To the average consumer, coffee can be found in aisle 3 at the local supermarket. Some know it grows on some sort of tree, and most people need it to help start their day.
But if you ever feel the urge to know the origin of your morning cup of Joe, a visit to The Coffee Triangle of Colombia is much more fun and informative than reading a Wikipedia page. You would see not only where much of the world’s best coffee comes from, but a beautiful tropical region with proud people and little crime.
After travel safety concerns in the past have been resolved, Columbia has made their slogan “The only risk is wanting to stay.” As I was about to find out, they were right.
Colombia’s Coffee Triangle
Colombia’s Coffee Triangle consists of three departments; Pereira, Manizales, and Armenia. Up until now, a connecting flight from Medellin or Bogota was needed to reach these places, but the city of Armenia recently started taking international flights from Spirit Airlines direct from Miami.
Leaving Miami on the first inaugural flight to Armenia on Spirit Airlines was an honor. This flight was such a momentous occasion for the area, that a short celebration filled with political dignitaries, a small orchestra, and even a routine from the national champion cheerleading team greeted us.
Once we arrived, there was no confusion that we were in coffee country. Juan Valdez (Second Generation), the character representing the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia, and his trusty mule surrounded by the media was the first image I saw.
Being a large, six-foot-tall, white American myself, barely speaking a word of Spanish, I found myself a main focus of the media at first. Not understanding what I was being asked, I smiled, nodded and tried to mingle into the crowd.
After a long wait and five coffee shots later, we headed to a wonderful local restaurant for lunch. Full and relaxed, we headed to the hotel in Quindo, about 20 minutes outside of the city, to get settled in.
Seclusion at Mirador Las Palmas
The bumpy ride to the hotel was worth it! – Mirador Las Palmas is located down a dirt road nestled amongst coffee plantations and green pastures. They offer panoramic views of the beautiful Colombian landscape from many locations within the hotel.
The accommodations were simple, yet serene and relaxing. They had a breathtaking infinity pool overlooking rolling hills with an inconspicuous spa tucked underneath. The main bar and dining area were filled with windows, making it impossible to miss the beauty of the countryside. One night wa not enough to take it all in.
The rejuvenating experience at the hotel pushed us ahead to our next stop at Salento to visit the Cocora Valley – a national state park recognized for the Colombian national symbol, the Wax Palm tree, which can grow up to 70 meters (230 feet).
The valley offered a variety of activities from backpacking to horseback riding or even zip-lining. The hills seemed to have erupted from the center of the earth and reached to the heavens. You can travel there by old Jeep Willies for as cheap as a buck a person!
The ride is a little rough but as you stand in the back to take pictures, you won’t miss a minute of the breath taking views. We traveled by horseback through some of the tougher terrain in the valley and the rain forest weather changed from minute to minute.
After a 10-minute jeep ride we enjoyed some of the freshest trout at the Bosque De Cocora (The Cocora Valley Restaurant).
They offer a traditional dish served on a cooked plantain with a whole trout so perfectly cooked and seasoned that your taste buds will never forget.
Make sure to leave some time to explore the small village of Salento which has beautiful traditional Colombian buildings with stunning landscape backdrops, and small stores selling traditional local products.
And do not let the Colombian national symphony and opera pass you by. Mozart’s Las Bodas De Figaro was beautifully orchestrated.
Parque Nacional del Cafe
The Colombian National Coffee Park is located in the coffee triangle in Montenegro, Colombia. This park although similar to our theme parks is more concentrated on Colombian traditions and coffee. The main show here that sells out almost every hour takes you through the history of the coffee triangle and how coffee came to be their top export, through song and dance.
It is an interesting thing to see how coffee was harvested before the industrial revolution, with traditional mules and simple tools for harvesting. The tradition of coffee harvesting seems to be ingrained in Colombia’s people and is an asset they’re proud to talk about. After the crowd-pleasing show, we enjoyed the scenery of the park and took a gondola tour that traveled from end to end, traveling over the entire park.
The next stop on the triangle was Manizales, the capital of the department of Caldas with a population of about 400,000. This city had a bustling city life and unique boutique hotels scattered along the outskirts. Some of these hotels like Termales El Otono offer unique cabin-like lodging with thermal hot spring fed pools and tubs. The small cabin-like rooms help you disconnect from the busy city traffic.
To get a bird’s eye view of the city you can take a city tour by using the brand new cable sky car system that was just built to alleviate traffic and to boost tourism.
There was new construction all over the city due to the large earthquake of 1978 that ruined a lot of the old structures, but with lots of universities throughout, the city is attracting more and more people every day. The Cathedral De Manizales is located in the central square and is a must see for all visitors.
With balmy temperatures around 21 degrees Celsius (70 degrees Farenheit), Pereira, capital of Risaralda, is the center of the coffee region and the final stop on the coffee triangle tour.
Unfortunately it was one of the quickest stops during our tour. Be sure to plan your stay with driving distances in mind due to the windy roads to get from destination to destination.
This city is the largest of all in the coffee region and is packed with Colombian cultures and traditions. Pereira is located between Armenia and Manizales, which gives you the opportunity to visit a wide variety of activities. Although my trip to Pereira was short, the little bit of nightlife I saw was exciting.
Hotel De Pereira is a modern hotel catering to the average business person and is right in the heart of the city where you can find little shops and restaurants nearby. Don’t miss Bolivar Desnudo, an unusual monument of a naked liberator made of bronze.
Although Colombia struggles with foreign perceptions of the past, the government has invested lots of time and resources turning this area into a captivating tourist attraction. The unique scenery and fresh coffee culture should make Colombia a must see on your list.
Freelance writer Harrison Fox works in the coffee roasting business in Greenfield Massachusetts.
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