4.5350° N, 75.6757° W
EVEN THOUGH IT IS ONE-THIRD OF COLOMBIA’S COFFEE TRIANGLE, ARMENIA HAS SOMEHOW BEEN ABLE TO STAY UNDER THE TOURIST RADAR. BUT THAT DOES NOT MEAN IT IS NOT WORTH EXPLORING - HERE IS WHY.
We didn't know much about Armenia when we decided to move there for a month. In truth, the only things we really did know was that the weather would likely be nicer than Cartagena (goodbye 100+ degree heat), that there would (hopefully) be more access to nature, and that the city was part of the Colombian Coffee Triangle (or Axis). In the end, our decision to head towards Armenia really just came down to a gut feeling and a hope that it would be a good place to spend some time.
So without doing too much research, we followed our intuition and jumped on a bus headed straight for the interior of Colombia. Luckily, within a couple of days we knew our guts had steered as right. We LOVED Armenia. So much so that we ended up extending our Airbnb for almost a whole extra month.
And during our almost two months in the city we explored a lot - especially the restaurant & coffee shop scene and the nearby surrounding towns (and national park). Below is our comprehensive, field-tested guild to the city of Armenia, a place that for some reason is not on many travelers lists.
THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO ARMENIA, COLOMBIA
\\ A Quick History of Armenia
The city was founded in 1889 by Jesús María Ocampo, also known as "Tigrero" ("tiger killer") due to his love of hunting jaguars - which are known locally as tigers. Ocampo first arrived in the area because he was looking for shelter in the mountains of Quindío while running away from General Gallo.
He soon paid one hundred pesos in gold coins to Antonio Herrera for the land on which to build a fonda, or trade center, not only for himself but also for other colonists who came from the nearby settlements of Salento, Antioquia, Manizales, and areas surrounding the Quindío River and La Vieja River.
Ocampo then proceeded to encourage settlement of the land (that he also happened to be selling). To speed up the settlement process, he eventually returned to his hometown to ask for the help of his friend Juan de la Cruz Cardona and to marry thirteen-year-old Arsenia Cardona.
Six months after its founding, Armenia had already reached a population of 100 people, which allowed it to gain legal recognition by the government.
But, despite Armenia's quickly expanding economy at the time, the means of transport were still very limited. Due to the mountainous terrain, the main form of transporting people and merchandise to the city was by mule. It was not until the construction of the first asphalt road—in 1927 (almost 100 years after settlement) that transport was improved.
The 1999 Earthquake
On Monday, January 25, 1999, a 6.2 magnitude earthquake occurred in Quindío. The epicenter was located 17 km south of Armenia. The earthquake was one of the most devastating events to have occurred in Colombia in recent history, with an estimated 1,900 casualties.
The earthquake was also felt in Risaralda, Valle Del Cauca, Tolima, Antioquia, and Cundinamarca, but Armenia was the hardest-hit city. But, in just 15 years the city was entirely rebuilt. Though, due to the earthquake, many of the colorful historic buildings you see in nearby towns (Filandia, Salento) are no longer in Armenia.
Scientists estimate that a large earthquake, approximately 6–7 in magnitude, will hit the area every 20 years due to high seismic activity.
How Did Armenia Get its Name?
This was one of the first questions we actually had about the city. And after doing some research, this is what we found.
During the founding meeting of the city, which occurred in October of 1889, the name Villa Holguín was suggested, in honor of Carlos Holguín Mallarino, the then-current president of the country. However, the proposal was rejected, and the name Armenia was put to a vote and approved in November of the same year.
So in fact, the belief that the name was changed to Armenia after the country of the same name, in memory of the Armenian people murdered by the Turkish Ottomans in the Hamidian Massacres of 1894–97 (and later the Armenian genocide of 1915–23) is false. For the murders happened a number of years after the town was already named.
It is more likely that the city was named after the historical Kingdom of Armenia and not the Hamidian Massacres, for it was common for early colonists and settlers all over the world to look to the Bible when naming their cities.
\\ Where is Armenia, Colombia
Armenia is one part of the Colombian coffee triangle, which sits in the central region of the country. The medium-sized city is the capital of the Quindío Department, the second smallest department in the country, and one of the four main departments for coffee cultivation.
The city is located on the edge of the central Cordillera mountain range, which is one of three mountain ranges that run the entire length of Colombia.
Armenia is about 7 hours away from the capital city of Bogota and the large metropolis of Medellin - that is when the roads are clear (landslides are common). You can reach both, as well as the large city of Cali, by bus, car or by air.
ELEVATION OF ARMENIA: 1,551 meters // 5,089 feet
POPULATION OF ARMENIA: 295,208 people
Weather in Armenia
Due to its location near the equator and its relatively high elevation, Armenia‘s climate is pretty mild and unchanging. The average temperature ranges between 18–23 °C (64–73 °F) and light rain showers are common.
If you are planning to head out for an adventure in and around the city, we suggest going early in the morning for we found the afternoons tended to have the most rain showers. During our two months in Armenia we had a fair amount of thunderstorms - especially at night. As long as you have waterproof shoes and maybe an umbrella, you should be completely fine.