Visit The South American Destination That Inspired The Popular Disney Film Encanto

Cobblestone streets, bright colored houses, towering wax palms, and the smell of fresh coffee floating through the air — welcome to Salento! Nestled in Quindío in the heart of Colombia's coffee region, this beautiful town, and the nearby Cocora Valley, are more than just a feast for the senses. They're a gateway to a whole new world that looks straight out of a postcard. So much so that even Disney's animators couldn't resist their charms when looking for the perfect backdrop for their hit film, "Encanto."

The perfect destination to represent the true essence of Colombia's vibrant culture and spirit, Salento is synonymous with warmth and authenticity — and the animated film does a great job of bringing this to life. From the big-screen breakfast buñuelos and ajiaco served at lunchtime to the stories of conflict and war that add a human layer to the narrative, and even the styles of clothing the different characters wear — think Camilo's traditional ruana, Mirabel's Wayúu bag, and Dolores' hair wrap — every little and large detail in "Encanto" pays homage to Colombia. And though Salento's real-life magic is a lot more understated than in the movie, it's definitely still there.

Visiting the Cocora Valley

Take a short and scenic drive 6.9 miles from the town of Salento, through the Andean mountains, and you'll find the Valle del Cocora, or Cocora Valley. A nature reserve, the protected area is home to some of the world's tallest trees: the wax palms. Living upwards of 200 years, these trees can grow up to 200 feet tall and are also considered Colombia's national tree. Tickets to visit the Bosque de las Palmas part of the reserve, where you can see most of the trees, start from just $4.

Additionally, there are other sites you can visit within the reserve if you're looking to take your exploration a little further and come up close and personal with local wildlife. Although you probably won't run into a jaguar like in the movie, the Casa de los Colibríes (House of the Hummingbirds) is a haven for birding enthusiasts eager to catch a glimpse of these vibrant creatures. And if you're lucky, you might even see the elusive condor soaring high above the tree line. If you'd like to add this stop, ticket prices will increase to about $5.

Other must-see spots include a trek up to Finca La Montaña — a private farmhouse with a great viewpoint — and the Cascada Bosque de Niebla, or Fog Forest Waterfall. Both of these are accessible through the trails leaving the reserve (but aren't part of the protected area), and require a little more trekking. 

Food and transportation to Salento

Back in the town center, Salento continues to be a treat for the senses. And if watching "Encanto" left you dreaming of Colombian food, this might just be the perfect place to start. Whether that means indulging in an arepa con queso, satisfying your sweet tooth with an oblea, or kicking your day off with a filling calentado, Salento knows how to satisfy pretty much any craving. In terms of drinks, don't pass up the opportunity to try an aguapanela, a hot chocolate (even better when served with a slice of cheese), or a hearty cup of the region's local coffee. You are in the coffee axis, after all!

As for actually getting to Salento, things are pretty straightforward. Ideally, you'll want to fly into either Pereira or Armenia, both of which have airports that connect to the rest of Colombia. Once you land, simply head over to the local bus station and hop aboard a colectivo. If you're traveling from Pereira, this bus ticket will set you back an estimated $3 one way. Alternatively, from Armenia, it'll cost around $1.50 for a one-way trip. And while the town may not have magical casitas or residents that control the weather, the rhythm of local life is just as enchanting.