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.

In pursuit of el dorado… – Laguna de Guatavita

Laguna de Guatavita has a long history starting with the Muisca people at least 500 years ago.  The Muisca would throw gold offerings into the water from a perch in the hills surrounding the laguna.  Many attempts to recover the gold (el dorado) have been made (including cutting a ditch out of the side of the laguna to drain it), but reports are conflicting as to whether any one of the parties was very successful.

Guatavita is a circular lake at 3000 meters that has no water outlet.  Discovery Channel aired a a theory that a meteor formed the crater and now lake, however scientists have evidence that the crater was once a giant salt deposit.


For the entire drive to the lake, George plotted about finding gold and his plans for it (blah blah blah). I quickly forgot about this as we climbed the short path to the viewpoints atop the laguna, which offered us picturesque views of the surrounding countryside and the laguna itself. A nice little stopover and a chance to stretch your legs if you have half a day free.


Transitions, Villa de Leyva to Lake Tota

A friend of mine once told me how much she liked transitions, getting warm after being cold for example. As we crossed from a bumpy dirt road to a paved road heading to Colombia’s Valley of the Sun, I was thinking about her and how much I agreed. Especially because it looked like we didn’t need to be on said dirt road to begin with. The transition from Villa de Leyva to Lake Tota (in the Valley of the Sun) also came to mind. One (Villa de Leyva) is a popular place to visit for Colombians and is becoming more popular for foreigners, while the other seems almost untouched by outsiders (although there has been a clear influx of government money to the area). Both are well worth a visit.

Villa de Leyva


We pitched a tent at Colombian Highlands Hostel. The hostel has great communal space as well as a hike starting at the back of the property to a lookout of Villa de Leyva.


The hostel provided us with a map of ample places to visit in the nearby countryside, so we took a little tour.  The clay house you see in the photos was surprisingly interesting if only for the ancient Italian coffee maker we discovered. The first words out of George’s mouth were, “Should we buy it?”.


As dusk approached, we pulled up to the central square. As luck would have it, four other overlanders would soon follow: Argentina Alaska (in a fiat) and A Million Elephants.


The Valley of the Sun (‘Sugamuxi’)

This is the area around Lago de la Tota (Lake Tota).  Small colonial towns rim the lake.  You’ll also find a white sand Andean beach (Playa Blanca) at 3015 meters which of course we camped on. It’s hard to describe the feeling I had driving through the lush rolling hills around the lake. It looks like just about everything is grown in the fertile soil. If you’re looking for excitement, don’t visit.  If you’re looking for authentic Colombian villages and some high Andean camping, please visit.


The big B – Bogota and around

First some fun facts about Bogota, a city of roughly 8.5 million. Admittedly beforehand, I had no idea that Bogota sits at 2,625 meters (8,612 ft) above sea level. This high elevation clearly translates into cooler temperatures (avg 14.5 Celsius).

Anyone who listens to National Public Radio (NPR) in the states for long enough, has probably heard of Bogota and it’s failed license plate traffic scheme.  Bogota limits the days you can drive by the last digit of your license plate.  To side step this annoying limitation, many locals have purchased second cars leaving them free to drive when they like.

On our first encounter with Bogota’s notorious traffic, we found that driver’s in the city were more respectful than in the smaller towns (they didn’t honk continuously and there were some engaged blinkers, oh my). On subsequent visits however, it was a whole different ball game and so the flow of Bulgarian curses commenced.

We stayed at Charlies Place Hotel which included free breakfast, parking and wonderful service.  The hotel is in walking distance of both the Brazilian and Bolivian embassies.  For the next 3 days, we laid down a lot of shoe leather (or I guess rubber since we were in our sneaks), walking more than 200 city blocks.  But, the end result is visas and a several days in and around Bogota.

We spent Colombian independence day exploring El Museo del Oro (the Museum of Gold) and surrounding neighborhoods.


Bogota is not a beautiful city, but you can feel the undercurrent of art, music and politics as you walk the streets. The people were nothing but welcoming and helpful to us.  At the very least, El Museo del Oro demands a visit. It’s a beautifully planned gallery that gives you an idea of the tradition of metalwork in Colombia.


While waiting for our visas, we also paid a visit to Catedral de Sal de Zipaquirá (the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá).