Zona Cafetera or the Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and truly represents the tradition of Colombian coffee grown in the mountain foothills. Colombia is the third largest coffee exporter in the world and the only big producer that exclusively grows arabica beans. A popular stop to explore the Zona Cafetera is Salento, which is a cute, quaint coffee town that offers coffee tours and hikes through the tallest palm trees in the world.
(Salento shops; main square)
Salento is one of the closest towns to the Valle de Cocora, which is famous for its abundance of wax palms. Wax palms, along with being the national tree of Colombia, are the worlds tallest palm trees, some reaching up to 60m. Valle de Cocora is located about 45 minutes east of Salento in the lower reaches of the Los Nevados National Natural Park. WWII Willys are the main form of transport in the Zona Cafetera and to reach the Valle de Cocora, you must take one of Willys from the main square which run from 6:30am until around 1pm.
Our hike around the Valle de Cocora would take us through the lush green landscapes, up to a farm filled with hummingbirds and cheese and chocolate (they had us at cheese and chocolate), up to La Montana and down through the valley covered in wax palms. We lucked out and had pretty weather and sunny skies for the start of the hike. It rains a lot in the Zona Cafetera, so usually this makes for very muddy trails (tip: rent rain boots!). We did have one minor ‘snag’ about an hour into the hike…Danielle slipped on some mud and got stuck in a barbed wire. Thankfully she got unstuck, everything was fine and we passed some hikers on the way carrying bandaids. Midway into the hike, you arrive in the cloud forest (characterized by low clouds or lots of fog) and the weather is well, foggy. This did have the benefit of cooling us down a bit. The farm with the cheese and chocolate was a bit of a sham, as we had a hot chocolate included in our entry price, but the cheese was an extra fee. If someone were going on this hike tomorrow, I’d say you can skip that part…unless you really have a fascination for hummingbirds. Once we got to the top at La Montana, the rest of the hike was a downhill walk down a wide dirt road, so that wasn’t too bad. Overall, the hike was about five-six hours total and made me realize that my preferred hiking time limit is around two-three hours. 🙂
One of the can’t miss things while in the Zona Cafetera is visiting a coffee finca (farm). We toured the Don Elias finca, located about an hour walk outside of Salento. The tour is only in Spanish, but our lovely guide Jose speaks incredibly clearly and slowly, so I pretty much got the whole gist.
Location and conditions in Colombia are perfect for growing coffee, specifically arabica which is the only type of coffee bean grown. Colombian coffee has two harvests per year. The high altitude, warm, rainy climate and volcanic soil are a few of the contributors that have made Colombia coffee so delicious and famous worldwide. On our coffee tour at Don Elias, we saw the arabica beans, learned how to separate the beans, dry the beans, roast the beans and finally grind the beans to complete the process of making a fine cup of Joe. Side note, I don’t like coffee, so I added a LOT of sugar to my cup to get it down, but despite not particularly caring for the flavor of coffee, this one actually had a really lovely taste!