When most people think of where their coffee comes from they probably imagine aisle four of their local supermarket. Or maybe if they’re really fancy they picture their local food co-op where they buy the organic, fair trade, environmentally friendly, mother of all coffee beans variety. But did you ever stop to wonder where your coffee actually originated? Maybe your coffee started on a small coffee plantation in Indonesia, a huge internationally exporting plantation in Brazil, or a centuries old farm in Ethiopia. Or maybe, if you’re really lucky, your coffee originated in a little family owned organic finca run by a man named Don Elias in the heart of the Colombian Eje Cafetero. Just a few days ago, I was sipping a piping hot cup of café courtesy of Don Elias on my vacation to the Colombian Eje Cafetero!
The Eje Cafetero, or the Coffee Triangle, is made up of the capitals of three departamentos: Manizales, Caldas; Armenia, Quindío; and Pereira, Risaralda and is located in rural, interior Colombia. My friend Chelsey and I took advantage of the fact that we had a week off for Semana Uribe and decided to explore a new part of Colombia. We visited Pereira and Manizales, as well as two much smaller towns called Salento and Filandia. Here are the highlights:
Pereira is a large city and a good jumping off point for exploring the coffee triangle. We were lucky enough to get a ride with a really nice group of Colombians from the airport who gave us a little tour of the city before dropping us off in the center of town. There are three beautiful plazas, lots of nice malls, and plenty of outdoor cafes and restaurants. We stayed at Kolibri hostel which was centrally located and happened to have a fun little Colombian music gathering going on where local artists were playing traditional Colombian instruments, dancing, and basically just gozar-ing life!
Manizales is also a large city, but has a much more residential feel. We spent the majority of the day walking around and exploring, drinking coffee, and watching the people exercising in the street as part of their weekly ‘Active Hours’ where they shut down the street for people to walk dogs, run, ride bikes, etc. (Come on Santa Marta…get on that!).
We spent the majority of our week in Salento and I could have stayed forever. It is a quaint little town that gets a lot of tourists (mostly the backpacking crowd). We stayed at a hostel right in the center of town, but many people stay in hostels or at fincas outside of town too. There are lots of artisanal shops, cafes, restaurants, bars, and hostels in addition to the homes and businesses of the people who are lucky enough to call Salento home!
This little town is kind of like an even smaller version of Salento. Quiet little streets lined with colorful houses and people going about their daily business. Just outside of town is a man made mirador where you can climb up a few stories and look out over eight different departamentos. It was absolutely beautiful, even though we got stuck out there during a crazy storm!
Finca Don Elias:
We walked about an hour outside of Salento, down a dirt road, through some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen to visit a little coffee finca and learn how coffee is made. Unfortunately, Don Elias wasn’t there the day we went (he was on super official coffee business) but luckily his daughter knows her way around a coffee finca too and was happy to give the tour. We saw where all the plants are grown, tasted some coffee berries right off the plant, watched how beans are dried, ground, roasted, and then tried some delicious home grown/prepared coffee thanks to la esposa of Don Elias!
Valle de Cocora
If you skipped ahead and didn’t want to read everything above (it’s fine….I can be a little long winded) READ THIS PART. If you ever visit Colombia (and I highly recommend that you do) and you only have the opportunity to go to one place….GO TO THE VALLE DE COCORA. It was hands down one of the most beautiful places I have ever been (rivaled only by Machu Picchu and Glacier National Park in Alaska). It is a huge valley filled with wax palms which are the national tree of Colombia and grow to be 60 meters tall. They look like they are straight out of a Dr. Seuss book.
If you want to be normal, just take a jeep from Salento for about a half an hour, rent some boots, and head out on the six hour hike with all the other tourists. But who wants to be normal? Chelsey and I, based on the recommendation of some friends, decided to try to do the hike backwards (supposedly its easier and you get to the pretty part first). All was fine and well until we crossed a questionable bridge and kept getting passed by horses. We asked someone and were told to go back and (insert super confusing set of directions in Spanish). We turned around and ran into a group of about 7 Colombians. They took one look at us and determined we are helpless gringas and insisted we hike with them. Why not? Skip ahead three and a half hours later……we have trespassed twice and we have been hiking directly up the side of a mountain for three hours straight. While it ended up being a bit more than we bargained for, it was SO worth it. The views were amazing and we made seven new Colombian amigos! All in all, we ended up hiking for about 7 hours, trespassing multiple times, and scaling down the side of a mountain into a field of cows. And it was the best part of the whole trip.
The entire trip the weather was absolute heaven. Warm sun with a cool breeze during the day and chilly enough to wear a sweater at night. The coffee was delicious and super barato. The towns were quaint and so much fun to explore. The people were so nice we were only there for six days and got invited to lunch at two different families homes. To sum it up? Go visit the Eje Cafetero.
Until next time….paz y amor.