A trip to Colombia's coffee zone is a must for any coffee, culture, or nature lover. Located high in the Andes mountains between Bogota, Cali, and Medellin, it produces some of the world's best coffee, as well as offering in-depth "crop to cup" experiences with coffee farmers, plantations, and baristas. I recently returned from exploring this region and I was very impressed with its beautiful landscapes and variety of activities.
My first stop was a stay at Hacienda Termales la Quinta, an original farmhouse and extensive hacienda, nestled in the high Andes near Manizales. What an enchanting place! Upon arrival I was greeted with two amazing waterfalls, a picture perfect sunset, and endless views of the surrounding mountains. The charming colonial house has a warm cozy seating area to get together with other guest to share the experiences of the day or simply watch the fire in the living room as you sip a canelazo (local hot beverage). The cold nights invited me to put on my swimsuit and take a dip in the hot thermal pool to soak my sore muscles and enjoy another canelazo. It felt like home and the hosts, Daisy and Alberto, were very nice and made sure I had a pleasant time. Daisy is also a great cook and makes everything from bread and cheese to delicious meals, all prepared on a lovely wood burning stove.
Colombia has a wealth of National Parks and one you should not miss is Los Nevados National Park. From Termales La Quinta you can access the Laguna del Otun, on a 9 mile day hike and enjoy the park's odd landscapes and of course the lagoon, which is fed by the melting snow from the Nevado Santa Isabel Volcano. On a different day I also visited another area of the park, where the scenery was stunning and desolate, like the moon. Other areas are alive with amazing paramo forest, as well as lakes and glaciers. You can find rare animals in the park such as spectacled bear, cougar, tiger cat or mountain tapir although they are hard to find, hiding deep in the forest where hikers can occasionally get a glimpse. It's good to be prepared for any type of weather in the park. While I was there, sunny periods were followed by scattered showers, fog and thick clouds rolling over the hills to create an unforgettable atmosphere. I was happy I was wearing lots of layers! I decided to do a downhill bike ride from the park to enjoy the views and to get back to Termales del Ruiz for a well-deserved relaxing time at the hotsprings.
I also got to visit Otun Quimbaya National Park and hike through the Otun Quimbaya Flora & Fauna Sanctuary, a protected 489-hectare cloud forest filled with hundreds of species of butterflies; birds ranging from eagles to hummingbirds; and mammals. Located in a transition zone between the sub-Andean jungle and the Andean jungle, it was wonderful in terms of birding, and I was able to observe rare and endemic birds including the cauca guan or pava caucana, the aburria aburri or wattled guan, the red-ruffed fruitcrow, a multicolored tanager and trogons, just to name a few.
My next stop was the Cocora Valley located in the central mountain range of the Colombian Andes, right in the coffee axis and one of the most special places I visited in Colombia. This is were the Palm of Cera (Wax Palm) of Quindío, the national tree of Colombia grows. The palm trees reach over 60 meters (200 feet) high and only grow at an altitude of between 1500 and 3000 meters (4,950 and 9,900 feet) above sea level. It is mind blowing to see "palm trees", more typical of coastal areas, growing in the middle of the mountains. The landscapes offered by this area are truly unique, perfect for hikers who are looking for pristine habitats while getting off the beaten path. The bright green valleys with the wax palms rising so high are one of the images that I will remember the most from this trip to Colombia.
The colorful towns of Salento and Filandia (where I found one of my favorite restaurants in Colombia) are nearby and were also the highlights of the trip. Salento is a colonial gem that keeps the coffee traditions alive, where professional baristas will show you how to prepare the perfect cappuccino. Filandia, 'the daughter of the Andes'; is a slow-paced, coffee producing, artisan village oozing with natural charms, surrounded by rivers, waterfalls, and bamboo forests. Stroll along streets of picturesque colonial houses with colorful wooden balconies overlooking the valley, and inhale the delicious waft of coffee that lingers in the air.
The Coffee Region has a lot of other charming little towns like Salamina, Marsella, Pijao, Jardin, and Aguadas that can take you out of the more touristy areas and are excellent alternatives to discover the best of the coffee region.
Another activity not to miss, is staying at a commercial coffee farm where you can experience, first hand, the entire process of coffee production from the crop to the cup. Learn about the history of the plantation, the harvesting and the roasting, gain insights into coffee itself, and then compare the range of flavors and aromas during a smelling and tasting session.
The best time to visit Colombia as a whole is between December and March, or July and August, as it rains the least during these months, especially in the Andean regions.
I invite you to read about the rest of my journey to Bogota and the Amazonian area of Colombia. Feel free to give me a call at 800-345-4453 with any questions you may have about Colombia or check out all of our trips to Colombia for more information.