Discover Colombia’s Coffee Region (even if you don’t like Coffee)

Discover Colombia's Coffee Region (even if you don't like Coffee)

This part of Colombia is also known as the Zona Cafetera, or most commonly the Eje Cafetero – that's also how the Colombians refer to it. It's just magical there, it's like a trip far, far away from Colombia. Far away from politics and problems that are still present in the country (but have really decreased), just right there in the heart of Colombia, you'll find the Coffee Region.

Why I loved it so much and why I highly recommend you to visit this part of Colombia, I tell you in this post – even if you don't like Coffee 😉 And believe me, because I really don't like that black hot thing.

What to expect

Four Days in Colombia's Coffee Region – what not to miss

I spent four entire days in the Zona Cafetera. I flew into Pereira; the flight from Bogotá is only 30 minutes long and cost me with Latam approx. 80€. I spent the first night in Pereira, then moved on to Salento for two nights and spent the last night again in Pereira. But more about that now:

Colourful Salento

The small town welcomes you with open arms and it feels like coming home after a long, long trip.

There's not really that much to do in Salento, besides relaxing and taking things slow. Many stay in Salento to visit the Valle de Cocora to see the way palmtrees or visit one of the many coffee farms. More about those things later.

Salento Kaffeezone Kolumbien

The landscape that surrounds Salento seems to be a lush green colour all year round. Reason surely being the rain, that was also my companion on my trip through the Coffee Region.

The houses in Salento are that colourful that even Cartagena is jealous of the village. Especially the Calle Real is truly instagram worthy.

Salento Kaffeezone Kolumbien

Where to sleep in Salento

I decided to stay at Hostel & Hotel Luciernaga – which seemed to be quite a great choice. But there was no hot water and the music from the bar beneath was loud until late at night. That's unfortunate because the hostel is truly lovely and the views from all rooms are stunning. They have dorms and private rooms, but no lockers. That's the main reason why I decided to stay in a private room. There was no breakfast included in the price, but the restaurant downstairs prepares wonderful breakfasts of the size of a regular lunch or dinner. I highly recommend the egg, avocado and tomato combo.

I met some travellers that were staying at Casa La Eliana and loved it. Apparently it's a lot calmer there, and they also offer a restaurant with great (veggie) plates.

Luciernaga Salento Kaffeezone Kolumbien
Luciernaga View from the rooms
La Eliana Salento Kaffeezone Kolumbien
La Eliana Patio

Where to eat in Salento

  • La Eliana – simple food & different types of curry
  • Luciernaga – fish, meat & excellent breakfast
  • Bernabé – great steaks for little money (approx. 9€ including fresh juice)
Luciernaga Salento Kaffeezone Kolumbien
Breakfast at Luciernaga

How to get from Pereira to Salento

Buses leave Pereira frequently to Salento. During the week they operate at 6.30, 8.40, 11.30, 13.40, 16.30 and the last bus at 18.30. On the weekends the first bus leaves at 6.30, and then hourly until the last one at 18.30. Right next to the entrance you'll find the counter Expreso Alcala. That's where you can buy the ticket to Salento, which is 7000 pesos (approx. 2.30€) and takes about 45 minutes, of course depending on the traffic.

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You can check the current bus schedules here.

Hiking under Wax Palm Trees in Valle de Cocora near Salento

With one of the old Willy Jeeps you'll make it to Valle de Cocora well shaken. On weekends (too) many people will be here, so I highly recommend scheduling this part of the trip for a weekday.

There are some different trails found here. I went for the circular trail that takes about five hours including photo stops. It was quite rainy when I was there so the trail was muddy and slippery in the beginning and my pace was quite slow.

The trail can be quite narrow, leading over plank bridges (with some planks already missing). It almost seems like one of those adventure jungle movies but in real.

For a while you'll be walking next to a river before the trail starts to ascend. You'll reach a small cabin that serves some hot beverages as coffee, panela (very typical for Colombia) and hot chocolate – with cheese, if you wish.

Valle de Cocora Kaffeezone Kolumbien

Valle de Cocora Kaffeezone Kolumbien

After that, the descent starts. Again the trail was a bit too muddy, so I stayed on the unpaved road. Take out your camera and don't put it back into your backpack, because you'll pass some excellent photo stops on the way down. You'll finally see the famous wax palm trees up close – this species grows up to 70m tall!

Just right before the end of the hike, you'll find the wax palm tree forest. It's not a dense forest, more like a meadow with some palm trees. You can walk underneath them and look high up in the sky. What a delight after that hike!

Wachspalmen Valle de Cocora Kaffeezone Kolumbien
When palm trees are that high, you can't even fit them on a photo

Valle de Cocora Kaffeezone Kolumbien

Anyone that loves to spend some time hiking and enjoys the woods, will be very happy in Valle de Cocora. The entire trail took me about 5 hours including the stop at the cabin and the (many) photo stops. If you want to do this trail, don't leave too late so that you can easily catch the last Willy Jeep back to Salento.To get to the trail you should get off the Willie

To get to the 5-hour-trail: when you get to the Valley, get off the Willy, turn left into the Valley and then stay right and don't go left. That's where you'll come back.

If you just want to see the wax palm trees, don't turn right and keep on the road straight. After a bit, you'll see the green meadows with the palm trees.

How to get to Valle de Cocora from Salento

Willy Jeeps are parked on Salento's main square. Those leave for Cocora frequently, either when the jeep is full or at the following times:

Weekdays 6.10, 7.30, 9.30, 11.30, 14.00 and 16.00.
Saturdays 6.10, 7.30, 9.30, 10.30, 11.30, and between 13.00 until 17:00 hourly
Sundays: 6.10, 7.30 till 17.30 hourly

From Cocora back to Salento: again when the Jeep is full or at the following times:

Weekdays: 8.30, 10.30, 12.30, 15.00, 17.00
Saturdays: 7.10, 9.30, 10.30, 11.30, 12.30, 14.00 till 18.00 hourly
Sundays: 7.10, 8.30 till 18:30 hourly

Coffee Tour El Ocaso near Salento

As you can guess just by reading the title of this blog post, I don't like coffee. I'm not more productive or less tired, it just doesn't have any effect on me. Nevertheless, I wanted to learn more about the coffee production and what processes are necessary to get to the final product.

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There are quite many Coffee Farms around Salento that offer guided tours. I decided to visit the Ocasa Finca, because they got some sustainability certifications.

Kaffeezone Kolumbien

We were just a small group of six – all of them highly addicted to coffee, except me.

Just in the beginning, our guide handed us small wooden baskets that we should tie around our waist. Immediately, I felt like a kangoroo out in the bush. The coffee seeds are collected in those small baskets – something we'd do just shortly. Working and even paying for it?

We enter the coffee forest – but it's not only coffee that grows here but another twenty species of trees, bushes and shrubs. It's important for the soil that not just one plant grows – monoculture is not good for the soil. So there's those coffee bushes as well as banana trees medlars and much more (I just can't remember those names).

Our guide tells step by step about the coffee production: starting with planting the seeds, growing the plants, harvesting the seeds and the processes of getting the peel off, washing, drying, roasting and drinking. Here at the El Ocaso Finca they only grow the seeds and harvest them. Then they send them to a roasting facility.

Have you ever tried coffee seeds? The beans themself are too hard to bite, but the peel is soft and surprisingly sweet. You just have to pick the coffee fruit from the tree, rub them hard and then the peel gets off.

Kaffeetour Ocaso Salento Kaffeezone Kolumbien

Another interesting fact that I found out is that there are two classes of coffee: primera clase – that's first class coffee, and that's the one that's exported. Mainly to the USA. Second class coffee is the one that remains in Colombia that the locals drink.

The guided tours are offered in English at 9.00, 11.00 13.00, 14.00 and 16.00 and in Spanish at 10.00 and 15.00. It takes about 1.5 hours and costs 15000 pesos (approx. 5€). You don't need to sign up in advance, just be there a couple of minutes before the tour starts.

How to get to El Ocaso Finca and back from Salento

You can either walk from Salento or take a Jeep that leaves from the main square. If you decide to walk, it'll take you about one hour to get there while taking some photos. You'll need longer when walking back since then you'll have to walk up the hill again. If you decide to take a Willy Jeep it's 3000 pesos each way.

Filandia – Day Trip from Salento

As charming as Salento is the town Filandia. Both towns are well-known for their colourful facades, and in both there's not much to do besides walking around and enjoying the colours. Filandia is perfect for a half-day trip from Salento.

There's a nice look-out tower called Mirador Colina Iluminada. From up there you overlook the entire region and get an idea of the greenness of the Coffee Region.

Filandia Kaffeezone Kolumbien

Filandia Kaffeezone Kolumbien

How to get to Filandia from Salento and back

Unfortunatelly, there're no direct busses from Salento to Filandia. Lonely Planet and other guides suggest going to Armenia or Pereira and take a bus from there to Filandia. But that's just a waste of time and money. Here are two options how to get to Filandia from Salento:

Option 1: Take the bus to Armenia. It leaves about every 15 minutes at the bus station in Salento. Tell the bus driver to drop you at Flores. There you cross the street and wait in front of a flower shop for the bus to Filandia.

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Option 2: take the bus to Pereira and get off at Cruze Filandia, again just ask the bus driver. Busses leave at 7.50, 10.00, 13.00, 14.50 and 17.50 during the week and on the weekends hourly between 7.50 till 19.50. At the Cruze Filandia you'll wait for the bus to Filandia.

When I went to Filandia I went to Flores and then to the village, because the timing was better for me.

When I went back from Filandia to Salento I tool the bus to Armenia until Cruze Salento, crossed the street and waited for the bus to Salento at the bus stop.

The roundtrip to Filandia cost me approx. 10400 (approx 3€) pesos in total.

Pereira – Base

I used Pereira only to fly into and as a starting point for my day trip to the hot springs.

Where to sleep in Pereira

I stayed at the Hostel Kolibri that has one of the best staff in Colombia! They really take their time to explain everything and provide really good tips. I spent one night in a private room and another one in a 4 bed dorm with curtains and broad mattresses (more privacy and great sleep).

The breakfast at the hostel is also really good and cheap, but the other food didn't quite convince me.

To get there from the airport, just take a taxi. It'll cost approx 14000 pesos (less than 5€).

Hostel Kolibri Pereira Kaffeezone Kolumbien

Termales de Santa Rosa de Cabal

What would you say if I told you to relax underneath a breathtaking waterfall? Then you should really check out the Hot Springs in Santa Rosa!

The waterfall itself is cold water, but there are several springs with hot water that is pumped into pools.

I spent an entire day in the hot water, then refreshing myself in the cool waterfall – hot, cold, chill, repeat. The only things that bothered me were the loud music (dumdumchagachaga^^) and that there were only chairs and tables but no sunbeds to lie in the sun.

The entrance fee during the week is less than on weekends. I got a 10% voucher from the hostel and ended up paying about 20000 pesos (approx. 6.50€).

Termales Santa Rosa Kaffeezone Kolumbien

How to get to the Termales de Santa Rosa from Pereira

There's a bus leaving to Santa Rosa near the church San José in Pereira at Carrera 13. A little further up the road, the bus turns into Calle 12. It might be easier to catch the bus from there. Just wave and get on. Ask the driver to drop you in Santa Rosa near to where the buses to the hot springs leave. That's at the market and the police station, Calle 14 with Carrera 12.

Buses leave frequently in the morning and throughout the day not that frequently. The bus costs 2200 pesos, but apparently, I had just missed it so I had to get a Jeep to drive me there. That was about 20000 pesos (approx 6.50€)

To go back from the hot springs, either take the bus that also goes frequently. Or by jeep. Somehow the jeep back was was a lot cheaper – I also shared it with some other people. I only paid 3000 pesos (approx. 1€). The drive from Santa Rosa to the hot springs is about 30 minutes and most of the road is unpaved.

Willy Jeep Kaffeezone Kolumbien

Tips for Colombia's Coffee Region

  • Rainjacket and cover for backpack
  • hiking boots or trainers
  • swimming things for hot springs
  • sunscreen

Map with all important spots in the Coffee Region

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22 Comments

  • Hey Viki,
    Thanks for this post. Newbie on your blog here. I was so bummed I missed this when I was in Colombia. My wife and I had plans to go through this region by bus with a few stops but ended up flying to Cali for salsa lessons for a few weeks. The palm trees look incredible and its sounds like a beautiful hike minus the muddy trails but all part of the adventure. Thanks for reminding me of a few reasons to go back to Colombia.
    Cheers,

  • Drinking coffee whilst I read this! We’d love to see where it actually comes from and the work that goes into growing the plants on a tour though!

  • Another great post about Colombia! I went to Valle del Cocora twice and always felt like Alice in wonderland, so magical! In Salento there was a place to play “tejo” and it was fun with some beers, did you try this game?

  • My cousin’s girlfriend is Colombian and my auntie is visiting Colombia at the moment. Looks gorgeous, I’m desperate to go and I love coffee. Perfect!

  • I want to go! I love learning about the whole process of coffee and seeing where the beans are grown, but I also love the look and colors of the towns, let alone the waterfalls and natural beauty. I want to go!

  • I am a ‘through-and-through’ coffee person, so taking a trip to Columbia’s coffee region is right up my alley. Apart from the coffee, as you have rightly shown, the area is naturally endowed with so much beauty, that anyone would love it.

  • Love this and well coffee is my favorite thing so I would love this! Interesting that the beans were soft and that export the best coffee to the USA and keep the 2nd class coffee! i would love to visit in person!

  • The colorfoul houses are so beautiful. For a coffee lover like me, the tour seems very promising. Thanks for making us travel through your article.

  • What a beautiful area to spend a few days. Those colourful houses are so picturesque. I love coffee too, so to hike out to one of the farms and see where it actually comes from would be interesting.
    The hot springs and waterfall sound amazing too.

  • Hey Viki

    Great post – I’m such a fan of coffee and have added Zona Cefetera to my travel bucket list after reading your article! Such beautiful views, especially in Luciernaga! We like to squeeze as much in when traveling while also keeping a small budget, so thanks posting the transportation times and costs during your trip 🙂

  • This looks absolutely amazing. Everything about this trip from the beautiful palm trees to the actual coffee! I’m not a big coffee fan but I’m sure if I went on a trip like this I would try it. LOVE this post!

  • I’ve never been to Columbia, and your post makes me feel like I was there right alongside. Your pictures are as pretty as postcards. How I’d love to see the mountains and visit the hot springs! x

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