Think Colombia and two things will come to your mind: coffee and drugs. While the second is more of an erred perception which could have been true 15 years ago, the first is one of nature’s best gifts that embraces the country and is always part of any to-do list of travelers that come to Colombia.
There are several coffee regions within Colombia but I chose to visit the area around Armenia and Salento for two reasons: the coffee itself and to explore the Valle del Cocora with its Palma de aceite, a palm tree that chose to grow only in this area from anywhere else in the world, creating a magnificent landscape and perhaps one of the best in the country.
It takes about four hours to get from Cali to Salento by bus, with some very enjoyable views along the way. Once in Salento you realize that it is actually a very small town, peaceful yet lively, and with many travelers that usually end up staying longer than planned.
Cheap accommodation is easy to find, with several hostels near the main square and small hotels everywhere. As soon as I hopped off the bus I was welcomed by a kid who mentioned a hostel right around the corner. The owner is a Spaniard who’s been traveling around the world for over 30 years , arrived to Salento considering it just another place to visit, but liked it so much he has decided to live there.
Salento is easy and quick to visit, with a sightseeing spot (mirador) atop a nearby hill. The street leading to it has plenty of souvenir shops and almuerzos where you can buy your souvenirs and fill up your hungry stomach for around 2 USD.
There are several coffee plantations (hacienda cafetera) nearby, most of which include a guided tour and coffee tasting running at around 15-20 usd per person. I was lucky though because I was walking with a couple of Colombian travelers and we found a plantation where 2 workers kindly explained everything to us for free. So, look at the picture below because you’re about to get a quick lesson on the product that has made Starbucks so popular!
1) Coffee seeds come from a bean that grows on bushes; it is green and sweet at first I was told. Sure enough I peeled one of the green beans, pulled out the seed and tasted it. It’s a common candy among coffee growers and is indeed very sweet.
2) With time(about 1 month) the green bean becomes red
3) and after turning red it becomes dark purple or brown
4) At this point the bean is very dry and it’s very easy to extract the seed, which is what we susually call the coffee bean.
5) From here the seeds are baked under the sun in large trays (around 2 x 5 m) until they are finally sold.
Walking to the coffee plantations takes about 45 minute or so along an unpaved dirt road, but you can jump on any Willy’s that drives by to save some energy (not that there’s a lot of them). However the walk is quite pleasant because of the views and silence, and if you bring a bottle of water it can be quite enjoyable.
Salento is not the only coffee region in Colombia, and it’s not the biggest either, but you will get the chance to see coffee plantations AND comming here has another bonus: the Valle del Cocora, one of the most beautiful spots in Colombia, is located here too.
PS: Did you know that world famous coffee grower Juan Valdez never existed? He’s an iconic figure created in 1960 to represent all the coffee growers of Colombia
Have you ever visited an hacienda cafetera? Did you sample the coffee? Where was this? Please remember to share this post if you liked it!