Salento is a pretty Colombian town, colourful and friendly, and slap-bang in Colombia’s coffee region. Horse riding in Salento is the perfect way to explore the area, and there are various options on offer. My friend Jen and I chose to visit a nearby coffee plantation and waterfall – around five hours in total. The hostel booked everything for us, and the following morning we were collected from our hostel for our Colombian coffee tasting adventure!
Horse Riding in Salento: Our Guide & Horses
Our guide was Diego, a 19-year-old “caballista” (horseman) whose father Oman Hernandez had taught him to ride and follow in the family business. They have 10 horses, and ours were well cared for, and suitable for beginners and intermediate riders; although if you want something specific be sure to ask when you book. Diego was a great guide, friendly and chatty although not overly so, and answered any questions we had. He spoke good English, and we chatted in mix of the two languages. My horse Corora was determined not to follow the other two, and jostled with Jen’s horse for pole position. Although he was a little nervous in places where we passed some scary plastic bags, he was a fine ride, and carried me through fields, across rivers, through tunnels and up steep, muddy, narrow paths.
Horse Riding in Salento: Local Coffee Plantation
Our first stop was a tour of a local coffee plantation. There were two options a short ride away, and we chose the Don Elias’ plantation, a small family-owned traditional, organic coffee farm. It was the cheaper option but we really chose it for being the more traditional of the two, and were not disappointed. The farm is now run by the 3rd generation of the family, and Don Elias’ 22 year old grandson Carlos conducted our tour in English. He took us around the plantation and explained how the family grow, harvest and roast the coffee beans. At the end of the tour we ground up some of the roasted beans and sampled some fresh Colombian coffee. I am not a coffee lover, in fact I hardly ever drink the stuff, but was fascinated to learn about the process.
The farm is one of around 600 in the area; all of which are small, independent growers. At this farm they have 8000 plants, and grow a combination of Arabica coffee and Colombia coffee, which, despite being different plant species and having different colour beans, have the same flavour and quality of coffee. The beans are harvested twice a year, around May & June, and again in September. The fruit of the Arabica plants turn red when they are ripe, and the Colombia plants fruits turn yellow. Both plants have pretty white flowers, which smell like jasmine. The flowers last just a couple of days before they die, and the fruit begins to form. Coffee plants take 2 years to produce fruit, and can continue to do so for 25 years. On the farm here they remove the plants after 18 years, as during the final years the coffee loses some of its quality and produces less fruit.
The farm is also organic, and employ a variety of techniques to keep bugs at bay. A large chilli plant provides spicy peppers which are crushed and mixed with water to spray on the plants. Apparently the flies are put off by the heat from the chilli and go elsewhere. Various decoy plants distract flies from the coffee – mandarin, pineapple and lime trees are dotted around the plantation for this purpose. Banana and avocado trees provide shade for coffee plants, which need warmth and light but struggle under direct sunlight.
These plants provide fertilizer too, from fallen fruit, and water which is stored in the banana tree trunks. Finally, chickens provide fertilizer with their poo and empty egg shells which provide calcium for the soil. The birds roam around the plants, and also pick off stray insects and bugs. A sign at the top of the coffee rows reads “Cuidemos la Naturaleza”, let’s look after nature. I really believe they are doing just that.
Horse Riding in Salento: A Family Run Coffee Plantation
After a tour of the plantation we were brought back to the house – clearly where the family live and work. The 3-year-old grandson of Don Elias was running around causing trouble, as his brother played video games in one room and their mother and grandmother cooked in the kitchen. I really liked that, this is really how they do it – no dressing it up for the gringo tourists, this is it!
In the back of the house the coffee is processed. The fruit is separated from the bean with a ‘de-pulper’ which grinds the fruit to squeeze out the beans. They are then soaked in water and left for a day to ferment, and to weed out the floating beans which are of lower quality. The beans are then laid out to dry in the sun for 8 to 25 days, depending on the weather. The dried beans are then peeled, traditionally done by hand but now by a hand operated machine, and then roasted in a pan on the hob, being stirred continuously.
Organic Colombian Coffee Tasting
The beans are roasted for at least 45 minutes, or longer to give a richer flavour. The longer the beans are roasted, the more caffeine is burnt off. The beans are then ready to be sold, or ground to make coffee. We ground a few beans and I had my first cup of Colombian coffee in the very farm where it was grown. Not a coffee lover, I don’t enjoy the taste, but the experience was second to none! They also sell the coffee to visitors, so I bought a couple of bags of beans for my family, vowing to cram it into my rucksack one way or the other!
Horse Riding in Salento: Santa Rita Waterfall
After the tour we climbed back onto our trusty steeds and set off for the Santa Rita waterfall. A long walk on horseback, the falls can also be reached by mountain bike, although the ride looked difficult! The waterfall was small but pretty, and we could swim in the pool although the water felt icy cold! We also passed through tunnels that had been built for a railway that was never finished, meant to link Medellin and Bogotá by train. I loved the ride, splashing through mud and water, roaming the countryside. Jen wasn´t as keen though, but for her second time on a horse she managed incredibly well!
We took a brief dip in the waterfall, the water was too cold to linger, and returned to Salento through a steep narrow path which the horses struggled up valiantly. We said goodbye to Diego, and hobbled back to the hostel, our aching limbs longing for a hot bath and massage! Neither of which we got, a glass of sangria and a sit down had to suffice. I had thoroughly enjoyed the day, another fine adventure in Colombia, sampling home-grown, organic coffee straight from the source, and gallivanting on horseback – one of my favourite activities. I loved Salento.
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