A Complete Guide to Salamina, San Felix and Samaria Valley

Find out more about visiting Salamina, San Felix and the Samaria valley. How to get there, what to do and where to stay.

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The Wax palm is an endangered endemic species of Colombia. It is also the national tree and the star of one of the most beautiful and emblematic landscapes of the Colombian Andes. But the beautiful hike in the Samaria valley and the majestic Wax palm tree are only a part of the experience. Mostly because the journey to the Samaria valley and the two remote, authentic towns of Salamina and San Felix are the revelation of what traveling is for us.

There are few places to spot the high towering Wax palm tree in Colombia. The most famous is Valley de Cocoa in Salento, which you can read all about in a thousand other traveling blogs. But if you have gotten this far and entered our post, let us tell you about the off-the-beaten-track destination of Samaria valley in San Felix.

8 Facts About The Wax Palm Tree

  • It is the world’s largest palm and can grow up to 70 m. 
  • The Wax palm is an endangered species due to deforestation, agriculture, and religious use. 
  • It is a long-lived plant and can live for just over 200 years.
  • The Wax palm starts his life as a single leaf that looks like grass. Which makes it the largest monocot in the world. 
  • The truck of the Wax palm is cylindrical, smooth, and covered with wax. 
  • The wax was used for making candles and matches until the middle of the 19 century. 
  • Traditionally the young leaves were used during the cultural festival of Semana Santa. 
  • The cultivation of the Haas avocado is one of the main reasons the Wax palm is an endangered species. 

Salamina

The colorful streets of Salamina

The first stop on the way to Samaria valley is the town of Salamina.
After staying in Jardin for a week and loving it, we expected Salamina to be another polished colonial Colombian town. But surprisingly, even though it is declared as one of the 18 heritage towns of the country, it successfully maintains its untouched genuine character.

Salamina is located in the department of Caldas. Typical of the coffee region, the heart of the town is its vast main square with a large basilica. If you wish to explore Salamina and enjoy its charm, we recommend starting from the main square and happily getting lost in its scenic streets.
As Salamina is still unknown to most foreign tourists, expect some friendly attention from the locals during your visit.

Because we TRAVEL SLOW and enjoy this kind of small untouristic towns, we stayed for 4 nights in Salamina. We had enough time to sleep in two different hostels, eat Salamina’s specialty, and drink a lot of coffee (it is the coffee region, after all).
Here are our insights.

Cafe La Cigarra

Overlooking the main square, ‘Cafe la Cigarra’ is one of our favorite cafes in the coffee region. It is always packed with Salamina’s locals, usually above the age of 75. They make their coffee with a traditional Colombian coffee machine, which in this case looks older than the clients. We loved the coffee, which tends to be bitter and pungent, but more than the coffee, we fell for the social atmosphere.

An entry to a coffee place
Cafe La Cigarra is not the “typical” recommendation, but trust us, it will be a memorable visit

Try La Macana and Huevos al Vapor

If you visit Salamina, don’t skip the two pleasantly bizarre staples of Salamina’s cuisine. The barista makes both dishes with the steamer of the traditional coffee machine. The first, ‘La Macana’ is a mix of milk, butter(to be honest, it’s margarine), sugar, and salted cookies. All ingredients are mixed into a coffee mug and steamed in the machine. It sounds a bit strange, and indeed it is, but it embodies comfort food.
The second dish, ‘Huevos al Vapor,’ is the savory version of the same shtick, as the barista steams eggs, margarine, and salt in a mug. We decided to skip Salamina’s version of scrambled eggs as we were so full from sharing La Macana. But we heard it’s equally satisfying. The best and most famous place to eat those two dishes is ‘Cafe el Pollo.’

Where to Stay in Salamina

Due to its untouristic status, Salamina doesn’t have a variety of glamour hostels with fancy dorms as you will find in Salento. But a few small hotels offer private rooms.

Bonsai Hotel Salamina

A balcony overlooking the view of Salamina
One of Salamina’s pleasures is the view

Bonsai Hotel is the best option for the budget traveler because it is the cheapest place in town and the only one we found with a shared kitchen. It sits 150 meters from the central square, so everything is nearby. The room was simple, with a private toilet and shower. Still, the most remarkable feature of Bonsai Hotel for us was the stunning view from the communal balcony outside the rooms.

Hotel Boutique La Leyenda 1860

If you are on a budget but still want to spoil yourself a bit, Hotel La Leyenda is a perfect choice. The hotel sits inside one of Salamina’s historic buildings next to the main square. The rooms are a bit small but with comfortable beds and a newly renovated toilet and shower. Most importantly the staff is lovely and knowledgeable.

San Felix

The church and plaza of San Felix
San Felix’s main square

The second stop on your journey to Samaria Valley will be the small charming town of San Felix.

Sitting in the north of the department of Caldas, San Felix is a village located at 2,823 meters above sea level and only 25 km from its municipal capital Salamina.
Its climate is cold, with an average temperature of 14°C. At night, temperatures can drop to nearly 0°C, the walls of the houses are thin as paper, and there is no heating infrastructure in town.
So, you better bring a sweater.
We’re not saying all that to scare you but rather to make you appreciate the warm personality of San Felix’s inhabitants.

Unlike the bubbly character of most Colombians, we found the people in San Felix distant at first. But after exchanging a few words, we were happy to meet humble, friendly, and respectful individuals.
Some took the time to answer all our questions about the birth of their cows, and others told us passionately about nearby villages and more attractions in this unexplored area.

What’s in the Town of San Felix

Everything in town is in proximity to the main square. There are two tiendas for groceries, a bakery, a butcher shop, and a few restaurants. In addition, you’ll find a cozy cafe called ‘Centro Social’ that acts as the town’s bus station. As the bus schedule changes frequently, our recommendation is to ask the friendly owner for the timetable of the bus back to Salamina, Manizales, or other romantic villages nearby.
Another shop worth mentioning is San Felix’s cheese shop, famous all around the area for its exceptional desserts and tasty yogurt.

The bus station of San Felix near the 'Centro Social' cafe
San Felix’s “central bus station” is outside ‘Centro Social’ cafe
'Sanlac' cheese shop of San Felix
San Felix’s cheese shop, their yogurt is delicious

As it’s a working-class town, you’ll find the square nearly empty during the day except for a random cowboy or a sleepy old lady. But the shops are open all day long.
In the evening, people gather around the church for a prayer and stay after sunset to socialize and have fun. We loved watching that transformation and highly recommend you to spend at least one night in this peculiar town.

Where to Stay in San Felix

The accommodations of San Felix are not on any booking platform, so we recommend you to call them and check availability, as we did.

We stayed at El Oasis for two nights and paid 60,000 COP for a double room with a private toilet. There are also shared dorm rooms for 25,000 COP per person.
Are you interested in cooking for yourself? Ask to use the kitchen, though it’s the private kitchen of the hosting family and not communal. Be aware that they may charge extra for using the kitchen, but when traveling with a baby, like us, it’s worth it.
Because the atmosphere in El Oasis was a bit dull for us, we recommend you check availability in Hostal Divino Niño. When we checked it out, it seemed more spacious and cheerful.

El Oasis, TEL: 573122128696
Hostal Divino Niño, TEL: 573104279219

The entry to 'Hostal El Divino Nino' in San Felix

Samaria Valley

Dozens of Wax palms in Samaria Valley
Wax palms in Samaria valley

And now, the reason you came all this way, the beautiful Samaria valley and the rare Wax palm tree decorating it.

  • Distance: 12 km
  • Time: 3 hours HIKING
  • Route type: Out & Back
  • Difficulty: Easy

Hiking to the Samaria valley is pretty straightforward. The path starts from the center of town. And after 6 km ends at a family farm called Mirador Valle de la Samaria, overlooking Samaria’s valley.

A fork on the trail to Samaria valley with signs directing the way
There will always be a sign directing the way

You can get to the valley with a tour and reach the farm directly. But we really recommend that you hike to the Samaria valley as it is a captivating and easy trail.

When you exit town toward the valley, you will pass bright green cow fields. And then, after 1 km, you will notice the first Wax palms along the trail. As you keep on walking, more high towering palm trees will appear among the lush green hills of the valley. You will even get the chance to see them in their natural habitat in the middle of the forest. It really is a spectacle to be held.
The last part of the hike is a 2.5 km of moderate ascent toward the farm, where you will have a great lookout on the valley.

Finca Mirador del Samaria

The view of Samaria valley reflecting from the 'Mirador'
The mirador overlooks hundreds of Wax palms

The farm is privately owned by Luis Abril and his family. They moved to the farm 5 years ago and are now dedicated to rehabilitate the Wax palm tree. They are happy to let guests enter for free and enjoy the facilities. In addition, the family offers 2 different guided tours around the forest of palms; the short tour was a 40 min walk out and back and cost 5,000 COP per person. And the second option is a more extended tour of an hour and a half and costs 10,000 COP per person.

We decided to skip the tour and instead had a little lunch and a great talk with Leidy, Luis’s English-speaking daughter.

What to Pack

What should you pack for hiking in the Samaria valley? 

Make sure you have a comfortable daypack with a waist strap for better back support. The best backpack is the one you can hardly feel.

Because the weather in San Felix is unpredictable, you should pack sunscreen and a rain poncho. In addition, don’t forget a water bottle, the tap water in San Felix are super fresh and clean. 

If you’re over the age of 25, proper hiking boots are a must, especially when hiking in the mountains. 

Plan to stay for a few days in Salamina and San Felix or travel with a baby like us? It’s crucial to have the best travel backpack. 

If you are a backpacking parent, choose a baby carrier comfortable for your baby and yourself. 

We experienced warm, sunny days and ice-cold nights in San Felix, so pack a good fleece jacket for Him & for Her

How to Get to Salamina

From Jardin

Usually, most travelers visit Salamina from Manizales because it’s a much easier and shorter road.
We arrived from Jardin and were told before it would be a long and tiring ride.
But it was totally worth it. The ride there sums up the essence of traveling. When leaving one jeep and immediately hopping on the next one, you’re completely soaked in the local Colombian life. Inside the jeep, there is a clear structure: the women sit inside with children on their laps while the men stand at the back, holding the top of the jeep.
The view is breathtaking- steep high mountains colored bright green and happy skies with clouds looking like they were created with a brush. The air gets colder as you ascent, and there is no separation between yourself and the view.

So if you’re in Jardin and reading this post, don’t miss on Salamina, San Felix, and Samaria Valley.
Here are the instructions:

Take the 8 am bus from Jardin to Rio Sucio. The bus company operating the route is called ‘Cootransio.’ If you are traveling in high season, it’s better to buy the ticket at their office the night before. The ride lasts 3 and a half hours on a pebbled winding road and costs 25,000 COP per person.

Then from Rio Sucio, take a bus to the town of La Merced. The bus ride costs 12,000 COP per person and lasts an hour.

From La Merced, you will have to take 2 taxi jeeps to reach Salamina. We paid 4,500 COP per person for the first jeep and 6,000 COP per person for the second taxi jeep. In total, the jeep rides lasted an hour and a half.

The taxi-jeep used for the ride to San Felix
A taxi jeep in Salamina

Expect to arrive at Salamina around 18:00.

The ride to Salamina from Jardin was long, exhausting, recharging, and totally worth it. It’s one of those days that transform your holiday into a journey.

From Manizales

Buses from Manizales Terminal de Transporte leave every 45 minutes starting from 5:30 am. the ride lasts 3 hours and costs 20,000 COP

From Medellin

Buses leave from ‘Terminal del Sur’ daily at 7:00 am. With the operator T.P Adventures, the ride lasts 6 HOURS and costs 40,000COP (10$).

How to get to San Felix from Salamina

There are only 2 buses every day from Salamina to San Felix. The first bus leaves at 6:30 am, and the second at 13:30. The bus leaves from Carrera 6 between Calle 9 and 10. It’s five blocks downhill from Salamina’s plaza. The ride costs 10,000 COP per person and lasts one hour on a bumpy, winding road.
When we tried to understand the timetable, we were told it frequently changes. So it will be better to check one day before your departure to San Felix.

The bus from Salamina to San Felix next to the agency in Salamina
The bus station to San Felix sits in Carrera 6 between Calle 9 and 10

Final Thoughts

Visiting Salamina, San Felix and Samaria Valley made us feel like we were in a different dimension. We were excited and intrigued by the people of Salamina and the culture of the Colombian Andean mountains. In addition, we loved the feeling of hiking in Samaria valley, discovering a new place, and having it all for ourselves. Finally, the town of San Felix was one of those destinations that make you feel like a fly on the wall as the life of real hard-working people is revealed to you.

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