Colombia’s Coffee Axis instantly seduces travelers. The region offers year-round warm weather, gorgeous hikes in the mountains, charming small towns, friendly people, and all the coffee you could drink. Jardin and Salento are two of the best bases for day hikes and coffee tours — Jardin is very off-the-beaten-path, while Salento has all the amenities you could want. So why not visit both? The only problem is traveling from Jardin to Salento is a bit tricky.
If you look at the Coffee Axis on a map, it seems so easy — Jardin seems like a natural stop-over between Medellin and Salento. Part of its charm is its remoteness. But that also means the only way to get south from Jardin is on unpaved mountain roads that see almost no traffic.
In this post, I’ll walk you through how to take on this journey on public transportation step-by-step. Get ready for a classic rural Colombian adventure!
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Jardin to Salento: The route
There is no direct bus that will take you between Jardin and Salento. In fact, you’ll actually have to change buses at least once, but possibly twice.
The first leg of your trip is to get from Jardin to Riosucio. There, you’ll have a quick change of vehicle. Some buses in Riosucio go all the way to Salento, while others stop in Pereira. From Pereira, you can get a connecting bus or minibus onward to Salento.
The entire journey takes about eight hours. You’ll have enough time in Riosucio to grab some snacks from the convenience store across the street from the bus station, or to eat at the bus stop cafeteria. And you can use the restroom at both the Riosucio and Pereira bus stations.
Of all of the long bus journeys I was on in Colombia — Cartagena to Santa Marta, Bogota to San Gil, and San Gil to Medellin, this was the only one that was truly uncomfortable. The buses in this part of the country aren’t nearly as nice as the first-class coaches you find elsewhere. They’re cramped and crowded. Brace yourself for a rough journey — but I promise, when you get to Salento, it’ll be worth it.
Step one: Take the daily chiva from Jardin to Riosucio
The first part of the journey from Jardin to Salento is the most exciting. You get to ride in an old-fashioned Colombian chicken bus, known locally as a chiva.
These open-air trucks with benches in the back were once the main form of transport in Colombia. They’re an important cultural tradition. Every one is painted uniquely. Chiva artists each have their own distinct style and they usually don’t paint anything besides chivas.
Today, these iconic buses are all but extinct except on very rural roads in the Coffee Axis. (And as party buses in Cartagena.) They are uniquely equipped to handle the difficult terrain. And, lucky for you, that’s exactly what the road between Jardin and Riosucio is.
One chiva a day departs Jardin at 8 am from the bus stop at Calle 8 and Carrera 5. Buy your ticket the day before at the small ticket window across from the garage. It costs 20,000 COP.
The chiva trip is almost all on unpaved roads, and it’s sloooooow. It stops once at the top of a mountain at a small farm, where you can buy coffee and use the restroom. The good news is the views along the way are incredible, and riding in an open-air bus is super fun (for the first hour or so at least). Bring a light jacket or fleece — it gets surprisingly chilly.
Step two: Change buses in Riosucio to get to Pereira
You’ll know you’ve reached Riosucio because it’s the only thing describeable as a “settlement” that you’ll see after leaving Jardin. This scruffy little city doesn’t have a lot going on besides changing buses.
When the chiva pulls into the bus station, get off the bus and collect your luggage quickly, and get in line to buy your ticket to Pereira at the only ticket window. You’ll need to show your passport.
If you’re lucky enough to be one of the first 20-ish people in line, you can get on a bus going directly to Salento (it still passes through Pereira). This costs 28,000 COP. Otherwise, you’ll need to get on a bus to Pereira for 20,000 COP.
The bus from Riosucio to Salento was the single most uncomfortable bus I was on in Colombia. It was tiny and very, very cramped. The leg room was laughably atrocious. They didn’t have enough space in the back of the bus for people’s luggage, so I had to share my seat with my large backpack. Not exactly luxury, but tolerable.
The views along this route are even more spectacular than the first leg. The journey takes about four hours to Pereira, with one short stop at a small town in the mountains where you can use the restroom and buy some arepas.
Step three: Pereira to Salento
You’re almost there, I promise!
Pereira is the biggest city in the Coffee Axis, with a huge, modern bus terminal. Regardless of whether you are on a direct bus to Salento or need to change, you’ll stop here for awhile.
If you do need to change to a minibus to Salento, that costs 8,000 COP. Buses leave roughly hourly, with many more buses on weekends. If you have to wait more than an hour, you could take a bus going to Armenia instead and ask to be dropped off at the Salento feeder road. Frequent minibuses cover this road the rest of the way to Salento.
The final stage of the Jardin to Salento route takes about an hour and a half. You’ll reach the strip of gravel that is the Salento bus station just outside of town around 4 pm.
Getting to your hostel in Salento
Salento has a very unique form of public transportation/taxi. All over town, you’ll see World-War-II-era Willy Jeeps stopping to pick up passengers. These vehicles were brought in by the United States military in the 1940’s and never used, so Colombian farmers used them to replace mules to transport their goods.
Today, Willys are the best way to get around Salento. If you want to take one to get to your Salento hostel, simply walk to the central plaza (about five blocks from the bus station) and ask the drivers for a lift. It won’t cost you more than 3,000 COP and you might even get to ride standing on the back!
If you’re staying out of town — like at the amazing La Serrana — the Jeeps are the only alternative to walking 25 minutes to your hostel. This trip will cost you more like 5,000 COP.
The alternative route from Jardin to Salento
If eight-plus hours on cramped, uncomfortable vehicles sounds miserable to you, don’t worry. You can still get from Jardin to Salento in a day. The alternative route takes just as much time, but it’s quite a bit more comfortable.
This alternative involves doubling back to Medellin from Jardin. Then, you can pick up a minibus to Salento from Medellin’s Terminal Sur.
For the first leg of this journey, you’ll need to get an early start. Try to be on a minibus from Jardin to Medellin by 8 am — 7 am would be better. This takes around 3 hours.
Then, change in Medellin for a minibus to Salento. This takes six hours, but it’s in a much nicer vehicle than the ones from Riosucio to Salento. If you’d have to wait more than an hour in Medellin for your connecting bus, pick up a frequent bus to Armenia or Pereira instead — from where you can grab a minivan to Salento.
If you really want to avoid a long bus trip, you could also go from Jardin to Medellin, and then fly to Pereira or Armenia. You’d then need to pick up a minibus to Salento. But between getting to the airports and bus stations, it really wouldn’t save you much time — and it would be a lot more stressful to worry about missing your flight.
Salento and Jardin are both incredibly charming little towns, and the long travel day between them is totally worth it to get to experience both. Plus, it’s a great way to see parts of the country that still get very little tourist traffic. Sometimes exhausting travel days end up being the most memorable parts of a trip. I hope this post has helped you plan your visit to the Coffee Axis — the best part of Colombia to travel in!
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