One of the hardest parts of planning a trip to a new country is deciding which destinations to include in your itinerary. This is especially true for a country as big and diverse as Colombia.
If you have a limited amount of time, you will have to start prioritizing on which places to visit in Colombia and which ones you leave for another time. Unless you spend 2 or 3 months, you just won’t have enough the time to visit the entire country.
One of the main reasons of this limitation is the size of the country. Colombia has a total area of 1142 Km2, almost as much as France and Spain together. A very big area to cover in just one trip. Additionally, distances seem longer than in other countries as the topography and the state of the roads are far from ideal.
These are some of the reasons why deciding on which destinations you should include in your trip is incredibly hard. Luckily for you, we are here to assist you in this process.
This post will tell you why you should include in your Colombia Vacation Package a destination that never fails to surprise tourists: The Eje Cafetero (also called Coffee Zone).
Everyone knows that Colombia produces one of the best coffees in the world, but is it all produce in a specific area of the country called the Eje Cafetero?
The short answer is NO. Coffee has been Colombia’s #1 export product for decades and its production takes place in several different areas of the country.
However, there is one specific area where coffee production really took off many years ago and where coffee has had a bigger impact on the people and its culture: The Eje Cafetero.
This is an area located in the centre-north of Colombia, in between the west and the centre Andean Mountain Ranges. It is composed by 3 different departments: Risaralda, Quindío and Caldas.
Even though there are other places in Colombia that produce more quantity of coffee, the Eje Cafetero produces the best quality. This is partly due to its geographical location.
It is said that the ideal conditions for making the best coffee are:
– Altitude between 1200 and 1800 m.a.s.l.
– Temperatures between: 17 and 23 centigrade
– Precipitations or around 2000 millimeters distributed throughout the year.
The Coffee Zone is not only the closest area in Colombia to get these characteristics, but also has the advantage of being located in a very hilly and mountainous region. This gives the necessary amount of shade to the crops every day.
The characteristics of this area are not just good for growing coffee. They are ideal for tourism. The weather is always pleasant, the mountainous topography offers gorgeous views, the infrastructure is well developed, the architecture of its towns is remarkable and its people are one of the friendliest of Colombia.
It is an area that is well connected with the rest of the country and that has something special for every type of traveller.
Plenty of things. Let’s start with some of the main nature attractions that will certainly convince you to include this destination in your Colombia Vacation Package:
Colombia is a country full of beautiful landscapes, but perhaps the most impressive of all is the Cocora Valley. It is a green and misty valley surrounded by sharp peaks. But what makes this valley unique is the presence of the tallest palm trees in the world: The Wax Palms.
These palms can grow up to 60 meters tall and are considered the Colombian National tree. They are also the nesting area of one of the cutest birds on earth: the yellow-eared parrot.
Walking through a valley full of this huge palm trees while enjoying the amazing views of the surroundings is one of the best activities to do in Colombia. Here, you can choose between a long or a short walk.
The short walk takes about 2 hours and you go straight to the valley without visiting the surroundings. It´s the ideal walk for those short on time or without the physical energy to do the long one.
The long walk is a loop hike of around 5 hours through gorgeous forests and creeks, stopping at a hummingbird feeding place, and finishing with a walk right through the wax palm trees.
Trekking lovers will find paradise in this park. Following a spine of snow-covered volcanic peaks, this park provides access to the most amazing stretches of the Colombian Andes.
It is a 583 km2 area located high up in the mountains from where 37 rivers are born. Its highest peak is El Ruiz at an altitude of 5325 m.a.s.l.
The southern part of the park is open for tourist looking for amazing treks. There are different paths for different type of trekkers: from single-day treks to 8-days treks.
Some of the highlights of this park are the Laguna del Otun (a gorgeous lake located amid the humid paramo ecosystem at 4000 m.a.s.l) and the climbing of the Santa Isabel snow peak (located at 4965 m.a.s.l requiring at least 2 full days to make it).
Colombia is the #1 country in the world for birdwatching. There are plenty of amazing birding places throughout Colombia, but one of the best places is the Eje Cafetero.
With no real effort required, you could spot dozens of different types of birds just by walking around. Do a bit of effort and you could be spotting 60 different types of birds in just one day.
My favourite places in the Eje Cafetero to do birdwatching are Reserva Rio Blanco and the Tinamú Birdwatching Reserve. The first one is located in the cloud forest above of Manizales and it is the best place to spot some endemic species of antpittas. The former one is located at a lower altitude surrounded by gorgeous mountains and offering the possibility of spotting a huge variety of birds in just one place (I met a guy who spotted 91 species in just one day at this reserve).
The Coffee Zone is not just about nature, though. It is also a fantastic destination for culture lovers. The following are some of the most important culture attractions that will certainly convince you to include this destination in your Colombia Vacation Package:
It is a lot more than just producing and making a beverage. Coffee is imbedded in the culture and lifestyle of locals. Once named the “Colombian New Gold”, coffee has been a lifesaver for most of the people who lived in this area during the last 80 years.
For most of the farmers in the area, coffee was the only profitable crop they could work with to raise their families and avoid the temptations of illegal crops. The industrialization of the production was handled in a very good manner by local authorities who decided to emphasize in manual labour rather than in machines, in order to guarantee the high-quality standards.
This strategy managed to eliminate the risk of lay-offs and unemployment in the area and also gave an important role to those farmers working their lands and crops in the old way.
Taking a Coffee Tour in this region is the best way to learn everything there is to learn about this famous drink. You will not only learn about the types of coffees and the production and harvesting styles, but also about the importance these crops have had in shaping the lifestyles of the people of this area.
Colombia has cute villages everywhere. But the typical towns of the Coffee Zone are very special. They are certainly the most colourful towns you will find.
Towns such as Salento, Filandia and Salamina are great examples of this colourful architecture where every house seems to be competing to be the most colourful and well decorated of the town.
Its main plazas are a fantastic combination of a park, a catholic church and plenty of colourful houses with gorgeous wooden balconies holding many flowers from the region.
If you include the Coffee Zone in your Colombia Vacation Package, make sure you stop at one of this villages to take pictures and walk around its cosy streets. It is an unforgettable experience.
Besides nature and culture, there is another important reason to visit the Coffee Zone: relaxing and pampering yourself.
Nowadays, many of the old coffee haciendas have turned into tourism and have converted their houses in fancy and comfortable hotels. Many of them offer amazing views and facilities such as swimming pools, jacuzzies and spas.
On top of that, there are a couple of very good thermal hot springs in the area. My favourite ones are: the Termales de Santa Rosa (located right next to a gorgeous waterfall) and the Termales San Vicente. Perfect places to spend half-a-day relaxing and enjoying the green surroundings.
I hope I have managed to convince you to include the Eje Cafetero in your Colombia Vacation Package. In Lulo Colombia Travel we can assist you in designing your ideal itinerary throughout Colombia, including a stop in this amazing area.