Visiting Colombia’s Coffee Region
Author: "Those Foreign Roads"
If Colombia hasn’t made it into your travel plans yet, it definitely should. Following our recent visit of over two months in the stunning country, it’s quickly risen to one of our all-time favourites. From breathtaking beaches on two different coastlines to bustling cities and quaint little pueblos, high in the Andes - Colombia has everything.
Get Yourself to Colombia!
Over the last decade or so, Colombia has quickly been shedding its notorious image. Although the country is still far from perfect, it’s no longer living under the shadow of its dark past.
As much as we’d have liked to see everything this great nation has to offer, we simply ran out of time. However, it didn’t stop us from discovering some truly incredible sights. One of our absolute favourites was Colombia’s famous coffee region. High in the Andean highlands, this collection of small villages dotting the beautiful green landscape is a must-visit location.
Here are three of our favourite towns, some activities to take part in, and some of the best food to eat while visiting!
The Square in Jardin
Jardin is definitely the least visited town on the list, yet probably our favourite of the three. Also, the smallest of the three, what stood out the most to us was how simple and relaxed the vibe was.
Aside from the outstanding colours of the buildings and the lush hillsides around the town, it’s busiest moments are late in the afternoon as jeeps full of local produce are brought into the local stores from the surrounding farms. From that point on, old men in ponchos and cowboy hats sit around colourful tables un the square, sipping on coffee and beer.
Taking the "Rusty Garden Shed" Cable Car to the Top
#2 Ride the Sketchy Cable Cars
Probably the most unique experience in Jardin are the cable cars. Originally built to help people from the hillsides reach the town more conveniently, with the recent addition of a bridge south of the village, the cable cars are more for fun.
The newer, more modern car was out of service during our visit, but thankfully the “rusty garden shed” was still active. Gazing upon the contraption for the first time, it was immediately clear where it got its name. It’s just a simple metal and wood shack, hanging precariously on twin cables, with a third on a simple winch that pulls it across the valley.
As dodgy as it looked, even as it swayed in the wind, we felt perfectly safe. Stopping at the top for some snacks and a cold beer make it a complete journey.
#3 Catch your own Lunch
Another experience that seems to be unique to Jardin is the ability to catch your own lunch.
This region of Colombia is known for its freshwater trout, and farms dot the countryside. Although many of the trout farms include restaurants that will cook up some of the tasty fish, a few of them, such as Trucheria Montemar, actually allow you to grab a rod and catch your own!
Another village that’s quickly climbing up the tourism ladder is Filandia. Though it’s a relatively short distance from Jardin, due to the mountainous terrain, the journey takes most of a day.
While the landscape here is much less dramatic than other towns of the region, the atmosphere is just as laid back - and the coffee equally as delicious!
The Twin Waterfalls outside the town of Filandia
#5 Twin Waterfalls
It’s not the most exciting activity in town but there is a set of twin waterfalls far in the jungle a little outside of town.
The walk itself takes a little under two hours, depending on your pace. You’ll walk along shaded roads and through pristine farmland, passing all types of flora and colourful birds along the way.
The final leg of the hike requires a small fee to a local farmer whose land you must cross to access the falls. As a nice touch, he’s carved a nice, walkable path down the steep hill behind his house. The little effort and bit of cash are more than rewarding. The two waterfalls cascade side by side into a shallow pool that’s perfect for wading. It’s a well-deserved cool down after a hot walk in the sun.
If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to hitch a ride back into town like we did!
#6 Best Restaurant
Without question, the best restaurant in town, Helena Adentro, often receives praise with some of the best in the country. It’s unique blend of traditional Colombian ingredients, modern preparation methods, and tapas-style presentation makes this hip spot stand out high above the rest.
Just a sampling of what we enjoyed during our visit was pork braised in white wine and mustard with parsley, dill and fresh cheese; and pork ribs slow cooked in rum and soy, on a fried arepa with a spicy red cabbage relish. The prices are very reasonable, and the cocktail list is outstanding! Helena Adentro is a must for any visit to Filandia.
Easily the most popular village in the coffee belt of Colombia, Salento has still managed to retain its small-town charm. Although the main purpose of any stop in Salento is to hike the majestic Valle de Cocora, there are plenty of other sights and activities to fill several days in this great mountain village.
Also, if you’re not a fan of crowds, visiting during the week is a better option for not only Salento but the other towns as well. They’re quite popular with locals from Bogota and Medellin on the weekends.
#8 Hike the Cocora Valley
Definitely the biggest tourism draw to not only Salento but the region in general, is to hike the Cocora Valley. With epic views over a sprawling valley, filled with giant palm trees that mingle with evergreens. Nowhere else in the world will you see such a unique sight.
The hike itself can be done in several ways, though we’d recommend the full loop that ends at the famous wax palms. It’s possible to do the hike in reverse, which will have you at the stunning trees early on, but the views will be followed by 4-6 hours of hiking. Much more rewarding is pushing through the 12-kilometre hike through the mountains to finish at the towering palms.
#9 Drink the Legendary Coffee
I could easily go on about the food to be found in Salento, but we’ve already done a post on that. The real star of not only Salento but this entire region of Colombia is some of the worlds best coffee.
If you’ve got the time, it’s worth visiting one of the many coffee plantations around town. You’ll get a first-hand look at the coffee process, from berry to cup. Not only is it a fascinating learning experience, but the appreciation you’ll gain for that next cup is unbeatable.
Not able to make a tour? Don’t worry. Pop into one of the many cafes around town and sit back to a cup or two of the local brew. There’s a good reason why this is one of the most famous coffee regions on earth.