Paisa Tours: Guide to Medellin and Colombia


Paisa Country (Central Colombia):
Medellin City
Medellin Hotels
El Penol
Antioquia's Oriente
Santa Fe Antioquia
Rio Claro
Coffee Country
Los Nevados Park

Colombia's Coffee Country - Eje Cafetero

Travel 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.

The 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.

Exploring 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.

The 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!

Manizales & Around

The 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.

Salamina 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.

The 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 destinations?) 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 various short walks that can be undertaken, in addition to a ski lift / cable car to a viewpoint.  

There's 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).

For 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.

Pereira & Around

Pereira 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.

Nearby 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 tourism.

Santa 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.

The 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.

Another 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 often raining.

An 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 National Park is found.  Quite a remote region on the border between Risaralda and Choco provinces, the spectacular  landscape here is rugged and 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 beauty 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 everyone 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 visit.   

Armenia & Salento & Around

Armenia 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, tasteless and pointless to visit in my opinion.

Filandia 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).

Quimbaya 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.

The 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.

Where to Stay? Rural Hotels & Haciendas of the Eje Cafetero

I'd 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:

Hotels in Salento

Ciudad 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 also.

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 comfort. Cost is about 30,000 pesos per person.

Balcones 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 person.

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

Hacienda 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 La Uva.

Mountain 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 Manizales, try the Hotel Carretero or Varuna Hotel.  In a rural community just outside of Manizales you find the pretty Secret Garden Hostal

Hacienda San Jose is a lovely old Hacienda in the countryside near Pereira. Alternatively, Abadia 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 .

In Armenia, try the Armenia Hotel, which is probably the best in town. Budget travellers can stay at Casa Quimbaya.

Hotel 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:

Hacienda Malabar (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).

Castilla - a beautiful old hacienda near Pereira.

Sazagua - found in a residential suburb of Pereira, while it looks very nice, I'm not quite sure why the location is desirable.

La Posada del Compadre - probably the best place to stay in the pretty paisa town of Finlandia.

Termales de Santa Rosa is a nearby hotel with hot springs, or consider EcoTermales San Vicente which has camping, restaurant, hotel, cabanas and more hot springs.

Haciendas del Cafe - lists a variety of different haciendas and "fincas" (or villas) that can be rented...

Santa Barbara Eco-Hotel - a hacienda style hotel near Armenia costing 200k pesos for a double.

Hacienda Combia - a good looking Hacienda, again near Armenia, at a cost of about 150k pesos for a double.

Mirador Las Palmas - great setting and swimming pool, and smart rooms in this more modern hotel. Rooms cost from 190k pesos for a double.

Finca 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 nearby.

El Retiro, Hacienda Dinamarca, El Anhelo, and Finca Turista la Esmeralda are all cheaper options costing from 40k pesos for a double - great value..

Colombia's Coffee Country:
Colombia's Coffee Country
The Coffee Country is full of beautiful Paisa style houses, fincas and haciendas, many of which you can stay in.

Manizales, Colombia:
Manizales, Colombia
Manizales, and the stunning Parque Los Nevados in the background.

Santa Rosa de Cabal, Colombia
Santa Rosa de Cabal - waterfalls and hot springs in Colombia's Coffee Country.

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