The Small Towns of Colombia’s Coffee Region

We travelled north from Cali to Medellín, through Colombia’s coffee region in the Central Andes. Although we passed through several larger cities, what we really enjoyed was our time spent in a number of the small towns. They were colourful and very lively.

The Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia (Paisaje Cultural Cafetero Colombiano), a UNESCO World Heritage site , covers much of the departments of Quindío, Risaralda and Caldas; and creeps into Valle del Cauca.

The small towns of Colombia’s coffee region are vibrant, and one of the reasons the Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Apía is an fine example.

The small towns of Colombia’s coffee region are vibrant, and one of the reasons the Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Apía is an fine example.

Quindío – capital Armenia

Salento

In the department of Quindío, Salento was our first small town in the coffee region, and we liked it so much that we stayed 10 days. We found a lovely spot to park at La Serrana Eco Farm and Hotel , where we met fellow overlanders in mobile homes, on motor bikes and bicycles, and also backpackers. It made for an interesting mix of stories around individual experiences. Since La Serrana is outside of town, the views of the surrounding countryside were quite impressive; and the garden is full of beautiful flowers.

Salento: the view from La Serrana was lovely - from farm fields in the foreground to a glacier topped mountain in the distance.

Salento: the view from La Serrana was lovely – from farm fields in the foreground to a glacier topped mountain in the distance.

Salento: we met fellow overlanders at La Serrana. This old VW is really a classic camper.

Salento: we met fellow overlanders at La Serrana. This old VW is really a classic camper.

 

It’s quite lovely to wander around the town of Salento. The colourful paintjobs on the colonial buildings are very happy-making. The taxi service for the town and surrounding areas uses Jeeps; lined up in the town plaza, they make quite a sight. On weekends there are miniature replicas for kids. They hop into the driver’s seat and are pushed around the plaza.

Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.

Salento is quite a tourist town – for international and Colombian visitors. The most important nearby site is the Corcora Valley, which is famous for the very tall Wax Palms. They are Colombia’s native tree. It is also possible to take excursions into the Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados, where you can find snow-capped volcanoes, glaciers, lakes and forests. There are many birds, animals and plants (among them the wax palms and espeletia – also called frailejón – the strange endemic plant related to sunflowers).

Salento: most visitors make an excursion to the Cocora Valley to see the Wax Palms.

Salento: most visitors make an excursion to the Cocora Valley to see the Wax Palms.

Filandia

Also in Quindío, Filandia is a mere 21Km from Salento. Although not quite as touristed as its sister, it is every bit as beautiful. The colourful architecture is present, making it also a joy to wander around. We spent 3 quiet days parked on the outskirts of the town, exploring it a little more each day. One of the best things to do in these small coffee region towns is to sit at a café around the plaza and drink a tinto – local coffee served in small cups, to which the locals add a load of sugar – and watch the world go by.

Filandia: this beautiful town plaza is accented by its lovely church.

Filandia: this beautiful town plaza is accented by its lovely church.

Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.


Risaralda – capital Pereira

Apía

After 2 weeks at around 2000m, we entered Risaralda Department and spent a night in La Virginia. This is not a part of the coffee region because at just under 1000m it is too low. The locals, who welcomed us in a very friendly manner, were quick to tell us that it is a sugar-cane town. The warm temperature was welcome, as we had often been too cold lately.

The next day we planned to visit the coffee town of Balboa, just 20Km away, most of it up a very windy mountain road. When we arrived, we found the streets just too narrow for Berta, with nowhere to park. So all we really saw of it were the distant views on the way up, and again on the way down. The scenery across the mountainsides, full of coffee trees interspersed with bananas and sugar cane, is just stunning. This was certainly compensation for what could have been a wasted trip.

Balboa: unfortunately this is the only photo we have of this small town perched on the side of a mountain.

Balboa: unfortunately this is the only photo we have of this small town perched on the side of a mountain.

Coffee Plantations: on the way to and from Balboa, we had views like this - coffee, bananas and trees.

Coffee Plantations: on the way to and from Balboa, we had views like this – coffee, bananas and trees.

 

So we drove on to Apía. All of these small towns of Colombia’s coffee region are in mountainous areas, so we never knew what to expect; would there be a level place, somewhere that we could park and spend the night?

When we arrived in Apía, we turned off the main road onto a street, which went up and up and up and then into a dead-end. Juergen had to reverse Berta into a side-street, which also went steeply uphill, to turn around. The streets are quite narrow – a local, painting the front of his house on the corner, kindly moved his ladder so that Berta could complete the turn. We then turned onto a street, which should lead us to the plaza – often the best bet to find a level spot. This road was even narrower, but it had some very beautiful buildings along it.

Apía: This colourful streetscape is a corner of the main plaza of this small town. Notice the platform in front of the shop? It shows how much slope there is on plaza.

Apía: This colourful streetscape is a corner of the main plaza of this small town. Notice the platform in front of the shop? It shows how much slope there is on plaza.

Finally we got onto the plaza to find that it was definitely on a lean. We stopped to work out what to do next. A friendly truck driver stopped next to us and asked what we needed. I told him, a level place to sleep. He walked with me back to the cross street and pointed out a place at the bottom of the hill, where the street levelled out. So we drove down there, parked and stayed for a couple of nights, just a block from the plaza.

While not as consistently colourful as Filandia and Salento, the intricacy of Apía’s carved wooden balconies, windows and doors was very impressive.

Santuario

We left Apía and retraced our steps a little in order to visit Santuario. After our experience with Balboa, we had hesitated to leave the main road and wind our way up a mountainside, only to find there was nowhere to park, let alone to sleep.

We arrived to find it possible for trucks to park right on the plaza. It wasn’t a place to sleep because this plaza also had quite a lean, but it gave us the opportunity to walk around the town. It has a different look again from the others – its balconies are very ornate and are painted to enhance the carving. We only stayed an hour or so, but were glad we had made the detour.

Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.

We drove back to Apía and then on via the back roads to reach Chinchiná in Caldas department.


Caldas – capital Manizales

Chinchiná

This town is considerably larger than the others we had already visited. It is also not as appealing. But it is sometimes known as Colombia’s coffee heart with good reason. It is located in a valley and is totally surrounded by coffee fincas and haciendas. The town also has a coffee research centre and a coffee factory, which we could smell constantly from where we had parked for the weekend, in a quiet dead-end street.

Our main reason for visiting Chinchiná was to do a coffee tour at La Hacienda Guayabal , which was very informative and gave us an opportunity to wander through the plantation, learning as we went.

Continuing north from Chinchiná, we stopped in Manizales to find a laundry and to visit Recinto de Pensamiento – a very interesting park, which is supported by the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia

Colombia’s Coffee Region: a typical narrow road through lush vegetation found throughout this region. You will notice there is a lot of bamboo.

Colombia’s Coffee Region: a typical narrow road through lush vegetation found throughout this region. You will notice there is a lot of bamboo.

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Antioquia – capital Medellin

Jardín

While not actually considered part of Colombia’s Coffee Region, there is coffee grown in this area, and the coffee culture in the centre of Jardín is probably the busiest we’ve seen in the small towns we visited. There are tables and chairs in every available place, and if you sit down you will have a tinto within minutes.

Since the architecture is also as attractive as we experienced in all the others, we decided to give it an honourable mention. It’s reasonably close to Medellín and so has a lot of weekend visitors.

Jardín: plenty of places to sit and drink a tinto, while watching the world go by, in the plaza of this small town.

Jardín: plenty of places to sit and drink a tinto, while watching the world go by, in the plaza of this small town.


Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.

After visiting the Small Towns of Colombia’s Coffee Region we left impressed by the architecture in particular. But we also enjoyed the hospitality and friendliness of the people. And I should mention again that the scenery we drove through, so lush and green on the mountainsides, is also a real attraction in this area.

We mentioned the Jeeps above – for both, small and big people. Here are the photos:

Salento: On Sundays the kids get to 'drive' around the main plaza in these replica jeeps. Very cute!

Salento: On Sundays the kids get to ‘drive’ around the main plaza in these replica jeeps. Very cute!

Filandia: the common 'taxi service' in all these small towns, use jeeps. They make an attractive sight lined up along the plaza waiting for passengers.

Filandia: the common ‘taxi service’ in all these small towns, use jeeps. They make an attractive sight lined up along the plaza waiting for passengers.

 
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A visit to the small towns in Colombia’s coffee region can be quite a pleasant and joyful experience. Some towns are relatively touristic, whilst others are quietly hidden away in the mountains. Things they have in common: they are full of vibrant colours and many people sit outside small coffee shops enjoying a 'tinto' (Colombia's coffee). See our post for more about the small towns in the UNESCO WHC-listed 'Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia'.

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Yasha

dare2go's human navigator (we're not lost because there's nowhere particular we have to be) alongside our Nexus 7 tablet, writer and editor of our blog, first cook and loving wife. Teaching English as a second language when possible.

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6 Responses

  1. Megan Jerrard says:

    Touring the coffee region sounds like a great opportunity to visit authentic small towns and really immerse yourself in Colombian culture. I love the colourful architecture of Filandia – and the idea that it sees less tourism than its sister towns. Noted that it’s steep driving (and parking!) if we were to overland here too. So funny that Jardín has the busiest coffee culture, yet it’s not technically classed as within Colombia’s coffee region. Thankyou for the heads up!

    • Yasha says:

      Actually, Colombia’s Coffee Region is classified in a couple of ways, but the most important in this area is the UNESCO World Heritage listing. Coffee is also grown outside this designated area, even on the coast in the north. There is a reason you can find Colombian coffee in most countries of the world.

  2. Aah I spend to much time in Bogota, Medellin and Cartegena… Wished I visited those smaller towns and saw this too! Love your pictures!!

  3. Priya Vin says:

    Love how colorful the towns are and the mountains so green and lush! Was the coffee the freshest you have every had??

    • Yasha says:

      Coffee in Colombia is always good – I even enjoy Colombian coffee when I can get it elsewhere in the world. The scenery in the small towns and the mountains are spectacular in Colombia’s Coffee Region.

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