Manizales-Pereira-Armenia: a big tourist attraction in Colombia is an exploration of the Zona Cafetera, the ‘Triangulo del Café’ or the Coffee Triangle. Here they say the best coffee in the world is produced. A rather heated point of contention because every city and region in Colombia claims to produce not only the country’s best coffee, but they also boast the most beautiful women.
Zona Cafetera – Colombia’s Coffee Triangle
It’s an easy trip to the coffee triangle by bus from Bogota, Medellin or Cali. It gives one the chance to explore Colombia’s evergreen interior. The triangle is composed of three cities all respective capitals of their departments: Manizales – capital of Caldas to the north, Pereira in Risaralda in the center and Armenia capital of Quindío to the south.
The three towns are all interesting in their own right and worthy of an overnight stay. The town of Manizales is a lively university town. Pereira is a rough and tumble agricultural city.
- For more on alternative coffee regions to visit see: Exploring Colombia’s Alternative Coffee Region
Armenia is much busier than the other two cities. Here there are coffee shops all over town – most of them sporting expensive expresso coffee machines. They love their expressos here. The best area for walking is on Carrera 14. The road is closed to traffic between Parque Sucre and Parque Uribe and it’s wall to wall restaurants and shops serving coffee, jugos, arts and crafts; teaming with street vendors and busy foot traffic.
Salento – in the foothills of the Cordillera mountains is the little town of Salento. It’s a sleepy town where tourism has really taken off in the last few years. Sitting in the green valleys with the Nevado de Tolima mountains in the distance, the countryside runs right up to the town. I stayed at the Posada del Angel and sat on my balcony watching the clouds pass through the valleys, the people coming into town on horseback as the roosters crowed and the dogs barked.
Valley of Cocora – Wax Palm Trees. In the mornings you can catch a jeep which will take you above Salento into the Valle de Cocora – 35 minutes $1.50. The jeep leaves you at a visitor center where the trail leading into the the park begins. This fertile valley has a fascinating landscape of pines, eucalyptus and the famous wax palms, Colombia’s national tree. A gentle 2-3 hour walk up the mountain (about 5 km.) takes you to the Acaime Natural reserve – the most important wax palm zone in Colombia. There are cattle ranches, lots of wild life and streams along the way. But the trail keeps going up in the mountains. One could keep walking for days – all the way to the snow covered peaks of the Los Nevados National Park.
Filandia: A lot of travelers have been complaining about an excessive presence of travelers in Salento these days. As an alternative destination, many have been venturing to the pueblo of Filandia. Named after the Nordic country, Finland, Finlandia in Spanish, but it has been forever misspelled Filandia. On the road between Armenia and Pereira the town is every bit as beautiful as Salento.
Filandia is an attractive town with paisa architecture, windows and doorways all painted in three tones of primary colors with flowers in the windows and colorful sidewalks of colored, stamped concrete. A small village with 7,000 inhabitants, it has lots of hotels, restaurants, coffee and pastry shops and art and craft stores catering to tourists.
National Coffee Park (Parque Nacional del Café) is a theme park located 11 km. west of Armenia near the village of Montenegro. Founded in 1995 by the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia, millions have visited the park-a must see if you’re a coffee aficionado. There are numerous exhibits detailing the history, culture and process of growing and producing coffee. There are ecological trails throughout the park where bamboo forests, coffee and bananas are grown and processed. There are exhibits and statues on Colombian folk architecture. A coffee show features the history and culture of the region told through typical dance and song. And down in the valley there is a large amusement park with food stalls, rides, roller coasters and other delights for the kiddies. A cable car runs from the bottom of the valley to the top. One could walk down and ride back up. Entrance fee is $10.
There are plenty of hotels near the park. I stayed at the Finca Hotel La Tata – nicely run establishment with large comfortable rooms, a pool and meals included – $40 per person per day with breakfast. Not cheap but it was right across from the park entrance.
Pijao is a small town 31 kilometers (19 miles) to the south of Armenia located in Colombia’s famous coffee triangle in the Quindio province. Along with Salento, Calarca and Filandia, Pijao is considered one of the most beautiful villages in the department. Only an hour bus ride from the city of Armenia it can be a day trip as part of the coffee tour or a destination to go relax and decompress for a day or two.
A town of 10,000 inhabitants, Pijao is very relaxing, a laid back, cool climate eco-tourism town. There are several hostels and restaurants in town, a number of coffee shops, a wine shop and lots of artisan stores lining the village streets. There are hiking, biking and horseback riding excursions departing from the village with a number of waterfalls and coffee farms to visit.
Built in 1902, the town was originally called San Antonio di Colon. But the name was changed to Pijao in 1930 in cultural recognition the indigenous people who once inhabited the area.
Manizales is a fascinating city of 435,000 people in the coffee triangle. It is a town with 5 universities and lots of young people. From the city’s steep streets one can see the spectacular peaks of the snow-capped Nevado del Ruiz volcano. Take a walk down Carrera 23 a one way street and the main shopping zone lined with hotels, restaurants and cafes.
Visit the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary and climb one of the highest towers in Colombia at 106 meters for an amazing panorama of the city. For another panorama take one of the cable cars that go from the center of town up to the villages in the hills.
Go to Plaza Bolivar to see the neoclassical statue of Simon Bolivar called Bolivar-condor with its distinct bird like features. The Palace of the Government is on the north side of the plaza. Then go to Chipre which is a 15 minute walk uphill from the center to see the Monument to the Colonists. There are lots lots of restaurants and shops in the area.
Periera – is an interesting city with a population of half a million people. Visit the Plaza Bolivar in the center or visit the Plaza de Mercado Minorista the largest and most authentic market in the city. Periera is a good base from which to see the hot spring spas of Santa Rosa and San Vicente which are just outside of the city and definitely worthy of a day trip or two. (See article: Hot Springs in Colombia’s Coffee Triangle)
Agricultural Tourism, another popular option is to stay on a coffee farm. Some of the coffee growers in the region offer agricultural tourism (much like wineries) opening their farms called ‘fincas’ to tourism – a phenomenon that started in 1994. Tourists stay with comfortable accommodations on the farm, do coffee tours, learn about the process of coffee-growing while dining, relaxing, lounging around the pools and soaking up the rich scenery of the region. It’s a good alternative industry for the coffee growers and great way for tourists to get off the beaten path