Look on any map and you might be forgiven for thinking that Salento is just a short drive from Ibague, what with it being a mere seventy miles along a main road. But, as I travel around Colombia, I am beginning to realise that maps are not always a reliable way of estimating travel times. This is especially true when the route takes you through the mountains.
My journey was on a public bus that spent most of the time following a succession of large trucks that were slowly insinuating themselves up and down the hillsides. Passing places seemed to consist of any straight stretch of one hundred metres or more, and overtaking manoeuvres were very much reliant on the good nature of the drivers of any oncoming traffic that the bus encountered.
I tried to keep my head in my book as much as I could.
I read the same page a lot of times.
Travel to Salento is usually by local bus from either Armenia or Pereira. I changed bus in Armenia and here the countryside changed slightly. We were still travelling through mountainous regions but the roads were a lot less vertiginous and scary now.
Salento the town sits atop the mountainside on the southern edge of the coffee growing region of Colombia. Although it is not overly big it is well serviced for the traveller with a number of hostels and fincas both in the town and in the countryside around it, with 4×4 jeeps, affectionately known as “Willys” providing the majority of local taxi services.
I had chosen a finca, El Mocambo, that lies towards the bottom of the valley, near to Boquia. It sits at the end of a gravelly track about a mile in length from the main road into town. Lodgings were simple – I am pretty sure that the intended occupants were originally livestock – but quite comfortable.
It was lovely to spend some time in such a peaceful place. I was there for a week and for my first time in Colombia I got to know a mix of locals and fellow travellers. The lifestyle on the finca was relaxed and friendly. There was a trail into town that led up the mountainside and the owner’s dog tended to follow you all the way into the centre.
There are a number of excursions that are popular from Salento. My favourite was the circular walk around the Valle de Cocora
Early on the Saturday morning I joined a group of ramblers in the central square and we waited for enough people to gather to fill a Willy. Once we were all stuffed inside we headed off on the twenty minute drive from Salento to the small hamlet of Cocora.
Leaving Cocora there was first a gentle, sloping walk along the riverside. Then I followed the trail through a jungly bit to the Casa de las Colibris (hummingbird house). There were hundreds of hummingbirds fluttering around the gardens, coming really close at times (the house put out water feeders which the birds come to).
After that I climbed to the top of the valley and walked back down to Cocora through the mist and palm trees. Apparently these are the highest (altitude wise) palm trees in the world. As we were walking down we saw some surreal sights of cows eating grass in the fog, standing underneath the palm trees!
By now I’d gone from big city Bogota, to medium city Ibague and now to out in the sticks Salento. This was definitely the most relaxing and picturesque stop, so far ……