How much time is there in a day? Albert Einstein said, ‘Time is an illusion”. Indeed. A logical mathematician or scientist would tell you that a day has 24 hours while someone who knows the true value of time like pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, let us on this wonderful secret: “Time is a game played beautifully by children.”
After spending close to a month in Colombia, the opportunity to travel came with the luxury of a public holiday that falls on a Monday. I was debating if I should travel due to an inconvenient eye problem that developed right before the weekend. Nevertheless, boredom and serendipity led me to a small, quaint town in the mountains. Salamina, Caldas – the City of Light located in the famed coffee region of Colombia.
The journey itself to and fro Salamina is an unforgettable experience. Beyond the winding s-curved roads that goes on and on like a never-ending story, one will be visually treated to the most tranquil and picturesque landscape. Shades of green thrive under the blue sky with cotton candy clouds that seemed to be within reach. Magnificent mountains and rolling valleys merge so naturally in the way that only Mother Nature can decreed.
If you want to make the most of your trip (like I did) in a day or two, here’s a list of things to do in Salamina, Caldas, Colombia!
Bolivar Park and its surrounding attractions
In every Colombian city and town, you would most likely find a Bolivar Park (Plaza de Bolivar) – a central area for people to gather and enjoy the passing of time. Likewise in Salamina, this pretty plaza is the center of activity with a gazebo and large bronze basin fountain! While the origins of this symbol of splendour is confusing (some said Paris in France, others proclaimed it is from Germany), it is without doubt that the fountain (like many of the town visitors) has travelled a long way over the mountains from the coast by mules! It actually took one year for the pieces of the fountain to arrive to this final destination!
Statues of the town’s founders are located around the plaza with informational plaques. (Note that descriptions are in Spanish) Eye-catching ceibo trees with hanging moss (named ceibo arboles con musgo or silk floss trees) cast a tranquil setting and just steps away, one will find the Church of the Immaculate Conception or Minor Basilica of Salamina (Basilica Menor La Inmaculada Concepción) that dates back to the the year 1874. Although it is considered small as compared to other similar places of worship in Colombia, this church has a unique architecture.
Upon stepping into the worship hall, you will be awed by the understated grandeur, and a sense of spaciousness made possible by the rectangular design without any columns. Don’t miss the wooden pulpit and ceiling as well as stain glass windows. Supposedly designed by an English architect, word has it that the Church of the Immaculate Conception is modelled on the First Temple in ancient Jerusalem!
Souvenir shops, restaurants and the Hotel Colonia sit along the sides of the Bolivar Park, presenting convenience within reach.
Stroll along colourful streets & admire traditional architecture
Flower-filled balconies lined the colourful streets of Salamina, promising to charm just as much (or more) as the next Colombia old town. Typical of Latin American architecture, the traditional-looking buildings and well-preserved homes provide a walk to remember! It is a photography haven here and you won’t have hordes of tourists photobombing your pictures. On the sidewalk, there are small plaques that advise information on the names and period of construction of the buildings (or so I thought).
The historic center of Salamina dates back to 1825 and the beautiful 2-storey houses are adorned with intricate woodwork that frames doors, eaves, and balconies. It is all in the details! Take your time and admire the decorations on the wall. These can be traced to the cabinet and woodcarver, Tangarife Elisha, who opened a woodworking school in Salamina during the mid-19th century!
Visit the San Esteban Cemetery
While you certainly will not find pokemons or pokemons zombies (or zombies for the record) over here in the town cemetery of Salamina
people have better things to do, it would be shame not to visit it. The neo-gothic San Esteban Cemetery (Cemeterio San Esteban) used to be divided into three sections; one for the rich, the poor and the non-identified or no-name corpses labelled as ‘N.N’. The wall that divided the rich from the poor was knocked down at the behest of a priest in 1976. Visit during the day with the company of a local to learn the stories that transcend generations.
Visiting a cemetery at night may seem scary to many, especially for those of us who grew up listening to horror freak stories in Asia, but the San Esteban Cemetery is actually pretty well-lit and I was with friends. During our short stroll around the vicinity of the cemetery, I realised that the topic of death and afterlife may be a taboo topic for some, but for the locals here; therein San Esteban lies the bodies of loved ones who are greatly missed by their family and friends. No taboo whatsoever.
Stay in a conserved house like Casa Carola B&B
Declared as a national monument in 1982, Salamina is in the famed coffee region and part of the Colombian Network of Heritage Towns. This also means that the small town has some history to share. If you are an avid history/architecture lover, do check in one of the conserved houses that have been converted into quaint B&B lodges. Based on the positive recommendation of travel blogger, Joanna Marracelli, I decided to stay at the homely Casa Carola B&B and was delighted by its convenient location, nice furnishing and very amiable owner.
Furnished with classic period furniture alongside antiques that have been in the family for generations and painstakingly designed with care, Casa Carola is a project made with love. Felipe, the owner who was born and raised in Salamina, even speaks English – making it easier for us non-Spanish speakers in this Spanish-speaking land! The living hall of Casa Carola was once used as a movie setting for “María Cano“ and the best part of the house is the vibrant garden(s)! Plants and flowers blossom here and if you get lucky like I did, you may just find the most unusual phenomenon of spotting several 4-leaf clovers!
Traditional as it is, Casa Carola B&B does provide modern comforts such as free Wi-Fi (thanks god!), hot showers and breakfast.
Visit a finca for spectacular views
Hop on a bike and start exploring! One of the best ways to get around Salamina is by bike and there’s no greater sense of liberation as you zoom around every bend of the rocky, winding path, feeling the sweet, fresh air on your skin. The magnificent views of the mountains standing majestically will wow and rejuvenate the city bumpkin, and highlight the the wonders of nature. Again.
Finca (farms) are aplenty in this countryside town and while some include a cafeteria with spectacular views, there are private properties where permission should be asked before venturing onto others’ land. You’d find the locals to be extremely accommodating though, so ask, and your wish may just be granted! Besides coffee farms, you should definitely try to visit a sugarcane plantation if time permits!
Try the local food specialities!
Even if you are not a foodie, the specialties of Salamina promise to intrigue with her people’s innovation! Head into a cafe and try the huevo al vapor (literally vaporised eggs) and macana (a sweet-filling beverage with just about all the ingredients that one can think of!). If you have not tried these, don’t say that you have been to Salamina!
When time is short, one must get practical and evaluate on your priorities. Much as I dislike the touch-and-go type of vacation, it is possible to make full use of your time and truly enjoy the essence of a destination within your limited resources. Happy exploring and live vivaciously!
Coming soon: Don’t miss the quintessential village of San Felix!
The above information is based on the author’s own experience and should only be used as a reference. For more information on the destination, do check out: http://www.colombia.travel/en/where-to-go/andean/salamina