In Search of the Mythical Juan Valdez: Colombia’s ‘Coffee Trail’ Reopens for Travel

 Juan VladezNow open for travel, Colombia is one of the last frontiers of authentic travel 

Photo: Surtrek     

Once known for cocaine and cartels, Colombia is on a mission to leave its negative past in the past.  Now, with the air finally clearing, this is the time to discover a country that’s not yet swamped by “gringos.” Indeed, any trip to this country will make you feel like you’re crossing into one of the last frontiers of authentic travel.

And nowhere is such authenticity more evident than in Colombia’s coffee region. Here, traces of Spanish colonization are still visible in the various towns and villages of the country’s central region.

A tour of this area — characterized by alluring aromas and the earth tones of sprawling coffee plantations — will send you back in time to the early 19th century. Added to this, you will find the charm of centuries-old “big houses,” the product of a merger between Hispanic design and local building materials and techniques.

The overall result: charming sites dotting the nation’s “coffee trail,” one of the most fascinating and still non-commercialized routes for traveling in South America.

Trips along this coffee route usually start in the area south of Medellin, visiting local villages that have names that are even inviting – places like Andes, Hispania, Jardin (“Garden”) and Venice.

Known for rich regional paisa culture, the splendor of these rural hamlets is demonstrated when travelers are introduced to local folklore, down-home cooking, and rustic architecture while being “immersed” in the world of coffee plantations and mills.

All of this is a part of the trip, as is the striking scenery of coffee estates crisscrossed by rivers and waterfalls and adorned with exotic flowers.

 History and Beauty                                           

Suramérica, Colombia, Zona Cafetera, Wax Palms

 Charming sites dot Colombia’s “coffee trail”

Photo: Surtrek

 By visiting the Colombian coffee belt, visitors can enjoy several adventure options, everything from horseback riding and extreme sports to theme parks and concerts.

There’s even a National Coffee Park, located in Quindio department, which is a must-visit site for anyone who travels this route. At this park, the entire history of the Colombian coffee industry is presented as visitors are led down scenic paths though real-life plantations. A sip of the caffeine-rich café there will likely put an extra peep in your step as you walk past fields with different varieties of coffee, and stop at the homes of campesinos to hear the myths and legends associated with coffee.

Not too far away is the charming town of Salento, where time seems to stand still. With no traffic or trouble, each step along this leg of the coffee route allows a traveler to enjoy the scenery and the friendliness of the inhabitants of this village, most of whom work in coffee growing.

Formerly, the people of Selento collected and transported coffee beans from the fields to ports and depot stations on a difficult and dangerous journey. However, the mules and oxen of yesteryears have given way to trucks and Jeeps, which are today used to haul their produce as well as take visitors to working coffee plantations in the area.

Along the Coffee Route, which extends no more than 50 miles (80 km), travelers will find charming inns and hotels where they can spend the night while touring this Andean landscape.

Suramérica, Colombia, Eje Cafetero, Quindio, Parque del Cafe, bancas

Time stands still in the coffee town of Quindio, Colombia

Photo:  Surtrek

In fact, if you want to take the hassle out of arranging quality lodging, transportation, excursions, guide services, etc., tour operators such as Surtrek offer pre-planned and customized tours that will permit you to get the very most out of your stay in Colombia.

A few tips:

– Several airlines offer flights to Colombia, including Avianca, Copa, Spirit and Taca.

– As the temperature in the area is ranges between a cool but comfortable 54-63ºF (12-19ºC), it’s important not to forget a jacket and waterproof clothing, just in case it rains.

– If you choose to travel the Coffee Route, get as much information it is important as you can about the sites you plan to visit. By soaking up the culture of coffee, this way, you will know about the different varieties of coffee and enjoy your “cup of joe” even that much more when visiting the coffee plantations.

  “What goes best with a cup of coffee?   …Another cup”

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