The only thing I knew about Colombia’s coffee growing region before visiting was that I expected to find some pretty great coffee. Aside from that, the region was a mystery to me, which as a traveler can be exciting. What transformed my few days in the area though was the great advice provided by my Monograms Local Host and his suggestions on how to spend my time exploring the region. Traveling around Colombia with Monograms, the hosts were a key benefit ; their local knowledge transformed my journey into something truly extraordinary and nowhere was that more true than in the rugged and misty region know for its coffee and beautiful landscapes.
The Cocora Valley comes from the indigenous word for “star of water” and it’s certainly a cloudy, wet part of the country. It’s also home to Colombia’s national tree, the gigantic wax palm. It was this tree more than anything that transformed a simple hike into something extraordinary. The last place I’d ever expect to see these massive palms is high up in the Colombian Andes, a world of impossibly diverse shades of green and clouds that envelop you as you walk along. It’s a surreal almost magical place, which in large part defines Colombia. Arguably Colombia’s greatest author, Gabriel García Márquez is famous for his use of magical realism, which is a realistic view of the world that adds in magical elements. I couldn’t think of a better way to describe my morning tramping through the grasses and damp fields of the valley. It was real, but there was something else there too, something I could almost grasp but it kept eluding me. No doubt there’s magic in these hills, a special kind of effect that surely makes this one of the most extraordinary spots on the planet. Practically speaking, visiting the parklands is easy and the hike to see the best of the valley only takes about an hour or so. There’s a small tourist village nearby where you can treat yourself to a local lunch afterwards.
Hacienda San Jose
I had never stayed in a rural hacienda before and didn’t know exactly what to expect, but as soon as I arrived to the Hacienda San Jose I knew it was a hotel I would soon love. Tucked away in the jungle, the estate is a historic farm and today the main house has been lovingly restored to reflect an era long since past. One of the oldest estates in Pereira, I was instantly impressed not only by the colonial architecture, but also by the beautiful period furniture and curios dotting the rooms and public spaces. To be clear, this is not the Ritz-Carlton, but even as a lover of luxury hotels I could find few faults in my experience. The rooms are comfortable with all of the modern amenities, but the real stars of the experience are the public areas. A beautiful and well-maintained pool saw plenty of action during my stay, even if the weather was a little cool and wet. With plenty of loungers around its perimeter, it’s the perfect place to relax and enjoy the solitude. The food is probably what surprised me the most. Given its rural location I didn’t expect anything great from the restaurant, but meal after meal I was consistently impressed by both the quality of the food as well as the service. While I may have had a few initial misgivings, I left the hacienda a convert and I wouldn’t hesitate to stay there again.
I drink a lot of coffee and over time, it’s become an important part of my daily life. That’s one reason why I was excited as we drove through the rural farmlands surrounding one of the most popular coffee plantations in the region. For decades, Colombia’s central coffee growing region was essentially off-limits to tourists, the national violence touching even this pristine landscape. But for several years this hasn’t only become one of the safest parts of the country, it’s also one of the most popular. I started my own visit with, of course, a visit to a local coffee plantation where I learned all about my favorite beverage, including plenty of samples. Walking around the Finca La Morelia farm was the first time I’d ever visited a coffee plantation and the education was incredible. The farm guide took me around to look at plants in various stages of development, showed me how the crop is harvested by hand and then how it’s all processed. I honestly never knew that the coffee growing process was as labor intensive as it is and it instilled in me a far greater appreciation for my favorite beverage than I could have ever imagined.
The colorful highlight for many visitors to this rural part of Colombia is visiting the many small towns or pueblos scattered around the mountains and valleys. One of the most popular of these towns by far is Salento. A major road once went through the town in the 19th century, but when it was rerouted the town was left frozen in time, thankfully for us today. Walking around was mesmerizing, even if the rains had started for the day. Each building I passed was plunged in a different shockingly bright color, adding to the festive spirit of the town. It’s close to the Cocora Valley with its famous mist-shrouded palm trees, so it’s a popular spot to stop for a few hours. Luckily that rain kept most of the other tourists away and I very much had this gorgeous town all to myself. It’s not the only pueblo in the region though and an entire trip could be made visiting them and learning what makes each small town unique and different.
Colombia is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, but many visitors don’t take the time to visit the country’s more rural areas. From my own experience though, visiting the coffee growing region of Colombia isn’t just nice, it’s essential in truly understanding just how remarkable this country is.