Coming to the end of our time in Colombia we decided that we couldn’t leave without visiting the traditional coffee-growing area (eje cafetero) and the popular town of Salento. Up to now we’ve avoided the touristic hotspot, concerned about crowds, but curiosity won out and it was definitely worth the visit.
Our first stop was Finca El Laurel (Quimbaya, Quindío) where we stayed in a traditional coffee farmhouse owned by the Bedoya family since 1895. It turned out to be a great place to relax and explore the surrounding area. We skipped touristic attractions like the coffee theme park and instead tootled around, admiring the beautiful green hills and valleys from the back of a Jeep Willys. The old Jeeps are a common and shared transport option, moving goods and people throughout the area. It’s a cheap and fun!
The Bedoya family has been in the coffee business for generations and now owns several plantations. Juan Pablo, grandson of the current owner, guided us around the Finca Santa Ana, about 100 acres of neatly planted Castillo coffee bushes. We had a very interesting chat with the young Juan Pablo who is keen to introduce some interesting changes on the farm. We discussed how the Colombian Coffee Federation in past decades advised farmers to adopt pest-resistant plants, and why they are now thinking about moving back to traditional varieties and farming methods, re-introducing shade-grown and organic coffee.
After visiting the plantation the tour continued in the farmyard where we learned about their various coffee processing methods (washed, honey, natural) and ended up with an excellent cup of coffee and cake! Juan Pablo’s knowledge and enthusiasm made it one of the best coffee tours we’ve taken in Colombia.
We left early the following morning under a downpour of rain, headed for Salento and the Cocora valley, known for its tall wax palm trees that create a surreal-looking landscape. There we embarked on a four hour trek through the muddy and thick cloud forest that lines the mountain. Walking shoes are definitely needed! In Salento we stayed at ‘Las Terrazas del Salento’, a welcoming small hotel recently refurbished by an Austrian man who’s spent the last 20 years in the area. The view is spectacular.
In the town’s centre we stopped at the Café Jesus Martin, who’s founder Don Jesus is a tall and peaceful man and also a member of the Bedoya family. One of the aims of the successful roaster and café is to help Colombians develop a taste for their own quality coffees. Several award-winning coffees comes from Finca Santa Ana, while others are sourced from farmers throughout Colombia. We tasted their honey and natural coffees (the ones we saw drying back at the farm) and particularly enjoyed the notes of cranberries in the natural coffee. The café itself is cosy and nicely decorated – a recommended stop for a coffee tasting (and cake).
We were lucky to meet Don Jesus by chance in the café and exchange a few words, but for those interested you can request a complete tour from farm to cup to learn about the whole process.
Like other places in Colombia, we had a great experience in Salento, meeting interesting people and enjoying its natural beauty. We believe it is because of the great passion and work that local farmers put into their business and the love for their land that makes you get to know the place through their eyes, tradition and culture. Bye for now Colombia – we will be back!