4.6374° N, 75.5703° W
5 IMPORTANT THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU HEAD OUT TO EXPLORE COLOMBIA'S GORGEOUS, GREEN COFFEE GROWING REGION (AKA THE COFFEE TRIANGLE).
There are few places that somehow combine stunning natural beauty with interesting and exciting culture - Colombia's Coffee Region is one of those places.
Full of many different adventures - from hot springs to volcanoes to the tallest palm trees in the world - this part of the country is definitely worth exploring. Below are five things every traveler should know before booking their ticket down to Colombia's Coffee Region (Coffee Triangle).
WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE EXPLORING COLOMBIA'S COFFEE REGION
\\ It Rains A Lot
Like even in the dry season it still rains almost every day. While we absolutely love the rain, we totally understand that it can put a serious damper on many plans - including a lot of outdoor adventures.
In our experience, it is best to wake up early and try to beat the afternoon showers that usually come in (often around 2 PM). If you are fine with waking up early then you will likely be able to fulfill most things on your travel list before the weather really turns sour.
Similarly, even when it is raining the temperatures still aren’t too bad. As long as you have a warm waterproof jacket and some sturdy, waterproof boots you should still be able to head out and do some exploring - no matter whether it is rain or shine.
INSIDER TIP: and if you do get caught in a rainstorm there is no better way to warm back up than with a nice hot cup of coffee - this place is great - and a delicious, freshly made cheesy arepa (here are the best ones in town).
\\ Be Prepared for Lots of Mud
In the same vein, when exploring the coffee region be prepared for a good amount of mud. This includes in places like the famous Cocora Valley, around the town of Salento - including at many of the coffee fincas, and in the smaller towns in the foothills like Filandia, Circasia and Quimbaya.
This is why, when planning an adventure, we always make sure to have a good thick pair of socks and some sturdy boots with us. Also along with the thick, squelchy mud, more often than not, you will also have to deal with slick sidewalks (especially if they are tiled), piles of horse poop (especially up near Salento) and small river crossings. So even if you are only planning to walk around town, having a good pair of boots might not be a bad idea.
We have been on numerous muddy adventures around the Colombian Coffee Region and these boots have held up really well. Check them out here for yourself.
\\ There are A Lot of Coffee Experience Options
As you would expect in a place that is famous for its coffee, there are a lot of different options and ways to experience el café. This includes heading out on a coffee tour along Salento’s Ruta de Café, exploring a smaller coffee fincas close to town, or just simply stopping in at a local coffee shop in the heart of towns like Salento or Filandia (here is a great one in Filandia).
We did a six-hour coffee tour at a locally owned and operated finca and absolutely loved it. But we totally understand if you want something a bit less in-depth. That is why there are many different options depending on how much you want to learn and how much time you have to spend exploring the whole coffee cycle. Below are a couple of great options near the town of Salento.
Las Acacias Coffee Farm: a family-owned finca that also grows many other crops besides coffee, plus they also have a great little café with a stunning view of the surrounding landscape
Finca El Ocaso: just down the road from Las Acacias is another family owned and operated finca. This one is a bit more commercialized than others but it offers in-depth tours (some of which are in English). The family that owns the finca is all about preserving the entire coffee culture - from growing the actual coffee to all the processes between plant and cup.
Don Eduardo: located right on the edge of Salento, this working coffee farm also offers rooms at the beautiful Plantation House Hostel (they are connected) - which was actually the original coffee finca in the town of Salento (you can still see the original coffee plants in the yard).
If you aren’t feeling a coffee tour or just don’t have the time, you can also just simply walk around the towns and try some of the local coffee at the numerous cafes. A few of our favorites are Café de la Esquina, located off the main square in Salento, Bourbon Café Bar in Circasia, FRIENDS COFFEE SHOP in Armenia and MOCAFE in Filandia.
GOOD TO KNOW: you should also take the time to check out the uber-famous Jesus Martin coffee shop in Salento. The owner - Jesus Martin - is said to be the man who saved Colombian coffee (read the story here). Plus, even though it is touristy it is still darn good coffee.
\\ It is Popular with Tourists - International and Local Alike
We definitely expected to see quite a few international tourists in the Coffee Region, especially since we learned that Cocora Valley is the second most visited spot in the country after Cartagena’s old city. But what we didn’t expect was how many Colombian tourists we also saw exploring the area.
This was especially true in towns like Filandia, Circasia and Salento, and especially on the weekends. If planning to do some adventures between Friday and Saturday, we suggest getting an early start and making reservations if possible (for places like Cocora it isn’t). This is also true if you are looking to find rooms in those towns during the weekend for many of the Colombian travelers do come from far away cities like Cali, Bogota and Medellin and therefore book rooms in the local hostels and hotels. If planning to visit the Coffee Region during a weekend (or a holiday as well) we suggest planning ahead and booking a spot early.
Also, just be prepared to have many of the popular places - like Cocora Valley - to be filled with other travelers, both international and Colombian alike.
INSIDER TIP: if you want to stay in Salento but don’t need to be in the heart of the action then we recommend Yambolombia Hostel, a great, peaceful spot that is located about one mile from town off of the road to all the coffee fincas. Find more hostels in Salento (and other towns in the Coffee Triangle) here.
\\ Buses are Reliable, but Willys are More Fun
One of the best things about exploring Colombia’s coffee region - and Colombia as a whole - is their easy-to-use public transportation system, especially their numerous buses. If you are looking to explore multiple towns in the coffee region during your trip then we highly suggest using the bus system, since it is fast, cheap and most importantly, reliable.
The main bus terminals of the region are in the cities of Armenia and Pereira, though each town (no matter the size) has its own bus stop (Salento also has a nice bus terminal). One important thing to know about buses in this region is that most of the smaller buses will just simply say where they are going on a white piece of paper on the front window (for example: SALENTO or FILANDIA).
From the city of Armenia the most common destinations are the towns of Circasia, Filandia, Calarca and Salento. Most of the bus routes will cost less than 7000 COP (~ $1.75). For example, a bus from Armenia to Salento costs 5300 COP per person and takes between 40 minutes to an hour depending on traffic in town.
But if you are looking for an even more exciting way to get around the area then we highly recommend checking out the colorful WW2-era jeeps known as Willy’s. These retro-style jeeps are commonly seen in both Salento and Filandia, and are also the main transportation option up to Cocora Valley. While they aren’t as easy to use as buses they are a hell of a lot of fun and definitely worth doing at least once.
GOOD TO KNOW: if looking to head up to Cocora Valley first go to the main square in Salento and buy your ticket at the white and pink booth (it is 4000 COP per way). Then hop on the first Willy that is heading up - the drivers will let you know. You can also take a Willy down to the town of Filandia (and then back up again).
Learn more about bus travel around Colombia here.
While the Coffee Region of Colombia is pretty popular with other travelers (the entire region is a UNESCO site) - both international and local alike - it still somehow feels like a world away from other touristy areas in the country (Cartagena, Medellin, Bogota). The whole region is just bursting with things to do, from learning about all things coffee at a family run finca to soaking in natural hot springs under a waterfall to walking around a forest full of the tallest palm trees in the world.
The Colombian Coffee Region (Coffee Triangle) is, in our opinion, one of the best ways to explore both Colombian culture and nature. Hopefully, these 5 things will help you plan your own adventure to the beautiful coffee region yourself.
If you have any questions about this part of Colombia - from what to do to what to expect - please feel free to leave a comment below or reach out to us here.