Without a doubt the most touristy and most visited town in the Eje Cafetero (the coffee growing region of Colombia), is Salento in the department of Quindío. It’s visited by international and Colombian tourists alike, especially on weekends. The town is part of the UNESCO World Heritage listed Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia. Salento is also the gateway to the nearby Valle de Cocora, a popular extension of the Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados.
Salento is popular for its authentic colonial architecture. It can be seen all around town, but the main touristy part of town is along Carrera 6 (Calle Real). This road leads from the plaza all the way to a mirador (lookout point) on a hill above the town and is lined with colonial buildings with brightly colored balconies.
Along the road, there are all kinds of shops selling traditional and modern crafts and souvenirs, cafés, restaurants, and more. There is even a small alley with craft stores and coffee shops. It’s forbidden in many of the stores to take photos, so be careful with your camera.
Alto de la Cruz
At the very end of Calle Real is the mirador, Alto de la Cruz. At the top of its 250 steps, you can get panoramic views of Salento, the beautiful Valle de Cocora, and the surrounding green mountains.
The main plaza in Salento is surrounded by more colorful colonial buildings, many used as restaurants and hotels.
The center of the plaza has a space filled with tall palm trees and busts of important people. The church sitting at one end of the plaza doesn’t have the high vaulted ceiling like many churches in the area, but the stained glass windows are nice. When there is mass, chanting is piped through its speakers and is audible throughout town.
On weekends, the plaza comes alive. The end of the plaza to the right of the church has several craft booths. On the end directly in front of the church you will find fast food stands. Finally, on the end in front of the police station stand many restaurants serving Salento’s signature dishes, trout and patacones.
Exploring outside of the plaza and Calle Real is worth it. The other parts of town are much quieter. We found a bridge and a nearby road with a great view of town.
Venture even further out of town and you’ll find plenty of fincas (plantations) in the surrounding areas that offer coffee tours or accommodation as well. Ask your hotel or the tourist booth in the plaza for more info. We visited Finca El Ocaso, which is about an hour walk from town.