4.3343° N, 75.7036° W
GET TOTALLY OFF-THE-BEATEN-PATH IN THIS CUTE, COLORFUL TOWN THAT LIES IN THE HEART OF THE
COLOMBIAN COFFEE REGION.
Situated in the lush mountains of Colombian's Coffee Region (eje cafetero) is the small, colorful town of Pijao. While it might have all the necessary requirements for a popular tourist town (culture, good food, adventure, beauty) somehow it has stayed under the radar for international travelers.
If you are looking to explore a town that has everything more popular coffee towns have (i.e. Salento), but don't want to be surrounded by other travelers, then we definitely suggest adding this off-the-beaten-path Colombian destination to your travel itinerary.
Below is everything you need to know about the exciting town of Pijao.
A TRAVELERS GUIDE TO PIJAO, COLOMBIA
\\ The Basics
Population: 5,700 in the city itself and just over 10,000 in the whole area (this includes all the nearby fincas)
Elevation: 2,612 meters // 8,570 feet (~ 600 meters // 2,000 feet higher than Salento)
What’s In a Name: the town was originally known as San Antonio de Colón until 1930 when it was changed to Pijao. The name comes from the indigenous tribe that lived in the region until the Spanish arrived. Today, a small group of Pijao people still live in the Tolima department (the neighboring department to Quindio).
It is pronounced pee-how.
A Quick Bit of History
The first settlers in the area arrived in the 1890s from nearby Tolima. Many of the earliest settlers were radical Liberal guerrillas who were fleeing prosecution from the governing Conservative regime (as well as the Thousand Day War). Among the first inhabitants were Quintiliano Fernández and his wife Griselda Marín. Some historians tell the story of how the couple's Conservative enemies tracked them down to Pijao and tortured Griselda until she revealed the location of her father - who was also a leading guerrilla fighter.
Years later, more settlers arrived - mostly from the Manizales and Antioquia area. The new inhabitants decided to construct a town in order to have a church, school and other necessary amenities. The town was finally "founded" on May 15, 1902.
GOOD TO KNOW: for the first 36 years of its existence, the town had no road access. Instead, there was a mountain path to nearby Calarcá that took two days by mule and three days if being carried by porters (people). The road that reaches the town today ended up taking ten years to construct. It was finally opened in 1938.
\\ Why Visit Pijao
We decided to pack an overnight bag and head to Pijao on sort of a whim. After spending more than a week straight in Salento during the busiest time of the year, we were starting to be worn a bit thin by the constant cacophony of people - especially at night (you can only take so much reggaetón at 2 AM).
So we started to look at the surrounding area (mostly the Quindio department) for a fun, relaxing weekend adventure.
That is how we stumbled upon the small town of Pijao, situated just south of Armenia and close to a town we had already been recommended to visit (that town was Buenavista, but more on that later).
2 hours and 2 buses later we arrived and instantly got the feeling we had made the right decision. The town was colorful and lively, but not touristy in the least. It just felt like a cool Colombian coffee town. Simply put, it had good vibes.
So why should you also visit Pijao?
First, the overall lack of tourists. After spending the last month in Salento - during the holiday season no less - we were ready to escape the hustle and bustle of other travelers and just get back to quintessential, traditional Colombia. Pijao has that in spades.
Second, it is beautiful. While it doesn’t have the mountain views that Salento does (hello Nevado Tolima), it is still situated in a really pretty area. On all sides are lush green hills, while the clear, fast-moving Rio Lejos runs straight through town. Plus, it is close to some pretty amazing landscapes - including another wax palm forest and the páramo ecosystem.
Finally, it is an awesome place to slow down and get back to nature. Not only is the town close to some awesome and unique landscapes, but just within town you can easily walk out on three different dirt roads and trails and get some amazing views of the mountains as well as the opportunity to see various birds, flowers, and butterflies.
If you want to explore more of the Colombian Coffee Region (eje cafetero), but in a place that still focuses primarily on its roots in growing and processing coffee, then definitely add Pijao to your travel list. Not only does it feel like a quintessential small Colombian coffee village, but it is also just downright beautiful and full of adventure. We honestly didn’t really want to leave!
EXPLORE MORE | A TRAVELERS GUIDE TO SALENTO, COLOMBIA
\\ What to Do in Pijao
For such a small town, there is actually quite a bit to do. Below are a few of the most common adventures and activities in Pijao.
Check out the Architecture
Pijao is sometimes called the “Less-Touristy Salento” thanks to its similar town size and architecture. For example, the main square in Pijao is surrounded by colorful colonial-style buildings, including many with various bird motifs. Really the only modern building in town is the main church, which sits on the corner of the main plaza and can be seen for miles around.
We recommend spending a bit of time simply just walking around town (don’t worry it is quite small and very safe). This will allow you to get a good idea of the town's historic architecture as well as a better feel for the town itself.
EXPLORE MORE | 5 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT COLOMBIA'S COFFEE REGION