Visiting the Colombian Coffee Region -Salento

Salento, Colombia
Day 30 – 33 of our South America trip

How we arrived:
Back on a bus down to Salento From Medellin on the morning of the 3rd Jan. We took a 7 hour bus to the nearest city to Salento – Armenia and then got a small local bus to for another hour to Salento. Although long the bus to Armenia was pretty good with decent seats and wifi (albeit weak).

Quick overview:
We arrived in Salento around 8pm and went for a quick bite and a beer in the nearby square. Ate patacon for the first time which is a Colombian dish that is basically a large banana crisp with meat/ veg on top… the jury is out on patacon in the Rory camp. I’ll have my bananas for breakfast and soft and in a skin going forward. The town itself was packed and their local annual festival was on, so there was a great buzz about the town. Packed full of Colombian tourists in ponchos. Definitely on my to-buy list.

Salento was a real highlight of the trip so far. Up in the mountains at about 2000m altitude it is surrounded by coffee plantations. This part of Colombia – the coffee region – is where they produce the majority of the exported coffee beans with 3 harvests per year. We went to a small family plantation about an hour walk from Salento and they gave us a tour around. Very interesting to see the level of beans they can produce and how little money they get along the supply chain. I asked if they knew about fair trade and they looked pretty perplexed. They sell them to a large distribution point an hour from the plantation, who then sells them onto Starbucks and the like to prepare Orlaith her Mocha Frapaccino with Colombian beans for 4 quid. They also grew various other plants and vegetables in the plantation including bananas that complement the growth of coffee plants – who knew!? That night we bumped into an English couple we met in Cartagena and went for a few drinks and ended up playing a game called El Tejo. You basically throw a steal puck like object at a steal ring with explosives attached to it. It was good clean drunken fun!

The next day we went to Valle de Cocora – Cocora Valley – which is a 20 minute drive away to go on a 5 hour hike up in the surrounding mountains. With a touch of a hangover and the lashing rain we did question whether this was a good call but we went for it anyway. The views were spectacular and we were fairly ok half way through when we managed to get very lost. Things like always following the water flow to get to the bottom of the mountain only clicked after the hike :S. I never made it past being a beaver so my boy scout skills aren’t great to be fair! We eventually made it back down the mountain in torrential rain – helped in large part by mountain Sherpas. They may have just been well-equipped Colombians but either way they saved our lives despite their annoyance at having to help to very ill-equipped morons. Lesson learned is that a rain jacket and hiking boots are pretty essential hiking items. Who knew!!

Although we only had 2 full days and 3 nights there Salento was great to see and we could have stayed longer.

We stayed 2 nights in a hostel just off the main square called Ciudad de Segorbe. Really nice place and a welcome change from the kip we had just left in Medellin. Newly restored building with modern rooms. We then had to move again for the last night due to availability and stayed in a hostel on the edge of town. It was fine and had good shower which was needed after Cocora Valley.

Rory’s rant:
Heather is a very slow walker going up hill. My God woman! I considered on more than one occasion cutting her loose. On the upside if we come across a mountain lion on our travels I know which one the lion will choose. The slow one.

Heather’s highlight:
Salento was up there with one of the top places that we visited in Colombia because it is a gorgeous small town with friendly locals and a lot to see and do. The coffee tour was brilliant mainly because the lads working on the farm thought Rory was funny as an Irish man who spoke fluent Spanish and we drank coffee and chatted with them for 2 hours. We also had a really good meal in a restaurant called Acaime – highly recommend if you are there!

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