By: Vicky Santana Cortés
Photos: Andrés Mayr
Greenery. White mist. The smell of damp earth. These are the first things you’ll perceive when leaving Armenia, the capital of Quindío, on your way to any of the surrounding towns. Nature’s offerings greet any and all visitors to this territory with a welcome embrace that will be especially appreciated in these times when hugs are forbidden due to a pandemic that took the world by surprise.
El Quindío not only welcomes visitors with the green forests and mountains that dominate its landscape, it also soothes you with its climate —temperatures average 18-21 degrees Celsius— and a gentle and refreshing breeze when the sun shines brightest at noon. It seduces with the flavors and aromas of a surprising variety of coffees, tempts with its culinary delights, captivates with the beauty of its colorful architecture, and charms with the grace, smiles, and sincere cordiality of its people.
The Creator gazed with loving eyes upon the twelve municipalities of the Quindian territory and endowed it with attributes that make it one of today’s leading destinations for rural and eco-tourism in Colombia. Although it is the country’s second smallest department, it is full of delights for national and international visitors.
Verde que te quiero verde
The road from Armenia to Salento opens up before us like a curtain of vegetation containing every imaginable shade of green. As we move along, our eyes pan back and forth, trying to take in all the vibrant greenery and the magnificent panoramic views. Occasionally, when the abundant coffee bushes, banana trees, and palms allow it, we catch distant glimpses of spectacular rolling hills ranging from dark to lime green. Then, in just fifteen minutes, we are in Salento, the most visited municipality in the department.
Here the green gives way to an endless variety of colors on the doorways, flowering balconies, and windows of the houses along the Calle Real, which leads straight to the stairs that take us to the lookout. We pass homes of locals, as well as small stores and craft shops, modest cafes, and hostels, all respecting and preserving the traditional wattle and daub architecture. The Cocora Valley is one of El Quindío’s most popular destinations.
Paisaje en movimiento
The magic of the Cocora Valley lies in its slender wax palms. The national tree of Colombia rises so high that it seems to caress the sky. A sharp observer will notice that the landscape is ever-changing. One moment the sky is blue and cloudless, and a few minutes later a mist will settle over the mountain peaks in the distance or roll down their slopes.
Filandia y la Colina Iluminada
Just twelve miles from Salento is Filandia, another of El Quindío’s flagship municipalities. We head for the Glowing Hill lookout for a 360-degree view of the coffee-growing landscape. From the top of the 90-foot lookout you can see the dome of the Immaculate Conception church, which on a sunny day casts silver sparkles. And to one side is the Calle del Tiempo Detenido, or Stopped Time Street, where perfectly maintained houses belie the municipality’s 143-year history.
Strolling through town, we stop at Arte Ruby, a workshop and handicrafts store offering countless beautiful decorative and functional objects fashioned from natural fibers such as liana and iraca palm.
Y para saborear en Bosques de Cocora…
Visitors usually choose to hike the 8.6–mile circular route through the palm forest, which, depending on your physical condition, takes four to six hours. But the more sedentary can enjoy a view of the landscape from the Bosques de Cocora – Donde Juan B restaurant while enjoying the delicious local specialty, trout served on a giant patacón (fried plantain) with a side of whatever sauce the diner chooses. And, naturally, the famous canelazo aperitif, made with cane sugar and, as its name suggests, cinnamon.
Visitors can also join Salento’s “ad hoc historian,” Marino Toro, to experience the wax palm ritual, learn about the palm’s importance to the ecosystem, and plant their own palm. This choice spot has been slowly forested with wax palms, some of which are already more than ten years old.
Lo más divertido
Panaca, Parque del Café, Parque los Arrieros, and the Quindío Botanical Garden are outstanding options for visitors with families or those looking for adventure. These theme parks are all focused on sharing coffee culture with visitors and putting the region’s natural beauty and biodiversity on display while highlighting the unique traditions of the Quindian people.
Panaca, one of the region’s most iconic parks, is located in the municipality of Quimbaya. It invites guests to participate in a variety of interactive activities that showcase rural life. The park’s eight stations (livestock, poultry, equine, swine, etc.) educate both adults and children about the caring and respectful relationship between man, nature, and animals (including the 4,500 animals inside the park).
You can also enjoy the vast and varied vegetation, the Tibetan bridge, a horse-drawn wagon ride, tree-top tour, or a variety of foods.
Parque los Arrieros
Parque de los Arrieros, also in the municipality of Quimbaya, celebrates the culture of the Old Caldas colonists, known as arrieros, or muleteers, whose mule trains supplied agricultural and livestock products throughout the vast region. You won’t want to miss the strolling troubadours and theatrical shows presented all day in the park.
El Parque del Café
El Parque del Café, en el municipio de Montenegro, es un referente para entender y apreciar la belleza y magnitud de la cultura cafetera, y lo que esta representa para Colombia y el mundo. El orden y la perfecta disposición de sus atracciones se pueden ver desde el imponente mirador que está a la entrada del parque. ¡Quizá si se llega temprano en la mañana, el día le alcance para disfrutar el paseo en teleférico, la montaña rusa, la visita al Museo Interactivo del Café y el bambusario!
Jardín Botánico del Quindío
The Quindío Botanical Garden, in the municipality of Calarcá, offers a chance to learn about El Quindío’s diverse flora by hiking a series of ecological trails. The path through this natural forest, where visitors are amazed by the variety and beauty of palms, heliconias, and coffee plants, to name only a few, leads to a butterfly house, which is perhaps the park’s most popular attraction for adults and children alike. Photographing the blue morpho butterfly —one of the most beautiful and colorful in the world— in mid-flight is a challenge enjoyed by children and photography lovers.
¿Una taza de café?
The best way to end our tour of El Quindío is by tasting its coffee. The regional coffees are very special thanks to the region’s land and climate, the way the coffee is grown and cultivated, and most of all, the passion of the coffee-growing businesses and families.
Finca El Ocaso
In Salento, Finca El Ocaso offers visitors a tour of their plantations and mill before tasting, in the company of experts, the different types of coffee they produce.
And Buenavista (Fine View) is a logical name for these two viewing terraces where you can savor the company’s excellent coffee. The hilltop Café San Alberto won Best Coffee and Most Exotic Coffee awards at several international competitions.
Or tour the Terraza Café Concorde hacienda alongside an expert taster and enjoy a cup of coffee, hot or cold. There’s also a beautiful, spacious restaurant and a single (for now) cabin that looks out from the mountains over the coffee plantations.
It’s impossible to leave these lands without savoring the taste of coffee, beholding the greenery of the natural scenery, and cherishing the smiles of its people in your heart.
Valle del Cocora (Salento)
The Most Colorful
Pueblos de Salento y Filandia
Artesanías en fibras naturales Arte Ruby.
Barrio San José, casa 247 Filandia.
The Most Appetizing
Restaurante Helena Adentro (Filandia)
Pollo a la Carreta (Calarcá)
Restaurante Bosques de Cocora Donde Juan B (Salento)
Café San Alberto (Buenavista)
Terraza Café Concorde (Buenavista)
Cafés especiales Finca El Ocaso (Salento)
Sueño de Fresas, de Olier Chocolatl (Salento)
Restaurante José Fernando (Filandia)
The Most Fun
Parque del Café
Parque los Arrieros
Jardín Botánico del Quindío
Where to Stay
Bio Habitat Hotel (Armenia)
Hotel Isa Victory (Armenia)
Hostal Ciudad de Segorbe (Salento)
* This report was made possible by support from the Colombian Hotel and Tourism Association (Cotelco) and the Quindío Office of Tourism.