Regardless of where I am in the world, sipping a hot cup of coffee is my daily highlight. So when in Colombia, I could think of no place better to visit than the coffee region known as Eje Cafetero. While in Bógota, I saw a sign outside of Starbucks in Chapinero that read:
Orgullosamente servimos café colombiano en más de 23.000 tiendas en 66 países
(Proudly we serve Colombia coffee in 23,000 stores in 66 countries)
Until I knew the proper name of the region, I had a difficult time researching information and getting a clear picture of how to make the best of my time in coffee country. (I did appreciate the information on the Plantation House website.) Fortunately, I read that Salento has quintessential mountainous views so my friend @omgitsrachell and I booked lodging there. Upon arrival, we learned that Salento is a popular tourist town with streets on a grid system; and that the climate, funnily enough, is too cold to grow coffee. Instead, the valley is famous for its 50 meter (160 feet) high wax palm trees (palmas de cera) and cloud forests.
Before I share what I enjoyed about Salento, here are a few tips to help you orient yourself in Eje Cafetero:
- Aeropuerto Internacional Matecaña (PEI) is a 45-minute drive from Salento
- Side trips include Bioparque Ukumarí (which bought out Zoológico Matecaña) and Termales Santa Rosa De Cabal
- I read about restaurants La Ruana and Restaurante Parilla Mama Flor, but haven’t tried either
- El Edén International Airport (AXM) has fewer flight options but is closer to Salento
- Side trips include Jardín Botánico del Quindío (Botanical Garden) and Parque del Café (National Coffee Park)
Once we arrived, we learned just how easy it was to take a day trips to all of the tourist sites. Visit the main square, line up for a “Jeep Willy” and it will leave when it’s filled with 6-8 passengers.
The most accessible way to view the valley is by climbing the tricolored stairs located at the end of the major shopping street in Salento.
Since winter rains made the hiking trails somewhat muddy, Rachel and I opted to experience the valley on horseback. This ride was THE BEST travel activity I have ever done! The horses were gentle, but not old, tired trail horses. These beauties huffed and puffed up steep trails to present us with stunning views from the mirador lookout.
We were spoiled with incredible views during our stay at Hotel El Mirador del Cocora.
They only have a few rooms, so don’t wait to book! Here, coffee flows around the clock; breakfast is included; wifi works; and the lobby fireplace keeps the place cozy.
On the night it rained, we had dinner delivered to the hotel from BETATOWN—a very well-marketed restaurant, lodging and sports complex started by Bogotanos. The menu seemed very American, but quality was spot on.
In the main square, I recommend Cafe Willys and their yuca croquetas (more like yuca fries) which are served with a delicious salsa called hogao. Across Salento, patacones (also served with hogao) are fried thin and flat like a sheet of paper.
The Jeep Willy guides recommended visiting one of three coffee farms: Finca El Ocaso (a commercial farm with Spanish and English tours), Tour de la Finca Cafetera Las Brisas, Don Elias (an organic, traditional farm with Spanish and English tours) and La Alsacia (with Spanish only tours).
The first two farms are next door neighbors. The Jeep Willy dropped us off at Finca El Ocaso which offers tours every hour, on the hour.
All six of us who shared the Jeep Willy decided on touring Don Elias. Here, 8,000 coffee plants over four hectares are shaded by banana and plantain trees that enrich the soil with potassium through natural composting. Plantain trees also act as water reservoirs for the coffee plants since the tree trunks can collect and store large amounts of water during the rainy season. When the beans mature, they are red if Arabica and yellow if Colombian.
Of the all places I visited in Colombia, Salento is my favorite because of its interesting vegetation and scenic beauty…
…but more so because of the lovely people I met!
Practice Spanish before you come so you can meet my new friends! Guillermo will guide you on the horse ride; Luz will befriend you at Hotel El Mirador del Cocora; and Andres will be your private driver to/from the airport (call him directly at +57 31 554 72 364). Hasta próxima, amigos!