The next stretch of road is one we’d been really looking forward to: Zona Cafetera. As an avid coffee lover (meaning a person you shouldn’t talk to before their morning coffee) the fields of coffee are a special kind of beauty to Rachel.
Zona Cafetera is south of Medellín, but first we had a couple places to check out north of the city. First: Decathlon! The French sports store opened a second Colombian store up and we haven’t been so excited to go shopping probably ever.
Loaded up on gear for the Andes ahead, we went to check out the Piedra de Peñol. The Piedra is just a big old rock with a staircase to the top. And where there are things to climb up, we climb up! Our plans to visit cutsie old town Guatapé nearby were thwarted by a bike race shutting down all the roads into town. Well, plenty of cute towns surely await us ahead, so we turned around and camped back near Medellín.
Our first glimpse of Zona Cafetera was the village Jerico. We had some lunch and poked around town, really digging the cute and colorful budings. From there we took the scenic back roads to Jardín – past fields and fields of COFFEE! Coffee as far as the eye can see. This is how I imagined Colombia would look like.
Jardín is another cute town with cute colorful buildings. There’s a nice hike above town and colorful shops and coffee shops around the town square.
The second day we went with a nice Dutch couple who’s also travelling on the Panamericana to Cueva del Esplendor – a big old waterfall crashing into a cave. The tour there involves riding in the back of a Willy – old Jeeps used like a mini bus. After a short but steep downhill hike, we arrived at the impressive waterfalls.
We read of a local who opens her house every afternoon to tourists to watch the Andean Cock of the Rock for a small fee. We were lucky and it was in the middle of mating season: the birds put on a great show!
We spent the last night a bit outside of Jardín in a beautiful garden setting, watching more birds, learning how the traditional fire stove works and just enjoying life.
From Jardín was a muddy backroad adventure to San Felix. Heavy rains turned the dirt road into a muddy mess and the Landy was more brown than black afterwards. San Felix introduced us to Wax Palms for the first time. We took a hiking tour through a primary forest and learned about the growth phases of the palms. The wax Palm is protected in Colombia, so when fields are clear cut for agriculture, the palms remain standing. These 40ish meter tall trees are imposing, but a sad reminder of how much clear cutting takes place.
South from San Felix was yet another of many long drives in Colombia to Manizales. Around the city we visited simple yet relaxing hot springs on the side of Volcano Nevado del Ruiz and visited the village Filandia and stayed at a small coffee Finca owned by a French couple. Here Ben had the chance to rescue a classic Land Rover and coffee at the same time! The Finca uses an old Landy to collect coffee at the end of the work day and it broke down before coming back up. Ben drove down and towed it back up, full of coffee beans and workers.
After Filandia we were able to extend the temporary import of the car and then visited the wax Palm valleys around Salento. The town of Salento itself was overly touristy and the first village we found to be too cutesie. We hiked in the Cocora Valley with the crowds, then spent a night Valle de la Carbonera. This valley is only accessible by vehicle or long bike ride, so it felt remote and had even more wax palms than Cocora or San Felix. We spent a quiet night overlooking the valley.
We covered a lot of ground in two weeks in the area, so for our last couple days we relaxed. First up on the relaxation schedule were the fancy hot springs San Vincente. These are natural hot springs but built up with a resort around them. Various pools, a hot river and saunas greeted us, as well waterfalls and a breakfast buffet. At these hot springs we also met Erika and Nicolas, a Swiss couple driving the Panamericana in their Land Rover Discovery. It’s also there where we ran into “Adone vamois?” again. We met these Argentinian travellers in Minca, Armenia while extending the TIP and now here again.
The next day it was a short drive to our last destination before the long drive to Bogota. Rachel’s best friend’s neighbors, Macgill and Lorencita, have a home in Colombia where they spend holidays visiting family. They invited us to their amazing home looking over Santa Rosa de Cabal and treated us to a lovely dinner. Mitzi had run of the yard and wore herself out checking out every corner and rolling in the grass. We relaxed in the yard and slept in that morning before the stressful drive east. It was the perfect end to two lovely weeks in the region!
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