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:
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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€).
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€).
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.
Tips for Colombia's Coffee Region
- Rainjacket and cover for backpack
- hiking boots or trainers
- swimming things for hot springs
Map with all important spots in the Coffee Region