Top 10 Things to See and Do in the Zona Cafetera, Colombia
The Colombian Coffee Region | © Chris Bell
Colombia is one of the largest producers of coffee in the world, and Colombian coffee is recognized as some of the finest there is. A visit to Colombia isn’t complete without paying a visit to the Coffee Zone, comprising the departments of Caldas, Risaralda, Quindio, and a small part of Valle del Cauca. From coffee tours to hot-air balloon flights, there are many amazing activities to enjoy in the Zona Cafetera. Here are 10 of the best things to see and do.
Salento is probably the most popular tourist destination in the Zona Cafetera, and this is likely because it is the base for one of Colombia’s most beautiful and popular hikes: the Cocora Valley Trail. This verdant valley is home to a huge population of the endangered and endemic Quindio wax palm – the tallest palm tree in the world – which towers over visitors, giving the entire experience a distinctly surreal edge. The hike takes a few hours and takes in lovely cloud forest and farmland scenery, culminating in the once-in-a-lifetime experience of wandering among the mighty giants of Cocora.
The towering wax palms of the Cocora Valley | © McKay Savage/Flickr
You can’t visit the Coffee Region and not take a coffee tour to learn about the most important product in the area, and this tour is probably the best of the lot. Often called “The Best Coffee Tour in Colombia,” the WakeCup Experience by Experiencia Cafetera goes beyond a regular coffee tour to offer a completely immersive and detailed coffee experience. Visitors have the unique opportunity to spend time with farmers, pickers, jeep drivers, and local people, allowing them to truly discover the importance of coffee to the entire culture and way of life of the region. If you plan to take one coffee tour in Colombia, this should be it.
Discovering the culture of Colombian coffee on the WakeCup Experience tour | © Experiencia Cafetera / Experiencia Cafetera
The landscapes of the Coffee Region are some of the most spectacular in the country, and the best way to see them is from a basket as you fly over Quindio department in a hot-air balloon. It’s not exactly a budget traveller option, but the flights – operated by Globos Colombia – are a unique experience, and offer unparalleled views of distant Andean peaks, fields of coffee, plantain, and bamboo, and the lovely little houses and towns that make up the region.
Flying a hot-air balloon over Quindio department | © Chris Bell
This area is home to so many lovely little towns that it would be a shame to single out just one. Travelers will surely be delighted by the relaxed atmosphere and architectural beauty of Salento, Filandia, Pijao, Buenavista, Marsella, Aguadas, Santuario, and Genova. A visitor could spend weeks exploring the multiple beautiful and characterful little towns of the Coffee Region and never get bored.
The lovely little town of Pijao | © Chris Bell
Colombia has more recorded species of bird than any other country in the world, and the Coffee Region boasts more species than practically any other part of the country. The sheer diversity of species and habitats in these, Colombia’s smallest departments, is quite breathtaking, and birding enthusiasts will love exploring the Nevados National Park, Otun Quimbaya Reserve, Rio Blanco, Tatama National Park, Cerro Montezuma, and many more incredible birding spots.
Arguably the most surreal tourist attraction on offer in the Coffee Region, the Yipao Jeep Festival takes place annually in several towns and cities of the area, notably in Calarca and Armenia in Quindio department. The festival consists of a series of parades and demonstrations celebrating the iconic Willys Jeeps of the Coffee Region. The jeeps parade through the streets stacked high with goods, or perform acrobatic stunts on their back wheels. It’s a noisy, crazy, and incredibly unique Colombian festival and can only be enjoyed in the Coffee Region.
Yipao celebrations in the Colombian Coffee Region | © Chris Bell
An entire theme park dedicated to coffee? It sounds like the stuff of dreams for many people, but here in the Coffee Region it’s a reality. Owned and operated by the National Federation of Coffee Growers, the Parque Nacional del Cafe isn’t necessarily high on most people’s list of places to visit in the region, but it’s a great day out and well worth a visit. With a coffee museum, interactive displays dedicated to coffee history, and multiple rollercoasters, log flumes, and other rides, it’s worth making time to pay a visit to the National Coffee Park.
The National Coffee Park | © Chris Bell
Colombia’s most famous hot springs are located in the Coffee Region, not far from Pereira in Risaralda department. Just outside the little town of Santa Rosa de Cabal, the termales are the most impressive of their type in the country, as they flow down from the mountain above in a waterfall. It’s a stunning sight, and visitors can hike up to the foot of the falls to bathe in a lovely natural thermal pool. Less adventurous types can still enjoy the hot waters at the nearby hotel, where a smaller waterfall feeds several different pools, at a variety of temperatures. There are also some lovely hot springs close to Manizales, one of the larger cities in the Coffee Region.
The lovely hot=springs of Santa Rosa de Cabal | © Triángulo del Café Travel/Flickr
One of Colombia’s most beautiful national parks is located just outside of Manizales, the capital city of Caldas department. With several snow-capped volcanos – some of Colombia’s highest mountain peaks – located in the park, it’s an amazing day trip to enjoy on a visit to the Coffee Region. Guests can take trips up to the glacier of Santa Isabel Mountain, or enjoy beautiful paramo landscapes on a trip to Black Lake and the edge of Ruiz Volcano (visits to the snow line here are no longer permitted due to seismic activity). Los Nevados National Park is a breathtaking place, and shows that there’s a lot more to the Coffee Region than many people think.
The beautiful landscapes of Los Nevados National Park | ©Triángulo del Café Travel / Flickr
If flying over the Coffee Region in a hot-air balloon is beyond your budget – or if it’s not extreme enough for you – then you’re in luck: visitors to the Coffee Region can also soar above the UNESCO World Heritage landscapes of the Coffee Cultural Region on a paragliding excursion. The best place to enjoy this extreme sport is the small town of Buenavista – also home to one of Colombia’s coolest hostels – where participants can enjoy incredible views over the distant mountains of the western range of the Colombian Andes, and coffee farms laid out like patchwork quilts, blanketing the mountains below.
Panorama Café Hostel, Calle 3 # 7-28, Buenavista, Quindio, Colombia, +57 3184932758