One of the things that Roland and I wanted to do most on trip to Colombia was go on a coffee tour. We did a bit of research prior to going, but as with the rest of the trip, didn’t have everything completely planned out. A few days before leaving Ecuador we got serious about figuring out how we were going to make this happen. With a little bit of advice from our friends, some serious scouring of guide books, and a few internet searches we determined that getting to Eje Cafetero, the coffee region, was quite ambitious.
We had a very limited window of time in Colombia, only four days, and we were staying in Bogota which is a significant distance from the coffee country. Taking a bus, the economical route, would take too long for our quick trip, so we began researching flights into Pereira. We found that Colombia’s local airline Viva Colombia, ran one flight every evening from Bogota to Pereira and back. The cost of the flight for a 24 hour trip almost had us reconsider the trip, but we are SO glad that we went.
On our first night in Bogota we met a couple in the lobby of our hotel who had spent the past two weeks in Colombia and were on their way to Ecuador the next day. We met them for a drink and swapped travel stories and suggestions of places to visit or avoid. Specifically we wanted to ask them about their time in the coffee country as we had secured a flight, but had still not lined up a tour. They recommended the Hacienda Guayabal. We contacted the Hacienda that evening and scheduled an overnight stay and coffee tour with them for the following day. The tour was one of the highlights of our entire trip!
When we arrived at the airport for our flight to Pereira, the woman at the ticket counter said that we did not have reservations. I showed her the confirmation email and spent some time arguing with her in broken Spanish. In the end, we determined that the payment had not gone through because their website did not accept international credit cards… or something like that. She offered to sell us new tickets at twice the price. After another few minutes of arguing, we agreed that if we paid for the tickets in cash they would give me the tickets at the original price. A trip to the ATM and another 20 minutes standing in line later and we were on our way to security. On the way to security, Roland remembered that he had a knife in his pocket. As we had agreed to only take carry-ons for this trip, he was forced to put his knife in the lighted plexiglass container next to security where all forbidden items go to die.
Our flight was uneventful and we arrived in Pereira just after dark. At this point in our trip, we broke most of the rules of travel safety in Colombia. The airport did not have an approved taxi stand (Colombian taxistas are notorious for extorting their fairs), so we just picked one. He agreed to a price and took us to the bus station. At the bus station we wandered around looking for the bus we had been told to take. We arrived at their stand and they told us they did not have the bus we needed, but these other people over here, their bus runs past where you need and they can drop you off there on the way. After exchanging an “I’m not so sure about this…” glance with Roland we followed the man to the other kiosk. The man gave us a reasonable price and handed us tickets, then took us to a bus and a van outside with a crowd of other people. They put everyone else on the bus and just the two of us in the van.
At that point, we agreed that we would bail if no one else got in the bus before the driver came back. Slowly but surely over the next fifteen or twenty minutes a few people trickled out and joined us in the van. Then a group of people filled the back of the van and chatted loudly with one another, clearly all going to the same place. Our confidence increased as these people obviously knew what they were doing and felt safe. The van drove off into the night heading in the right direction (from what I could tell from the street signs) with Roland and me and all of our bags jammed together in the front seat with the driver, the shifter repeatedly causing me to squeeze tighter on top of Roland each time the driver changed gears. With the back of the van singing loudly to the music our driver turned on, we drove very quickly through the streets, down the highway, and then along winding roads with sharp curves. He dropped us off at a gas station in Chinchina, at which point it was almost 11pm. We flagged a taxi from the station across the street. Our friendly driver pulled up to the Hacienda, blaring the horn, and two men came hustling out of the house to carry our bags in for us. We had arrived.
The next morning, we woke up to the most incredible view out of our window. The Hacienda provided a fabulous breakfast before our tour.
The tour was offered in English, French, or Spanish. At different times throughout the tour our guide had to speak all three languages to our international group to explain a particular topic. This was our incredible tri-lingual tour guide.
They gave us all fabulous umbrellas 🙂
The “Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia” is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Between the clouds and the smoke from the used coffee plants being burned, the pictures don’t begin to do it justice.
There is so much more to the process of making coffee than I ever realized. The size of the beans, the roast of the beans, the coarseness of the coffee grounds, and the temperature of the water to brew the coffee all change the flavor of the coffee.
They made coffee for us at the beginning and end of the tour, brewing different roasts at different temperatures to show the differences. I’m not a coffee drinker, but even I could taste the difference. Roland, who practically considers coffee to be its own food group, was in Heaven.
We could have happily spent the rest of the trip at the Hacienda with these friendly and welcoming people. The lesson to be learned from this: never short yourself time in Colombia! The most beautiful landscapes and travelling we did was in Eje Cafetero. We will definitely be returning to the country as we only scratched the surface of what there is to be seen and we will certainly plan for more time in the coffee country.