La Zona Cafetera is vast! It comprises sprawling green mountains full of coffee beans for hundreds of miles. Within the region, the occasional city or village pops up.
This is by far the most popular part of the coffee region. I’d say after Cartagena it is one of the most visited in the country. Like the northern Caribbean city, it has kept much of its colonial architecture. It is a charming little village, if a little overcrowded with tourists!
I fell in love with this tiny village. While your fellow travellers queue up to get into Salento’s hostels, you may want to check out Chinchiná. Here, you’ll find some of the most picturesque, untouched views imaginable. The people are even friendlier than in other pueblitos. Walk around, visit farms and ask if you can volunteer for a few days. This is real Colombia, not what you find in the tour guides. Except this one…
Pereira and Manizales
These are bigger cities, within a 10-hour bus journey of the capital, Bogotá. They are worth a visit. Pereira has a great nightlife for such a small city. It has an edgy underbelly with a lot of street art. I had a look at a couple of universities here with really interesting art and political involvement. Manizales is well known throughout the region and has a great metro-cable from which you can see the whole city.
Overall, you can spend a couple of weeks enjoying the relaxed setting of the coffee region. There are tours to be taken all around. There is a sad side, which is that the farmers themselves never get to taste their own first-rate coffee. It is all exported to supermarkets in richer countries. They are exploited by multi-national corporations.
You may also want to spend a couple of weeks in this extraordinary city. It has a well documented troubled past. Due to its colossal efforts to get away from that image, there are hints of beauty and innovation. It is built in a valley in the Andes, completely surrounded by mountains. That means that wherever you are, you always have a beautiful view of the protruding landscape.
Parque Arví and Biblioteca España
Hundreds of acres of parkland, woodland and farms sit just on the other side of the mountains. Take the innovative metro-cable, which is part of the city’s metro-train system. On the way up, it stops alongside the Biblioteca España, an architectural marvel built into the impoverished area in the hills. It is definitely worth a visit – and you should get some fantastic photos. Once over the mountain, take tours around the farms and enjoy being in the wilderness, just round the corner from the city.
The most famous spot for tourists is Parque Lleras in the Poblado area. The region is where a lot of rich Colombians and Americans live. There are loads of bars, restaurants and a very active nightlife. If you are in Medellin for a week or so, head to clubs like Blue and Calle 9, which play electronic and western music (not like Clint Eastwood films…)
La 70 and La 33
However, if you are looking for a more authentic Colombian experience, head to these streets. They are packed with bars playing salsa, vallenato and reggaeton music.
Ciudad de Rio and Modern Art Museum
You may get tired of the at times superficial culture in Poblado. Ciudad de Rio is a grassy park with a skater section and loads of vendors selling snacks. People sit around with a guitar and a few beers well into the evenings. Sunday evening is a good time to come here with friends. It is right next to the Museum of Modern Art, so well worth a visit. A place with a similar ambience is Carlos E Restrepo, towards the north of the city.
The City Centre
Spend the afternoon in the centre. Check out the Parque de la Luz. It’s an important symbol of the city’s fight against drugs. It was once one of Escobar’s stomping grounds, along with a run down building by its side. The renovated structure is now the Ministry of Education and the park is the Park of Light. Nearby, there are artificial beaches, small park areas, cafes, shops and the Botero Museum. Walk around the plaza to see his bizarre statues.
About the author:
Andrew is a freelance journalist who lives in Medellin. He holds an NCTJ qualification and worked as an online reporter for The Sun and several other publications before moving abroad. His passions are travel, football and languages – he speaks French and Spanish. He is constantly astounded at how much Colombia – and Medellin in particular – have to offer.
- How I ended up on a Colombian coffee farm in the middle of nowhere (uncovercolombia.wordpress.com)
- Day Trips from Medellin: Guatapé and Santa Fé de Antioquia (www.uncovercolombia.com)
- The Flower Festival in Medellin (www.uncovercolombia.com)
- Coffee region tour (www.uncovercolombia.com)