EVERYTHING A TRAVELER NEEDS TO KNOW ABOUT EXPLORING THE LESSER KNOWN WINE REGION OF COLOMBIA AND THE CAPITAL OF COLOMBIAN WINE, LA UNION.
While aguardiente might be the most popular drink in Colombia - and the alcohol the country is most known for - we instead invite you to learn about a much more off the beaten path area of Colombia: the Colombian wine region, and the cute agricultural town of La Union in particular.
La Union, located in the Valle del Cauca, is a medium-sized town with a surprisingly rich agricultural industry. While they are most famous for producing wine - the majority of wine in Colombia is produced there - they also grow numerous tropical fruits; including, papaya, pineapple and passion fruit.
If you are looking for an exciting, off the beaten path region of Colombia to explore - or you just want to go somewhere where sunshine and cold glasses of wine are readily available - then we highly suggest adding La Union and the great Colombian wine region to your Colombia travel itinerary. Below is everything you need to know to plan the perfect off the beaten path adventure.
EXPLORING LA UNION IN COLOMBIA'S WINE COUNTRY
\\ A Quick History of Wine in Colombia and La Union
While wine might not be the alcohol Colombia is known for, it still has a relatively long history with the grape liquor. In fact, Colombia's wine history is relatively unique. While other countries in the region - Peru and Chile for example - started growing and harvesting grapes for more enjoyable and light-hearted reasons, Colombia's wine production was solely for religious reasons. Similarly, though vineyards and wineries would be privately owned in other countries, almost all of the grapes grown for wine were done and controlled by monasteries.
Finally, and this could be the root cause as to why you likely haven't heard as much about Colombian wine as other places (again, specifically Chile), after the country's independence from Spain the Colombian government actually barred European immigrants into the country. This ended up leading to an overall lack of information on wine making and more importantly, a lack of a wine drinking audience.
Put altogether, this is likely why viticulture is so small in Colombia compared to other South American countries and why the majority of Colombian citizens like to drink beer (cerveza) and aguardiente - the national liquor that is made out of sugar cane (which is grown heavily in the country).
History of La Union, Valle del Cauca
While La Union was founded in 1604 by Juan Jacinto Palomino (and other citizens from the nearby settlement of Toro), in truth, the area had been inhabited for hundreds of years by the Gorrones, an indigenous tribe that lived on the western side of the Cauca River.
In the late 1700s, the town was the scene of the most important social protest against the Spanish authority - who at the time controlled the whole region under the name New Granada. This episode became known as the uprising of Hato de Lemos (which at the time was the name of the town).
In 1890 the settlement was designated as its own municipality and in 1941 its name was officially changed to La Union.
Today, La Union is known as The Wine Capital of Colombia because of its large wine industry, which mostly centers around the high number of vineyards and production plants owned by the Vinícola Casa Grajales (Grajales is the largest wine producer in Colombia). Besides growing and producing wine (which is the town's main economic activity), La Union is also known for growing many types of fruits; including, tomatoes, passion fruit (maracuya), papaya, lemons and blackberries (mora).
Boyacá: The Other Colombian Wine Country
While La Union might be known as the Wine Capital of Colombia it is not alone in wine production. In fact, if you are looking to explore more wineries and vineyards in the country, we suggest heading a bit further east to the Boyacá department and the town of Villa de Leyva in particular.
One of the best spots to start your wine tasting tour of Boyacá is at the Vinedo Ain Karim (Ain Karim Vineyard). While they do import some of their grapes from places like France and California, USA their wine has been internationally recognized. Plus, the town of Villa de Leyva is often cited as one of the prettiest towns in Colombia.
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: the town of Villa de Leyva is located about 3 hours north of Bogota in the Boyacá department.
LA UNION'S NICKNAME: The Wine Capital of Colombia
EXPLORE MORE | TRAVELING TO PIJAO, AN OFF THE BEATEN PATH TOWN IN COLOMBIA'S COFFEE REGION
\\ Where is La Union, Colombia
La Unión is a medium-sized town in the Valle del Cauca department of Colombia. The Valle del Cauca (or Cauca Valley) is a very large department that spans most of the valley between two of the three mountain ranges - the Cordillera Occidental and the Cordillera Central - that cross all of Colombia. Overall, the Valle del Cauca is very agriculturally rich, especially for the production of sugar cane (it grows 80% of all the sugar cane in Colombia).
The town of La Union itself is located in the northern region of the department along the Cauca River. It is around 150 kilometers or so from the capital of the department, Cali (which is the third-largest city in Colombia) and just under 400 kilometers from the capital of the country, Bogota.
ELEVATION: 975 meters // 3,198 feet
POPULATION: 41,013 people
Weather in La Union
The weather in La Union is characterized by high levels of sunshine, low levels of rain and relatively warm temperatures (on average the temperature is around 23° C or 74° F). In fact, the high levels of sunshine and the fact that the town sits at a relatively high elevation means more sugar in the fruits grown - including the grapes. This higher level of sugar content means better wine.
When we visited the town, the temperatures got up to around 27° C (or roughly 80°F) and the sky was a beautiful clear shade of blue. During the evening, the temperature did start to drop down quite a bit - especially when the wind picked up.
💬 INSIDER TIP: the wind in La Union can be quite intense, so much so that the town (and the great Valle del Cauca region) has become a popular spot for paragliding. We noticed the wind was especially strong during the evening hours.
The Best Time to Visit La Union & Colombia Wine Country
Like most places in Colombia, the weather does not change very much throughout the year. In La Union in particular, you can expect warmer temperatures and sunshine almost every day of the year (though they do have a rainy season just like the rest of Colombia). Therefore there really isn’t a “bad” time to visit La Union, and the Valle del Cauca region in particular.