Colombia
September 20th - 27th, 2014
 

 

I was invited to come to take part in seeing some of the country and attend a trade show for tour operators and travel agents. I love going to these shows because it is much like one stop shopping. All the suppliers come to you and that means lots of great information is available in a timely fashion...but before I attended the two day show I was privileged to be able to take in some of this most beautiful and stunning country during our Coffee Experience and meet people who simply warmed our hearts every step of the way. It was Colombia after all, and I am sure you have read much about it but it is changing. The Colombians are so friendly and eager to show you what they have accomplished and want to put the past behind them...they want you to see their best side now, that of absolutely awesome landscapes full of tropical fruits and coffee plantations, excellent locally grown food and so many fresh juices to taste, and I think above all a country that has gone forward in its thinking. They are so positive and happy...and passionate about their country. Can't help but rub off on anyone who visits.

I just visited such a small part of the country but I have to think it might just be the most beautiful with the plantations, wax palms that look like fireworks in the cloud forest, colourful birds, warm friendly people, great coffee of course, orchids, all kinds of wild flowers. Walking up Cocora Path where the tallest palms in the world make their home was spiritual in a way and made more so by the fact that we each got to plant one and name them. Having the opportunity to hang your head out of the Willys was just the icing on the cake!

I have been to Cartagena a few times but let's face it, it is a big city full of tourists because it is so downright gorgeous in the old town and a lot of cruise ships come in...but it was the smaller towns that just blew me away, how they have made their towns so special and colourful. I do love that. The crafts that come from places like Salento were so beautiful, it was hard to resist buying up everything. The selection of handmade baskets in Filandia took your breath away and all so reasonably priced considering how long it takes to make them, and I know as we got to try our hand and making just a tiny little one.

The first night we stayed at Hacienda San Jose close to Montenegro and I have to tell you I did not want to leave!!! To a plants person this place was heaven on earth. Every where you walked you found something to photograph, smell and touch. I loved this place, each room was unique and special and the eating area was surrounded by the building draped in bougainvilla and pool on one side and the tropical gardens and forest beyond. Freshly made juices and great coffee to start with what ever you wanted to eat. Truly did not want to leave.

Filandia with its carved wooden balconies in all manner of colour, the Maria Inmaculada Church was beautiful and such a center of their lives. Here you will see bahareque architecture, exquisitely hand painted interiors and souls in prayer. Maestro Artesano workshop is where we learned to make our basket. It was such fun and I am glad she had a lot of patience for us. One of THE best lunches we had was at Helena Adentro Restaurante Bar. Not only were the owners just the nicest people you could meet but the food served...wow.

Our coffee experiences were many as we learned all about it from seed to cup. From a simple stop to observe the Central Mountain Range of Colombia and enjoy a cappuchino and drool over the yummy sweets to Salento where we were given a short course at Café Jesus Martin. As I entered I could not help but think I was in some café in Paris...a funky place filled to the rafters with people enjoying a cuppa. What a great cup of coffee...so glad we stopped there..for many reasons. This was also the first time I had ever seen or tasted coffee that had been dripping slowly for over 10 hours...it was not bitter tasting and quite delicious in a shot glass. We had another coffee experience at a coffee farm called De la semilla a la taza or from seed to cup from Finca El Ocasa Salento. Just walking through the growing areas was an education as you saw cherries in every stage of colour with bananas and gingers mixed in for colour. Afterwards we enjoyed a cup before leaving. Our last coffee experience was at Hacienda Vencia and what that ever cool. Not only did we get to stay here and enjoy the surrounding gardens and landscape but we were right next to the coffee roasting area and the aroma was intoxicating. This was heaven. After dinner it was to bed knowing we would sleep the sleep of silence. In the morning we woke to coffee and fresh juices...again heaven...not to mention sitting on the veranda in the morning with a cup in one hand and a camera in the other trying to get photos of all the birds at the feeders. After breakfast it was time for our last coffee experience, this time with a major grower...they own 200 hectares of land with 160 of those in coffee.

Otum Quimbaya Sanctuary, close to Salento is a wonderful place to learn about birds and plants. We had expert guides with us as we trouped through water and tropical cloud forest in search of flora and birds. It was simply amazing and hard to speak because you didn't want to take anything away from the peace and solitude of the moment.

Salento was just simply a very special place....and the colourful balconies and shops made the walk down their main street so much fun, especially since it was Valentines Day! Everyone was on that main street, music, dancing, eating and shopping of course. We stayed at the Salento Real which is about two blocks from main street. Made it very handy.

The national flower of Colombia is the orchid Cattleya trianae which was named after the Colombian naturalist José Jerónimo Triana. The orchid was selected by botanist Emilio Robledo, in representation of the Colombian Academy of History to determine the most representative flowering plant of Colombia.

Colombia is the main producer and exporter of roses worldwide. Colombia has the largest amount of heliconia species worldwide.

The sombrero vueltiao or sombrero vueltiado (Colombian Spanish for turned hat) is a traditional hat from Colombia and one of its symbols.
It is made out of Gynerium sagittatum known locally as caña flecha, a type of cane that grows in the region. This iconic symbol of Colombia has been sported by hundreds of personalities, including Pope John Paul II when he visited Colombia in 1986, and former President of the United States Bill Clinton when he visited Cartagena, Colombia in August 2000.

The country's oldest and most highly regarded coffee region has been World Heritage listed by UNESCO, and all of its beans are hand picked, with Colombia's steep and rugged terrain resisting mechanization.



My Itinerary – Agri-Tourism in the Coffee Cultural Landscape

I left on the 20th from Panama, and once landed in Pereira airport was taken to the Hacienda San Jose Hotel, located in Montenegro. Late arrival and up early the next morning!

Sunday, 21st of September

After a most delicious breakfast our group gathered up their stuff to leave for Filandia, the place where the basis of the Antioquia colonization has been best preserved. Walking the streets was such fun as we had many staring at us as we peeked into shops along the way. Visit to Maestro Artesano workshop to learn how to make a basket based on natural local fibers. Lunch at Helena which I said earlier was excellent. The drink we are having is Lulo in Colombia. Naranjilla fruit has a citrus flavour, sometimes described as a combination of rhubarb and lime. The juice of the naranjilla is green and is often used as a drink and is it ever good.

In Tambo Cruces we stopped to observe the Central Mountain Range of Colombia while enjoying a coffee and stunning views in the sunshine.

We are off to Salento, Quindío, known as the cradle of the wax-palm. Salento is a paradise suspended in time, whose houses and balconies are ablaze with riotous color matching the flowers, remains untouched. The Wax palm tree Ceroxylon quindiuense, is a palm native to the Andean high altitude Cocora valley in the department of Quindío, northwest Colombia. Also known as the Quindo Wax, the Wax Palm is the tallest palm tree in the world. Salento, located in the iconic coffee region is one of ten towns highlighted by CNN for its outstanding architecture.

One of the iconic region’s most popular tourist destinations, Salento is home to some of Colombia’s most quaint and colorful streets. As CNN recognized, “the town’s biggest attraction is its traditional bahareque architecture: a collection of one- and two-story buildings, mostly white but with doors and window frames adorned in brightly painted colors.” Founded in 1842, Salento was one of the first Spanish settlements in the Quindio state and has long served as a key stop on the ancient route between the capital Bogota and the southwestern city of Popayan, also famous for its architecture. Salento’s Calle Real (Royal Street) is the most famous of the town because of its traditional two-story houses made of bamboo and painted in all the colors of the rainbow.

Experience Arte Latte in at Café Jesús Martín, a local enterprise that not only produces, transforms and commercializes coffee, but it also teaches visitors about the Coffee Culture in Salento and the Region. Inside the café it feels alive and vibrant, Jesus Martin has been producing coffee in the triangle for 80 years, and five years ago opened its Salento cafe. The cafe’s mission isn’t simply to serve coffee. Using beans from its own plantation as well as those from other small producers, it’s creating what it calls ‘latte art’. Latte art begins with aroma and ends with taste. Most of the best beans are shipped out leaving inferior quality for drinking locally. Jesus Martin now holds onto some premium beans for its cafe, where they’re medium roasted for around 16 minutes. Here the coffee tastes extremely good.

Arrival at Salento Real Hotel, set right in town, about two blocks away from main street.

Salento, set amid gorgeous green mountains 24 km east of Armenia, survives on coffee production, trout farming and, increasingly, tourists.
Born in 1850 itis one of the oldest (and possibly the smallest) towns in Quindío. In 2011, UNESCO declared the Colombia coffee region World Heritage Site, due to the preservation of these coffee traditions, its impressive landscapes and the Spanish colonial architecture prevailing in the haciendas and municipalities in the Departments of Risaralda, Caldas and Quindio.
 

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