7 Underrated Experiences to Have in the Zona Cafetera, Colombia
Hot air balloon in the Colombian Coffee Region | © Chris Bell / The Culture Trip
Most people who visit the Colombian Coffee Region do several different activities: they take a coffee tour, hike the Cocora Valley, and visit a pretty town like Salento. However, the three regions that make up the Zona Cafetera – Quindio, Risaralda, and Caldas – have a lot more to offer than just these classic activities. So here are 7 excellent, and underrated, alternative activities to enjoy.
The ‘other’ Cocora Valley, the Samaria Valley is a stronghold for the endangered and endemic Quindio Wax Palm (the giant trees that made Cocora so famous). Samaria, however, boasts three times as many of the palms as Cocora, and a fraction of the tourists. It’s an unknown and vastly underrated alternative to the Zona Cafetera’s biggest tourist draw.
Wax Palms in the Samaris Valley | © Chris Bell / The Culture Trip
Salento, and to a lesser extent Filandia, tend to attract the vast majority of the tourists in the region in search of an authentic small-town vibe and some local architecture. But with equally lovely and much more undervisited towns like Salamina, Aguadas, Marsella, Pijao, Buenavista, and Genova all in the Coffee Region, there’s no reason why you can’t have those experiences without the tourist crowds.
The annual Jeep parades in the Quindio town of Calarca (similar parades also happen in Armenia, and in smaller towns like Buenavista) are a raucous and riotous celebration of the Coffee Culture of Colombia. Participants load up their Jeep Willys – an iconic vehicle inextricably linked to the Coffee Region – and parade them through the streets, often doing incredible acrobatic jeep tricks as well! A unique and little-known way to enjoy the Colombian coffee culture.
Yipao celebrations in the Colombian Coffee Region | © Chris Bell
The company Globos Colombia offer a truly unique and underrated travel experience in the Zona Cafetera: the chance to fly over the stunning landscapes of Quindio in a hot air balloon. The flights leave from near Montenegro, south of Armenia, and take in the stunning central Andean Plain with stunning views over the Central and Western Andes. It’s a pricey trip, but a worthwhile one.
The view from a flight with Globos Colombia | © Chris Bell / The Culture Trip
The Andes of the Coffee Region is home to some excellent hot springs and thermal baths. The most famous – but still generally underrated compared to many activities in the region – are those at Santa Rosa de Cabal near Pereira, but there are some fantastic thermals near Manizales too: the hotel Termales del Ruiz is especially amazing.
Birding – or birdwatching for the uninitiated – is one of the most interesting and unique tourism activities throughout Colombia, but the Coffee Region is home to a huge number of bird species, and a trip birding to one of the myriad reserves and natural parks dotted around the region is a truly underrated travel experience in the Coffee Region. Even if you’re no birder, it’s a great way to get out into nature and learn a bit more about the natural world.
A beautiful bird in the Colombian Coffee Region | © Chris Bell / The Culture Trip
Enjoy the rides at the National Coffee Park
A theme park dedicated entirely to coffee and Colombian coffee culture?! It actually exists! The National Coffee Park near Armenia in Quindio may not seem like a great tourism activity, but its rollercoasters and rides, as well as coffee gardens and interactive museums actually make for an excellent day out, especially if you are travelling with children.
National Coffee Park, Montenegro, Quindio, Colombia +57 6 7417417