What to do in Salento in the Colombian Coffee Triangle?

In the department of Quindio you will fall in love with one of the most beautiful towns in Colombia: Salento, which historic center was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List as part of the “Coffee Cultural Landscape” in 2011.

It is perhaps the most important municipality for tourism in Quindío, due to three fundamental reasons:

  1. The first, the beautiful and preserved architecture left by the Antioquian colonization;
  2. the second, the imposing Cocora Valley, which is one of the most beautiful landscapes in Colombia;
  3. and the third, the contagious atmosphere of peace and well-being that permeates immediately upon arrival.

In this guide you will have the necessary information for your visit to these beautiful town, and also how to get to know the wax palm, the national tree of Colombia.

Discovering Salento

Located 26 km from Armenia, on the western side of the Central Mountain Range and to the northeast of the department, Salento is like a historical account of the region, since its streets reflect intact the tradition of the initial settlers.

Tradition that even today many still strive to preserve so that the place projects its full charm. This town of colorful houses and balconies adorned with flowers has among its residents some foreigners who one day arrived and decided to remain trapped by the charm of the place.

And speaking of charm, Disney released its new movie, called Encanto, inspired by this place.

Salento was founded on September 16, 1842 but its creation would only take place until 1908. Moreover, Salento is the oldest municipality among the 3 departments that make up the Eje Cafetero (Quindío, Risaralda and Caldas). In addition, it is the gateway to the Cocora Valley and one of the entrances to Los Nevados National Natural Park.

Bear in mind, the average temperature in Salento is between 17 ºC (63ºF) and 23 ºC (73ºF) and it has 2 dry season periods, one from mid-June to early September and from late December to mid-January.

How to get to Salento

Take a 1-hour flight from El Dorado (BOG) in Bogotá to El Edén International Airport (AXM) at Armenia city. Once in Armenia you take an approximately 45-minutes ride (25 Km) to Salento.

Remember that you can get to Armenia from any of the major cities in the country by air. In addition, if you wish to take the overland route from Bogota, the journey takes 6.2 hours and 305 Km.

Where to stay in Salento

In Salento you will find a great diversity of accommodation options depending on your budget and personal taste. Our recommendations as follows:

  • Hotel El Mirador del Cocora
  • Montana Glamping
  • Hotel Terraza
  • La Cabaña Ecohote
  • Hotel Kawa Mountain
  • Hotel Real

Salento Attractions and activities

Tour the town

We recommend that you start the tour walking through the beautiful streets of Salento, where you will see the predominance of adobe and mud houses with colorful wooden balconies and gates decorated with flowers. On your walk you will be able to appreciate the authentic architecture of the traditional coffee towns from the beginning of the 20th century.

Walk along the Calle Real (Royal Street)

This is the main street of the municipality. On your walk you will be able to appreciate beautiful restaurants, coffee shops, handicraft stores and commercial passageways.

At the end of this street you will find some colorful stairs that take you to one of the viewpoints of Salento, the viewpoint of Alto de la Cruz. From the viewpoint you will be able to see a large part of the town and its church, and if you are lucky you will be able to see part of Armenia and the mountains of Los Nevados National Natural Park.

Visit the Cocora Valley

This beautiful tourist place is something you cannot miss on your visit; it is a world-class tourist attraction for its majestic beauty and it is one of the last cloud forests that are home to the Ceroxylon quindiuense or Quindio wax palm, the tallest in the world.

The Cocora Valley is an important habitat for many animals such as the yellow-eared parakeet, the toucan and the spectacled bear, hence its importance of protection.

That is why we recommend you to have a lot of respect for the flora and fauna, and to walk ONLY along the areas allowed by the park rangers.

To get to the Cocora Valley you must take the road that takes you to the access point, the trip takes 25 minutes by car 11 km from Salento.

Visit Acaime and the hummingbird house

Acaime is a natural reserve full of native flora and fauna, located on the Central Mountain Range 4 Km from the Cocora Valley.

In this reserve you will be able to appreciate a great diversity of hummingbirds, as well as other species of the region and beautiful streams.

The entrance fee is COP 5,000, which is redeemable for a traditional snack (panela water with cheese or a delicious coffee).

Visiting the Los Nevados National Natural Park

It is one of the most beautiful National Parks in the country, where you can visit beautiful landscapes and see the greatness of the most important snow-capped mountains where you will connect with nature and its majesty.

For more information on how you can make the most of this beautiful National Park you can read our blog:  Best Things to Know Before Visiting Los Nevados National Natural Park.

Go to Santa Rita Waterfall

This beautiful waterfall of no more than 20 meters high has a natural with a quiet and romantic atmosphere for its visitors.

In the village of Los Andes, 4 km from the center of Salento, at this point there is a walk of 1.5 km, on the way to the waterfall you will see tunnels, suspension bridges, water sources and the old train track.

The entrance fee is COP 5,000.

El Mirador Ecopark

It is an obligatory point of visit because from there you can observe the Cocora valley that is born between the mountains of the Central mountain range and slides parallel to the Quindío river; it is possible to arrive by car and park it in the parking lot of the place, which also has public restroom.

The structure, in the form of a balcony, is built in guadua, thus representing an excellent tribune to admire the landscape, even through some telescopes rented by the locals. From the lookout point, a short trail leads from the lookout point to the Alto de la Cruz.

There they sell delicious sweets, honey, wafers and candies for the cold. The best way to get there is to ask any inhabitant.

Coffee Process and Coffee Tour at Finca Hotel El Ocaso

Finca El Ocaso is located on a hill just 4km from Salento (20 minutes by car or one hour walking), with a unique landscape surrounded by mountains and adorned by the murmur of the Quindio River that passes along the farm 300m downhill.

It has a typical coffee house with more than 100 years of history and tradition where lodging services are provided for a maximum of 10 people. Finca El Ocaso has extensive gardens with a great variety of flowers and native trees and several hectares of coffee.

Enjoy the trails that go to the bamboo forest, to the hill (viewpoint), to the water source and to the Quindio River where you can do bird watching and learn about the flora and fauna of the tropical rainforest.

Alto de la Cruz Viewpoint

Through the more than 200 steps that start where the Fieal de Salento street ends, you can access this site that allows you to get an idea of the magnitude of the Cocora Valley, and at the same time offers a panoramic view of the town.

During the breaks in the tour, the images of the Way of the Cross that Jesus traveled on his way to Mount Calvary appear. The viewpoint, besides being a tourist attraction, is a permanent pilgrimage destination.

Morrogacho Hill

This is the stage before Los Nevados Park, which can only be reached on foot from the Cocora Valley and by a difficult road on which all precautions must be taken.

The hill, of unique morphological characteristics, is located at an altitude of 3,450 m, in the midst of a dense Andean forest landscape that makes it one of the favorite natural destinations of the people of Quindio.

The cave represents the mystery of having been a cemetery and ritual center of the Quindos Indians who once lived in the area. It is recommended that the expedition be accompanied by a guide.

La Explanación Bridge

Around 1948 this western railroad crossing was built as part of the road project between Buenaventura and Bogota. Currently, the structure, with arched bases, is a national monument belonging to the Boquía trail. It is also known as the Amparo Bridge.

Quindío National Road

When in other times communication between east and west was required, this road was the most important articulation route. Although since the 18th century Viceroy Pedro Messia de la Cerda was interested in its creation, it was not until 1823 that the work began, while in 1830 it was Simón Bolívar who ordered its opening. The old road extends between the Boquía trail, the river of the same name and the Quindío River.

Bird watching

The upper canyon of the Quindío River is the habitat of endemic and near-endemic species and specimens that captivate with their colors, shapes and behaviors. In the vicinity of the Cocora Valley, near the canyon, you can go on hikes to observe birds such as the torrent duck and the blackbird.

Along the same route, going up on horseback, the Acaime nature reserve is home to birds such as the masked saltator, the Golden-plumed parakeet, and the White-capped tanager. Other special birds can be observed along the Estrella de Agua, La Montaña and La Picota nature reserves, considered one of the best corridors for bird watching.

The Ocellated tapaculo, the Mountain cacique, the Grey-breasted mountain Toucan and the Chestnut-naped antpitta, are special birds that fly through this landscape.

  • https://colombia.travel/en/salamina
  • https://www.colombia.travel/en/salento
About the author

Luisa Martin

Engineer, world traveler, amateur photographer, traveling blogger, and foody.

The Wax Palm and Why it is a Must to See When Visiting Colombia

According to the World Biodiversity Ranking, Colombia ranks third in the number of palm species (Arecaceae Family). The Andean region presents the richest flora of the palms in the country, with 43% of the total species of Colombia. Among all the palm species found in Colombia, the Wax Palm is the most special. Here I will tell you why.

Palm trees have been linked to the life of man and his feelings since immemorial times, principally because of their graceful appearance and the innumerable benefits they bring.

For this reason, the term palm is not only applied to palms but also has a connotation of triumph, victory, and applause; it is also used as a title of honor for the great ones of a kingdom.

Colombia is one of the richest countries in the world in terms of palms, with 289 species, 47 of which are endemic.

The Wax Palm Ceroxylon quindiuense (Karsten) Wendl

The Wax Palm under its natural view

The first news about the existence of wax palms is due to José Celestino Mutis. It was found by him in the Andean Mountains, in the passage between Quindío and Tolima departments.

He found them distributed between 2400 and 2900 meters (7930 – 9700 ft) above sea level , within cloud forests composed mainly of native pine trees (Podocarpus) and oaks (Quercus granatensis). The species was validated by a description published in 1808.

Other remarkable explorers and naturalists, Alexander Von Humboldt and Aimé Jacques Alexandre Bonpland, re-discovered the wax palm in 1801, and just like Mutis, they were also fascinated by this plant. Humboldt described the spectacle as one of the most moving of all his journeys:

“The forest upon the forest, where tall, slender palms penetrate the leafy veil that surrounds them”.

Alexander Von Humboldt
The Forest upon the Forest

William Purdie, a Scottish Botanist from that time, also described the characteristics and features of our national tree in these terms:

“The haughty, noble trunk of this tree is covered with a layer of resinous wax, which gives it a whitish marble appearance, providing a lively distinctive feature to the very peculiar scenery of the Quindio moor, where the palm abounds in extraordinary degree without causing any damage to the subordinate forest under its pleasant shade.

To obtain the wax the tree is felled and I was informed by my guides that each tree provides up to 25 pounds… The wax is used mixed with tallow to make candles… to offer to the saints and the Virgin… it is in considerable demand but is abundant and easy to obtain”.

William Purdie

These chronicles and descriptions show the importance of the wax palm since ancient times. Some historians even claim that it was used by indigenous people for the extraction of gold.

Wax Palm Facts

Each Each palm can produce up to nine bunches simultaneously, each with 4,000 fruits or more. ©Makalu Pixabay
  1. Its stem is covered by a layer of wax that can be used to make candles.
  2. It can live up to 200 years.
  3. A seedling takes around 50 years to reach the adult phase.
  4. The wax palm can reach 70 meters in height.
  5. It lives in an uncommon habitat for palms, above 3000 meters above sea level, with low temperatures that are unusual for a palm to resist.
  6. The seedling is shadow dependent, so fragmentation and deforestation are killing these palm populations.
  7. Each wax palm can produce about 24,000 fruits per year.
  8. Each palm can produce up to nine bunches simultaneously, each with 4,000 fruits or more.
  9. Despite the number of seeds and seedling a wax palm produces, less than 8% survive at the end.
  10. In the wax palms, there are females and males, as in humans. This implies that for its reproduction the palm needs some mechanism to carry the pollen from the males to the females.
  11. Wax palm pollination is carried out by several species of tiny beetles of the genus Mystrops.
  12. Pollinators, in turn, depend on the wax palm for their survival, since the adults feed exclusively on its pollen and the females lay their eggs in the small flowers of the palm, where the larvae that are born feed on the tissue of the petals.
  13. The wax palm attracts its small pollinating beetles by the aroma of its flowers, which have volatile chemical compounds specially designed to conquer them. It is a system as precise as a key in its lock.
  14. A well-conserved population of palms can produce more than two billion mature fruits each year, which represents an extraordinary source of food for the fauna.
  15. It is home and refuge of the Yellow-eared Parrot (Ognorhynchus icterotis).
  16. It is an ‘umbrella species’ since its conservation is key to the survival of many others, or of entire ecosystems.
  17. Each stem ring represents a year of growth.

Colombia’s National Tree

The Wax Palm was proposed by the colombian botanist Armando Dugand as the national tree of Colombia. He was the director of the Institute of Natural Sciences of the National University of Colombia and a recognized specialist in palms. In July of 1949, Dugand proposed it as such to the organizing committee of the Third South American Congress of Botany.

The Wax Palm, Ceroxylon quindiuense (Karsten) Wendl, was proposed by Armando Dugand as the national tree of Colombia.

Dugand highlighted the wax palm as a true aesthetic heritage of Colombia and as its most typical plant, not only because it is an outstanding and characteristic element of the Andean landscape, but also because of the wax it produces and the extraordinary nature of its habitat, which goes far beyond the geographical and altitudinal limits common to the palm family.

He also described it as the most beautiful and most developed among the palms, since it can surpass 50 meters in height. Due to the characteristic of these plants to take a long time to decompose and take up to 200 years to complete its life cycle, they were thought to symbolize the capacity to persist and last.

Since then, the wax palm has been considered the national tree, and so it appears in many writings, minutes, documents, and postcards.

Colombia stamp with the Wax Palm
The Cocora Valley and the Quindio Wax Palm, honored in the 100 thousand peso bill issued by the @BancoRepublica on August 8, 2014 and put into circulation on March 31, 2016.

Additionally, in 1985, the Congress of the Republic of Colombia adopted the Quindío wax palm, C. quindiuense, as the national tree with the Law 61 of 1985. It is so valuable and so representative of our country that this law stipulates in its article 3:

“The felling of the wax palm is forbidden under a criminal sanction applicable in the form of a fine, convertible into an arrest, for the benefit of the municipality where the infraction has been committed”.

Law 61 of 1985

Palms as a Sign of Scientific and Botanical Values, as well as Biological Diversity.

Some historians affirm that in the 19th and 20th centuries, palms were planted around patriotic places as a sign of scientific and botanical values and to emphasize that Colombia is biodiverse. The preferred palm was always the Wax Palm.

In Bogotá, you can find wax palm gardens in places such as Universidad Externado de Colombia, the botanical garden of Bogotá José Celestino Mutis, the El Dorado Avenue (26th street) in Bogotá, which is a temple of the wax palm, and the Eje Ambiental in the center of the city.

Wax Palm at the botanical garden of Bogotá José Celestino Mutis

All the important buildings that frame the El Dorado Avenue and the Eje Ambiental in Bogota have in their facilities, or very close to their facades, a wax palm. These are, on El Dorado Avenue: The National Administrative Center (CAN), the Military Forces, the National Registry Office, the Government of Cundinamarca, the Bogotá Police Hospital, the Bank of the Republic of Colombia, the National Health Institute, and RTVC-Public Media System. In the Eje Ambiental, the Colombian Academy of Language, the Icetex, the Icfes, and the monument of the Templete de Bolívar.

The Wax Palm at the botanical garden of Bogotá José Celestino Mutis

The Wax Palm in Risk of Extinction

But it has not been worth so much recognition, nor that many people wrote poems or songs to this plant. The Colombian Wax Palm is under serious risk of extinction, initially due to its exploitation by religious interests, and later by changes in land use such as deforestation for agriculture and livestock.

The Colombian Wax Palm is under serious risk of extinction, among the causes are deforestation for agriculture and livestock.

Recently, it is the cultivation of the Hass avocado that has endangered the survival of the Wax Palm. The situation is worrisome because the area declared as a Coffee Cultural Landscape by UNESCO is beginning to change due to the displacement of the traditional coffee cultivation by the Hass avocado.

This has also led to the endangerment of a species of bird endemic to the Colombian Andes, the Yellow-eared Parrot. The Wax Palm is the plant where it builds its nests and on which it feeds.

Yellow-eared Parrot flying over the Yellow-eared Parrot Bird Reserve in Jardín, Antioquia

Wax palms have special protection because several investigations determined a few years ago that they are dying of old age and the new plants take more than 50 years to grow!

Tourism is one of the most promising conservation strategies for this species. On the other hand, rural communities prefer it over agriculture, livestock, and mining.

If you want to know where to go for visiting the most emblematic landscape of the Colombian Andes, read our entry The Unique Wax Palm Forests Destinations in Colombia.

If you want to schedule your visit to Colombia, do not hesitate to contact us, and plan your trip with us!


About the author

Sara Colmenares

Current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism – environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.