Horse Riding in Salento & Colombian Coffee Tasting

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 our horse riding tour for us, and the following morning we were collected from our hostel for our Colombian coffee tasting adventure!

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Our Guide for Horse Riding Salento - Diego
Our Guide for Horse Riding in Salento – Diego

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 – all part of horse riding in Salento!

READ MORE: The Ultimate Guide to Backpacking Colombia

Don Elias Coffee Plantation in Salento - horse riding Salento
Don Elias Coffee Plantation in Salento

Horse Riding 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.

In this family-owned, organic coffee plantation in Salento, Carlos is a 3rd generation grower.
In this family-owned, organic coffee plantation in Salento, Carlos is a 3rd generation grower.

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.

a young coffee plant in Salento
a young coffee plant
the coffee plants flower for just a couple of days
the coffee plants flower for just a couple of days

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.

In the Coffee Plantation, Banana trees provide shade & fertilizer
In the coffee plantation, banana trees provide shade & fertilizer for the coffee plants

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.

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: Hiking in the Cocora Valley

"Cuidemos la Naturaleza" - we should look after nature
“Cuidemos la Naturaleza” – we should look after nature

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!

Coffee beans in Salento lie out to dry in the sun
coffee beans lie out to dry in the sun

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.

coffee beans are roasted over the hob, being stirred constantly
coffee beans are roasted over the hob, being stirred constantly

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!

our freshly ground colombian coffee
our freshly ground Colombian coffee

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!

achey but happy after horse riding in Salento
achey but happy after horse riding in Salento

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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Organic Coffee Farming in Colombia!
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21 thoughts on “Horse Riding in Salento & Colombian Coffee Tasting

  1. Katy says:

    Hi Claire,

    Thanks for sharing! Can you share the name of the hostel you stayed at who helped you book everything? Looking to go to Salento for a day or two and this seems like a great trip idea!

  2. Iuliana Marchian says:

    Oh my god, horse riding is my favorite, even if it’s difficult to stay up there on the back of the horse for a whole day. I’ve recently joined a horse riding in Pokhara, Nepal, through the countryside villages of the Phewa valley and it was really amazing. However, I never thought of putting together horse riding with coffee, but it sounds a good challenge for my next trip.

  3. Thuymi @ says:

    Just cam back from South America! Wish we had time to get to Colombia. I love coffee so it’s great experience to do these things and to see where the coffee is grown, processed, roasted!

  4. Lisa (Klipdrifters Travel) says:

    Your photos really bring your story to life! Beautiful adventure and we really love coffee so this sounds like a win!

  5. clairesturz says:

    Haha it seems people either love horses or hate them! You will have a fabulous time in Colombia, if you can make it to Salento I highly recommend the town, the coffee plantation & hiking in Cocora Valley too!

  6. Anne says:

    I really want to visit a coffee plantation as I love figuring our how things are made. Sounds like a cool day

  7. Vyjay says:

    Always love Coffee plantations. They have such an exhilarating aura about them. The horse riding is an added bonus and I am sure that the experience is one to cherish for a long, long time.

  8. Aparna says:

    I LOVE Coffee and I’m hoping to be in Colombia for a friend’s wedding in October. This looks like such a great experience! Not sure about the horseback riding though – I’m petrified of horses!

  9. Jen Morrow says:

    I LOVE COFFEE!!! What a great experience to see where the coffee is grown, processed, roasted, and finish with a tasting. The horse ride would be icing on the cake, for a fantastic day!

  10. clairesturz says:

    Oh no, allergic to coffee!? I don’t usually drink it but had to give it a try. It is still wonderful to see how the family cares for the plantation even if I don’t appreciate the final product!

  11. clairesturz says:

    haha, good point about the sore butt 🙂 There are shorter rides you can take just to the coffee plantation so that should be fine for even the most delicate behinds 😀

  12. Amanda Williams says:

    I would love to go horse riding in Salento. The scenery looks stunning and I love horses anyway. But I’d have to give the coffee tasting a miss because believe it or not I’m allergic to coffee (which sucks). Looks like you had a great day.

  13. Megan Indoe says:

    This sounds like an incredible way to spend a day! I am afraid my butt would get sore as I haven’t rode a horse since I was really young! But we are both coffee lovers so this sounds like a perfect experience for us! Loved that you gave a little introduction to the horse too!

  14. clairesturz says:

    Oh gosh I imagine with a fear of horses that would be pretty awful! Glad you survived in the end!

  15. Nina says:

    As someone who has irrational fear of horses Colombia was the country i could not avoid horses due to muddy terrain . I remember having a very stubborn horse in Tayrona National park – my guide just patted her butt and off we went alone through the rain forest, got caught in the storm, and I was totally scared. She brought me directly to her barn.

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