Trail running Salento, Colombia

Finding information on trail running in Colombia is challenging. When I was researching trails around Salento, I found information about pretty much anything other than the Cocora Valley was non-existent (and even that tends to focus on the one typical tourist route. If you want a deeper dive into the mountains beyond the tourist trails in the valley, see my write up here).

I wanted to write this summary of the trails I found, heading directly out from Salento, and put it out into the world such that others might have a resource for their own adventuring in the area.

I know this won’t be written flawlessly and won’t answer every question. If more information is needed, reach out and I’ll do my best to answer any questions.

Some things to be aware of…

Salento is a very small town. It might take 10 minutes to walk across it. This piece is intended to describe the fun routes that head out directly from town. As such, if you are staying in town, or close to it, the options below are all close by.

Plaza Bolivar, Salento

I felt safer in Colombia, in general, and in Salento, in particular, than I do in most places in the US. The stats bear this out. There is still nastiness in Colombia but it tends to be isolated in specific areas, as it is in the US or pretty much anywhere. Don’t go to the bad parts of any major cities and your risk (of serious injury or death) is reduced to almost zero.

The rain, dear God, the rain. Salento receives over 500 inches of rain a year. This is about 12x what Seattle or Portland receives in the US. I was there during Colombia’s “dry season” and almost every day there would be an absolutely torrential downpour starting around 2pm, plus or minus an hour or two. This would go on and off for a couple of hours, sometimes more. Be prepared for that. It killed my phone on one of the runs. The temperature is warm enough on all of these runs that cold isn’t a risk (it could be if heading into the mountains), but it is still worth noting. Go early if you want to avoid the rain.

The term “trail” is used loosely here. These are not going to be professionally maintained like one might find in the US or Europe. Most of these are old footpaths that are still used by people and horses for trasportation. You’ll likely have them to yourself but you’ll encounter mud, trenched trails with 20 foot walls, and more mud (though the mud is more of an issue in the mountains than near town). Shoes with aggressive tread that you don’t mind staying wet throughout the duration of your stay (because nothing dries here) are the order of the day.

Lastly, this write-up and the maps I’ve put online are intended to be a starting point. My hope is you can use these and feel comfortable heading out on your own into these areas, and once you have that comfort that perhaps you’ll start seeing other opportunities on the map and play the, “where does that go” or “I bet I could make a loop out of that” game. If you do, please share it with the rest of us either through a similar write-up or, perhaps preferably, but putting the routes onto a main mapping platform (GaiaGPS, WikiLoc, Alltrails, Trail Run Project, etc…).

On to the routes…

Salento to Santa Rita

Details: ~6.5 miles, ~1000 ft of ascent, with options for more or less.

Santa Rita is a popular tourist area with waterfalls and natural pools located a few miles from Salento. It is easy enough to run or hike to.

From Salento, you can jump on a short trail called “Indio Nacional”. This trail parallels the winding road you undoubtedly took coming into Salento. Though just under a mile it saves you from needing to deal with probably about 2 miles of the chaos and danger that is that road.

To find the trail, simply head north on Calle 7. This road will turn to cobblestone, which will then degrade to gravel, then dirt, then collapse into a single-track trail, and will eventually dropping through a canyon this path has created over its long history. Expect mud and slippery conditions, but it is a unique escape from the town and a way to avoid the road.

It’s a fun little trail and the only really tight spot is right at the end when you are about to pop out on to the road.

Indio Nacional. Trenched out from centuries of use.

When this happens and you are at the road for the first time (it happens twice), you will see the trail continue on the other side. From that access, the trail quickly drops down to a driveway, which then descends back to the road, allowing you to avoid a switchback or two on the road and avoid the traffic that speeds around those blind turns (expect on holidays or weekends, which means it’ll likely be backed up to this point).

Once you intersect the road a second time, take a right (if you are heading downhill, you are going in the correct direction). You will only have a short stretch on the road before you cross a bridge (there is a pedestrian pathway on the left-hand side). On the other side will be a collection of buildings and restaurants. This area is called, Bosquia. Turn right here up the road to head towards Santa Rita. The entrance is a little less than 1 mile away.

The road is gravel and relatively flat. Not far up the road splits. To the left, another 9 kms is Reserva Natural La Patasola. (I tried to go there but found it closed. A description of a loop that can be made by heading up that way is described later). To the right, is Santa Rita. Both directions are well marked. Continue to the right for Santa Rita and you’ll soon arrive at the entrance building.

Santa Rita is a private “reserve” and costs a small fee (I think it was 7000COP). There is also a lovely restaurant at the entrance (it might end up being where you pay. There isn’t a formal booth) that has amazing and inexpensive food. They were kind enough to prepare an amazing vegan meal for me from what they had in the kitchen and I think it was 16000COP (about $3.50).

Beyond the restauarant, follow the trail around to the left. It continues for a just under a mile. You will go through a couple of tunnels and follows the river where there is some great camping. Eventually, you will cross a suspension bridge and reach an outcrop of buildings selling food and snacks. There are also bathrooms here. This is like the Rome of Santa Rita; all trails lead to it.

From this area, the Santa Rita waterfall is only a short, and easy, out and back walk and is well marked.

Cascada de Santa Rita

To be honest, it is not worth putting in all of this work to just go see that waterfall (at least I don’t think so). However, you’ve made it this far. Go check it out.

What makes this excursion worthwhile, in my mind, are the other trails. From “Rome”, heading up and to the right takes you to the natural pools (Piscinas naturales). Also, you can also head to the left on the Silencio trail where you will do some serious climbing through local jungle-y forest. This trail climbs, reaches a ridge, and drops down the other side reaching the previously mentioned natural pools. This trail, in both directions, is steep and slick, but very much worth it. The loop is about 1.4 miles, but your pace will be slow and labored.

From the central spot, there is another trail available that heads off to the right of those leading to the natural pools. I believe it goes to a cave. However, I did not venture down this one as the hour was getting late and the rain was coming in (I failed to escape it).

When done exploring this area and any additional trails, just retrace your steps back to Salento.

More exploring options…

When back at the restaurant, at the entrance, you can take the road/trail that is to the left of the access road. You pass it on the way up the trail to Santa Rita. It’s on your right as soon as you start heading up the trail. This trail parallels the river, Rio Quindio, and allows for a couple of options to return. If you look on the Gaia GPS app, you will see what I am referring to.

When I was there it was a muddy mess and weather was coming so I didn’t explore it. According to the woman working at the restaurant, there was a fee to access and cross a property along the route, thought I don’t know how much. The fees I encountered were all less than 10,000COP.

This trail will take you to a local road which takes you to a bridge to cross Rio Quindo and drop you off on the road to Cocora. From this point, take a right and follow the road back up to Salento. That road is much less daunting than the road between Bosquia and Salento.

Salento to Reserva Natural La Patasola

Details: As an out-and-back, about 14 miles with 2000 feet of ascent/descent. This can be added to to form the loop explained below or by exploring side roads or adding in Santa Rita

I will start this at the Y in the road referred to in the Santa Rita write-up above. If you skipped that, follow the directions to the Y and come back here. It is about 10 kms from the Y to the Reserva.

Follow the signs

To the left of the Y, with the right heading to Santa Rita, you will do more climbing. This road has the feel of a forestry road in the US. It is dirt/gravel, very well maintained, and has a solid and consistent, yet mild, grade. You will pass a couple houses or hostels. You’ll see some glamping going on. You’ll also see that Colombia has imported some really poor forest management practices from the US Pacific northwest, complete with mono-cultured tree farms and straight up clear cut forests along much of the first 5 kms

The sign toward the Reserve in the coniferous plantation

As you get closer to the Reserva, the road enters more attractive forests as it continues to climb. After about 9–10 kms, you reach the entrance to the Reserva. I can’t give you more information about its worthiness because when I did this outing I found it closed. A guide in town told me I should have just jumped the gate and gone in. No big deal. You can do what you want. But that provides some additional trail and exploring opportunities. It might be worth doing some research to see if there is a way to find out when they are open. There will be a small fee if it is.

The run up to the Reserva and back would probably not be worth the trip on its own (there are better options described below). However, the Reserve might be worth it (and it might not. Who knows? There is some literature out there on it, as well as reviews. The feedback seems to be mixed).

Also, continuing past the Reserva to do a bigger 15ish mile loop makes heading up this way a worthwhile endeavor. I will describe that loop next.

Salento Reserve Loop

Details: 15 mile loop with ~3000 feet of ascent. This could be expanded by actually getting into the Reserve, adding Santa Rita, or exploring side roads. These’s also an alternate descent described later.

Picking up where I left off at the above description, you can continue past the Reserva and climb the road up, around, and back down to Salento for about 15 miles in total.

To do so, continue past La Reserva. The forest will continue to improve and close in on the road, with some occasional splendid views of the valley and mountains to the north. As you follow the road, it would be good to use the map on GaiaGPS as there are a lot of other short spur roads that split off of this main one. They all dead end (to my knowledge). I explored a couple but didn’t want to build up the mileage too far nor did I want to encroach on another’s property. Even without GPS, this stretch should be easy to follow (though it could get tricky further down).

Eventually, you’ll reach the high point and the road turns to the right and starts downhill. At about 8 miles in, the road will become a bit rougher and the descent will become steeper. As the descent continues, the road becomes an overgrown road with a single-track trail going through it.

View from near the high point

You’ll follow this single-track going through and old roadway until you reach a trail that goes off to the left. This is a proper trail, though poorly maintained. It is a fun single-track winding through the woods. This is truly a gorgeous stretch of trail and a blast to run down, dodging branches and navigating downed trees (nothing problematic). This will descend somewhat steeply, but manageably, until you hit a gate. Past the gate, you are no longer on protected land. The trail is easy to follow, but the trail descends steeply and is generally unattractive from this point down to the road.

Perhaps the only true single-track stretch I found in Colombia

This is where it starts to get tricky (trickier… Finding the fun single track could be challenging as well, without GPS). The trail descends and is easy to follow. It is obvious that it is used and I saw guides with tourists dropped off at the bridge you will cross. However, you’ll likely feel a bit uneasy when you reach the fencing at the bottom of the descent. You’ll see the road, and the bridge to cross but you’ll be unsure how to get to the bridge. You’ll have to cross a field with, when I was there, grazing cattle and horses. Then, there are other fences, segmenting the pastures.

Basically, go through the fence and down to the river. You’ll be able to pass the other fences along the river. You’ll get to the road that crosses the bridge and this will take you to the road between Cocora and Salento. Take a right here and follow the road back up to Salento. The traffic is not so bad and there are a surprising number of others on foot along this stretch.

For further adventuring options…

About 10 miles into this run, there is a road that splits off to the left of the one you are on. According to Gaia GPS (if you look at the map, you’ll see what I am referring to) it goes downhill and turns into a trail you can take back to the road between Cocora and Salento, a bit further away from Salento than the loop described. As with the described loop, once you hit the road, turn right to go back to Salento.

Salento to coffee county loop

Details: ~9 miles with 2300 ft of elevation gain. Several ways to make it longer, but not shorter

This was a great loop heading straight out of Salento. I am so glad that I persisted on finding the trail. I had originally thought it washed away, but ended up finding where it picked back up further upstream.

The way to access this trail is to go to the very southern part of town. If you take Carerra 10 southwest until it ends and take a left, you’ll see a playing/sport field. Go around the north then west part of the field. You should see the trail on the ridge off to the southwest. You may see the trail beginning elsewhere on the map, but this is the part where I ran into issues with it being washed out. So, starting from this playing field is the way to go.

This trail, like most of the “trails” in the area, is simply a foot and horse path for locals. The only person I saw along this initial stretch was a man with his horse crossing bridge. He was overwhelmingly friendly (I think he was quite shocked to see a gringo down there) and delightful, as was his horse.

From the field where you start, work your way down to the trail and have fun as it descends steeply towards the river. In a little less than a mile, you will bottom out and cross a sturdy, “how the hell did they get this here?”, bridge. This is where I saw the friendly farmer and his horse. Enjoy the sounds and views. There is a sense of remoteness here, even though there is a bridge and you are less than a mile from town.

The trail as it climbs up from the river

From the bridge you will climb steeply. The trail continues through dense vegetation along this stretch but then suddenly opens up to a wider road. Once this happens you start to get into coffee growing territory. You’ll pass buy some farms and plenty of fields and will have great views of the surrounding areas.

As you continue to climb, this lovely dirt/gravel road will open up further and you’ll be on a wider, maintained, muddy, and pretty god-awful mess. It is just muddy and messy, but the views are pretty fantastic. Persist. Things improve ahead.

WTF? Less than ideal stretch of “trail”

I originally wanted to climb to get to the high point of this route. As I climbed, I passed two dirt roads that headed off to the right and down hill. Both connected with each other and led to another road that led to yet another road that could be taken back to Salento. I continued past these with the intention to get to that high point. However, eventually my desire to see where this road went ran out. This is a corporate ran and managed area and the ugliness shows that.

Some great views across the coffee growing region, despite the awful mud road

I turned around and went back to the southern most of the roads that would lead me back to Salento in a loop (always looking for a loop). There is a sign that warns of steepness and falling and bad things happening if you go this way. I took this as evidence that it would be a fun route and bombed down it. The road starts off ugly as hell but continues to improve as you descend, turning eventually, and fairly quickly, into a single track taking you above fields, through woods, and by lovely cascades.

Ahhhhh… That’s better.

This trail quickly reaches a road, where you take a left (a right will take you up the other access road. If you took that first access road, you’d take a right at this point. Again, follow the map and you’ll be fine). This is another dirt gravel road that goes through a rural, generally wooded, sparsely populated residential area. There were some surprised people to see me running through there.

This is simply a lovely stretch where you climb a little at first but then descend gently down to a river. This road is smooth and the grade is perfect to open it up. I also picked up a canine friend in this area. He was following me, which unnerved me at first, but then I found he just loved running and he stuck with me for a long time.

My buddy for this stretch (and a random horse)

Once the road drops down to the river, you continue straight, not taking the bridge across the river. You’ll have some water crossings along this stretch, but nothing challenging to navigate. Just enough to get your feet wet. At this point you will begin to climb, gently. You’ll climb this road all the way up to an amazing view of the valley, at the point where this road hits the road that goes from Salento to all of the coffee tours.

Pictures (particularly those with poor resolution) don’t come close to doing this view justice.

However, before you get there, the road gets rougher and more sheltered by the trees and will feel more isolated again. I found it to be a stretch that I loved, especially with my new friend. There are a few houses along this stretch. Many have dogs, and they were not all as friendly as the guy I picked up. I didn’t run into any issues, and I think he may have raised their ire, but be mindful and perhaps have some small rocks ready to let them know you are not to be trifled with if they are looking like they become aggressive.

Eventually this road connects with the one heading out to the coffee tours. Your life will go from isolated and peaceful to chaotic very quickly at this intersection. This is where I left my canine friend as he got distracted by the people, horses, food, and other dogs and I skirted away worried that he would follow me all the way back to Salento.

Take a right onto the new road. It is another dirt/gravel road and is traveled by some vehicles and ATVs, and a few walkers, but it was not as bad as I feared. It’s only maybe 2 miles back into Salento from the intersection.

Make sure to take a moment and enjoy the view of the valley from that intersection (and just before). It truly is spectacular.

Camino Nacional

Details: ~8 miles and 1700 feet of elevation gain / loss. Options for extending. Just check out the map and let your mind wander.

Another option heading out of Salento involves heading up the Camino Nacional, and old foot path that apparently Simon Bolivar used when he came through Salento in God knows when. I could be completely wrong about this. I am no Colombian historian, but I do know there’s a route with some of these words attached.

Starting from the main plaza (of course, named Plaza de Bolivar), head up Calle Real, or Carerra 6, toward the overlook, the ‘Mirador’, that is in the northeastern most part of town. Take the road as it turns right before you start to head up the stairs. On my map it is listed as “Salento — Toche”. Basically, when you pass the Camino Real Parrilla Bar on the right, turn there. If you pass the hostal and Coco Bowl on the left (or the stairs), you’ve gone too far.

The road immediately turns to dirt/gravel as you head out of town. Continue down this road for another half-ish mile (maybe a bit more. As always, using a map and GPS will be helpful), there is a left with a well-done access road. If I recall there is a sign up on the left-hand side of this road that says something about the Camino Nacional and Bolivar’s visit to Salento. Strava, GaiaGPS, AllTrails, and maybe Trail Run Project show the trail there (I actually think I posted it on Trail Run Project and GaiaGPS) heading up and to the left away from the road.

This is what most of the lower section of the trail is like.

As with the Indio Nacional, this will go from a well-maintained road, to a less well-maintained road, to a dirt road, to a trail, to a single-track trenched out trail with 20 foot walls on each side. The trail climbs steeply and steadily. It’s obvious motorbikes come through here and there are some routes up and around the muddiest and sketchiest parts.

Eventually, the trail begins to open up and the flatten out, and there is even a little downhill at the end that takes you to, according to the map, Mirador Alexandra. There are some expansive views.

Another short stretch of proper single-track

You may have to skirt a few cows on your way but you will eventually come to a gate that connects the trail with the same road you were originally coming up.

In all, the Camino Nacional is about 2 miles. Take a right after the gate and follow the road back to Salento. It is a gradual and steady descent. I loved the run back. The loop in total was about 8.5 miles.

For other options, you could simply run up and down the road. It’s not bad and there are also other, more extensive loops, that can built off of this route. Use a map and get creative.

Tasty deliciousness awaits your return. The food may have been my favorite aspect of Colombia.

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