Colombia’s Coffee Triangle

The moment I read about Colombia’s coffee triangle (Pereira, Manizales and Armenia), I was fixated on a visit. Delicious coffee, rolling hills, perfect comfortable temperature – check, check and check. Following fellow overlanders advice (LifeRemotely and SeventeenBySix), we decided to visit Hacienda Venecia just south of Manizales and  La Serrana in Salento, a little outside of Armenia.

Hacienda Venecia

I thought I had died and gone to heaven when we arrived at Venecia (northern point of the coffee triangle). Jorge greeted us in the parking lot with a smile and hand shake. He gave us the grand tour of the hostel which included a pool, ample common space, spotless bathrooms and a large well stocked kitchen. George and I nearly fell over when he showed us the professional espresso maker and told us coffee was free. FREE. He then proceeded to give us a demo. Trumpets sounded in the background.


Venecia is a large award winning coffee farm, so G and I decided to take the coffee tour. The tour was extremely educational, if not a little mind bending. My takeaway are as follows:

  • Colombia can harvest at least twice at year, because they have two wet and two dry seasons which means fresher coffee.
  • Colombia only exports the good stuff. This is controlled by a central organization to protect Colombia’s coffee brand.
  • See last point.  Because the good stuff leaves, Colombia’s coffee culture is what you might expect. Colombians prefer their coffee very sweet to mask the bitterness.
  • Coffee roasting is complex (countless scents and flavors), so I’ve opted to just enjoy the final product.


With more time, we would have taking advantage of the close proximity to Los Nevados National Park – yet another reason to visit the area.

Salento and Hostel La Serrana

Knowing we had to keep moving, we pulled the espresso IVs out of our arms and headed south to Salento and Hostel La Serrana (southern end of the coffee triangle). Salento is another small colonial town getting popular with foreigners for it’s easy access to Valle de Cocora.


The first thing we set eyes on pulling into La Serrana was Vida’s doppelgänger, a Land Cruiser with the same tent owned by a Dutch couple. La Serrana is a nice big hostel with great views and lots of space, but without fail it is jammed packed. It is a growing trend for hostels like La Serrana to offer volunteer programs in exchange for food and lodging. Gardening was one of the volunteer jobs offered there.


We hiked into Valle de Cocora (known for the sky high wax palms) the following day. It is a loop hike that takes you past farms and then through forests while you crisscross a river. Be prepared for mud. This is followed by plenty of switchbacks as you climb. Do not fret though, the good stuff soon begins. At the top, there is a nice little area with benches to have a snack. It is then time to hike down through the valley. The wax palm soldiers stand at attention in greeting.  All-in-all, a pretty easy and pretty beautiful hike. If you’re feeling lazy, don’t do the loop. Hike in the opposite direction and skip the river bit.


I could have easily killed a week or two in Colombia’s coffee triangle. The coffee is just the beginning. There are plenty of ways to explore nature and appreciate your surroundings.

Santa Catalina: the end of another road…

We meet lots of people on the road, and everyone has an opinion.  The question in Panama was which coastal town is better, Santa Catalina or Bocas.  We consulted with locals and foreigners alike and decided we shall visit both.  After a quick visit to Bocas, we hopped in Vida for an easy-breezy eight-hour coast-to-coast drive.  If anybody is keeping track, this is +1 for two oceans one day.

The two-minute research we did for camping spots in town told us to drive to ‘the end of the road’ and look for Oasis Surf Camp.  I vaguely remembered reading something about a water crossing but didn’t make much of it.  Turned out to be a small river, which fortunately wasn’t much of a problem for Vida.

We set camp on the beach thanks to some help from our friendly Italian host David. Our initial plan was to spend only two days here, but we liked the place enough to stay 5 days/4 nights.  We did some walks around town, found an awesome bakery and I did some surfing.  It wasn’t Internet surfing for a change… The highlight of our Santa Catalina visit was a scuba/snorkeling trip to the largest and most remote marine reserve in Panama – Isla Coiba.

Coiba National Park is a World Heritage Site.  The island used to be Panama’s Alcatraz until ten years ago.  The prison was known for torture and murder of some of the inmates, so the locals avoided the place.  This helped preserve the park’s amazing marine life and also the island itself.  According to Wikipedia, over 75% of the island is forested where the majority of this is ancient forest.  Let me just tell you, the island is huge and it is far off the coast …  We explored only a tiny smidge of the marine park, and it was fantastic.  We saw tons of really large fish including white tip and bull sharks, large rays, dolphins, turtles, stonefish and a massive schools of barracudas.  The coral was in very good shape as well.

I did three dives and Teresa snorkeled.  Can you believe Teresa saw three bull sharks while snorkeling and did not freak out?! Oh, and she successfully retrieved her snorkel after dropping it off the boat and diving right after to get it … The snorkel was well on his way down to the bottom, some thirty meters below.  That was some impressive stuff T!




Boquete – the Napa Valley of coffee

…or so lonely planet says.  G and I being coffee junkies were obviously in whole hog.  As an aside, I have no idea when I picked up the phrase ‘whole hog’.  I’m just going to roll with it.  It turns out much of the Panamanian produce and coffee is grown in the Boquete area.  There is plenty of hiking, and the town itself is picturesquely back dropped by Volcán Barú.


We had heard from some lovely ladies that we met in Osa that Refugio del Rio was the hostel to be at and included a river and hot tub.  Since we now have a full-blown bed bug anxiety disorder, we schemed on ways to sleep in our truck but use the hostel facilities.  This turned out to be a piece of cake.  The hostel sees lots of campers and overlanders.  We snagged a spot in front of the hostel by the river.  The wonderful little river drowns out all the sound at night.

Every Thursday, the hostel has a bbq open to the public at a steel of $5.  G was able to top off the meat reserves, and I had piles of veggies and rice.  Since I was first in line, I got my pick of the bounty.

Most of the subsequent days were spent abusing the internet (we had some trip planning to take care of).  We did manage a few walks around town, a visit to the local panadería, as well as a few visits to the grocery store.  At the grocery store we went balls to the wall and bought bags upon bags of coffee as well as several bottles of rum.  Feeling a little lazy after a day of interneting, we ventured out to an underdeveloped hot springs.  On that front though, I advise travellers to steer clear.  I like my hot springs in two varieties: resort setting with all the amenities or pristine pool in a remote location.  What Boquete offered were two mosquito baths complete with farm animals for your viewing pleasure (we heard there was a more developed pool in the area but didn’t get a chance to check it out).

All and all, I think the town is worth a visit if you happen to be in the neighborhood and the cooler climate is a nice break from the heat in the low-lying areas.


Coffee Break

For 3 weeks while G and I were taking Spanish lessons, these two words were music to my ears.  From 10 to 10:30 am, we were able to grab a snack from the ladies who set up shop at the Spanish school next to ours.  My Spanish teacher very quickly discovered my love of food, so we spent a good deal of time discussing it.  She shared with me the ‘snack’ tradition in Guatemala.  My favorites were the tostadas with beans, guac, cabbage and salsa or a taco stuffed with potatoes and covered with the same stuff.  Tostadas and tacos are different then their Mexican counterparts.  The Guatemalan tostada starts with a thicker and crunchier fried corn tortilla.  The Guatemalan tacos are actually rolled up and then fried.  George usually opted for a bread roll (pan) with a chile relleno, guac, beans, hot sauce and cabbage.  For something sweet, he’d grab a rellenitos de plátano (small balls of mashed plantains filled with sweetened black beans, fried and sprinkled with sugar). Another favorite snack was the corn on the cob.  We preferred ours with salt, but the locals smothered them with all kinds of condiments including ketchup.  Truth be told, I kept my distance from the loaded down cobs of corn.

Lunchtime is typically the most substantial meal in Guatemala.  Some local restaurants would have pots of stews sitting in the entrance, which was almost impossible to pass once you caught wind of the smell.   Without fail, they would have ample delicious soups and salads as well for me to try.  George usually opted to try as much meat as possible.  As many of you know, I don’t eat meat and therefore cook primarily veggie food.  If G doesn’t have a big chunk of meat at least every second day, he’s convinced that his body needs meat asap and that he couldn’t possibly carry on.  Eating a big meal at lunch worked out well for both of us, because I could cook veggie for dinner without any complaints.

One of the dishes that I really enjoyed was vegetarian pepian.  The dish almost tastes like an Indian curry because you begin by toasting spices in a dry pan.  I also highly recommend the panaderias (bakeries) in Guatemala – plenty of fresh bread and sweets to choose from.

G and I celebrated the completion of our Spanish classes with some frozen bananas dipped in chocolate and covered with nuts followed by a few too many Quetzalteca + sprite.