With a bit of mispronunciation and Spanglish imagination, Salento becomes ‘So slow’. It’s a fitting cipher for the oldest village in Quindio. Set on a plateau at the foot of one of the mountains ringing the department, the 165-year-old outpost is separated by both geography and history from its neighbors.
To get there, take a well-marked turnoff off the highway that runs between Armenia y Pereira. The road will drop you down through eucalyptus groves and clear cuts, over a chill river fed by the Nevadas, then up a steep climb. It’s hard to fathom that the journey was once made by horse and kart—and today by thick-legged cyclists.
Centered around a weathered, palm-shaded plaza swimming in an expansive square, Salento is most distinctive for its century-old buildings. Don’t expect the polish of Cartagena: the red-tiled roofs are rich with fungus and a few haphazard sheet metal roof repairs are obvious. But the colorful, two-tone plus white facades give the square a cheery tone even on a dreary day—though a touch of kitsch as well.
Blue and pink, brown and beige, green and ochre, and many more pairs color the trim and first few feet of each of the square’s two and three-story buildings. Second-story balconies open onto dining areas that beacon to tourists, while at street-level locally focuses businesses persist, including as an agrarian supply stores and a notary.
Not that there is a shortage of souvenir shops—almost all with the same cloying mix of junk—particularly as you take the town’s most commercial street toward the town’s hilltop lookout. Along the way you also pass a handful of up-market art and jewelry stores are also present, aimed at deep pocketed visitors, and countless restaurants. And on weekends the spacious plaza fills up with vendors stalls and flocks of tourists.
Hungry? Try the appropriately named El Fin Del Afán, The End of the Rush. From the bark-covered walls to the wood menus, it is perhaps the most flammable restaurant you’ll ever visit. The decor—which includes semi-psychedelic canvases pinned to the wall and green stained wood tables—would be cheesy if it wasn’t so earnest. Menu items range from US$5.50 to $8, all accompanied by delicious patacón, thin fried plantain. Try the Trucha al Ajillo for a delicately cooked trout that arrives in a cast iron skillet, sauce still bubbling.
If you can still move after lunch, head up by foot to Mirador: Valle del Cocora, Corcora Valley Lookout. (If you can’t move, there is a road up to the top as well.) You’ll find an incredible sweeping view of this cozy valley, cut in half by the River Quindio, which runs down from the Parque del Bosque Nublado, Cloud Forest Park. Those who fall in love with the view should jump back in their cars, or rented Willy (see the lineup in the main square), and drive down into the valley. It gets even better.