Salamina, San Felix, and the Valle de la Samaria

Thinking back on my travels last year within Colombia, I keep going back to a trip I made with three friends to two small towns in the department of Caldas: Salamina and San Felix.

Our main goal? See some of the tallest palm trees in the world in the Valle de la Samaria near San Felix!

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You may remember my post about the Cocora Valley – this is the most common destination in Colombia to stand in awe of the waxy giants. But living in Manizales, Caldas, we had heard about a mysterious second place nearby – San Felix – where we could see the same kind of natural beauty (but supposedly, even bigger!).

As we could see on a map, and as we heard from others, the town of Salamina was also close by. Salamina is a “pueblo de patrimonio cultural” – a town of importance for Colombia’s cultural heritage.

So, a beautiful town plus some beautiful palm trees? We were all about it.

How to Get There

We hopped on a bus heading to Salamina from Manizales (no pre-booking needed, just show up and buy your ticket; buses go there frequently.) The trip should take about 2- 2 ½ hours and a one-way trip should cost you between 16,000 and 20,000 Colombian Pesos.

Once there, we could have hopped on another bus relatively quickly heading towards San Felix, but we decided to explore the town a while and grab lunch.

Still, our time was restricted since we were told the last bus to San Felix left at 3:00pm (not sure if it’s like that everyday but this was a Saturday!).

There are also communal jeeps that can take you, if you prefer.

The ride to San Felix takes about another hour, winding deeper through the mountains (take some Mareol with you if you tend to get motion sick).

From San Felix, you can hire a jeep to take you the roughly 7km route to the “Mirador Valle de la Samaria” – from there you will be able to visit the Samaria Valley and stand in admiration of the tall palms!

Of course you can also walk there from town if you feel like a bit of a hike through the country.

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Salamina

We were so glad we stopped for a while in Salamina – it’s a beautiful little town with colourful buildings and built into the mountains. Just walking the streets is fun to do, but we especially loved the pretty town square and the impressive cemetery with a view. Here are some photos:

San Felix

San Felix is a really small and sleepy town. We arrived in the rain so there was hardly anybody about; it was a bit spooky, really.

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My camera playing tricks didn’t help the spooky factor…

We used the bathroom in the pool hall, bought some food in the little tiendas (shops) and asked around to see about the price for a jeep to the Mirador.

However, the following day when we walked back to town, we were greeted by a happier looking town with coloured buildings, although it was pretty empty still.

Camping in the Valle de la Samaria

Our plan for the weekend was to camp among the palms and we didn’t have much of a plan besides that. We were just following some rough advice given to us by another fellow who’d made the trip and hoping for the best.

The campesinos (country people) in San Felix thought we were crazy when we asked them where we could go to camp because it was really cold and rainy that evening. We didn’t care though; we had our tents and sleeping bags, we had tuna, bread, and chocolate bars; we were ready!

Once you arrive in the Mirador Valle de la Samaria, you will find a lovely house there where a really kind family live and operate their tourism business. They have rooms that you can stay in, and they also had a gazebo set up outside for those who wanted to camp in a sheltered area.

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We set up our tents there and – though chilly as we’d been warned – it was really awesome. We could have even had a fire had we not been so terrible at starting one! We’d come unprepared in that regard, and there was little kindling around that we could use. Suggestion if you end up going to not end up sad and fireless like us – bring wood!

Waking Up Surrounded by Palms

The morning was spectacular as we woke up to the rolling green hills speckled with the huge palms. And nearby: cows grazing, chickens clucking, dogs running around. It was an idyllic morning. I personally was the last to wake up in typical me-fashion, and went down into the valley to find my friends getting an impromptu lesson in how to milk a cow.

I joined in of course, and milked my first vaca! We even tried the milk right after, when it was still warm. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, it was actually pretty subtle and sweet. However, since I don’t even drink cold milk regularly, I took a sip and that was more than enough for me.

What to Do at Mirador Valle de la Samaria

The family of the house offers guided walking tours of different durations to explore the valley at very economic prices. Our tour guide was a girl who was still just in high school but who was amazingly knowledgeable about the biodiversity of the area!

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There are also tours on horseback, and delicious lunches offered at the finca (country house).

Farm Fresh

In addition to our tour, the father of the family took us into the cornfields to pick our own corn. We then brought it to the house to be roasted right away (delicious!). Afterwards, he took us around looking in the fields for the eggs that the chickens had laid.

He also taught us how they grind dry corn kernels to make the corn paste that is used as a base in some kinds of arepas and other yummy Colombian foods. It’s a strenuous job that requires upper body strength and endurance. No small task, it’s a process that takes a couple hours!

To find out more about what’s on offer at the Mirador, you can go to their facebook page or give them a call at 314-611-5899.

Please note that the valley is actually privately owned so as far as I know, it is not possible to walk around without first stopping at the Mirador.

And of course, you can always comment below, send me a message here or through Instagram, and I will get back to you.

Cheers!

L

 

Coffee Region Paradise: Salento and The Cocora Valley  

 

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In my last post I wrote about hiking in Los Nevados National Park – a chilly but absolutely beautiful park here in Colombia’s coffee region.

At the end of the hike, we arrived in the Cocora Valley, or Valle de Cocora en español. The valley is stunning – as you may remember reading, it’s home to some of the largest palm trees in the world! We walked through the valley for just over half an hour before arriving at the main public area and from there, we promptly caught a jeep into the town.

Hiking through the valley looking up at these giants
Hiking through the valley looking up at these giants

Arriving in Salento was exciting, I’d heard so much about it – it’s one of the most visited places in Colombia! And sure enough, I could quickly see what all the hype was about – the colourful houses were bright and bold and the whole town is surrounded by lush green mountains.

My cousin and my friend and I had booked a hostel for the night to explore the town a bit the following day, so the jeep took us straight there. Where we stayed is called Luciérnaga Food Drinks Music Hostel and I definitely recommend it if you’re planning on visiting!

It’s really modern with big spacious rooms, hot showers, and amazing balcony views. And as the name suggests, it has food, drinks, and music in a modern American-style restaurant below the hostel.

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View from the hostel balcony!

One warning though – extreme caution with the bedside lamps!! My arm was burned pretty nastily by the lightbulb as I was attempting to scramble down from my top bunk. It was probably bad luck on my part and doesn’t change my good opinion of the place but it gave me a good laugh (and scar).

I’d survived the tough four-day hike at high altitudes with no injuries or incidents, but once safe and sound in a modern hostel, voila! Perhaps it’s the universe telling me that I should just stay outdoors… hmm… that wouldn’t be so bad!  🙂

That night we wandered into town and as it was the Saturday night before Easter, there were hordes and hordes of people. We also got to witness a pretty funky Easter night celebration.

It involved someone in the upper church window sending down balls of fire on a string that led into a bonfire… these lit it up and people had come prepared with candles that they brought forward to be lit from the giant flames. I don’t know where people come up with these things but it was definitely amusing to watch.

Oh, there was also a Jesus truck.

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This is the moment where I should mention that I also visited Salento and the Cocora Valley a second time, about a month later, when my mom came to visit!

We did a little tour around the coffee region (more details in a future post!) and Salento was one of our stops. After the first trip I knew I had to take her to see it, it’s too beautiful to miss!

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Beautiful and typical Salento houses

Of course, even after two trips, I am no Salento expert. BUT, here’s a list of some of the things I did and places I visited that I recommend if you’re planning on making the trip:

  1. Cocora Valley
    You may have gotten the idea already that I really love the Cocora Valley. You absolutely can’t miss it if you’re in Salento. To get there, you can take a jeep (or a “Willy”) from the centre square. A bunch of them leave about every hour and will the ride will cost you just under 4000COP per person. The trip lasts about half an hour. In the valley itself, there’s camping and various accommodations so you could even stay a night if you wanted. Otherwise, you can do a variety of things like hiking, horseback riding, or just enjoying the sights.20170528_175307
    Hiking is definitely one of the most popular activities. You can do a short walk through the palms, or do the well-known loop trail (I haven’t done it – will write about it if and when I do!). You can even do a multi-day trek, using it as the starting point into Los Nevados the way that it was the endpoint on our own hike.There’s also a trout farm that I visited with my mom upon the pressing insistence of a man who’d caught the jeep with us. People go there to fish for trout, or visitors can pay a small entry fee to get a bag of fish food to give to the fish.You’re essentially paying to fatten up their fish which is a little messed up, but oh well, it was cool to see all the baby trout and adult trout swimming through the water and charging for the food.
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    The last scheduled jeeps back to Salento leave around 6:30, although you’re not completely stuck if you end up staying later. Workers there can call jeeps to come when needed, just be prepared to possibly pay a bit more.
  2. Main Plaza
    The main plaza in Salento is very cute with a pretty park in the centre and the church watching cooly over the square. There are also lots of restaurants and food/drink stands around so head there if you’re hungry or thirsty.unnamed-4-copy
  3. Empanadas de Trucha
    Also in the main plaza, you can find a stand that sells trout empanadas. Time to eat fried dough stuffed with potatoes and the fish that you helped fatten up at the trucha farm!!! Yikes.But anyways, they’re really unique and tasty. Look for the “Centro Artesanal” on the right hand side when facing the church and it’s right beside it.
  4. Centro Artesanal
    After enjoying your empanada de trucha, you can go into the centro artesanal. There, you’ll walk down a corridor with lots of little businesses along the sides.If I had more money and more luggage space, I would have bought so much here – there are really cute handcrafts, clothing, art, and plants, all at very reasonable prices.I ended up buying a cute pair of colourful handmade shoes (partly out of necessity – my flip flops were killing me – but also because they were cute!) If you’re looking for a souvenir to take home, this could be your place.
  5. Walk the Main Street
    The Main street starts in the square, and both times I visited it was buzzing with activity. Didn’t find anything in the Centro Artesanal? Maybe you’ll find something here – the street is lined with cute shops, cafes, and restaurants (psst – some even give out free samples).On my first trip there, we also happened upon two gentlemen singing and playing some amazing guitar music. We took a stop on our stroll and enjoyed for a while!20170410_062719There are also lots of friendly street dogs if all you really want in life is a furry friend!

    All I really want is life is a furry friend, personally.
    All I really want in life is a furry friend, personally.
  6. Check out the Viewpoint
    If you continue down the main street walking away from the square, you’ll eventually arrive at a large set of stairs. Climb these, and you’ll be rewarded with a great view of the town and the surrounding landscapes.There are a few vendors up there too in case you want an ice cream or a beer. Plus, there’s a (dodgy-looking) swing set. YES! Unleash the inner child!20170410_061116
  7. Enjoy Western-style food
    I personally love Colombian food and could eat it all day e’rryday, but I know a lot of visitors here find most of it to be too bland. Salento is your chance, dear visitor who doesn’t fancy Colombian food, to eat what you’ve been missing.Check out Brunch de Salento or Luciérnaga (mentioned above) to kill that craving.
  8. Postres!
    Postre is one of my favourite Spanish words. It means dessert! You can’t go wrong with the postres in Salento, they’re all crazy good. One of the tastiest I had was an oblea filled with arequipe (basically caramel sauce) and cream.Also, there’s a great café near the main square called Jesús Martín. The cakes we had there were amazing and the place’s aesthetic is super creative and colourful. They specialize in coffee as well, leading to my final tip…

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    Jesús Martín cafe
  9. Coffee
    Salento is a prime coffee region town. There are lots of coffee farms around if you’re interested in taking a tour. I’ve heard in particular of the fincas, El Ocaso and Don Eduardo.I personally took a tour a bit farther away in the nearby town of Filandia at Finca El Mirador. It was amazing and they have even have a sheep named Coffee (!) in case you’re interested in visiting a smaller, less busy but equally cute version of Salento.

    My mama and I at Finca El Mirador in Filandia.
    My mama and I at Finca El Mirador in Filandia.

Conclusion: If you’re able to make the time to visit Salento on your travels in Colombia, don’t let it go – the town is adorable but even the Cocora Valley alone makes it worth the while! Happy travels!

Til next post,

L