Salento, La Serrana and the Last Leg of the Coffee Region

Valle de Cocora
View around La Serrana
View around La Serrana (photo: David Lee)

Monday, April 14, La Serrana, Salento

I was at Zeppelin Café in Medellín when I ran into my Dutch friend Teun, who told me my trip to Salento must include a stay at La Serrana.

“You’re outside the town, in the middle of nature. It’s great,” he said.

I took his word for it and made my reservation there, and learned first hand that he wasn’t lying.

A jeep at the main plaza takes you to the hostel for about 6,000 pesos, or just over $2, and the route becomes a gravel road to let you know you’re on your way to something a little secluded.

The owner, Jonathan, picked the location because he noticed a trend of backpackers passing through after getting married and moving to Armenia, the capital of Quindío, the department home to Salento.

He originally moved to Santa Marta after going backpacking through Mexico. He was on his way to Brazil but never made it there.

Colombia got him. He left his real estate work in the states and looked into similar investments here.

A business partner convinced him to buy the land and the farm called La Serrana and they turned it into a hostel with five dorms (27 beds total) and seven private rooms.

It’s still just a 20-minute walk from town and a 30-minute walk from the area’s best coffee farm, Don Elias, which I’ll tell you about later.

As we settled into our four-bed dorm, bathroom included, we started thinking about tomorrow.

We were thinking about going to one of the most beautiful places in Colombia.

Share jeeps in Salento's main plaza
Share jeeps in Salento’s main plaza (photo: David Lee)

Monday, April 15, Valle de Cocorá, just outside Salento

The speed walking got us there just in time as the jeep needed one or two more people to fill it.

The night before we talked about taking the 9:30 a.m. jeep with other people from the hostel, but Alex said, “No, let’s go at 8:30,” and I obliged.

We squeezed in with a French traveler, two Spaniards, and four Korean girls. It took only 20 minutes or so to get to the park entrance and we paid 3,400 pesos each (about $2).

It was about 9 a.m. when we got there, perfect timing, and I’ll explain why later.

The hike descends into the Cocora Valley and you immediately see the big attraction, the tallest palm trees in the world.

Some of them have to be almost 50 feet tall, they just have to be. The mist makes for a breathtaking scene.

We took a lot of pictures along the walk, which included inclines and declines along rough terrain, some of it muddy, all of it requiring you to watch your step.

After a couple of hours of hiking, you will have two options.

The first is to continue deeper into Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados, 2,680 hectares of national park that stretches toward the south end of Manizales.

Wax palms in the Valle de Cocora
Wax palms in the Valle de Cocora (photo: David Lee)

The other is to go to a hummingbird finca just a 15-minute walk from this fork in the trail. We chose the finca.

You pay 5,000 pesos (about $2.70) when you arrive and you get a hot chocolate with cheese on the side, and the chance to watch those hummingbirds flutter around, their wings flapping at an unfathomable speed, 80 times per second.

They seemed to be fighting with each other at times, but as I watched more and more, I began to realize that it’s just the way they interact.

We stayed there for about 30 minutes, enough to rest and take some pictures, then we made the trip back through the valley.

The sky had cleared a bit, enough to see some sun, so we took a few photos of the palms in a different light then found a jeep back to town.

We stopped at Brunch, an American-owned restaurant with comfort food that’s hard to find in Colombia. We had patty melts with fries.

After lunch we bought ice cream cones and walked back to the hostel. It started drizzling as we strolled up the driveway. Within 15 minutes, it was raining hard.

Other guests showed up later, drenched. I was happy Alex convinced me to take the earlier jeep.

Acaime, a finca in Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados, is a great place to see hummingbirds.
Acaime, a finca in Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados, is a great place to see hummingbirds. (Photo courtesy of Alex Diamond.)

Wednesday, April 16, Finca Don Elias, Salento

I had already done several coffee tours before so it wasn’t a big priority to do another, but I am happy I made time for it.

About a half hour walk down the gravel road from the hostel, Finca Don Elias offers tours of its small family operation.

The farm sits on about 8 acres, and its primary exports go to clients in Italy.

Carlos, Don Elias’s grandson, gives the tours and he speaks enough English to explain everything, for those who don’t speak Spanish.

He tells you how the banana and pineapple protect the coffee plants from insects, how the Colombian plants have yellow beans and the Arabic plants red beans, how each plant lives only 26 years so they start to plant new ones when the old ones are 16.

He follows the time in the field by showing you the production process, the machine that removes the skin from the beans, the trough where they clean them, the tent where they dry them, the stove where they roast them, and the machine that can ground them into powder if you wish.

It was a short tour, maybe 40 minutes, and cost only 5,000 pesos (about $2.60). But I liked it because it was straight to the point, not drawn out like others to justify the cost.

We ended the tour with a fresh cup of coffee, really good coffee. It probably helped me that night, when we went to the town to see if there was a party because the next day would be a national holiday.

All the bars closed at midnight.

The comfortable common area at La Serrana
The comfortable common area at La Serrana (photo: David Lee)

Thursday, April 17, La Serrana

The hostel administration told me Jonathan, the owner, would be coming by today and I wanted to meet him in person.

I also wanted to try a meal at the neighboring restaurant, something I hadn’t done, other than breakfast, because I went grocery shopping before arriving and cooked most of my food.

The motivation to give it a taste came from my friend Bryan, who I was chatting with on Facebook that morning. He said the food is excellent.

The dinner menu that day said, “BBQ Night: BBQ chicken and pork with potato salad, coleslaw and corn.”

You have to sign up by 4 p.m. and I planned to do just that, but I had to double-check the bus schedule. I found out that the last bus leaves at 5:50 p.m., more than an hour before dinner starts.

As if I needed another reason to return.


Ryan’s stay was compliments of La Serrana.

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  1. Hi Ryan, thanks for a Interesting post. I will be visiting Colombia for the 1st time this Saturday, I will be staying in Medellin. I have traveled a lot in the military but not much on vacation.Just to give a little info on me I am a 26yo male from florida. If there was 2-3 must see things while my 5 day stay what would you say they are? Also I would like to know Dave’s opinion also if possible. Thanks a lot I read all your post they are awesome.

    • Here’s your itinerary. A day trip out to Pablo Escobar’s Hacienda Napoles will be your highlight. A day trip to the old colonial capital of Antioquia – Santa Fe de Antioqiua. A day trip to Guatape. A day trip exploring Medellin and the Valle de Aburra and one day recovering from a massive fiesta. Ya!