Week 8 & 9 - Colombia's Coffee Region (Salento, Filandia and Armenia)
Updated: Feb 23, 2020
We headed off South in the direction of coffee region, more specifically Salento. Not long after we arrived at a Peage (peage Primevera - spring peage, probably because Medellin is the city of eternal spring). We were stopped for the first time by the Colombian police... I think they were bored! Obviously we stopped, got off the bikes, gave them a beaming smile and greeted them. We were asked for our 'documentos', which fortunately I had readily available. Kelvin was trying to speak Spanish and indicated for them to talk to me however I used my best English accent to say 'hablo un poco de espanol' just in-case it would be better for me to be able to play dumb. Luckily, they were happy with everything and just asked a few questions about our travels and our bikes...surprise, surprise, once I knew all was good my Spanish improved a little! Just as we were about to leave the officer who seemed to be the main man said 'photo?!'. We nodded and he gestured for us and the two other officers to get together...they were very jolly about it, we later found out that the fourth officer (security guard?) photo bombed! So, our first experience of Colombian police was a positive one and they were super friendly and just more interested in our adventure.
In total we spent two weeks in the region for several reasons; meeting new friends, the beauty of the area, the lovely roads....oh, plus it rained a lot, we got lazy and discovered peanut butter milkshakes!!
Salento is a little town that is elevated on a hill between Armenia and Pereira in the department of Quindio, Colombia. It's also on route to the beautiful Cocora valley, which we managed to visit on our second visit to Salento. We stayed at an awesome hostel called Hostal El Zoral, which was quiet, had hot showers for a change, lots of wildlife and two beautiful dogs. The hostel was only 2-3 minutes walk into the centre of Salento and they offered an awesome breakfast, so if you go there I would highly recommend it. Oh, they also have proper wine glasses...small things mean so much when you are travelling overland!
Salento is picturesque with a big main plaza and lots of little eateries, and a whole load of small shops selling local goods and houses painted in bright, bold colours, which I love. Salento also has a 'mirador' with a great view over the valley that leads you onto the Cocora valley.
During our first stop in Salento we met fellow overland travellers and DR650 riders Michnus and Elsebie from South Africa, and at the same time we were also introduced to the most amazing milkshakes in 'Brunch' cafe, thanks guys, although I think our waistlines have suffered. It was a good day with yummy food and drinks, an al fresco brandy-coffee and great company! It's lovely meeting other travellers, swapping stories, getting ideas, and particularly useful for us newbies, and more importantly making new friends.
On our second Salento visit, we went to the Cocora valley nice and early to miss the crowds of tourists that get dropped off mid-morning. When we arrived it was lovely and quiet, the sun was out and the clouds were keeping at bay. We walked into the Cocora valley and it was stunning, with super tall wax palm trees all around and lush green grass. We took the drone for a quick flight and went for a good walk up into the trees, and on our descent we met the hordes of tourists starting their walk. Sadly for them the clouds were starting to come in and disrupt the view, we were just lucky we got there when we did.
We came across a newly established hostel, Steel Horse Filandia, based in the countryside of Filandia, also in the department of Quindio and only a short ride from Salento. The main attraction of the place was that it's key target market was overlanders, and it had been set up by a gutsy couple from the UK, Yvette and Paul, who had sold everything to take the plunge and move their lives from London, UK to this amazing region in Colombia. Yvette was a great host and Paul was back in the UK at the time of our visit so sadly we didn't get to meet him.
We decided to stay a week so that we could re-organise, re-pack, chill-out in the country and give this new venture our support. We were also joined the following day by our newly found friends, Michnus and Elsebie (blog: pikipiki.co.za), and then 'The Greeks' Nikos and Georgia (blog: thepinproject.eu) also joined the party for a few days in their Toyota HiAce van. There were several 'work-away' travellers there, so the place was quite lively, and the food was fantastic...my small contribution of the week was some fresh made chapattis and coffee cocktails!
There was also lots of parking and hot showers...bonus! If you are on your travels and in the coffee region, I really recommend this place.
Filandia itself is a small, vibrant village with lots of colour, and lots of panaderia's and coffee shops...perfecto! Also, it's not very touristy like Salento is. We were fortunate that while we were staying in Filandia, there was a festival on, which meant lots of fresh food stalls, lots of people buzzing around, even more 'Willy's' trucks and just a great happy village vibe. The Mirador was a spaceship like construction, and for about £2 you could walk up-to the top and the view was spectacular with a view all the way to Armenia and beyond, plus a 360 degree view of the surrounding rolling hills, fincas and tracks. There were many places where you could buy coffee and just coffee-related everything, as well as coffee-bean wholesalers...it smelt amazing!
During our first stay in Filandia (yes we went back for a couple of nights), we got to interact with several of the locals very well. The first was one of the local welders, Javier, and also his mate Alirio from the junk yard next door. Javier managed to weld my DB killer back together, as it had decided to explode yet again. He also shortened my side stand, put a large foot on the stand and brazed the centre of the exhaust so that I could secure it to the frame properly. He did all this at the drop of a hat when we turned up on two separate occasions, and it was as cheap as chips! Their version of a welding mask is a piece of cardboard with a little slit cut out and tinted plastic inserted...oh dear! All things considered, the welding was actually quite good.
The next locals we encountered was the family that ran the upholstery shop on the same road. They managed to make us some supporting straps for our SW-Motech pannier bags. (FYI - I do not recommend these bags for overland travel, especially if you are going off-road). Again, they did the work there and then and some other locals turned up to have a chat in Spanglish. The owner of the shop (Eduardo) also had fun trying to teach Kelvin some Spanish!
The chap in the motorbike accessory shop was also really lovely and helpful, and we managed to get some robust exhaust gaskets, as mine kept getting chewed up and spat out...probably due to the fact that the exhaust had no fixed point in the centre...thanks to Javier for sorting that!
On our exit from Filandia and on our short return, we got huge friendly waves from the people we had met there. The return visit was to offload some excess baggage, including my heavy top-box! Life is even better now I've lightened the load and even Kelvin has managed to readjust his packing and get rid of some surplus kit...there’s still a long way to go before we get to an ideal load.
On our second visit we briefly met a lovely couple, Liz and Steve from UK/Oz, also on two DR650's and got a load of good tips for travel in Peru and Bolivia. The following day we got to meet another lovely couple from Belgium, David and Catherine, (blog: tourdumondeensidecar.com) who had been travelling around South America on their Ural side-car. I have to say, if I had to be a pillion, the side-car is much more appealing than sitting two-up, but I won't be swapping my DR650 for anything else anytime soon. David took each of us (Yvette, Kelvin and I) for a quick spin down the little dirt track and we all had grins ear to ear.
Top pizza place in Filandia...JJ's Pizza. The chap speaks great English, his pizza is awesome, cheap and you can sign his wall of fame to.
Armenia and Calarca
Righto, so the main reason to go to Armenia was to extend our visa's, SOAT's and TIP's (see 'Loving Colombia - extending visa and TIP). Armenia is a small city in the heart of the coffee region, and probably one of the more inviting of the cities precisely for this reason... you don't have to sit in an hour of traffic to escape. It has a variety of funky graffiti you can search out, a tonne of shops, banks and importantly for us, immigration. There was a great hostel called 'Hostel Caragabi' on the road heading South West out of Armenia on the way to the airport, complete with swimming pool! Worth checking out if you're in the area.
The highlight of the stay here was actually just outside (South) of Armenia, in a smaller town called Calarca. This is where you can find the Jardin Botanico del Quindio, with an awesome mariposario (Butterfly garden)...I took sooooo many photos. When you pay to get in (all of about £7.50), you get assigned a guide and some can speak English. They take you on a tour all through the gardens and butterfly house, taking about two and a half hours. It's well worth it, especially for us who like trees, plants and wildlife and are less keen on museums without the life and interaction that this place offered us.
So, Coffee region is a must see from our point of view, and you can experience everything from city life, small villages, beautiful finca's and coffee farms together with some breathtaking scenery, and on top of all that the locals are fantastic. Just beware of the scorpions...check your boots!