Positive energy, excitement and a sudden increase in tourism has raised expectations in Colombia for the year 2020. After having gotten a feel for recent developments – and several short trips, we are ready to release our TOP 20 Coffee Axis Destinations for 2020.
20 Must-See Coffee Axis Destinations for 2020
Some very interesting places came onto our radar in the end of 2019 going into January of 2020. And, THIS is going to be a very interesting year. Our expectations are high due to local political change – including some very interesting upsets.
In 2019, we chose some destinations like Rio Sucio, Caldas and Quinchia, Risaralda; which are still coming onto the scene, if very slowly. But, like a race car losing to a newbie on the last stretch before the finish line, some new destinations came onto the scene and landed front and center on our radar.
#20 | Parque de Cafe/Panacea Attraction
Colombia has one of the only Thematic parks in the South American Continent. Obviously, it won’t be like Disneyland or Six Flags. But, for people who want to go on rides, see a great folkloric dance show and explore a coffee industry/culture museum, this can be a great travel option.
Family travel in the Coffee Axis Destinations can feel a bit limited at times. Parque de Cafe is great for older children and teens, while Panacea is preferred for toddlers and children. Panacea is like Old McDonalds Farm with an extra bonus of the more exotic species.
#19 | Parque Los Nevados – Mountaineering & Camping
An attraction that is still in the very crude stages of development, national parks are a little different here. For one, you won’t find picnic tables and bathroom facilities. Even if you do own a camper, it won’t go up into some of these places. This may be a limiting factor if you don’t have the extra equipment.
In both Pereira and Manizales, you can gain access to Parque Nacional de los Nevados. It is always a good idea to go with a group or guide service. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be aware that if your physical condition is not at an intermediate level or higher, you will experience discomfort. Sturdy shoes or rubber boots, sun protection and a good water filter/bottle is necessary. Locals will sometimes drink raw water from certain areas.
Activated charcoal is a good remedy for its bad water, food poisoning and detox properties, with no side effects. Ensure you have peppermint oil (if you have allergies), or bug spray to help keep them at bay.
#18 | Botanic Garden & Butterfly Sanctuary of Calarca, Department of Quindio
A famous and well-established attraction, this is the best butterfly house/botanic garden of its type in the Coffee Axis. At the same time, it doesn’t come onto many travel itineraries as it could.
Especially if you want to learn more about the local geology/seismology and biology – this is a really nice place to do it. The tour lasts about four hours and is incredibly informative.
- Insects, Butterflies and Birds
- Mammals, Local Species
- Climate & Geology
- Butterfly House
- Souvenir Shop & Cafe
Calarca, like most of the Coffee Axis Destinations of 2020, tends to be cool/rainy or warm to hot/humid. Carry an umbrella or poncho, stay hydrated and wear long pants to help protect from bugs/mosquitos. Wear comfortable closed-toe walking shoes or hiking boots.
#17 | Cartago, Valle de Cauca
Grande y Feo they say about Cartago. Big and Ugly. Yet, it has a certain pull which can be hard to resist if you get a peek at the inside. Yes, it is spread out, It can be rather blockish and worn looking. But, when you go inside and find the river parks, the city center and the little eco-park, you may change your mind.
One of the oldest pueblos in the region, Cartago was founded in 1540 after previously being located on what is present-day Pereira. In many cases, it suffers a bad reputation as a mafia hot-spot and drug smuggling epicenter. Over time that will continue to change and progress.
In spite of it’s “hot” habits, there are some really nice attractions that are great for day-trippers and one-night pueblo passers:
- Casa Virrey Museum and Conservatory
- Parque de Salud/Ecoparque Saman (Same place)
- Ruta de Bordados
- Excellent Steak/Grill Restaurants
- Cartago Nuestro Shopping Mall & Food Court
- Fruit Salad at the River Park
- Cathedral and Churches
- Music Culture/Education and Concerts
With some of the best municipal infrastructure and boutique shops in the Coffee Axis, Cartago is a very interesting destination which has a LOT of potential. Invest now!
#16 | Apia, Department of Risaralda
A Pueblo that has been on our radar for more than two years now, Apia is an established destination. The particularity of it, is that it enjoys a certain obscurity and remains quaint and uncrowded. For us, it is what Salento tried to be.
Apia is famous for its incredible musical talent and programs which have helped to spawn an entire generation of music tradition on a regional level. COMARCA, is a local conservatory which has special programs which bring music to disadvantaged groups like peasant children and the elderly. Their inner core are the bands, singers and musical groups of which many went on to do much bigger things, win special awards and/or play regionally.
Attraction in Apia, Risaralda include:
- Walking Park – Jeep up, Walk down
- Paragliding Flights with Certified Pilots
- Agricultural Farm Tours/Experiences
- Specialty Colombian Coffee Shops (Five to try!)
- Jeep Tours
- Yearly Theater Event – Ocaso Por Un Pueblo
- Unique Christmas Traditions
- Bicycle Routes & Tours
With limited hotel options you can stay here for around $40 USD per night and work with local tour operators to plan your activities. When leaving Pereira, travel with Trans Apia bus company. Always buy your return ticket at least one to two hours before departure to ensure availability.
#15 | Manizales, Department of Caldas
Known as the City of Open Doors, University Capital, and Coffee Capital of Colombia – Manizales is a cultural mecca with higher levels of education. Many attribute these unique characteristics to the cooler weather and high mountain views.
The city is uniquely formed, a bit crazy due to the hills and more conservative in nature. In January the Feria de Manizales is a celebrated city-wide event which lasts for 10 days and draws tourists from around the world. September brings the OLDEST International Theater Festival in South America.
Local attractions include:
- Los Yarumos Ecoparque & Bioma (Children & Teens)
- Calle del Tango – Argentine Dance Culture/Music
- Coredor Polaco – Cathedral Basilica – Tour/360 Views
- Ecoparque Alcazares Arenillo – Hiking/Biology/Birdwatching
- Recinto de Pensamiento – Butterflies/Walking/Biology/Events
- Chipre Scenic Overlook, Colonizers Monument & Coffee Museum
- Samoga Museum – Children’s Science Museum
- Unique Coffee Shops
- Fundadores Theater & Convention Center
- La Galeria – Gastronomy & Culture
- Metro Cable – Scenic Transport
Manizales boasts some of the best coffee shops in the coffee axis. Visitors can drink coffee from high towers, sitting on a swing or preparations with a machine that is the only one of its kind in South America. Coffee is the rule here, and not the exception.
As a lifestyle option, it is a little more exclusive – with many foreign residents citing the cold as why they WOULD, or WOUDN’T live there. The population in general is a bit more reserved, tends to arrive on time and interested in arts/culture.
Many sports are available and actively practiced here – including mountain biking, Tai Chi, Karate, Football, Tennis, Volleyball, Horseback Riding and many more! Dance is important with Salsa, Tango, Milonga, Vals, Paso Doble, and Folkloric Groups for Pasillo/Bambuco.
#14 | Pereira, Capital of Risaralda and the Coffee Axis
Leading the axis in commercial viability and population, Pereira is a central hub both for transport and goods. It is commonly known as the Capital of the Coffee Axis, Pearl of the Otun River or La Querendona, Morena y Transnochadora.
With a population of more than 800,000 inhabitants, it has the best amenities, the highest expat population and the best overall climate options. Travel options include the following:
- La Florida Waterfall Hike & Community
- Botanic Garden UTP
- Jardin Exotico Kamala
- Don Manolo Coffee Farm Tour
- Arepas de Choclo de Galicia/Gastronomic District
- Lucy Tejada Cultural Center & Museum
- VIP Art House, Culture and Lifestyle Experience
- Barbas Bremen National Park – Birds/Wildlife
- Estacion Pereira – Rural Transit/Natural Pools/River Scenery
- Nocturno Tango Show – Bi-Monthly Local Show
Nightlife in Pereira consists of a colorful range of places to drink which have patios, courtyards, green spaces and interesting themes. You can find Discotecas, or dance clubs which specialize in Salsa/Latin Dance, Tango/Argentinian Dances and Viejotecas.
#13 | Santa Rosa de Cabal, Departament of Risaralda
Famed for their Hot Springs attractions, Santa Rosa de Cabal has developed into one of the top Coffee Axis Destinations. Featuring cool, rainy weather – always bring a light jacket and umbrella.
Visitors can drink coffee in one of the many boutique cafe’s, eat typical Colombian, or enjoy international cuisine at a bustling restaurant district surrounding the main park.
- Two world-class hot springs resorts
- The biggest stained-glass window in South America
- The most cups of coffee drank in one day
- Famous sausage traditions
- Horseback riding & Fishing at Marulanda
Visitors to Santa Rosa de Cabal are recommended to come in a private car if possible, or by bus if necessary. Some of the most interesting places and restaurants are out in the countryside. To get there from Pereira you will cross the Highest Helicoidal (curved) Bridge, in the world.
#12 | Marsella, Department of Risaralda
This small town (pueblo), outside of Pereira has some unique tourism opportunities which definitely warrant taking a trip! You will see the Colonial architecture, sweeping views and local farmers/ranchers coming and going.
Tourism here has been steady over the last few years and the changes keep coming. It’s not a big place, but great for taking pictures of landscapes and colorful buildings. Eat a typical lunch in the pueblo, wander the streets and soak up the small-town life.
- Chocolate Farm Tours
- Botanic Garden – Self-Guided
- Guest Houses/Small Hotels
- Artisan shops
- Casa de Cultura – History & Culture Museum and Recreational Center
This town is a “Pueblo Mantrimónio,” or heritage town which has conserved many traditions along with the architecture. Our top recommendation is to come here for a day trip, arrive in the morning, visit the Botanic Garden, eat lunch and then wander the pueblo or visit the Chocolate farm.
#11 | Filandia, Department of Quindio
One of the most touristically developed pueblos, Filandia is one of the most popular destinations after Salento. Some even identify it as the “New Salento” because it also features extensive artisan craft boutiques.
A gastronomic paradise, you will be able to choose from international favorites along with local cuisine. Browse their restaurants on Facebook or via Google maps to get an idea what is available.
Some of the recommended activities in Filandia are…
- Visit the “Mirador” or Scenic Tower.
- Wander the shops and buy wooden mobiles, baskets, knitted shawls/ruanas, and many more artisan goods made locally.
- A vibrant and varied gastronomic scene.
Take a stroll in a scenic pueblo nestled in the rolling green hills of the Department of Quindio. Wander the streets with patience as it can get a bit crowded during holidays and weekends. Always buy your return ticket upon arrival as demand can sometimes cause shortfalls.
#10 | Neira, Department of Caldas
The biggest economic driver in Neira is Coffee and Cattle. The most famous food in Neira is the “Corcho” a type of traditional snacks made from gelatin, milk and panela. While it hasn’t typically been known as a tourism destination – there are some unique and interesting opportunities.
Stay with us as we will be filling in the blanks soon on these fun new Coffee Axis Destinations!!!
#9 | Marulanda, Department of Caldas
Famous for potatoes, wool, milk and mule teamsters, these elements also make up the name of their yearly festival in September. With a much colder climate, visitors will need to bring warm clothes and an appetite for adventure!
More to come soon because this is one of the unexplored pueblos which we feel has merit and interesting opportunities! Definitely on our list of top Coffee Axis Destinations for 2020.
#8 | Quinchia, Department of Risaralda
Edit: October 2020, we FINALLY experienced Quinchia, Risaralda. It was every bit the hidden gem we expected. Not only did we find a Giant Footprint, we also hiked up to a pair of incredible twin waterfalls! This is only the beginning as a special travel guide is currently under production!
This is an interesting place for amateur archeologists, birders and outdoor enthusiasts. Plan to hike up one of the 14 cerros, appreciate the artisan filigree silver jewelry, browse the archeological museum, and hike up to waterfalls. Experience the local legends or stay tuned for our destination guide.
Local attractions include…
- Blackberry farms
- Archeological sites which are still unrestricted
- A hidden cave – we plan to find it.
- Cultural tourism
This is not a hotel type of place. There are a few rustic hostel options as far as we know for now. Come try it out and know you are in a destination that is going to be on the radar one day!
#7 | Mistrato, Department of Risaralda
A friend who went here described it as a very special bird paradise. She felt that it had a very special vibe and diversity of birds. One of the distant pueblos in the department of Risaralda, this is one of the Coffee Axis Destinations we are excited to explore this year – yet still worth mentioning in the top 10 of our list.
A coffee producing pueblo, they also have an indigenous reserve that receives visitors who are curious about their culture. You will find a very quaint yet original feel when you visit.
Stay tuned for information to be released this year straight from the source!
#6 | Victoria, Department of Caldas
The birders biggest secret, La Victoria has some specialized tourism opportunities which we will reveal soon! This is another place with exotic jungle environments, waterfalls and natural attractions for hikers and bikers.
Suggested attractions include…
- Waterfall Hikes
This is an excruciatingly short list, but again this is another place that is high on our “To-Do” list for photos, info and documentation so come back within the next 6 months and we will have this section updated as well!!
#5 | Salamina & San Felix Wax Palms, Department of Caldas
With some of the most beautiful and original wax palms in the region, this unsung treasure is becoming more apparent every day.
One of the founders of Salamina was the same Fermin Lopez who later brought one of the first settlements to Manizales. Today it is a special heritage site in the Coffee Axis due to its careful preservation of the old houses. It is also a mother pueblo to many other pueblos in the department including Manizales, Neira, Aranzazu, among others.
Attractions in Salamina include…
- Nearby San Felix and a notable Wax Palm Forest – hiking/biking
- Panela Process
- Traditional Coffee Pueblo
- Heritage architecture
There are two ways to visit the San Felix wax palms and Salamina. Stay in Aranzazu, then grab a jeep. Or, Stay in Salamina – which isn’t a problem, it just tends to be more expensive as most of their hotels are boutique style.
Bring your camera and a friend but stay tuned as we plan to bring you more local information about this pueblo soon!
#4 | Belalcásar, Department of Caldas
There is something special about the less-talked about Coffee Axis Destinations. They don’t receive as many visits, but they are becoming known. Belalcásar is no exception.
Perched on the curved peak of a mountain, Belalcásar has a blocky uniformity with much of the colonial architecture being conserved and taken care of. Colombians from Pereira, Manizales and Armenia often visit this as a day-trip destination.
- Eat Lunch at a Typical restaurant – local gastronomy
- Visit the tallest Jesus Christ the Redeemer statue in South America. Hike to the top and look out over the Coffee Axis.
- Wander the streets of a very typical small town atmosphere.
Over time we will pay them a visit and update our information. Part of the adventure here is being able to recommend a destination we aren’t very familiar with. It also means we need to get on top of our game and be a bit more active traveling for this year.
#3 | Aguadas, Department of Caldas
Handcrafted palm hats and a history rich with legends, Aguadas, Caldas should be near the top of your list. It is a bit off the beaten path, but worth visiting for 1-2 days and a couple nights.
Eat lunch overlooking the main plaza as you shake off the chill of the early morning rain. Sunday is market day, as rural farmers come to town with product, shopping and mass if they are religious.
Here are a few of the attractions in Aguadas:
- Hike up to Cerro de Montserrate from the Pueblo in the Morning. Observe the sunrise/sunset and take scenic pictures.
- Sombrero Museum & Casa de Cultura
- Pasillo Folk Dance Festival in August
- Waterfall Excursions
- Local Coffee Culture and Specialty Colombian Coffee Shops
- Visit the Sombrero Weavers (during week is best, closed on holidays)
It is easy to skip this pueblo due to its distance from major cities. Leaving Manizales it will take 5 hours to arrive. For those who take the time to visit, you will feel transported back in time.
#2 | Aranzazu, Department of Caldas
The princess of the Coffee Axis, Aranzazu is two hours by bus, or 50 kilometers from Manizales. It is characterized by waterfall hikes, blackberry wine and Cabuya, a plant fiber made into cords for weaving or rope.
Aranzazu is also hailed as being the “Friendliest” and the most conservative pueblo in the Coffee Axis. This is a great 1-2 day trip for people who are visiting Manziales.
Here are some of the local attractions:
- Nature Trail Hike (Sendero Ecologico)
- Waterfall Hike
- Trail ride on horses
- Gastronomic Tourism
- Religious Art Museum and Display
- Colonial Architecture
Manizales is famous for their metro cable of the present, but in the past there was a touristic cable that connected it with Aranzazu. Cargo, first and second class passengers were transported in a way that was efficient and time-saving prior to the road system.
For more information see our exclusive Aranzazu Destination Guide here:
#1 | Viterbo, Department of Caldas
This pueblo is a scenic paradise and an investors dream. We don’t say this lightly. What was once a disaster story of mafia violence, is now a tidy tourist pueblo that is planning ahead. It is an unofficial retirement destination of the coffee axis for educated middle to upper class Colombians.
Road projects are already creating a high demand for housing amplified by national and foreign investors who are building high end infrastructure to offer everything from sports to warehousing/production center commercial spaces.
Tourists can come to Coffee Axis Destinations like this one for birdwatching, horseback riding, music and pueblo culture.
Here are some attractions we recommend:
- Birdwatching with Local Amateur Aficionados
- Horseback riding
- Specialty Colombian coffee shops
- Fishing Lakes
- Special Events
- Hiking/Waterfall Tourism
- Expat Lifestyle Destination
With mostly flat terrain, mountain scenery and warm weather, Viterbo almost feels like California in summer, but with more greenery. High end condominiums are being planned with shared or private pools, on-site restaurant, sports fields, tennis courts and more.
Visitors can follow this Coffee Axis Destinations Guide to Viterbo from November 2019.
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