South from Medellin for four to five hours and one will discover the
beautiful region known as the Coffee Country, or "Eje Cafetero" (or
Zona Cafetera). The climate is very pleasant, and the landscape
consists of lush green valleys and spectacular snow clad peaks. This is
still very much Paisa territory, with some of the prettiest Paisa towns
and haciendas in Colombia.
three main cities of Pereira, Manizales and Armenia
(each has an airport) all make good bases to explore the region, or you
can opt for the rural option and rent a small villa / "finca" at very
good value (see the final section for suggestions and links). In my
personal opinion, the best two bases to explore this part of Colombia
are Salento and Manizales. In Manizales, it's closest to (and easiest)
to arrange a tour to the spectacular Los Nevados Park. Salento is a
small beautifully located town near Pereira, and provides easy access
to the Valle de Cocora, which is another real highlight of this region.
the lush coffee plantations, outdoor activities and hiking in the Andes
are the main activities in Colombia's Coffee Country. There's plenty of
outdoor activities available, including mountain biking, rafting and
zip wiring in this scenic region of Colombia.
enjoyability of visits to this part of Colombia can depend heavily on
the weather. The scenery is spectacular on a clear day,
whilst on cloudy days everything is shrouded in mist, and one might
wonder quite what the point of visiting is. It seems that the weather
in this region of Colombia is rather unpredictable all year round, so
hope for fine weather!
Northernmost city in Colombia's Coffee Country, Manizales
is the best staging post for trekking trips to Los Nevados National Park
- this is the top travel highlight of the area. There's numerous tour
operators in town that can arrange such tours for you.
is one of the oldest towns in the coffee country and maintains a
typical pueblo paisa feel. The unusual cathedral will interest visitors
to Salamina. The town makes an interesting day trip from Manizales, and
combines well with a tour of the nearby Paisa town of Neira.
Also closeby to Manizales is a nature park called Recinto
del Pensamiento, where short walks are possible and whose
highlight is the butterfly enclosure.
Nature Reserve of Reserva Ecologico Rio Blanco
offers excellent birdwatching with over 30 species of hummingbird and a
mind boggling 350 species of butterfly (ed - many argue that
this Reserve is the best spot in Colombia for birdwatching, by
deduction it must therefore be one of the worlds greatest birdwatching
There's a rangers hut with birdwatcher basic
accommodation here, as well as various trails. The reserve is
just a few km outside of Manizales and makes an easy half day tour.
Recinto del Pensamiento
is a nature park found in the cloudforest just 11km from Manizales.
Guides are manadatory and included in the reasonable entry fee (15,000
Colombian pesos). There is a butterfly farm as well as
short walks that can be undertaken, in addition to a ski lift / cable
to a viewpoint.
also various traditional coffee farms that can be visited nearby, such
as Hacienda Guayabal (accommodation
and day trips are possible) and Hacienda
Venecia (which has won many awards for it's coffee).
a raw Colombia travel experience, pay a visit to the gold mining town
of Marmato, which is about 80km North of
Manizales, in the direction of Medellin. Gold has been mined here in
much the same way for about 400 years, and claustraphobic mines can be
visited if you ask around. This is how gold has been mined for hundreds
of years, and the town is is a place full of legends, myths and witch
based supersitions. There's no accommodation in this town, but slow
travellers might want to spend a night or two in nearby Supia, from
where there are some scenic walks.
is a good city in which to stay to explore the Coffee Country as there
are numerous nearby tourist attractions to discover. As the largest
city in the Eje Cafetero, Pereira has the best nightlife. The actual
city itself has little of interest though.
Marsella is a typical
Paisa town with a quirky cemetery and beautiful botanical gardens.
If visiting, consider stopping off at Finca Villa Martha en
route - a old coffee farm that was one of the first to open up to
Rosa de Cabal is a small town on the Pereira to
Manizales road - nearby are thermal pools and and a spectacular 180
metre waterfall (see final section for accommodation suggestions).
There's various pleasant walks and scenic waterfalls nearby.
beautiful Park Ucumari is a forested
park not far from Pereira. Here you might spot the Andean spectacled
bear. Every morning a chiva departs from Pereira to the village of El
Cedral, from where it's a 2 to 3 hour walk to the Ucumari Park visitor
centre at Refugio La Pastora, where it's possible to camp (or stay
in simple rooms) and get a meal. From Ucumari, it's possible to hike
all the way into Los Nevados National Park - to reach the Laguna de
Otun in Los Nevados will take one or two days.
great day tour from Pereira is a visit to the Santuario
Otun Quimbaya, a nature reserve just outside of the
town, which has various ecological paths in which to go hiking. There's
camping, meals and cabana accommodation here too, though alcohol is
apparently not allowed. The best months to visit are
December, January, August and September - the rest of the year it is
hour (by vehicle) North West of Pereira lies Santuario, a pretty
colonial town of great architectural heritage in Risalda department.
From Santuario one can continue onwards to Planes de San Rafael,
where the visitor centre for the Tatama
is found. Quite a remote region on the border between
and Choco provinces, the spectacular landscape here is rugged
consists of Andine forest and paramo. There is simple
accommodation and food, plus guide services available at the visitor
centre. Tatama is another example of spectacular natural
being so close and easily accessible - yet no-one in Colombia has heard
of the place and no-one promotes it (instead you'll here
talking about the tacky theme parks in this region of Colombia - see
following section). Further along the road leading from Pereira to
Santuario, the Emberia Indian town of Pueblo Rico is also well worth a
& Salento & Around
offers little of interest to visitors. However, there are various
tourist attractions nearby. The Parque National de Cafe
is a huge theme park in honour of the coffee bean. It's a little
bizarre, and rather tacky, but families might find it interesting.
Another much visited nearby Park is that of Panaca,
which is essentially a Farm Park, and is exceptionally boring,
pointless to visit in my opinion.
is a small, pretty, traditional Paisa town just 30 km north of Armenia.
There's plenty of small coffee farms surrounding the town -
ask at the local tourism office if you want to arrange a visit. They
can also arrange treks through nearby forest to the Reserva Natural
Bremen or the Canon del Rio Barbas. Filandia is an off the
beaten track type place, but an up and coming one too.
There's a handful of good value, pretty accommodation options
(see end section for details).
is another small town, and specializes in offering full day balsa
rafting tours. Various tour operators in the town can take you on
traditional wooden rafts through the nearby scenic rivers.
best place to use as a base in this part of Colombia's Coffee
Country is the laid back town of Salento,
which is a little less than an hour from Armenia - it's like stepping
back in time into a tiny Paisa village. Various local crafts can be
bought in the village, and the Alto de la Cruz hill nearby provides
some great views over this stunning region. Valle de
Cocora is a beautiful nearby National Park with some
lovely hikes amongst high altitude giant palm trees - tours can easily
be arranged locally, and it's easy to reach Valle de Cocora from nearby
Salento. Long hikes way into the Park and all the way into Los Nevados
can be made from here, but the most popular walk is the 5 hour round
trip to Reserva Natural Acaime - no guide is
needed as it's all signposted. Highly recommended.
to Stay? Rural Hotels & Haciendas of the Eje Cafetero
advise travellers to stay in either (or ideally both) Manizales (to
focus on Los Nevados) or in Salento (to focus on Valle de Cocora and
other attractions of the region). Although the cities of Manizales,
Armenia and Pereira are convenient and worthwile travel destinations,
the coffee country is all about experiencing traditional outdoor
Colombian life, so it's better to stay somewhere rural if you can plan
for it. There's some lovely rural haciendas and hotels to choose from:
de Segorbe - a pretty bed
and breakfast with very comfortable rooms. Probably the best place to
stay in Salento.
Hostal Tralala - new Dutch owned
hostal in an old converted house is probably the most comfortable
option for backpackers.
Plantation House is where most
travellers stay in Salento. It's good value but rather rustic, and is
the best place to meet fellow minded backpackers. Cost is about 25,000
Colombian pesos per night for private rooms, though dorms are available
Hotel Flor de Belen (tel: 0057 3015969278)
is a new hotel, with good clean rooms most of which are found around a
courtyard. It's my pick of the hotels in Salento in terms of
Cost is about 30,000 pesos per person.
del Ayer (website in Spanish) is another good clean option,
close to the main plaza, and has decent rooms at about 30,000 pesos per
Salento is the type of small town where it
is easy to just turn up and see which of the accommodation options
takes your fancy.
Hotels elsewhere in
Colombia's Coffee Country
Bambusa is a pretty traditional style hacienda near La
Tebaida in Quindio department.
Finca Los Vinedos is an off the
beaten track holiday home in La Union (Valle del Cauca), near Parque de
House is a high standard travellers hostal in Manizales.
A newly (2011) opened hostal-like hotel is Aqui
me Quedo. You might also consider staying at the Pit
Stop Hostel. For a more upmarket options in
try the Hotel
Carretero or Varuna
Hotel. In a rural community just outside of
Manizales you find the pretty Secret
San Jose is a lovely old Hacienda in the countryside near Pereira.
Plaza Hotel is a smart and stylish new hotel in Pereira.
For a more budget alternative in Pereira, try Hotel Mi Casita, which is
a highly rated hostal, or consider Sweet
Home Hostel, even thoug it's location is a bit out of the way
try the Armenia
Hotel, which is probably the best in town. Budget travellers
can stay at Casa
Campestre Portal del Sol is a resort style hotel near Armenia
with packages costing from 300k pesos for a double for 2 nights.
Website also in English.
All the other
accommodation suggestions below are rural out of town options that
don't have websites in English:
(just outside of Pereira - no website) is remarkably good value and
highly recommended by me personally. Malabar is a fantastic,
traditional, well kept and peaceful Hacienda - similar ones in
neighbouring Ecuador cost 5 times the price (ed - I'm told prices have
soared since I stayed in 2008).
- a beautiful old hacienda near Pereira.
- found in a residential suburb of Pereira, while it looks very nice,
I'm not quite sure why the location is desirable.
Posada del Compadre - probably the best place to stay in the
pretty paisa town of Finlandia.
de Santa Rosa is a nearby hotel with hot springs, or consider
San Vicente which has camping, restaurant, hotel, cabanas and
more hot springs.
del Cafe - lists a variety of different haciendas and
"fincas" (or villas) that can be rented...
Barbara Eco-Hotel - a hacienda style hotel near Armenia
costing 200k pesos for a double.
Combia - a good looking Hacienda, again near Armenia, at a
cost of about 150k pesos for a double.
Las Palmas - great setting and swimming pool, and smart rooms
in this more modern hotel. Rooms cost from 190k pesos for a double.
Hotel La Sofia - stylish looking traditional style rural
hotel from 120k pesos for a double.
Termales la Quinta
- while most haciendas and rural hotels are near Armenia, this one is
in the more mountainous territory near Manizales. Hot water springs are
Anhelo, and Finca
Turista la Esmeralda are all cheaper options costing from 40k
pesos for a double - great value..