Salento: Coffee, Wax Palms, and Tejo

Salento: Coffee, Wax Palms, and Tejo

The highlight of our time in Colombia was our visit to the quaint little town of Salento located in the Coffee Triangle. The town itself is rather small and sleepy, but also charming and we really enjoyed our time there. The area is beautiful and green with cloud forests and coffee farms dotting the landscape around Salento.

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The town of Salento.
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It may come as a surprise to hear, but it’s incredibly hard to find a decent cup of coffee in Colombia. The vast majority of the good stuff is exported and most locals drink either instant or second-rate coffee. It’s not good. Angela and I are coffee people and as such we couldn’t wait to finally have some good coffee. We were not disappointed. Over the course of our few days in Salento we drank more than our fair share of wonderful coffee. We also toured one of the local coffee farms in the area to learn how it’s produced and harvested and of course, taste coffee at the end of the tour.

Coffee plants on a hillside
Coffee plants on a hillside
Young Coffee Beans
Young Coffee Beans
The old way of removing the shell from the bean
The old way of removing the shell from the bean
All I managed in 10 minutes of picking
All I managed in 10 minutes of picking
Angela ready to work the coffee farm
Angela showing off her harvest

Arguably the largest attraction in the area is not coffee but the Cocora Valley. The Cocora Valley is home to national tree of Colombia, the Quindío Wax Palm. Growing up to around 160ft high, these are the tallest palm trees in the world and are found exclusively in the Cocora Valley. The hike begins along a river through lush pastures full of cow paddies but thankfully soon takes you into the forest. After an hour or so you arrive at a fork in the trail. You can either take a detour to see a bunch of hummingbirds or continue on towards the palms, climbing up into the cloud forest. We’d read from multiple sources that the hummingbird site wasn’t worth the extra time or effort so we chose to continue hiking up into the cloud forest to Finca la Montaña – a ranch at the top of the mountain. The climb up is fairly strenuous but not terribly long and we were rewarded by finding hummingbirds at the top. It turns out there really is no need to take the other route.

Angela crossing one of the many sketcky bridges
Angela crossing one of the many sketcky bridges
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After catching our breath and watching the hummingbirds for a while we continued on the remaining 5km to the wax palms waiting at the end of the loop. Descending out of the cloud forest into the valley full of palms is an incredible site and one that we’ll always remember. I’ve always associated palm trees with tropical environments and so to see not only palm trees, but palm trees reaching 150+ feet into the air on the side of a mountain was truly memorable.

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On our last day in Salento we finally tried our hands at Tejo, the national sport of Colombia. Tejo reminds me of corn hole except you throw a metal disc at a hole in a clay-filled box surrounded by packets of gun powder. The objective, like corn hole, is to get in the hole, or as close as possible, but in Tejo you also want to blow up the gun powder. We weren’t very good at it but both managed to cause a couple of explosions.

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The game is typically played while drinking copious amounts of beer and we only had a couple each. I blame our lack of success on not drinking enough. We’ll try harder next time.

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