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.
TOP 5 THINGS TO DO AND EXPLORE IN ARMENIA, COLOMBIA
Due to its central location, Armenia has a lot of interesting places to explore. But one important thing to note is that, though Armenia is very well located, the city itself does not have a lot to offer besides tasty restaurants, hip cafes and large shopping centers.
1 | Visit the Quindio Botanical Garden & Butterfly Park
The Quindío Botanical Gardens, located just outside of Armenia in the smaller town of Calarca, is one of the neatest natural places in the whole coffee triangle. For starters, the garden is a great place to explore and learn about the local flora, especially endemic ferns, palms, and colorful tropical flowers (the owner of the garden - it is privately owned - has the goal of growing and preserving every types of palm tree in the world in the garden). Similarly, while you walk around you also have a great opportunity to see various species of birds; including, crimson-rumped toucanets, spectacled owls and 14 types of hummingbirds.
Secondly, the large, vibrant garden (it is around 14 hectares big) is also home to not only a massive building in the shape of a butterfly - which you can clearly see from the 22 meter tall metal tower you can climb up to the top of - but also 2,000 butterflies.
GOOD TO KNOW: you must explore the botanical garden and butterfly park (mariposario) with a guide. We were lucky and got a fantastic lady who spoke really good English. The tour lasts between1.5-2 hours and along the way you get to learn about all of the different plants, birds and mammals that call Quindio (and the Andes of Colombia) home.
| COST: 50000 COP ($12.63 USD // €11.18 Euros) per adult and 30000 COP per child ($7.58 USD // €6.71 Euros)
| GETTING THERE: the Quindío Botanical Gardens is located in the town of Calarca, just outside of Armenia. To reach the garden you need to take a bus marked 'Mariposario'. This ride should take around 40 minutes and cost 2700 COP per person ($0.69 USD // €0.60 Euros). A taxi will cost around 25000 COP.
2 | Walk Around Parque de La Vida (Park of Life)
This hidden oasis is the perfect place for travelers looking to experience a bit of nature while still staying within city limits.
The park has multiple winding paths and covered wooden bridges that crisscross through thick bamboo forests and over bubbling rivers. There are plenty of areas to sit and look at the numerous birds and butterflies, or have a picnic. Similarly, the park is home to a number of interesting animals; including, massive geese, chickens, and a cute little rodent called an agouti.
We suggest visiting the park during mid-day and having a picnic on one of the hills overlooking a small pond or wandering around with a coffee in hand (many of our favorite coffee shops are located nearby).
| COST: 3000 - 6000 COP ($1.26 USD // €1.12 Euros) to enter
| HOURS: it is open 7 AM - 7 PM (7 days a week)
| WHERE: the park is located on the northern side of Armenia off of Carrera 14. You can reach it either by walking, taking a taxi or grabbing one of the public buses (all buses will likely pass right by the park). The exact location is here.
EXPLORE MORE | THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO COCORA VALLEY
3 | Explore Parque del Café (The Coffee Park)
This coffee-themed amusement park is located just outside of Armenia in the small town of Montenegro. Considered one of the most important theme parks in all of Latin America, as well as one of the most popular attractions in Colombia, Parque del Café is a great spot to head to on the weekend to not only get your adrenaline pumping on some of the rides, but to also learn about all things coffee.
The park was designed to pay tribute to the more than 500,000 coffee families in the country, as well as the whole culture of coffee in general. In fact, within its boundaries, you can meander through its coffee museum, walk through a coffee plantation and even explore a global coffee garden. And after learning all about coffee, you can then hop on a cable car and head to the actual amusement park area - home to 20 rides, including rollercoasters.
Learn more about the amusement park here.
| COST: 59000 COP ($14.90 USD // 13.19 Euros) per adult, 45000 COP ($11.37 USD // 10.06 Euros) per child
| HOURS: 9 AM - 6 PM (7 days a week)
| WHERE: the amusement park is located around 30 minutes from Armenia and 10 minutes from the small town of Montenegro. You can take a bus to Montenegro and then either try to grab a bus to the amusement park or take a taxi.
4 | Visit the Cute Coffee Town of Filandia
While the nearby town of Salento might get most of the tourist love, we instead suggest heading to the equally cute, but lesser-known town of Filandia.
This small coffee-growing town is full of colorful buildings, friendly locals, delicious food, and a funky alien spaceship-looking mirador. And while this place is not nearly as popular with foreign tourists, we still suggest visiting during the week if you can, for on weekends the town gets quite busy with locals.
We suggest giving yourself a full day in the town - enough time to wander around the colorful streets, try some delicious coffee (we like this place best), walk out to the mirador and then end with a delicious meal at Helena Adentro, a restaurant many people say could be the best in the whole country.
| WHERE: Filandia is located about 45 minutes north of Armenia along the major north to south highway (Hwy 29). Find the exact location here.
| HOW TO GET TO FILANDIA: you can easily grab a bus to Filandia either from the main bus station in Armenia or anywhere along Avenida Centenario (this is a great spot). Just look for the buses that say FILANDIA on the front. It should cost between 5000 COP and 6000 COP ($1.26 USD // 1.12 Euros) each way.
INSIDER TIP: we highly (highly) recommend visiting the famous restaurant Helena Adentro for a delicious, locally sourced meal. The food, the drinks and the views are all spectacular.
EXPLORE MORE | 5 REASONS YOU NEED TO VISIT FILANDIA
5 | Take the Bus to Circasia
Another somewhat underrated town near Armenia is Circasia - which, though small, is full of life. Similar to Filandia, Circasia is a surprisingly exciting town with a rich culture, colorful architecture and interesting things to do. But not a lot of tourists.
If you are interested to see what traditional coffee region architecture looks like and don’t want to head all the way out to Filandia or Salento, then Circasia is a great choice. We recommend spending the day wandering around the older district (near the main square) and visiting the mirador or viewpoint on the east side of town.
| WHERE: the small coffee town is only 8 kilometers (5 miles) from Armenia and takes about 10 minutes to get to by bus or by taxi. The exact location is here.
| HOW TO GET TO CIRCASIA: just like Filandia, you can easily reach Circasia by grabbing a bus either at the main bus terminal in town or picking it up along Avenida Centenario. Just look for a bus with CIRCASIA written on the front. Or you can usually (90% of the time) grab a bus heading to Filandia or Salento and just hop off when they cut through Circasia.