When visiting Colombia’s Zona Cafetera (coffee region) and the Cocora Valley you have a choice to make: will you go to the tourist capital of Salento or the lesser known, local favorite Filandia? Both towns have great qualities and at least one should be on your Colombia itinerary. This post will go through the highlights of each town to help you decide which is best for you!
Salento/Filandia, Colombia in a Nutshell
Salento and Filandia are two towns nestled in the heart of Colombian coffee country. Both can give you access to the incredible Cocora Valley and local coffee farms. Both can provide that incredible Zona Cafetera experience you’re looking for. Below you’ll find all the information you need to help you make a decision!
Things To Do
Cocora Valley Hike
Hiking the Cocora Valley will be one of the highlights of your Colombia adventure and it can be reached from either Salento or Filandia. Block out an entire day for the hike. You will need to take about a 30 minute Jeep there and back (Jeeps are called Willys in Colombia) and then the hike itself will take 5-6 hours. The jeep ride cost us 4000 pesos per person each way. We started at 11:30AM and had no problem finishing it before 6PM. Be sure to ask your hostel about the Jeep schedules ahead of time, as there is likely a rough time which they leave.
There are plenty of extensive blog posts on how to best hike the Cocora Valley. We used Goats On The Road’s 5 Hour, Counterclockwise guide and it worked great for us! We missed the blue sign starting point our first try and had to double back though. It’s right next to the trout farm sign and pretty close to where the Jeep drops you off. You start your hike by heading towards the trout farm. Here’s a picture of what you’re looking for:
The hike starts out flat before you encounter some rickety bridges straight out of an Indian Jones movie. Then the trail gets steep as you climb to the top of a mountain before you find yourself in the land of the tallest palm trees!
You will probably start off by hiking through a cloudy/drizzly morning. But, never fear, the cloud usually clear up in the afternoon, exposing hidden mountains and glorious views of the palm trees!
Note: You will have to pay two separate entrance fees. The 5 hour Cocora Valley hike is on two different pieces of private property and whenever you cross a border you have to pay. Entrance fees totaled to 7000 pesos per person.
Even though there is a house at the top of the mountain, there is no food at the top or vendors along the way! Be sure to bring enough snacks! We’d recommend picking up some warm papas rellenas in Salento before heading over!
If you’re not feel up to hiking, you also have the option to horseback ride up the mountain. There will be a couple stables near the Cocora Valley entrance were the jeep drops you off!
Visit Coffee Farms
I mean you’re in the coffee region, you’re going to visit a coffee farm or two. Although Salento definitely has the more established coffee scene (see more below), both towns provide access to plenty of farms where you can learn all about the coffee making process and drink as many cups as your heart desires!
Hike, Bike or Horseback Ride
If you couldn’t tell from the Cocora Valley pictures, Colombia’s Zona Cafetera is absolutely gorgeous. Both towns have all three options for exploring the outdoors. We chose to spend a day walking to coffee farms in Salento and a day horseback riding in Filandia. Both towns have half day waterfall hikes or rides available, ask around if you’re into that sort of thing.
Watch the Sunset
The colorful red/orange sunsets over the rolling green hills of both Salento and Filandia will take your breath away. Here our recommendation for where to watch them:
- Salento: Mirador de Salento – a gorgeous viewpoint just up the stairs from plenty of restaurants
- Filandia: Cultivar Cafe. Sip of some coffee, enjoy a cocktail or small plate and soak it all in.
Take Picture In Front of Pretty Walls
Last, but definitely not least, both towns are known for colorful walls. Similar to the walls you would find in Cartagena minus the crowds, street vendors and extreme heat, these walls are a wannabe model’s dream. Scrounge to the bottom of that backpack, put on the one nicer shirt you brought and get out there!
Since Salento is the more established, touristy town, it has more accessible coffee farms that offer tours and tasting. We, and it seems like everyone we talked to, went to Ocaso. The farm is absolutely gorgeous and the coffee is delightful (especially with a slice of chocolate cake). If you’re short on time, move Ocaso to the top your list to visit.
If you have more time, there are four coffee farms within walking distance (albeit a long walk with a couple steep inclines but hey think of all that liquid energy you’re drinking!)
The concept of Tejo is simple. Throw a rock at some gun powder until it explodes while drinking beer. And there’s nothing more to it. It’s just as great as it sounds. The place to play in Salento is Los Amigos. Entrance was 10000 per person and included one beer. Grab some friends from your hostel and go blow some stuff up!
Plain and simple. The food and coffee in Filandia is just better than what you’ll find in Salento. Restaurant recommendations below in the Where To Eat section.
The La Casa Del Pandebono Challenge
I had never heard of pandebono prior to going to Colombia. It was love at first bite. Pandebono is a warm cheesy roll that can be found in both Salento and Filandia. There is a restaurant in Filandia called La Casa Del Pandebono and there is a restaurant called La Casa Del Pandebono 2. We were told that they have completely different owners…
The Challenge: Try a hot pandebono from each location. It must be hot! Pandebono is infinitely better fresh out of the oven. It is worth waiting a couple minutes for the next batch to come out of the oven (they are being made constantly) than having a cold one.
Our picks: Michelle liked Casa de Pan de Bono and I prefered Casa de Pan de Bono 2 through we couldn’t tell you exactly why. If you choose to embark on the challenge, let us know what you think!
Filandia was one of the few places where it was easy to find a pick up soccer game that everyone can play in. If you want to play with the locals, just ask your hostel the days and times that people play. Be prepared the field is only dirt, but hey, soccer is soccer!
The field can be found here at the corner of Calle 4 and Carrera 3.
How to Get There
The transportation hub of Colombian coffee country in Armenia. You can fly to Armenia from just about anywhere in Colombia and take a bus about 1.5 hours to get to either Filandia or Salento. Buses to both places buses leave from Armenia often. To find the buses you must walk all the way through the Armenia terminal and they will be outside the back door.
Where to Stay
We spent two nights at Yambolombia and although we had no issues with the hostel itself during our time there (the hostel was clean, showers and wifi worked), we felt tricked by how far outside of town it was. Hostelworld says it’s less than 1 kilometer from the city center. However from the bus drop off location it ended up being a 40 minute walk with our full backpacks. Safe to say we didn’t show up in the best mood.
That being said, the hostel is in a good location if you’re interested in touring coffee farms (it’s on the way to Ocaso) and want a quiet night or two. And they also have a pet horse. However, if play some tejo or go to a bar, we would recommended you stay in the city.
Note: If you want to go to the city at night you will need to take a jeep which costs about 8000 pesos each way. Trust us, it is better than the long, dark walk. Factor the jeep rides into your cost per night when looking at hostels. Also, jeeps stop running at 10PM sharp. There are ubers available (at least 12000 pesos), I just wouldn’t consider them reliable.
In hindsight, we would have preferred to spend a little more and stay in the city so that wouldn’t have to deal with jeep rides and a 10PM curfew.
Coffee Tree Boutique Hostel
If you choose to stay in the city, the place to stay is Coffee Tree Boutique Hostel. The hostel was clean and had good Wifi. The free breakfast of your choice of pancakes or eggs was the best hostel breakfast we had in Colombia. Since you aren’t directly in the town center – you’re about a 5-10 minute walk away – the views of the surrounding countryside are incredible.
Upon arrival, the hostel will give you an extensive list of things you can do in Salento (including jeep times for the Cocora Valley) to help you plan your time there.
Hostel Colina de La Lluvia
Michelle and I love hostels with spacious common areas that have large tables. Which is why we choose Hostel Colina de La Lluvia over the very popular Bidea Hostel. The Wifi was great and the kitchen had everything we needed. I would stay here again.
Where to Eat
Everything we read before going to the Zona Cafetera was that you must have the trout or “trucha.” We tried it a couple times and were continually unimpressed. As far as I can tell “trucha” really just means fish since I’ve been served both pink and white “trucha”. It’s often recommended to be eaten covered in cheese and garlic but what isn’t good covered in cheese and garlic??
As goes for pretty much all of Colombian cuisine outside of Medellin, keep those expectations low.
If you’re looking for good, affordable vegetation food, Veggie (also called El Punto Vegetal) is the place to go as long as your not starving. The food is super good, but the service is super slow. Tip: order the menu del dia to speed things up a little bit.
Somehow, someway, one of the best restaurants, if not the best restaurant, in Colombia can be found in Filandia, Colombia. Helena Aldentro is one of the few sit-down restaurants on our trip that we went to multiple times. Their decor is creative, drinks are delicious, and food is delightful. One dish you must try is the Marranitas de Helena. You’re welcome.
Cultivar Cafe great place to relax, have some appetizers and a coffee or two. The coffee here is slight more expensive than elsewhere in town, but the location, especially around sunset, definitely makes up for it.
Even though their location is not as great as Cultivar Cafe, their coffee is just as good or better. MOCafe roasts their own coffee and you see their roaster at work while you’re there. They were roasting coffee while we were there and the place smelled absolutely incredible.
Where to Go Next
From either Salento or Filandia you’ve got some great options:
- Cali: The place to go to learn how to salsa dance. You’re only 3 hour bus ride away from Armenia. Check out our Cali Travel Guide and learn why we stayed their almost three weeks!
- Medellin: The culinary and cultural capital of Colombia. You’re only a short flight from Armenia. There’s so much to do here, check out our Medellin Travel Guide to learn more.
- Buenavista: In our opinion, the most underrated place in Colombia. It has the most interesting coffee farm tour in Colombia and the views are even more good looking and the name suggests. You’re only about a 1 hour bus ride from Armenia. Check out our Buenavista Travel Guide and be prepared to add this town to your travel plans.
Should You Go to Salento or Filandia?
As you can see, both Salento and Filandia are great options for spending time in Colombia’s Zona Cafetera. Your decision comes down to your vibe and where you’re at in your travels.
Go to Salento if you to be in the town where all the action is. There are tons of excursions and more accessible coffee farms. It is definitely the easier place to be tourist.
Go to Filandia if you are looking for a slower pace of life topped off with some incredible food.
All prices are current as of September 2019.