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Eje Cafetero, Colombia
The Colombian "Coffee Zone" is underrated...
If your only problem with Medellin is the number of gringos arriving each and every day…
I’ve got a lil’ something for you.
A region in Colombia that’s similar to Medellin in a number of ways, except there’s far, far less foreigners.
Welcome to the Eje Cafetero, Colombia.
I remember my first trip to the region fondly. The sun coming up over the mountainside as the morning coffee brewed. Stepping outside on the terrace of a ‘finca' and enjoying the morning coffee with a stunning sunrise — all surrounded by lush vegetation and mountain views.
I'm talking stunning views like this one:
The best thing about this beautiful area…
Colombia's coffee region is continually overlooked by travelers who flock to Medellin, Cartagena, or Santa Marta.
Cities in Colombia’s Coffee Zone
If you're curious about Colombia's coffee zone, let's dig in. Generally speaking, the area is comprised of three states in the country:
Located near the middle of Colombia, these three states are known worldwide for producing some of the best coffee around. The temperature and landscape are ideal for coffee production year around.
While you'll find some cities in Zona Cafetera, there's only around 2.5 million people living throughout the region. Most of them found in these three main cities:
Pereira is the largest city in Eje Cafetero with a little over 500,000 people and considered the capital of the region. It's also strategically located in the middle of the other two large cities in Zona Cafetera.
For basing up in Eje Cafetero, Colombia — I tend to recommend people start in Pereira, as it's easy to move around the whole region from here.
But let's take a little closer look at all three of the main cities in the region, along with one of the most popular tourist towns:
Pereira: The biggest city in the region, so you'll find the most amenities here. Plus, it's smack dab in the middle of Eje Cafetero and only an hour drive from all the major spots throughout the region. There's also a nice nightlife district and stunning views from all around. I'm a huge fan of Pereira for a longer-term stay in the region, as it's a livable spot.
Manizales: University town located in the mountains of the coffee axis. Just a little bit smaller than Pereira, but the vibe is a bit different in my opinion. The weather is also cooler than other parts of the region due to the elevation. An interesting place to check out, as there's cable cars instead of buses in certain parts of the city. But I wouldn't live here for months on end like Pereira. In my opinion, it's ideal for a week or two of exploring.
Armenia: Not gonna lie, this is my least favorite city in Eje Cafetero, Colombia. Not only is it the smallest major city in the region, but I also found Armenia to be a little more dangerous than the other two. The nature surrounding the city is absolutely stunning and the fincas amazing, but the city itself wasn't that impressive.
Salento: The tourism hotspot in Eje Cafetero, Colombia. Here you'll find a quaint tourist town filled with travelers and backpackers — all searching for stunning views and a trip to Valle de Cocora. Highly recommend checking out this little down and the Valle for a few days, as you'll see things like this:
How to Get to Zona Cafetera, Colombia
The good news about Zona Cafetera is that it's super easy to get here — if you're already in Colombia.
If you're not in Colombia, things get a little bit trickier. Luckily, there's actually an “international” airport in the region. The airport in Pereira has direct, non-stop international flights every now and then.
Panama City, Panama
So you can actually fly directly into the coffee axis without a stopover in Bogota or Medellin on occasion. It must be stated that these flights can be more expensive and aren't available every single day. You'll generally need flexible travel times to make a direct flight to Pereira work.
But getting to the region once you're already in Colombia is simple.
All three of the major cities have domestic airports that receive dozen of flights everyday. Not only are there tons of flight times, but the flights once you're in Colombia are dirt cheap.
You can fly from Bogota or Cartagena to Pereira or Manizales for $60-100 roundtrip on most days.
And if you're in those cities, I'd highly recommend flying.
Taking a bus from Bogota or the coast to Zona Cafetera is a miserable experience. You'll be spending hours upon hours on a bus that's winding through mountain roads. People often end up getting sick on these buses — which makes the ride even less pleasant.
If you're in Medellin or Cali…
Then it's a whole different ballgame, as you can hop on a bus and be in the coffee region within 2-5 hours depending on where you're going and traffic.
Buses tend to be exceptionally cheap too. You can get from Cali to Pereira for less than $15 USD. Same with Medellin to Manizales or Pereira.
Buses between cities in the Colombian coffee axis are exceptionally easy to take too. You can get from any of the cities to the others within 1-2 hours. Everything is close by and buses run dozens of times daily.
I took the bus from Pereira to Manizales a few times, winding through the hills, and the views were absolutely stunning. Highly recommended.
Do You Need to Speak Spanish in the Coffee Zone?
It must be stated that Zona Cafetera isn't a hotbed of tourism just yet. This isn't Cartagena, Santa Marta, or Medellin.
Claro que no.
As such, you won't find nearly as many English speakers in this region of Colombia. In fact, outside of a few university students and tour operators, I didn't meet a soul who spoke decent English in Eje Cafetero.
If you're planning to visit the region for more than just a quick trip checking out the views, you'll 100% need to learn Spanish.
Life in Eje Cafetero will be so much easier once you're able to speak a little bit of the language and communicate with the locals. Without Spanish, it'll be tough to form relationships and make friends in the region — because almost no one here speaks great English. It's just not needed.
So if you plan to come here, invest in learning some Spanish before you book that flight.
Things I Dig about Zona Cafetera
Good vibes. Great views. Friendly locals. Attractive females. There’s a lot to love in this region of Colombia. Ya tu sabes.
Here’s what I enjoy about Colombia’s coffee zone…
Some of the best mountain views throughout Colombia can be found here. Lush green mountains surround the larger cities in the region. Many apartments have insane views from the balcony.
I’ve yet to find mountain cities, actual cities, that have better views than those in the coffee zone.
Mid-70s and sunny is commonplace here. While it rains often, the climate is absolutely perfect when it’s not rainy. And the rain just keeps the mountains green and lush.
Passes my: “I can wear jeans and a button down in the afternoons or evenings without sweating” test.
With mountains around every corner, the hiking here is amazing. You’ll find dozens of trails around the region.
One place you must absolute hike? Valle de Cocora.
More on that below…
The women here are quite good looking. If you like the classic Colombiana look of long jet-black hair, pale-ish skin, and ideal assets — you’ll like the women here. Especially in Pereira.
It’s less touristy here and there’s no major cities. So the coffee zone is pretty laid back. People are friendly. Talkative. Curious why a gringo is spending time in their part of the world.
While there aren’t an insane amount of options, the nightlife in Pereira and Manizales gets going on the weekends.
Just remember this is “real” Colombia and you’re going to find lots of tables with big groups here.
Tons of Things to Do
If being able to going hiking 1-2 times a week is something you enjoy, then you’ll love the coffee region.
There’s great hikes, hot springs, and tons of green space all throughout the region. For outdoors enthusiasts, it’s one of my favorite areas in Colombia.
No spot is perfect and Eje Cafetero certainly isn’t, either. Here’s a few downsides to the region…
2.5 million people spread out over multiple states, cities, and towns. It’s not a heavily populated area.
While Periera and Manizales are solid cities, you won’t find the amenities and dating options found in Bogota or Medellin. Don’t spend to much time here if you’re looking for big city living.
If you don’t speak much Spanish, you’ll find it harder to communicate here than in Medellin or Bogota.
People just don’t speak that much English here.
For me, that’s ideal. If you’re Spanish isn’t up to snuff yet, you probably won’t enjoy it here as much.
It Rains A Lot
The mountains surrounding all the cities in the region are green and lush. Because it rains all the time here.
Often, it’s just a drizzle for a few hours during the afternoon. But you’ll find it rains more days than it doesn’t in the coffee one.
Could Get Boring
If you need big city excitement, this isn’t a place for you to base up. Outside of the hiking and tourism, there’s not much going on here.
Sure, you could meet some girls and enjoy dating for a month or so in Pereira. But again, this isn’t Bogota or Medellin.
Dope Things to Do
Culture, arts, and all that jazz…not a reason to come to the coffee region in Colombia.
That’s why you come here. With that in mind, here’s a few of my favorite things to do in the region:
Visit Valle de Cocora
First and foremost, you absolutely MUST visit Valle de Cocora while you're in the region.
Easily accessible from Salento, Armenia, and Pereira – the stunning attraction offers some of the best views I've ever seen.
Valle de Cocora is filled with the Quindio Wax Palm Tree, the tallest palm tree in the world. These giant palms fill the mountainside and combine to offer a breathtaking scene.
I recommend hopping on a horse to head to the top of the mountain in Valle de Cocora. Just be careful! I was thrown off my horse and rolled down the mountainside for about 15 seconds. Not a pleasant experience.
Chill Out in Salento
Don't forget to check out Salento while you're in Colombia's coffee region. As the only town that's popular with gringos in the area, you'll find tourism abundant here.
Salento is a perfect place to unwind, take in some views from a mirador, and soak up some traditional Colombian culture.
I enjoyed downing tintos, errr coffees, and walking the streets in this relaxed town.
Hike Nevado del Ruiz
One of the best places to hike in all of Colombia is Nevado del Ruiz.
You’ll find one-day and multi-day treks available here. Highly recommended if you love hiking.
Easiest to get here from Manizales.
Visit Termales de Santa Rosa
Visiting the Termales de Santa Rosa is a MUST while in Zona Cafetera. Other than Valle de Cocora, these thermal hot springs are the most popular tourist attraction in the region.
Just make sure you do NOT go on a Colombian holiday!
I went on a Monday when all Colombians were off work. It was packed to the brim and took a little away from the experience.
During the week, you may have the place to yourself. Either way, the Termales de Santa Rosa are relaxing and offer breathtaking views.
Eje Cafetero, Colombia | Overall
The coffee zone is one of my favorite spots in all of Colombia, which might just be my favorite country in Latin America.
Highly recommended to check out this gorgeous, green area of the world before it gets overrun with gringos.
If you’re a fan of hiking, doing cool shit in nature, and Colombianas — you’ll enjoy your time here.
Pereira is the best city to base-up in for a week to a few months.