Advertise anything as a ‘coffee region’ and we’ll be there in a heartbeat.
When travelling Colombia, visitors are typically presented with 3 categories of location:
- Beach Escapes on the Caribbean Coast
- Adventure in San Gil
- Caffeine in the appropriately named ‘Eje Cafetera’.
After a sweaty but fantastic couple of weeks exploring Medellin, Cartagena, Taganga and Tayrona National Park, we made a bee-line to the one place we knew would offer exactly what we needed: colder climes and stronger brews.
Arriving in Filandia late at night, we broke all our of budget-traveller principles and rolled ourselves straight from the plane into a taxi and towards our hostel. We really had no idea where we were until the morning after but, man, were we pleasantly surprised!
Filandia and Salento are both mountain towns located in the Quindío district of Colombia, a few hours outside of Medellín. For many travellers this region offers the first taste of the Andes in South America. Although famous for its coffee production, the real breadwinners in Quindío are agriculture and tourism.
We chose to go to Filandia and Salento for very specific reasons.
Salento is featured on most Colombian itineraries. It’s packed full of things to do, great places to eat, affordable hostels and friendly locals. It’s the base point for some fantastic day hikes and basically the perfect place to get immersed in Andean culture.
Filandia, on the other hand, is Salento – but 20 years ago. It offers many of the same attributes but with less fixed organisation, lower prices and fewer foreigners.
We chose to visit Filandia and Salento because we wanted to experience the best of both of these worlds!
Rural towns in Colombia are typically very similar. They’re based around a main square, bright colours and endless cafes – but not as you’d expect.
For Colombians, ‘coffee’ equates to a ‘tinto’ – a long, weak black coffee. It’s not anything that coffee afficionados are going to write home about, unless it’s to complain. But having the coffee so weak means that it’s an all day drink, and cosy cafes stay open late into the night, forming the hub of local life in the evenings as light spills out into the streets across old wooden tables.
We weren’t overwhelmed by the coffee itself, but it took us all of two seconds to forget that and enjoy the culture of coffee in Filandia!
By day, it’s a buzzy, happy place. The town centre is perched on a hill giving great views that shift as the clouds move across the sky. We rented bikes and happily spent a whole day zooming around the countryside, ending up at La Española – a village based around a huge and beautiful tree where we patiently waited for two hours before a Willy (a WWII Jeep commonly used as public transport) arrived to cart us, and our bikes, back up the hill! Naturally, we killed this time drinking about 100 tintos and chatting with the lady who owned the cafe!
Other than hiking or biking, there’s not a lot to do in Filandia except sit back and enjoy the atmosphere. Huge, airy cafes serve delicious cakes and provide perfect people-watching opportunities – which was absolutely fine by us!
After 2 nights in Bidea Hostel – which we love and highly recommend – we were relaxed and ready to move on to Salento. In typical Latin American fashion, the travel instructions involved taking a bus as far as a certain point on the highway, jumping off, crossing 4 lanes to get to the other side and grabbing the next bus coming past in the opposite direction.
It may sound complicated, but if you seem lost someone will definitely help you. Despite knowing exactly what we were doing we had the whole bus double checking we were fine and stopping the driver when we needed to get off. Colombians.
Arriving in Salento, you get the feeling that everything is the same, but different.
There’s much more movement – buses coming and going, restaurants open and touting for business, people offering cheap rooms, streets full of quaint gift shops. Despite it’s obvious touristic appeal, Salento doesn’t seem any less charming than Filandia and we loved our time here just as much.
A big pro of Salento has to be the quality of its coffee. This place has clocked on to the Western love of all things artisinal and overpriced, and has opened up a handful of great places to get a proper espresso and a decent instagram picture (see below…we hate us too).
It also feels a lot easier to get out of town and into nature here. If you’re really keen to get into the whole farm thing then consider staying in a hostel a few kilometres from the town centre, where you’ll likely be treated to fresh milk in the mornings and cosy farmhouse feels in the evening. We spent two nights at La Serrana hostel – it’s beautiful but perhaps a bit expensive for what it offers.
We loved our time in the Eje Cafetera. We decided to stay longer in Salento to enjoy some hiking but also just to spend time getting to know the town and feel at home for a few days – but it’s almost impossible to say which we preferred. For solo travellers, Salento will likely offer more chances to interact and meet other people, but for anyone wanting a slice of Colombian life without the tourist polish then Filandia is definitely your town!
Let us know what you thought of your time the Eje Cafetera, and stay tuned for our tips and itinerary on Salento and other Colombia locations!