I've been to coffee-growing areas in Mexico, Guatemala, and Hawaii but I was really looking forward to my trip to the "Zona Cafetera". After all, the words Colombia and coffee are almost synonymous.
There are several coffee-growing areas in Colombia but one of the main ones is about a five-or-six-hour drive west of Bogotá. The distance isn't that far but the actual drive is slow and intense as it's mostly winding mountain roads that are one lane in each direction. Even though it's a tough journey, the scenery and the destination make it well worth while.
Much of the Zona Cafetera is in what's called the Paisa region. This region covers parts of four different Colombian departments (like "states" in the U.S.) and the easiest-to-visit coffee-growing areas surround the cities of Armenia in the Quindio department:
...the mountain-top Manizales in the Caldas department:
...and Pereira in the Risaralda department:
Well, it was a photo I took in Pereira. File under "unusual", I guess.
The fourth department in the Paisa region, which I didn't visit on this trip, is called Antioquia. The most well-known "person" from the Paisa region is the character of Juan Valdez, which is a stereotypical image of a person from Paisa. Overall, the quality of the cities and towns/pueblos is mixed throughout the region. Some of them you can't pass through fast enough and others you don't want to leave. There's definitely a wide variety of places to visit.
What I love about areas around the world where coffee is grown is the almost perfect (for me) climate. Generally, it's sunny and warm in the morning, overcast and sometimes a little rainy during the day (which helps keep the temps down), the sun comes out in time for sunset, and the nights cool down nicely. As it's tropical, it can be a bit humid and warm at times but I've found that the climate that makes for happy coffee trees makes for a happy Darren. The scenery's not bad too, mountains and mountains of coffee trees (this was taken near a town called Barcelona in Quindio):
...like this one with nice, red coffee cherries:
The climate is perfect for growing some other things that I love including orchids, tropical flowers, and cacao (chocolate) trees. This is a cacao tree I came across that had almost-ripe-and-ready-to-pick pods:
I'm going to write a handful of stories about some of the things that I did in the zona cafetera but I'd like to share some random photos I took while on the road. This is a photo of monkey (!!!) in the main plaza of the town of Cartago (Valle). At first I thought that they were gray squirrels but they were making strange squeaking noises so I looked again. I saw a bunch of them in the trees and people were feeding them cookies.
About three hours outside of Bogota, I saw these mules carrying yucca. This'll also give you some idea of what the drive is like. You've got big trucks, very old/slow cars, animals, people, and who-knows-what else entering and leaving the road at any time (perhaps you might remember the video game Frogger?).
About an hour away from Manizales is the Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados. The national park has eight volcanoes with this one, the Nevado del Ruiz, reaching almost 17,500 feet (5,321meters). The park and volcano remind me in some ways of Haleakala in Maui (Hawaii) and Mauna Kea / Mauna Loa on the Big Island of Hawaii. This photo was taken near the park entrance, which is located at about 13,600 feet (4,150 meters):
Also in the "unusual category", I got this photo of a large truck climbing one of the mountain roads. Take a close look at what's just below the sign on the back of the truck. In case you can't read it, the sign says "Peligro. Carga extra larga y extra ancha." (Danger: Extra wide and extra large load.)
Yep, there's a guy with no shirt sleeping on the back of the truck while it's moving. I've officially seen just about everything now.
I don't normally mention the hotels that I stay in (I save those reviews for TripAdvisor) but my experience this time was exceptional. I stayed at the La Moni Finca Hotel, which is just outside of the pueblo of Circasia. The folks who manage and run the place were exceptionally nice and helpful. The hotel is centrally located, the price was good, and breakfast and dinner are included each day. If you decide to do your own Colombian-coffee journey, you should look them up.