If Colombia is known for one thing abroad (no not that), its coffee. After spending one our best weeks of the trip on the Pacific coast beaches of Colombia, it would be pretty hard for the beautiful rolling hills and farmland of the coffee region, known as Zona Cafetera, to steal our hearts. Or would it?
Before heading to the official coffee region, we made a stop in a town called Jardin (about 3 hours south of Medellin) that we had heard mentioned in passing by a few people, and decided to check it out. What I didn’t know was that I would absolutely fall in love with Jardin, the surrounding area, and the now-infamous Colombian hospitality. I know we (George) use a lot of superlatives in our blog, but Jardin, for me, really was a special place, and MY highlight of Colombia, right up there with the Pacific Coast / Choco region.
Jardin was where we were introduced to camping on fincas (farms). This was something that we didn’t get to experience on our way through central america, and would become a theme in Colombia. In Jardin we stayed at Hostal Selva y Cafe (http://www.hostalselvaycafe.co/) (AKA Finca Kantarrana), which was a quaint house on some land near a river, with plenty of lush greenery, and a farm across the street where you could buy fresh cows milk and homemade cheese. George and I are seriously considering having a farm one day. We love waking up everyday in nature, the idea of growing our own vegetables, and leading a more self-sustaining life.
There is so much to see and do around Jardin. You can visit the central plaza and drink cafe tinto while watching the cowboys get coffee or drink the favorite Colombian spirit, Aguardiente.
You can take a coffee tour, or go on a variety of hikes (which we did) or horseback rides through the countryside. A really cool outing we did one day was to go on a horseback ride to Cueva Esplendor, a waterfall inside a cave in the mountains for all of $25 US including lunch and transportation. The pictures don’t do the countryside justice, and the horses and the guide were just awesome.
I was so sad to leave, but it was time, and it just so happened that two of the other guests we had befriended, Franzi and Tanya, were also leaving and decided to catch a ride with us. Can I just say how awesome it is to come across so many awesome independent women traveling by themselves. These two met at the finca, but have been traveling alone through Colombia. They got a treat riding in Titus. This is what riding in the back of the van on dirt roads looks and feels like …
After dropping off our new friends, we headed to a popular overlanding stop at Finca Guayabil…yes another finca, this time that specializes in coffee growing and tours! And let me just say how IMPRESSIVE it is to see hill…after hill…after hill…of coffee plants (think Napa Valley vineyards but with coffee plants). Oh, and the coffee they made us each morning at the Finca? Yeah, it was amazing to say the least. You can do a coffee tour here, and hike the many trails around the property. The people who run this place really go out of their way to make you feel at home and make sure you have everything you need.
Our last stop in Zona Cafetera was to an area near the town of Salento. We had heard not-so-great things about the town of Salento due to its rising popularity with tourists, but we really wanted to go for a hike, and Salento is at the base of the Los Nevados mountains. Taking the advice of some friends (OurRoadLife.com), we decided to stay at a finca in Boquia outside Solento, called El Mocambo. This is where I would proceed to befriend two kittens and George would ponder the idea of one day owning a cow. Every morning George would meet a worker at 7am to get his fresh leche from the cow…which we would then use to make the best cup of coffee, and proceed to share our milk the kittens. This place was pretty awesome…
I REALLY wanted to do a 3-day hike in the Los Nevados mountains, but alas, time got the best of us (we booked another week of spanish and we were now on the move to get there…PS. check out Karie’s blog post on her awesome 3-day hike!); instead we managed an awesome 4-hour hike through the wax palms. El Mocambo provided us with a map, and with their directions we would first hike up to the Acaima hummingbird sanctuary in the mountains. Acaime was about half way through the hike and offered either a free hot chocolate or agua-panela (Colombian drink that is hot water and a sugar that is almost like molasses) with a slice of fresh Colombian cheese in exchange for an entrance fee of 5 pesos ($2 US). After that we climbed up to Finca La Montana, and then descended into the beautiful Valle de Cocora filled with GIANT wax palms. We really really enjoyed the hike and I would highly recommend this route.
At this point in our Colombia travels, we have hit so many highlights, that it’s hard to imagine Colombia having anything left to offer. However, the next day we headed south yet again. This time towards Cali and the lake district of Lago Calima. Till we meet again Zona Cafetera…