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In Salento, Colombia, it won't be long before you find yourself sipping tinto (thick, inky coffee) with local farmers while they debate whose blend is best. You can decide for yourself: the town sits at the heart of the coffee-centred Zona Cafetería, in the hills above Río Quindío. Between cups you can hike in the nearby nature park or brave a game of Tejo, the national pastime involving gunpowder-filled targets. Leave time to discover Paisa cuisine, considered some of the best in Colombia.
For a taste of Salento's colonial past, choose to sleep in a former coffee mansion. Many Salento hostels run yoga sessions, Spanish lessons or regular social events. The Paisa people are proud of their natural environment, and you can help protect it by staying in an eco lodge or opting for a private bungalow among fruit trees. Most hostels in Salento offer free breakfast and bike rentals, or they'll arrange local tours. If you're all about location, it doesn't get much better than a Salento hostel on a hilltop overlooking the valley.
Salento is a small town, and most visitors come for the authentic rural vibe. Stroll past the brightly painted facades of Calle Real, the town's main street, and you'll have your bearings. To appreciate the dramatic setting, walk uphill to Alto de La Cruz. From this viewpoint you can see the river winding through Valle de Cocora and the snow-capped volcanoes beyond. It's worth visiting the valley, as it's home to lush green hills, coffee plantations and the tallest palm trees in the world.
Activities in Salento revolve around the Andean foothills. Take a early walk up Alto de La Cruz for views beneath clear skies. Coffee enthusiasts will love a plantation tour, most of which are in cycling or hiking distance. Later, you can catch a jeep out to Los Nevados National Nature Park and hike for a few hours or a few days. Back in town, visit a restaurant for a plate of fried trout – the local speciality.
To reach Salento, you'll need to get yourself to Armenia in western Colombia. From there, catch one of the regular minibuses that make the 30-minute journey into the mountains. Most sites and hostels in Salento are walkable, though hiring a bike can be a fun alternative. To get to the hiking trails of Los Nevados National Nature Park, head to Salento's main square. Here you'll see rows of brightly coloured Willys jeeps waiting for business.