Colombia's Zona Cafetera

The trip to the colonial villages in Colombia’s Zona Cafetera. A drive thru fantastic landscapes with coffee plantations, thru deep valleys, and on the top of ridges. Also, a drive where you need nearly 3h for a lousy 100km on narrow roads following exactly the contour of the terrain.

Medellin 2 Salento

Santa Fe, 28th March

We’re on the way out of Medellin. To the colonial town of Santa Fe. Just 100km, but 2 1/2h drive. Leaving Medellin is as easy as entering it. On the highway crossing the whole town, passing quickly the different suburbs, then another long tunnel to the west, and we’re out of town.

Santa Fe is often described as the last undiscovered pearl of Colombia’s colonial towns. Pretty sure we have to check that.  Even if the town is quite hot’n’humid at an elevation of 500m only.

Arriving there, we’re not really convinced about its reputation. Especially about the term undiscovered. Just outside the town, there are dozens of hotels – all with huge swimming pools and other leisure facilities. Later we even find numerous modern apartments just outside the historic center. True, we learn, that Santa Fe is a prime destination for poor Medellinis to escape a weekend from the cold’n’smog of their home.

Whatever. Probably it’s still undiscovered by foreign backpackies on their adventure trip.

In the evening, they really make an effort that you won’t miss any of Medellin’s posh bars’n’clubs.  Maybe it’s not exactly the same atmosphere. Nevertheless, more kitsch is difficult to imagine.

After visiting Santa Fe of course, the all-important question is if it’s worth the effort to go there. Somehow, we would rather consider it 2nd or 3rd priority on the bucket list.

Still, Santa Fe has a real must-have-seen-sight: El Puente de Occidente. This historic suspension bridge constructed some 130 years ago. Still, you can cross Rio Cauca on it. Not by car – at that time, it was not dimensioned for Landcruisers crossing the river. But still, it’s used by horses, motor rickshaws, motorcycles, or simply on foot.

Jardín, 31st March

Time to move on to Jardín. The 1st village in the Zona Cafetera – the coffee-growing zone. just 140km, about 3 1/2h on a pretty good road.

The last part thru a beautiful landscape with coffee farms.

Jardin, a rather small village famous for its animated Plaza Principal and its colorful colonial houses. 

Astonishingly despite its location – a bit out of the beaten track – it seems to be quite popular with foreign tourists. Especially Frenchies. Maybe it really just depends on the guidebook travelers use.

Despite the many chairs on the Plaza, there’s also a wonderful bar. Understandably during daytime, only a few people prefer to sit inside. At night it’s so dark nobody can sit there.

Whatever. Now a walk thru the colorful streets. 

And in the evening – of course, beers are as well served to those on horses.

Jardin is famous for its hikes in the surroundings. You can see waterfalls, a lot of veggies in the forests, caves – or simply sneak up to Christo Rey, a viewpoint to admire the marvelous landscape, the village, and its over-dimensioned church. 

Probably the most fascinating side trip is the visit to La Cueva del Esplendor. You can walk there in 3h, take a motor rickshaw or book a tour backpacky style.

We opt for the latter. So, we wait with a mix of local’n’foreign tourists in front of a small travel agency. Then we’re driven up to near to the cave. In an original old Willys Jeep. The road: pretty bad and steep.

At an altitude of about 2200m, there’s no way for the cars to drive any further. About a 1h hike to the cave, partly on a steep’n’slippery path thru dense forest. 

Then we finally arrive at La Cueva del Esplendor. Simply nomen est omen.

Arriving there the water is dripping everywhere from above. It’s not really a cave. Rather a rock overhang with a hole. And thru that a big waterfall is pouring into a small basin.

Definitely a kind of mystical’n’magic place. Despite the inevitable crowd caused by a tour group.

You can even swim in the basin. Nevertheless, don’t expect the water to be too warm.

Still, nobody enters the water for pleasure. It’s all about the hard work to take these all-important selfies.

Logical. Could you imagine visiting such a place without sending your pic with some water in the background to everybody. My dear, will they be jealous.

Jericó, 1st April

We’re on the way again. Jardín is history, Jericó the bright future.

Crows just fly 20km to reach the village, and Prado drives nearly 100. About 3h. Again, the opportunity to drive thru some marvelous coffee plantations

Then the whole way down to Rio Cauca – just to climb again to Jericó a few km further. Typically, Colombian roads.

Jericó, smaller’n’quieter than Jardín. Still a lot of colorful colonial houses and another Parque Principal with dozens of watering holes.

Maybe, just to make sure you won’t get completely lost in the village of Jericó, you should consider climbing the nearby hill Morro el Salvador first to get the ultimate overview.

Salamina, 3rd April

We drive on to Salamina. Another small town famous for its architecture. And the base to visit the famous Bosque de Palmas de Cera (Wax Palms) ” La Samaria”. Just 140km, 6h to drive.

Again down to Rio Cauca. Then along a tributary of it on a pretty bad road (just 14 km in the mud and thru potholes). Then again up to the highlands, thru endless coffee plantations to finally reach Salamina.

The road is mostly paved. Except at the many places where road improvement is a little difficult. There they simply leave the old gravel. In other places, the road is reduced to a single lane due to landslides or parts of the road that are washed away. As poor drivers are not really warned about small details like these, you permanently need to be ready for the next surprise.

Finally, the last descent to a small river, and on the other side up again to reach Salamina in the afternoon.

Salamina – it’s quite busy. The hell a lot of visitors for such a remote place. Finally, we learn of a mountain bike event tomorrow. Looks like each’n’every Colombian cyclist needs to participate. For us, it’s rather a pain in the ass to find a kind of accommodation.

Then it’s time to discover the village. To sneak thru the few roads, and wonder about all these cyclists.

Later we search for a nice place for a sundowner.

Just to warn you: there’s no reason to visit Salamina for its bars.

The next morning we’re on our way to La Samaria. To visit the valley with all these wax palms.

It’s just 25km to drive. On the way some beautiful views.

Nevertheless, the road could be improved – at least in some parts. Especially over a pass of 3200m. So, it takes us more than 1h to arrive in the small village of San Felix.

On the Plaza Principal, we discover a car with Swizzy license plates. Marita and Jan on their way around the world. Heading northwards. After exchanging everything which needs to be exchanged – or not, we explore the village. Well, 5′ and we’re done.

Then just a few minutes’ drive to enter the wax palm area at the Finca la Samaria.

Despite its remote location and the few visitors, the guys are extremely well organized to get some benefit from the visitors. They offer some pretty nice accommodation, meals, and tours. We just opt for a tour of their farm thru the Bosque de Palma de Cera La Samaria

We join some Columbie visitors and a guy shows us around.

2h later we know everything about the palm trees and are definitely impressed by the landscape, and we’re on our way back to Salamina.

Hacienda Venecia – Manizales, 4th April

We head on to Manizales. Just 70km, 3h.

The road – pretty ok. Paved, except for the usual parts they don’t improve or got damaged somewhen.

Most of the time we drive high up in the mountains, a few times winding down into deep valleys. Passing some rather archaic villages far off everything.

Manizales, the quite ugly capital of the Departemento de Caldas. Not really thre place to attract us. 

So, we limit our visit to a huge mall to get new sneakers for Martin (the old 1s were original Merrell’s – thus fell apart after a pretty short time).

Anyway, we plan to drive on. To the Parque Nacional los Nevados. To the Valle de las Tumbas. 1 of the very few areas still open to visitors.

It’s definitely not far from Manizales. Nevertheless, the road degrades very quickly. Visibly no longer maintained, at many places completely washed out, and the higher we get the more fallen trees make it difficult to continue. Of course, we may shrink Prado to a certain degree, but we don’t have a chainsaw with us for the really severe cases. Finally, we decide to turn back. Also considering how much it would cost to repair Prado after the trip to the Valle de las Tumbas.

We decide to spend the night in Finca Venecia. A coffee producer just a few km outside town with a guest farm.

Finca Venecia is a working coffee plantation offering different accommodations from a pretty expensive manor to camping. And it’s the place to sneak around in the coffee plants.

For us the opportunity to sneak thru the plantation.

The next morning we’re on our way to Salento.

It really took us quite some time to decide whether or not we should visit this place. Of course, it’s on the bucket list of most Colombian tourists as well as of each’n’every adventurous backpacky. But after our experience in Minca, we’re quite reluctant to visit.

Still, we would really like to visit the largest forest of wax palms in La Carbonera in the mountains behind Salento. Let’s just hope the village is not as awful as Minca or San Gil.

A pretty short drive from our finca to Salento. Mainly on a good highway; bypassing the town of Pereira, and a few km later we arrive.

Of course, already approaching the village you see everywhere these adds for all these exciting tourist attractions. Zip-Lines, tours to places you could go by yourself, hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops, etc. Definitely not as bad as in La Fortuna, Costa Rica. But still, a lot of opportunities were created to have your money flowing into their pockets.

Well, our adventures in Salento and much more will be posted soon.

Just wait impatiently for the next post and keep your jealousy on the highest level you can.



On the way to Medellin
On the Way to Popayan