them ethically.
VISIT AN ORGANIC COFFEE FARM (even if you hate coffee)
This is the reason most people head to Salento so don’t miss out. There are lots of farms to choose from but we went with Finca El Ocaso, ocated 5km from the main plaza of Salento, it’s a 1 hour mostly downhill walk to Ocaso, a one hour downhill walk from the main plaza or just hop in a jeep.
Tours in English run throughout the day at a cost of 15,000 COP and last about 1.5 hours. You’ll learn about the entire process, pick beans yourself (and be judged on the contents of your basket!) and the tour finishes with a lovingly prepared cup of their own coffee. Which I hated, obviously.
Whilst my stay in Salento didn’t turn me into coffee afficinado, you can’t visit Colombia without visiting this beautiful region and sampling at least one cup of ‘tinto’.
NB: Thanks to the staff at El Viajero hostel Salento who kindly gave us a discount on our stay. Whilst I do occasionally collaborate with hotels, hotels and tour operators, all my posts are unbiased and fairly reflect my experiences.