Colombia's Coffee Coast Region

 

Eje Cafetero

Eje Cafetero (a.k.a. Zona Cafetero) includes the tri-city coffee growing axis of Manizales, Pereira and Armenia. Millions of years of seismic and volcanic activity at the Cocos, Pacific and Nazca plates crashed into one another producing the rich soil that enables the region to produce half of Colombia’s coffee in barely one percent of the country’s total land mass. Known as the Coffee Cultural Landscape, so called because in this territory of Colombia, the world's best coffee is grown.

This is a prosperous and culturally rich region that allures travelers the world over with the aroma of freshly brewed coffee, it’s beautiful and charming landscapes and the hospitality and generosity of its people. The snowcapped peaks, the endless green mountains, rolling hills and valleys of the region evokes a sense of magic and wonder in everyone who is fortunate enough to visit this part of Colombia.

Parts of the Zona Cafetera were settled by Antioquian’s in the 1800’s. Civil disturbances also brought people from Bogotá and Valley de Cauca – all contributing to the development of the Coffee Zone. The region is considered the first rural tourist destination in Latin America, due to owners of the traditional fincas converting their farms and houses into charming hotels, restaurants and bars, most of which with their original fixtures and furnishings that date back to the early 1900’s. This is truly an unforgettable region full of history and culture complete with its own unique character.

To understand the secrets of the coffee culture, it is necessary to explore this region, experience the diversity of climates (steamy valleys all the way to glacial peaks), visit its beautiful scenery and learn about the important culture and caring processes behind the production of Colombian coffee. Here you can even interact with and learn from the regions industrious and hardworking people as you try your hand at picking bright-red coffee berries, learn how the beans are husked, dried, roasted and processed; eventually becoming part of the world's most popular beverage. Once you understand the culture, care, and effort behind the Colombian coffee bean, we guarantee your next cup of Colombian java will be the best cup of coffee you’ve ever tasted.

However, the area is not just a collection of charming boutique hotels, drop-dead gorgeous landscapes and the world’s best coffee (as if that were not enough). Throughout the Zona Cafetero landscape, one can encounter theme parks, golf courses and intensely beautiful locations where you can practice extreme sports and go on horse back rides or ecological and nature walks to view the incredible biodiversity the region offers.

 

Manizales

The city is known throughout Colombia for its many schools and private and public universities that gives the city a sizable student populate. Fully 1 in 4 residents are students. The youthfulness of the population is responsible in part for the laid back – artsy vibe the city has.

Manizales is in close proximity to several nice coffee fincas, nature reserves and spectacular Los Nevados National Nature Park. The snowcapped peak of Nevado de Ruiz rises to become a prominent and picturesque sentinel over the city’s Southeast horizon.

 

Plaza Bolívar:This undisputed cultural heart of Manizales contains two elaborate ceramic murals by Colombian born Guillermo Botero and a central platform which holds one of the most striking and controversial tributes to Simon Bolívar in all of Colombia. The large bronze statue, design by Rodrigo Arenas Betancur depicts the Great Liberator as an Andean Condor - with his head separated from his body.

 

Palacio de Gobernacíon:  This historic building is renowned for its hybrid of architectural styles, with Roman columns, medieval winged dragons, and even Eastern Influences all constructed around a central garden courtyard. This gorgeous building was built in 1926 by Italian Papio Bonardi, and the interior was designed by Colombia’s Belisario Rodriguez.

 

Cathedral Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Rosario: Opposite the Governmental Palace, and dominating the plaza, stands the Cathedral Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Rosario. After a fire destroyed the original wooden structure, Father Adolfo Ocampo Hoyos commissioned the Italian engineer Papio Bonardi, under the plans of the French architect Julien Polty. The construction of the cathedral was completed in 1939 (and work is still ongoing to this day). The mixed neo-gothic and Byzantine inspired cathedral was constructed mostly of reinforced concrete and has an impressive 106 m high spire.

The cathedral has an area of 2,500 square meters and a capacity for an impressive 5,000 worshipers. Its four main towers are dedicated to the patron saints Mark, Paul, Francis and Inez. Inside sits an exquisitely decorated alter with a large cross suspended above. The main doors of the Cathedral are in bronze designed by Leopoldo del Rio.

 

Iglesia de la Inmaculada Concepción: This church was constructed in concrete and wood in the Gothic architectural style and highlights imposing arches supported by columns of cedar. The interior has an arching roof in the shape of ships hull, and its walls are decorated with colorful stained glass windows as well as paintings of apostolic scenes relating to the life of Jesus from Vincent de Girón.

 

Centro de Museos Universidad De Caldas: Created in 1996, this university brought together in a single administration collections of archeology, art, geology and natural history. The museum’s various collections include Colombian cultural and heritage, archeology, environmental management and contain a vast number of specimens related to these subjects. Furthermore, offered here are guided tours and workshops for school children and the general public.

 

Monumento a Los Colonizadores: This important monument to the founders and settlers of the region, and one of the most visited monuments in the region was created by master sculptor Luis Guillermo Arias between 1997-2002 and installed at the highest part of the Cyprus neighborhood, thus paying homage to these intrepid and brave people, wanting to reflect their strength and resilience. It was made with 50 tons of bronze material donated by the town's residents - mostly old keys, electric cables and telephone lines. The site of the monument offers unparalleled views of the city below and the surrounding countryside.

Museo de Oro

 

Ecoparque de Selva Húmeda Tropical Los Yarumos:  This is a place where you can enjoy attractions such as canopy exploring, rappelling, rope bridges, climbing walls, eco-trails, a natural science museum and is also a place to learn about the flora and fauna of the region. The site offers one of the best viewpoints in the city and is great fun for the entire family.

 

Chinchinà: Located just 17 km southwest of Manizales, Chinchiná is a charming little pueblo with rich character and great views of the surrounding countryside. Founded in 1857 by Antioquian colonists, it is nestled in a valley surrounded by coffee fincas in the Central Cordillera of the Andes. Known as Colombia's coffee heart, the town is home to the Buendía Coffee Factory and Cenicafé, a coffee research center. Nevado del Ruiz lies approximately 30 kilometers (19 miles) to the east.

 

Pereira

Nicknamed the “Pearl of the Otún River”, Pereira is the capital city of the department of Risaralda located in a small valley that descends from a part of the western Andes Cordillera with dramatic views of Nevado de Ruiz. It is the largest city of the Coffee Growers Axis. Like Manizales, the entire city was nearly destroyed several times by devastating earthquakes, thus few of its original colonial buildings remain.

Pereira has a warm but comfortable climate with regular rainfall. The main agricultural products of the area are coffee and cattle, but a large variety of other agricultural products are also produced nearby. This means fresh produce is easy to find in Manizales, which contributes to the great food you will enjoy in the city.

 

Plaza de Bolívar: In the center of this Plaza is yet another unique bronze tribute statue to the country's great liberator, Simon Bolívar. This one features an 8.5 m tall naked Bolívar on horseback designed by artist Rodrigo Arenas Betancur to commemorate the cities 100 year anniversary. Although at first the statue caused quite a stir among the towns people, the city is now proud of their slightly "liberated" liberator.

Plaza Bolivar Pereira

 

Viaducto Cesar Gaviria Trujillo: Completed in 1998, Viaducto César Gaviria Trujillo stretches over the mighty Otún river connecting the neighboring city of Dosquebradas. It is one of the longest cable-stayed bridges in South America and, at the time of its completion in 1997, ranked 20th in the world. The bridge has a total length of 440 meters, at a maximum height of 55 meters above the Otún River. The vantage point from the bridge provides for some spectacular views of the river below. The bridge was named in honor of Colombia’s 40th president who served from 1990-1994.

 

Catedral de Nuestra Senora de la Pobreza: This Neo-classical style church has been an important part of the city from the time of its founding, and has undergone major renovations over years. One of its most outstanding architectural elements is the earthquake resistant support system dome, built by 13,000 pieces of cedar design by architect Heliodorus Ochoa. Pre-Columbian and colonial artifacts have been found at the site under the cathedral.

Catedral Nuestra Señora de la Pobreza

 

Zoológico Metacaña: The 10 ha/25 acre zoo is home to 1200 birds, mammals and reptiles from 150 different species from the Americas, Africa and Asia. In the garden, there is also a great diversity of flora endemic and native to the area.

 

The zoo's aim was to create enclosures with plants that more closely resemble the natural habitats of the exhibited animal’s original ecosystems, providing a better quality of life for animals. Another goal of the zoo is to educate the public on the importance of conservation and provide a better understanding ecology.

Zoologico de Pereira  Zoologico de Pereira

 

Santuario de Fauna y Flora Otún Quimbaya: This Sanctuary is characterized by a representative sub-Andean rainforest flora and is comprised of a mosaic of woodland patches where you can find mature forests in good condition, plus conservation areas in different stages of natural regeneration containing plantations of pine, cypress, and oak. Many sections of the forest were planted in the 50s through a watershed re-vegetation program.

 

Otún Quimbaya is a good location to observe a wide variety of bird species (185 species have been identified in the park) such as Pava Caucana, the Toro de Monte, the Carriquí, the Soledad de Montaña, and mammals such as the Howler Monkey, Mountain Tapir, and the Agouti. The park has several micro climates where you will find a variety of flora including palms, Ficus, Yarumos, bromeliads, orchids, and other native species that thrive in cloud forest climates.

Laguna del Otún

 

Parque Nacional Los Nevados:  This amazing 58,000 ha/143,000 park is topped with no less than 5 extraordinarily beautiful snowcapped peaks. This park is best visited with a guide because it is full of crisscrossing trails, forests, high Andean wetlands and steep accents making it easy to get lost. With a good guide, you are more likely to find the best trails and experience this amazing park in the safest way possible.

In 1985 Nevado de Ruiz (5,300 m/17,388 ft) erupted and caused devastation to some of the surrounding area, and is still active to this day. Other peaks in the park include El Cisne (4,800 m/15,748 ft), Santa Isabel (4,950 m, 16,240 ft), El Quindío (4,800 m/15,748 ft) and the furthest to the south, El Tolima (5,200 m/17,06 ft).Museo de Oro

The park is home to a vast array of animal species, including Mountain Tapirs, Speckled Bear, Mountain Lion, White-eared Opossum, bats and several hundred species of birds including the Andean Condor, the Parámo Hummingbird and glacial parakeet. addition, large numbers of plant life species call the park home, including fern, bromeliads, moss and frailejones, which can reach 13 m in height.

 

Cerritos: This is a picturesque rural town that contains many tastefully converted fincas and the concentration of these old "farmhouses" forms the basis of the city's agricultural tourism. Most of these preserved and converted structures are now boutique hotels, restaurants and bars. The dwellings still contain much of their original 19th century furnishings and fixtures.

 

Marsella:  This area was declared a national reserve in 1979, Marsella is a traditional colonial town of about 20,000 residents located in the coffee growing region in the mountains, 15 miles from Pereira. Temperatures are very comfortable ranging from 15-20°C (59-68°F) most of the year with high rainfall typical of the area.

 

Also famous for its botanic garden, Jardin Bontanico Marsella Alejandro Hombolt was set up to promote ecological and environmental sustainability. The town has an historic cemetery, a colonial-style cultural center, a nice church in the main square and an interesting market, full of all kinds of fresh produce and handicrafts from the region.

 

Santa Rosa de Cabal

Santa Rosa de Cabal, also known as the Ciudad de Las Araucarias for the beautiful evergreen trees that grace its Parque de las Araucarias, belongs to the Colombian coffee-growing region and in recent years has increasingly developed its own tourism infrastructure, as it has several natural hot springs pools thought to have medicinal properties. The municipality retains the architectural style of the colonial Antioquian coffee towns of the mid-twentieth century, including houses with flowered balconies and a central church.

 

Termales Balneario: These thermals are located among vibrant green mountains and forests with surroundings that are perfect for relaxation. Visitors can play under a 170m/558ft waterfall and let their problems melt away relaxing in one of the 40c/105f degree thermal pools. The resort offers visitors cascading waterfalls of hot and cold water, thermal pools with a range of water temperatures and access to nature trails where you can come in contact with the rich natural biodiversity of the area.

Termales Santa Rosa de Cabal  Termales Santa Rosa de Cabal

 

Termales San Vicente: These picturesque thermals are located only a few miles from Santa Rosa de Cabal along gorgeous winding mountain roads set among the high Andean forests just outside Los Nevados National Park. Here the air is crisp and clear with the smell of pine trees and the sound of pristine rivers trickling through the forest in the background.

  Termales San Vicente Santa Rosa de Cabal

This site offer relaxation therapies, mud baths, a steam chamber, hydrotherapy, lodging and camping. You can choose to relax in one of the many thermal pools, go on a guided nature trek to discover a vast diversity of plant and animal life or choose an exhilarating zip-line through the canopy.

 

Salento

The mountain road to Salento is full of twists and turns and runs through every imaginable shade of green. The town is an incredibly charming and peaceful place that conjures up feelings of century's old coffee-farming communities and Antioquian culture. Known as the cradle of the wax-palm, Salento seems suspended in time, whose brightly-colored houses and balconies light up the streets and convey an incredible feeling of nostalgia.

Founded in 1850, Salento is a traditional Antioquian village and was the first municipality of the Quindio department of Colombia. Because of the pueblo proximity to the Central Andean Cordillera and at an altitude of 1,895 m/6,217 ft, temperatures here average around a comfortable 15c/60f year round.

The town attracts many visitors from all over the world and Colombia, thanks to its endearing architecture typical of the Eje Cafetero region, relaxed atmosphere, the beauty of the surrounding countryside and easy access to the Cocora valley. The best representations of the town’s architecture can be found on Calle Real (a.k.a. Calle de los Artesanos) and is a restaurant, gift shop and boutique hotel lined street leading to one of most visited sites in Salento, El Mirador Alto De La Cruz. This site can be reached from the end of Calle Real via 250 steps marked with the fourteen Stations of the Cross spaced at intervals along the way. It is a bit of an aerobic workout to reach the top, but it's worth the effort. The lookout offers extraordinary views of Valley de Cocora valley, the red clay roofs of Salento below, and if you are very lucky and the conditions are right, even several snowcapped peaks of Los Nevados National Natural Park can be seen from the vantage point.

Museo de Oro  Museo de Oro  Mirador de Salento

Salento is an excellent jumping off point for trekking and horseback excursions into the Cocora valley and Los Nevados National Natural Park. Both locations will treat visitors to some of the most beautiful highland scenery in all of Colombia.

 

Valley de Cocora: From the doorsteps of Salento this enchanting green valley reaches into the jagged peaks of Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados and is framed by the crystal clear waters of the Rio Quindío. This is a strikingly beautiful place dotted with pine and eucalyptus trees and eclipsed by gigantic, impossibly tall and skinny Wax Palm trees, Colombia’s majestic national tree. The Wax Palm is endemic to the Andean Highlands and favors well drained and mountainous terrain above altitudes of 1000 m/3000 ft. The tallest species of its kind on earth; it can reach 60 m/200 feet in height.

Valle de Cocora  Valle de Cocora  Valle de Cocora

There are many ways to enjoy Valle de Cocora, including hiking, on horseback and parts of the park are open to 4x4 jeeps as well. If you don’t choose one of our guided tours, you can set out on your own using the maps and directions available at the main entrance to the park (in the town of Cocora). Make sure you bring plenty water, high energy snacks, insect repellent, sunscreen and a light jacket. Hiking shoes are ideal here, especially if they are waterproof (but expect them to get plenty muddy). Perhaps most importantly, don’t forget your camera. Valle de Cocora is one of those places where it seems every step and around every turn is the perfect photo opportunity.

 

You will want to allow yourself at least a full day of exploration, as there is much to see and the landscape is best enjoyed at a relaxed and leisurely pace.

 

Reserva Natural Acaime:  (a.k.a. Herencia Verde) is located on the central Andean Highlands close to the town of Montenegro and near the boarders of Los Nevados National Park at an altitude of about 3,000m. The forests of this reserve contain a high diversity of plants and animal species, including the emblematic and incredibly tall and thin Wax Palm, black cedar, and many varieties of ferns. In addition, hundreds of mammals and birds inhabit this fairytale-like landscape, including the elusive and endangered Jaguar. The main nature trail starts near the Bosques de Cocora Restaurant in Valle de Cocora. If desired, it is possible to stay overnight in the reserve, provided that you arrange for this ahead of time and you and your group are with an experienced guide at all times. The reserve is a privately owned Fundación Herencia Verde (Green Heritage Site) and the main goal of the reserve is to teach environmental awareness and conservation practices.

 

Armenia

Though lacking the metropolitan or even colonial charm of many other Colombian cities, Armenia is set dramatically between a lush valley and the outskirts of Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados. Founded in 1889, it quickly became the center of the coffee trade. Unfortunately, in 1999 Armenia and the greater Quindío state was hit by a 5.9 earthquake – with the earthquakes epicenter being directly under the city of Armenia. Most of the city’s Colonial and historic buildings were never constructed to withstand the force of such a large earthquake, thus most of them collapsed into ruble killing over 1000 people in the process.

In the last 20 years Armenia has literally rebuilt itself, now becoming even more influential out of the ashes. The turnaround was so dramatic the city is also known as the Miracle city. It is now not only the center of the coffee industry, but has become a major tourism destination as well - even becoming known as a romantic getaway destination. A little advice; if you’re not married, you might want to say you are. This area is deep in the heart of very conservative and traditional Colombia and many of the boutique hotels and converted finca/lodges are family run (with grandmother at the helms).

The renewed tourist industry in Colombia has activated the popularity of the city and its surrounding areas. To the north of Armenia is the spectacular Los Nevados National Park, where several of its highest peaks are snowcapped year round. Armenia is also within a relatively short drive of the magnificent Cocora valley, where Colombia’s incredibly thin and tall national tree grows in abundance.

 

Plaza Bolívar: No self-respecting Colombian town would be complete without its Plaza Bolivar, and Armenia is no exception. In this case, unlike this statue found in Pereira, the liberator featured in this main square is in full uniform. The artist of this incredible piece was Roberto Henao Buriticá. In the same plaza, the concrete and brass Monumental al Esfuerzo by Rodrigo Betancur is located. The sculpture depicts an adagio pair of Paisas pointing forward, beckoning each other to push forward in the pioneering spirit.

 

Catedral la Inmaculada Concepción: Built in 1966, also located next to Plaza Bolivar is the post-modern a-frame shaped Catedral la Inmaculada Concepción. The three points of the church's triangular shape are meant to signify the "holy trinity." The interior features large colorful stained-glass windows depicting a series of events in the life of Jesus.

 

Museo de Oro Quimbaya: This outstanding collection of gold, pottery and sculpted art work is housed in an award-winning building that earned Regelio Salmona the National Prize of architecture in 1986. Among the exquisite selection of gold objects you can view here include anthropomorphic pottery, stone sculptures and carvings, mainly from the Quimbaya people who inhabited the region prior to the arrival of the Spanish Colonialists. Known for their incredibly sophisticated and ornate gold metallurgy, they produced their finest and most emblematic pieces between the years of 300AD and AD 600.

 

Parque de la Vida: This park is one of the largest green spaces in Armenia, and with a total area of about 8 ha, this eco-tourism area "serves the citizens of the city as a haven amid the concrete and chaos of everyday life."

 

The park has a number of nature trails through lush green flora, several waterfalls, rustic bridges and a lake full of waterfowl. Inspired by traditional rural Paisa architecture, a structure made of bamboo (locally known as “green steel” because of its impressive strength) with a clay tile roof houses exhibits of arts and crafts.

 

Jardín Botánico Del Quindío: These well stocked gardens contain a large butterfly house (mariposario) regarded as one of the best in Colombia. Built into the shape of a giant butterfly, it houses more than 1500 specimens representing 50 different species from all over Colombia and other parts of the world.

 

Here you can walk through leafy gardens with over 600 species of plants, including rich ferns and palm trees along trails rich with relaxing music complete with all the sights, sounds and smells of an Andean Forest. The path leads to a secondary forest of a diverse array of colorful orchids and from there you can climb the 7 story high (22 meter) tower to spot more than 70 species of birds, many of which are endemic to Colombia.

Mirador del Mariposario  Mirador del Mariposario  Mirador del Mariposario

Among the other exhibits include a hedge-row maze, an insect zoo, and a 600 meter long suspension bridge 22m above the river below. Most of the exhibits here are labeled in English as well as Spanish, and bilingual tour guides are happy to show you around.

 

Parque Temático Panaca: Aimed at urban Colombian families, this part entertainment, part educational and agro-tourism theme park showcases the nation’s important agricultural sector with an emphasis on organic farming methods and conservation of resources. The park's rural setting lies among rolling pasture, bamboo thickets and green woodlands.

Here exhibits showcase raising livestock and poultry (even ostrich), dairy production methods and farming techniques all spread out across 266 acres, with each section divided into distinct zones. Along with raising cows, sheep, goats and other domestic animals, the park raises silkworms and grows medicinal and aromatic plants. Interactive exhibits, horse riding, bull roping, feeding and animal shows take place throughout the day, and there are scenic picnic areas and lookout points.

The park produces all of its own eggs, milk, meat and fruit for the restaurants on site. Keeping with the park's emphasis on sustainability practices, a large portion of the park's fuel needs are met with methane produced in manure reaction tanks.

In addition to agro related exhibits, featured is an exhilarating canopy zip-line, a 100 m long, 30 m high rope bridge, 3 km of ecological trails where you can view hundreds of species of plant and animals, and pony and llama rides for the kids.

 

Parque Nacional de Cafe: The Federation Nacional de Cafe of Colombia is the driving force behind this 48 ha/118 acres theme park. An homage to Colombian coffee, it is an unexpected blend of informative exhibits about the heritage and history of Colombian coffee and family entertainment - including a giant roller coaster, bumper cars and boats, a water ride, panoramic gondola lift, train ride, horse rides and an musical extravaganza centering on the life of Paisa coffee pickers.

 

One of the highlights of the park is the Sendero de Cafe, a pleasant trail through coffee bush terrain that allows visitors to gain hands on knowledge about several varieties of coffee, while discovering the coffee-making process all the way from fruit-picking, drying, to roasting the coffee beans.

 

For spectacular views of the park, Armenia, Montenegro and La Tebaida, do not miss the parks symbol - an 18 m/59 ft high lookout tower. The tall structure was made of locally grown guadua (a type of bamboo).