The Best Towns to Visit in the Coffee Zone of Colombia
The capital of Colombia may be Bogotá, but the heart of Colombia is the Zona Cafetera (Colombian Coffee Zone)!
Containing the friendliest people in the Most Welcoming Place On Earth, is just one of the many aspects that draw visitors from around the world to enjoy this fantastico destination.
The amazing coffee culture pueblos (small towns) are full of hard-working campesinos (peasant farmers), of whom will always have time to reply to your greeting with a smile, a wave, and a “buenas”.
Below are our top 10 Colombian Coffee Culture Towns, located within the Colombian Andes. This list is in order of the most popular towns to visit for international tourists to the least known and off the beaten track.
* Interested in the larger cities in the Colombian Coffee Belt? Be sure to read our article on the 4 capital cities in the Colombian Coffee Zone
Easily the most popular destination for both domestic and international tourists in the Coffee Zone. Salento is a small mountain town located on a plateau above the Quindio River Valley, within the department of Quindio.
Maintaining more traditional colonial architecture than many other towns, and much of its original bahareque constructions the historic center was included as a world heritage site, as part of the “Coffee Cultural Landscape” in 2011.
The most colorful street of Salento where you’ll discover many cafes, restaurants (many specializing in freshwater trout), and artisan shops, is Calle Real (Royal Street). It runs from the main plaza to the base of the 250 steps, which lead up to the Mirador (lookout) Alto de la Cruz. From here you can find a wonderful view into the Cocora Valley far below, which is situated a short 20-minute drive away. The Cocora Valley is also an extremely popular destination for tourism and is where you’ll find the Wax Palm Forest and the Acaime mountain range. Both desired locations for day trips, as well as home to rare parrots and many other birds. These Wax Palms are the tallest in the world, can grow to over 70m (200ft) in height, and are also a national symbol of Colombia.
The climate in Salento ranges from cool to comfortable and is often overcast. During the year, the temperature typically varies from 56°F (13°C) to 73°F (23°C)
Only situated a 30-minute drive to the West of Salento, and still in the Quindio department, you’ll discover Filandia. Surprisingly not as popular of a tourist destination as Salento, it is full of beautiful colorful architecture and is also a world heritage site, as part of the “Coffee Cultural Landscape”.
The name Filandia comes from the Quimbaya language (the indigenous of this region) and is 2 words joined together, “Filia” (daughter), and “Andia” (Andes). So, the translation of Filandia is “daughter of the Andes”, as it sits on the western side of the Central Cordillera of the Andes mountains.
The best-known attractions of this authentic coffee county town are the fantastic gastronomical experiences available from serval restaurants, the superbly preserved architecture, the amazing mirador (viewing tower), with breathtaking 360’ views, and Barbas River Canyon. Located on private land, just 15 minutes from Filandia, Barbas River Canyon is a sizable natural reserve of Andean rainforest that is home to a large variety of flora and fauna. Only accessible with an authorized local guide, you can discover not only a grand diversity of birds and butterflies, but if treading lightly and quietly through this area, you can also come across several herds of Howler Monkeys in the lush canopies.
The climate in Filandia ranges from cool to comfortable and is often overcast. During the year, the temperature typically varies from 59°F (15°C) to 75°F (24°C)
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#3. Santa Rosa de Cabal
Centrally located within the department of Risaralda, Santa Rosa de Cabal is less than a 45-minute drive from Pereira, 1 hour from Manizales, and 1.5 hours from Salento or Armenia.
Although agriculture is still the main breadwinner for most of the inhabitants of this country town, tourism has been growing here for many years. Known as the entrance to Los Nevados National Park, it is most famous for the thermal pools called Los Termales de Santa Rosa, located a short 25 minutes out of the town. Another not-so-well-known thermal pool is also located in this area. The San Vicente Reserva Termal is around an hour’s drive from the town and offers a more natural environment at a higher cost.
Santa Rosa de Cabal is also famous throughout Colombia for the quality and flavors of their Chorizo sausages. So, if time permits, we recommend sampling some of these local delicacies at one of the many restaurants.
The climate in Santa Rosa de Cabal is cool-comfortable and often overcast. During the year, the temperature typically varies from 59°F (15°C) to 75°F (24°C)
The drive to Marsella in the department of Risaralda really is a wonderful experience. Taking around an hour from Pereira or 1hr 45min from Salento, you’ll enjoy the remarkable mountain scenery, with plantations of coffee, plantain, and so much more along the way.
Marsella itself is a beautiful mountain town full of colonial-style architecture and the impressive Maria Inmaculada Chruch standing tall and overlooking the many people and pigeons down below in the main plaza (main square).
It’s a short walk from the plaza to the grandeur of the “Casa de La Cultura” with its giant chessboard and fantastic history within. Here you’ll find a living museum, as well as a centerpiece of the Colombian Coffee Zone Culture.
Two more locations stand out as a must-see during any visit to Marsella. The first is the Botanical Gardens, created in 1979 for the conversation of flora, and a place to enjoy the peacefulness of nature. And the 2nd being amazing Jesús María Estrada Cemetery. With an extraordinary architectural mix of styles such as Gothic, Baroque, and Corinthian.
The climate in Marsella is warm and typically overcast. During the year, the temperature typically varies from 63°F (17°C) to 79°F (26°C).
*Check out our list of the top 12 activities and experiences in the Coffee Zone of Colombia!
#5. Salamina and San Felix
Known as the “city of light” due to the many musicians, writers, actors, and poets produced here, Salamina is situated in the department of Caldas and a 2-hour drive from this department’s capital city, Manizales.
With approximately 20,000 inhabitants, Salamina is one of the 17 heritage towns of Colombia and was listed as a World Heritage site in 2011. With some marvelous colonial architecture, including houses of bahareque, clay-tiled roofs, and brightly colored wooden crafted balconies, it is easy to see why this not-so-well-known town is growing in the tourism sector.
When visiting the municipality, a must-see town close by is San Felix. Within a 45-minute drive, you’ll discover the amazing Bosque De Palma De Cera “La Samaria” (The Wax Palm Forest “The Samaria”). This forest is filled with the same species of wax palms as can be found in the Cocora Valley next to Salento.
The climate in Salamina is comfortable and overcast. Over the course of the year, the temperature typically varies from 60°F (16°C) to 76°F (24°C)
#6. Cordoba and Pijao
Situated in the department of Quindio, Córdoba and Pijao are 2 more examples of typical Colombian coffee axis towns. Located within 25 minutes of each other and approximately 40 minutes from Armenia, both towns provide wonderful, lush mountainous landscapes, filled with plantations of coffee along with many other crops.
The National Bamboo and Guadua Investigation Center in Códoba was established in 1986 to study and promote new uses of guadua (thick bamboo). Within the town itself, you’ll discover family-run outlets, where many artisans have designed and produced a variety of products from guadua, such as vases, lamps, kitchen utensils, musical instruments, and furniture.
The climate in Córdoba is warm and overcast. Over the course of the year, the temperature typically varies from 59°F (15°C) to 78°F (26°C)
#7. Apía and Santuario
Situated in Risaralda and only 40 minutes from Viterbo is the wonderful coffee mountain town of Apía. Like most towns in the Eje Cafetero (Colombian coffee region), most of the economy is based on agriculture, with coffee easily being the main income earner for this area. Tourism is also a growing sector with great paragliding, walking trails, and bicycle tours to and around this mountainous town. With 415 species, bird watching also is a major drawcard with many foreigners visiting to glimpse one of the 17 endemic birds that call this area home.
The main plaza is a wonderful place to relax and enjoy fresh organic coffee, along with a bit of shopping in the artisan shops. You’ll also enjoy some excellent views of a section of the nearby Tatamá National Park, which also offers great bird watching and walking tracks.
Within a short 25 min drive, you can arrive in another coffee mountain town called Santuario. Providing you with breathtaking views, Santuario is known as the gateway to the Tatamá National Park.
The climate in Apía is cool-comfortable and often overcast. During the year, the temperature typically varies from 59°F (15°C) to 74°F (23°C)
Situated at the base of a valley, and a bit over an hour’s drive from Pereira you’ll find the true Colombian town of Viterbo. Although located in the department of Caldas, due to the mountainous surroundings it takes around 2 hours to drive to the capital city of this department, Manizales.
Known as the “Paradise of Caldas” due to the beautiful surrounding landscape, the local economy is very much based on agriculture. In every direction from this town, you’ll find plantations of sugarcane, corn, oranges, mandarins, avocados, pineapples, and of course coffee!
The entrance alone of Viterbo is worth the visit, as it is lined with huge Saman trees, some close to 100 years of age. Known as the “Tunnel of the Samanes” and casting beautiful shadows and shade across the road, the dead or dying trees are crafted into wooden sculptures. The resulting works are colorful sculptures ranging in size from 2-8 m (6-26 ft), and are a definite must-see. Just like most Coffee Zone towns, the Willys Jeep is the public transportation, and a fun way to enjoy the drive through the entrance, with uninterrupted views as you pass the wooden art.
Often, you’ll see valuable parking spots or half of the street itself used to dry coffee beans from small local Fincas, before being shipped off to a local factory to be processed.
The climate in Viterbo is warm-hot, humid, and sometimes overcast. During the year, the temperature typically varies from 67°F (19°C) to 83°F (29°C)
Just a 45-minute drive from Viterbo, and still in the department of Caldas, Belalcázar is perched along a narrow plateau at an altitude of 1632m above sea level. Yet another
Another country town with an economy largely based on agriculture, and especially coffee, Belalcázar also boasts a giant statue of Christ the Redeemer with a height of 45.5m (148 ft). Making it the tallest in the world.
Located on the peak of Cerro del Alto del Oso the statue was constructed over a 7-year period from 1947-1954, with the hope of ending political bloodshed, and restoring peace in Colombia.
The view from the base of the statue is quite amazing, as you can enjoy views for hundreds of miles in every direction of 4 states of Colombia: Caldas, Quindío, Risaralda, and the Valle del Cauca. You can also climb inside the statue and make your way up the stairs all the way to view out of the head of this giant statue as well. But a word of warning, if you’re claustrophobic you may not enjoy the narrow stairs or the limited space, that gets smaller and smaller the higher you go.
#10. Belén de Umbría
Only 35 min from Viterbo and crossing back into the department of Risaralda you’ll find the traditional coffee culture town of Belén de Umbría. A very busy bustling town with a population of over 20,000 inhabitants. Its thriving agricultural economy includes the production of plantain, corn, beans, lulo, passion fruit, and of course the main employer for this region, the coffee farms.
Another location that offers some wonderful bird watching opportunities, especially for the Gallito de Roca (Cock of the Rock), various eagles, and some endemic birds such as the Multi-coloured Tanager.
The climate in Belén de Umbría is cool-warm and sometimes overcast. During the year, the temperature typically varies from 61°F (16°C) to 76°F (24°C)
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