The Zona Cafetera is the place most travelers to Colombia envision when they think of the country whether the know it or not just as Juan Valdez is the mustachioed image of its inhabitants. Cocaine may have grabbed all the headlines but coffee is a buzz that's not only legal but malleable. While it's the everyday drink of the common man it doubles easily as the posh beverage of the elite who can afford it. But those verdant green hills encircling you are not just good for growing beans, there are trails to be trekked and villages to be explored. One such town is wonderful Salento. Full of colorful paisa architecture, it is pleasant in its own right but serves well also as the jumping off point to nearby nature reserves, coffee plantations, and towering palms. Though still primarily the domain of Colombian tourists, backpackers are a steady part of the mix that will likely grow considerably in the near future.
Bogota - you basically cant get around without going to Bogota - see my tips on what to do...Gold museum is a must
Cartagena - a real old city that most people totally love. I found it hotter than heck which hurt its overall rating with me...it is a favorite for many so it is included here. If you go be sure to do the city tour, get lots of lemon-aid from the street vendors, try the ceviche from street vendors (only the ones with lines) and the coconut candy (dont worry it will find you). You will probably want to find a place with AC and a pool to stay in (mine was just OK so no recommendations from me)
Santa Marta - I liked Santa Marta but many didnt. There is a great hostel there (see my reviews) and some great food here (ceviche vendor in my other recommendation and the lonely planet). Many go here to do the lost city treck (sounded terrible to me given the heat and the fact most people came back with so many bug bites they looked diseased) others go through there to visit tayrona national park (hated it too bloody hot and too many bugs)
Medellin - I absolutely LOVED this city. It is sooo pretty, great weather, so interesting. so easy. It has this amazing subway system that makes it so easy and a great hostel (black sheep). there are great day trips too...see the black sheeps website for a list. I stayed a week.
Manizalles - totally loved. great hostel (see reviews) lots to do. Beautiful city. lots of day trips out of
Saliento in the coffee zone - cute little town that I enjoyed. All of the accommodations we saw were dumps (especially the plantation house) or hotels. While there play teho (gunpowder game), have trout at least once, there is a great little restaurant in the main square had several great meals there (on the street parallel to the church on the corner...two stories, second story is only a loft)
Be sure to stay at a coffee finca. I totally love the one I stayed at and would recommend it....hacienda guayabal which is this giant coffee farm and stunningly beautiful. English tours are available. Food there was out of this world. Recommend by the hostel in Manizalles (see my reivew). Many people I know just went for the day but staying overnight was wonderful and only added to the experience. I could have spent days there.
Would have liked to have done...and had good reviews:
Saint Augustin - note this area to and from here is not always safe. you may be better off flying. I heard the route from Bogota was OK. Just check with the police beforehand
Villa de leyva - 4 hours from bogota. beautiful city that many raved about. Great for adventure sports to..spelunking, rafting etc. I would love to spend a week here.
San gil - sounded great. Was told the white water rafting here was great but many like Villa de leyva better. If you go be sure to go to the town next to it...starts with a b
I did but could have skipped
= Pereria in zona cafeteria. not worth the time. town is not pretty. not much to see.
= Armenia in zona cafeteria - yeck...except for the gold museum (see my review)
= thermals of Santa Rosa - the people I was with made the day I spent here and it was very pretty...but it was a huge pain to get to. Lots of buses, transfers etc. Since there was 4 of us we hired a taxi most of the way. I wouldnt do it for a smaller group.
=Santa fe de antioquia - day trip out of Manesales. Pretty little colonial village. No complaints but I think my time would have been better spent elsewhere.
All of these were on the Mountain houses list of things to do in Manizales....they will provide the transportation info and costs.
From email home
today.we started off at the ecological park ¨los Yarumos. It had a small museum of local stuffed animals and bugs and then a long trail up the mountain. We hiked the mountain and then were back at the main platform by 10 AM when the good stuff opened. They had a great zip line and a bridge. the bridge was REALLY long. By bridge I mean one cable for you to walk on and another two cables for you to hag on to as you make your was across. We did the zip line twice but the cable bridge only once. It was quite something especially with a bit of a breeze. Fun Fun
Then we went to Recinto el pensamient which is a park owned by the coffee farmers. Once again it was a decent hike up a ton of stairs (remember were at some altitude here to). My favorite part was the orchid forest and the little butterfly garden. the view as usual was incredible. I´ve never seen a larger variety of plants anywhere in the world. We also ate there. They only had a set meal available but it was chicken in a cream sauce, a salad, rice, fruit juice, veggies, mashed potatoes, coffee and flan for desert...it was absolutely fantastic and cheap!
The Museo de Antioquia is one of the most popular museums in Medellin. It is an anthropological museum with a collection of early artifacts. There are some permanent galleries of pre-Ispanic, Colonial and Republican art, Murals, Photographs, and a lot of National and International artists. There are many Botero's paintings.
It also contains a cafe-restaurant, a gift shop and a courtyard. Entrance is 4$.
The Cafe Botero in the same building on the corner, has tasty food, impeccable service and is the perfect place to rest during your walk around the city. Coffee was 1,5$ and main dishes from 8-14$
Carrera 52 No 52-43Corner next to the Museum de Antioquia
(e-mail: email@example.com – Medellin )
It is easy to stay many days in Salento. The small town has a relaxed atmosphere and colourful historic houses. The surrounding landscape is beautiful with green rolling hills. Besides strolling around in the town, sit down at a café and watch people or walk up to Alto de la Cruz there are many things to do outside the town. In Cocora Valley there are many nice walking trails and you can visit one of the coffee farms for a guided tour and there is a Butterfly farm (which I did not visit). While you are in Salento you must try the trout which is served at every restaurant and prepared in many different ways. It is quiet during the week but at weekends many visitors come.
Salento is situated 24 km northeast of the department capital Armenia, at an altitude of 1900 metres. It is the oldest town in Quindío and was founded in 1850. In 1865 the town was named Nuevo Salento. The main economical activities in Salento is agriculture, cattle and eco-tourism.
Manizales is the capital of Department of Caldas. The city is situated on ridges which makes many of the streets steep. And as the city is situated at an altitude just above 2000 metres the average temperature is 18°C. Manizales has a population of 420 000 inhabitants. The city is a main centre of the coffee trade in the region and there is a large student population. Manizales was founded as late as 1849 by people from Antioquia, who came here because of the civil war.
There are not many old buildings in Manizales as the city has been destroyed by earthquakes and fires in the past. But the Neo Gothic Cathedral is interesting to see and there are a few museums, among others a small gold museum. And from Manizales it is easy to visit Los Nevados National Park and a coffee farm in Zona Cafetera.
From Bogota' take an 8 hours bus and reach the magic scatter area of Salento. Name comes from the beautiful heel of the boot in the South of Italy (exactly where I came from).
This place is surrounded of green mountains which means the best place to visit for the hiking lovers. Book a tour from the main square anb visit the coffe plantations. Chose to walk around them or ask for a 2 hours horse riding. It depends on which period of the year you go.. from may to october be ready to face rainstorms and wind.
Loose few hours drinking great local rhum and coffe at the local bars
Armenia is a noisy city with no architectural plan. Every construction has a different structure with no reasonable connection with anything else. The only reason I stayed for a night was to visit the Parque Nacional de Cafe. I stayed in the cheap, clean and comfortable Hotel Casa Real where the staff was extremely friendly (Carrera 18 No 18-36 tel 741 4550 / 7412001 cable TV, hot water, private bathroom)
El Parque Nacional del Cafe is a theme park on coffee with a lot of attractions. You can easily spend a whole day if you take your time. It is the Disneyland of Colombia, the pride of Colombians! It opened in 1995 and continues to grow every year. It has adventure rides and shows and a tourist train to take you around. There is a cable car from which the views of the lush green valleys are wonderful. There are horses for riding and an area with a real dimension reconstruction of life on coffee plantations in the past. There are museums and real coffee trees and you can completely understand what coffee is about and the way it is produced. Of course there is a lot of coffee for sale as well as shops for you to have a cup and restaurants for fast food mainly.
The plantation house is quite interesting as it contains everything a real house did at that time.
There is also a Mirador – a high platform - from the top of which you can look around.
For 8,5$ you can just go around the beautiful verdant paths, visit the museum and the plantation house and several other interesting points, and get on the lift. For 15$ you can also ride the train and watch the two shows. The Show de Cafe is very nice with costumes, songs and dances featuring the history of coffee; the Orquidea Show is only for kids. The audience of Colombians were lively and enthusiastic and overwhelmed with national pride so they started singing and dancing on their seats. I loved to see them so genuinely celebrating their freedom to live a normal life, after so many years of restrictions and fears....The 16$ ticket will also get you on 5 rides on the mechanical attractions, such as roller coaster, splash rides, the big wheel and many more. A perfect joy for children! And the most expensive 22.5$ gives you a pass to everything.
Outside the Park there are shops packed with artcraft and souvenirs-selling clothes, hammocks, jewels, coffee and products, sweets, drinks, cameras, films and more.
Open every day from 9:00-18:00 in high season / Wed-Sun and holidays in low season
There is a bus from Armenia.
Click on the photo
View my Travelogue Parque Nacional del Cafe
Salento is a small typical Colombian village that retains the atmosphere and the dimensions of old times giving you a feeling of relaxation and freedom. It is built among rolling green slopes on the Andes and has stunning views all around.
It is only a 30 minute bus ride from Armenia. ( 1,4$ - 2,5$ ).
The center square and its side streets gather all the action. The church, the restaurants and the shops attract both village people and tourists. There is a road going up to the Mirador with arrays of little shops where you can find everything from clothes to hairpins...On the Mirador - or Alto de la Cruz - you can relax gazing at the views all around and then come back on the other side into the village.
There are many organic coffee plantations which you can arrange to visit. You can have a tour around and watch the process for producing ground coffee..
Don't miss the local specialty, Rainbow trout, which is delicious. A good and cheap eatery is 'Rincon de Lucy' on the corner of Calle 4 and Carrera 6. It serves well cooked local food of very good quality. ( trout for 4.5$ !) Another good restaurant is El Grande Patacone with enormous crispy patacones.( flattened fried plantain )
I hope nothing happens to this innocent peaceful village. I hope “big money” respects this paradise and does not destroy it...No big hotel projects, no big companies, nothing big.... It is a place I would very much like to spend the rest of my life..when I stop travelling, of course...A nice corner on the high Andes where it feels like everybody is a friend.
Don't miss the photos...
At an altitude of more than 2000meters the unique waxpalm trees grow. 60 meters tall and scattered as they are in the beautiful green valley they look so surrealistic! Their slender bodies soar up proudly into the sky on top of the mountain proving how beautiful and unpredictable nature can be. We walked for two hours through the valley and then through the dense jungle of the cloud forest of the Nevados National Park. We had to stop every now and then to view the astonishing scenery.
After about two hours we arrived at Acaime, a mountain farm, where coffee or hot chocolate with local cheese was available. There were some feeders for humming birds so we had a chance to look at their shining colourful plumage from very close. Later we followed a path going higher up to Punto 8, La Montaña, 2860meters high, where another farm offered even more stunning views of the jungle and the valley! Truly amazing! The way back took us one and a half hour and it was another track going down to the tiny village of Cocora where there are some local eateries. But we preferred to return to Salento and have a rewarding meal at “El Grande Patacone” in the central square!!!
The journey can be made on horses if it suits you better.
Valle de Cocora is 10km from Salento which you can walk if you are a strong hiker. We shared a taxi among travelers that came back in time to take us back.
There are more trails for the more fit going to Paramo Romerales or Estrella de Agua. If you feel like doing the extreme and reach the top at more than 5000 you need a guide as it is easy to get lost.
Click on the photo !
View my Travelogue Valle de Cocora1 and Valle de Cocora2 for more beautiful pictures!!!
The park is one of the highlights on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. There are only a few establishments for tourist accommodation. Most are camping sites with a basic restaurant. They usually provide hammocks for rent which are not bad for 2-3 nights unless you haven't got any repellent....! You will make thousands of mosquitoes happy!!! A very good solution is to carry a tent and some camping equipment and stay there for a week. Believe me no one wishes to leave from this heavenly place. The almost 85 kms of beaches are some of the best in South America. The surrounding forest has been left almost untouched. It's a magical place where you can breathe in the rejuvenating pure sea air and let your senses enjoy the raw beauty of the Caribbean wild nature. Most beaches are only accessible by private boats although some agencies have day trips to Playa Crystal and Neguanje beach.
From Santa Marta there is a bus that brings you to the Park from near the center (2$). You don't have to go the terminal. At the entrance you will pay 12.5$. Then a jeep takes you to the parking station inside the park near Canaveral. At Canaveral there are some very expensive accommodation. From there you have to walk for about one hour carrying all your things. Arrecifes is the first place you will meet. The waves here are laying one upon the other on the wide beach, breaking on loud foaming layers of blue and white. The rocks are trying to survive the ruthless force of the water by taking round shapes. The nights were unforgettable when lying on the warm soft sand I could feel the sea breeze caress my face as the rhythmic sound of the waves brought a relaxing balance to my senses. The starry sky dome above made both eyes and soul feel happy.
There are two campsites there. The first one ( 15$ tent for 2persons, 7.5$ tent for 1person, 4$ space for a tent, 5$ a hammock) is much better than the second one, because it is much cleaner and tidier but a little more expensive. The restaurant here is better, too. In the second one it is 10$ for a tent for 2, 6.5$ for a small tent-both awfully dirty- and terrible open bathrooms that you can reach crossing a stream. So it's almost impossible to go during the dark nights. Food prices are about 15-20$ for the main dishes, 1,75$ for a juice, 1.5 for coffee. But generally food is very expensive in the park. You will be much better off if you can carry some food of your own. Of course you will have to carry everything the first day but it is worthy! There are also some more expensive cabanas here.
Go to Part TWO. Don't miss the pictures...!
View my Travelogues Tayrona1 , Tayrona 2 and Tayrona3 !
Salento is a beautiful, little town close to Manizales, between Bogota and Medellin. It is a fantastic place to explore the Valle de Cocoa/Cocora Valley. This is the area where most of the coffee in Colombia is grown. It is also a great place to explore the Cocora Valley, famous for its tall palms in the higher altitudes. We came for a day, and stayed for 5 days. One of those places you just hate to leave. Great hiking, interesting sites, and a quaint town (although it gets busy with Colombians on the weekends).
The Salt Cathedral is an underground cathedral in Zipaquirá north of Bogotá.
To visit the Salt Cathedral you have to join a group. Most of the tours are in Spanish and so were mine. But when we inside the cathedral encountered a group with an English speaking guide I changed group. You enter the mountain by a descending tunnel. On the way to the cathedral there are 14 stations, places with a cross and place for prayer, all designed by different artists. The 14 stations represent the events of Jesus last journey.
The cathedral is situated 180 metres below surface and is 75 metres long with 18 metres high ceilings. There are huge pillars between the nave and aisles. It is dark inside the cathedral only with discreet illumination on details. The cathedral can accommodate around 8400 people and on Sundays masses are held here. You can by coffee by the cathedral before ascending.
The present cathedral replaced an older one in 1995. The area of the old one had become too unsafe.
The guided tours take about on hour. As my group stayed to have coffee I went back to the entrance alone and there was no problems to find the way out.
I visited the Salt Cathedral on a Wednesday and there were quite a lot of visitors. Maybe there were more than on other weekdays as it is the half price on Wednesdays. I paid 6000 pesos (August 2007). Other days it cost 12 000 pesos.
The cathedral is open between 9.00 - 16.30 on Monday - Friday, and between 9.00 - 17.00 on Saturday and Sunday.
At Casa de Nelly I had talked to Pacho, who is a guide organising horse riding tours around San Agustin, and was told that it was okay to go on the tour without experience. As I hadn’t ridden a horse since I was a kid I had to think until the next day. After the jeep tour I had decided to go on the horse riding tour, but the couple who had arrived to San Agustin with the same bus as me asked if we could take a walking tour instead and that was fine to me as I like walking (but if I return to San Agustin I will for sure take the horse riding tour).
The next morning we left Casa de Nelly at nine and walked through the town and on to El Tablón where we had coffee, talked and saw the museum and the stone figures. After that we walked on to the La Chaquira, a very beautiful place. Then we had lunch at a hotel somewhere in the countryside. After lunch we walked to The Archaeological Park where our guide Pacho left us and we could walk around alone in the park. We arrived to the park quite late and I was worried there would not be time to see everything, but it was fine.
For the walking tour we paid 15 000 pesos each (we had agreed with a lower price but as we walked for more hours than said we paid more).
The Catedral Metropolitana is a huge, lovely regal B-R-I-C-K building. In fact, it is one of the largest brick building of its kind in South America. Impressive.
Well, OK, of course, brick is a common-enough building material. But most buildings usually get their bricks plastered over and then, the walls painted with various colours.
However, a rather unique feature in Colombian architecture (I noticed many in Medellin and Bogota) is that the bricks of many buildings are left alone and these bricks are creatively laid down and aligned such that they make such lovely striking buildings. In fact, there are coffee table books expounding the wonders of brick architecture in Colombia.
The Parque de Bolivar holds a free Sunday symphony orchestra by the University of Antioquia at 11am.
Although bone-tired that day after being on the night-bus, I made my way there. The band played various pieces throughout the one hour. I observed the crowd standing all around. They were mainly middle-aged to elderly people, with some young people and children, but people who truly appreciated and respected music. Everyone looked very interested and attentive, basking in the delightful music. One little old lady even got up to dance at one of the pieces. I later saw her walking away with a cane, helped by her son. Yet, she had the ability to dance just now. It was a beautiful experience.