Colombia’s coffee region spans across several of the country’s provinces and comprises an area of nearly 350,000 hectares. The region is home to picturesque landscapes, diverse plant and animal life, as well as a number of cultural and educational attractions. The beautiful scenery of lush, mountainous landscapes and coffee plantations, coupled with the traditional architecture of terracotta-roofed farm houses, led UNESCO to add the area to its list of World Heritage Sites in 2011.
What to see and do in the coffee region
The area is slightly cooler than the coastal region, for example, with temperatures ranging between 10°C and 25°C. This, coupled with the higher altitude and better soil quality, has provided optimal conditions for growing Colombia’s internationally renowned coffee. All of the principal destinations within the region offer tours of coffee plantations, which generally involve an explanation of the coffee-making process and some free samples of the local produce.
All of the principal destinations within the region offer tours of coffee plantations
The most impressive part of the coffee region lies between the three main cities of Pereira, Armenia and Manizales. It is here where much of the most striking scenery and the popular tours and activities are located. However, in and around each of the main towns there are also a host of attractions to explore.
In Pereira there is the Matecaña zoo which houses more than 800 animals from 150 different species. In the area are also: the Botanical Gardens at the Technological University of Pereira, a national park and nature reserve at Santa Emilia, and thermal baths at Santa Rosa de Cabal. Tourist operators here offer a variety of water-based activities on the Rio Barragan, including kayaking and extreme sports.
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Armenia’s Otun-Quimbaya reserve is home to howler monkeys and over 300 species of birds
In Armenia, there is an archaeological museum exhibiting cultural artefacts relating to the Quimbaya tribe who lived in the area before the arrival of the Spanish. The building is impressive in itself - it has been awarded prizes for its architecture - and is surrounded by beautiful gardens and water features. The nearby Otun-Quimbaya reserve, created in 1996 and covering 489 hectares, is a relatively small but highly biodiverse park, which is home to howler monkeys and over 300 species of birds.
The city of Manizales offers several sights for visitors. Highlights are the Governor’s Palace, a baroque-style building constructed in the early 1900s; the central square with its large Bolivar Condor monument; a restored railway station used around the turn of the 20th century; several lookout points offering panoramic views of the region; the Basilica de Manizales Cathedral and several other historic churches and; the ecological park Los Yarumos.
Outside of these three cities, the coffee region boasts a number of other draws. One of the most popular of these is Salento a small town notable for its colorful architecture dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many features of these buildings, such as ornate carved wooden doors, brightly colored design and huge balconies, are remarkably well preserved to date. Salento also has a great lookout point, situated at the top of 253 stairs, just on the edge of the main town. The area is particularly popular with budget travelers and a wide range of low-priced accommodation is available.
Salento is particularly popular with budget travelers and a wide range of low-priced accommodation is available
Salento offers easy access to the Cocora Valley, a camping spot with great views of the coffee region. The park is made up of contrasting scenery of mountains, valleys and foothills. It is also known for the prevalence of wax palms, the national tree, which can grow up to 70 meters in height. Finally, Montenegro hosts a Coffee Culture ‘Museum’, a kitsch replica colonial city, where visitors learn about the whole coffee-making process, from seeds to cup. There is also a cable car and other rides, as well as musical shows. In the nearby Bosque del Saman visitors can zip line through coffee plantations.
Getting to, from and around the coffee region
Pereira, Armenia and Manizales are all a fairly short distance apart and connected by a good road network, allowing for easy travel between the three. If travelling by taxi between sites, ensure to agree on a price first as taximeters are rarely used for trips between the cities.
Each of these cities has an airport served by direct domestic flights from Bogota, Cartagena and Medellin. Long-distance buses also arrive to these cities from all over Colombia, with Medellin (about 7 hours away) being the closest major urban destination. Getting to the capital takes slightly longer; taking about 9.5 hours from Bogota to Periera.