After Medellin, we went to the coffee zone of Colombia – the Zona Cafetera. We spent almost three weeks in this region. When we left, we had our first “should we just turn around and live here” conversation. That lasted for a while until we remembered how beautiful northern California is as well. But it was a close call. We just have the fondest and happiest memories from here. Let me start with our first stop – a coffee estate called Hacienda Guayabal near the town of Chinchiná.
We spent a few nights at the hacienda and what an amazing introduction to the coffee plantations of Colombia. The hacienda has hotel rooms but also allows camping on their property. This has turned out to be quite common throughout Central and South America. But at Hacienda Guayabal, the owners made us feel very welcome as valued guests and not cheap second class campers as it can happen sometimes. We camped surrounded by acres of coffee plants, enjoyed a gorgeous swimming pool, free coffee served to us all day long, amazing food at the restaurant and heartwarming hospitality. Colombia had continually grown on us through Cartagena, Bogota and Medellin. By the time we were in Hacienda Guayabal, we were kind of in love with Colombia.
We didn’t cook once while we camped here. It was hard to resist the amazing food and service at the hotel restaurant. This was “our” table, with Colombian, American and Chinese flags flying just for us. Other guests during our stay were mostly Colombians – we were again surprised how undiscovered by tourism overall Colombia can be. Breakfast was $5 and came with really everything you would want. We had to send stuff back to not waste food. Lunch and dinner were $10 with three courses. Simple food cooked well and fresh. And a kindly gentleman I forgot his name came to ask us what time we’d like dinner served every day! When we hang out around the pool or the main house for the wifi, he would make sure Simon and I had our fresh coffee in cups and saucers and offered juice for the kids. Even though we were “camping”, we felt bathed in pampered luxuriousness for a few days. More so than many actual hotels we have stayed in! Maybe it also had to do with one of the best camp showers thus far – hot, good pressure and sparkly clean. Can you tell we really loved this place?
And the coffee…. before this trip, I never understood how people could drink coffee black. But some time around Lake Atitlán in Guatemala I started to ditch the milk and sugar too. Interesting to note that back in Lake Atitlan, the Guatemalans drank very watered down (bad) coffee all day long. First meal we had with our host family, they asked if we wanted water or coffee with our dinner. Even babies start drinking coffee mixed with water from three months old, we were told. Over the past eight months of travel, we have developed a real appreciation for the taste of coffee. And now, sitting down to a cup with a cookie or a pastry is such a treat and something we look forward to. Our favorite coffees so far are from Lake Atitlán (Guatemala) where we did a coffee tour at La Voz coffee cooperative, Monteverde (Costa Rica) where the coffee was really rich, smooth and delicious, and now Colombia. We can drink black coffee all day long, but have finally learned to quit after 4pm.
We spent many hours walking the trails of the property, up the hills, down in the valley, through coffee plants tasting sweet red beans and under towering bamboo clusters. We learned that they pick coffee year-round in Colombia but have two bigger harvest seasons a year, and that each white flower turns into a coffee bean. We walked through streams and over rustic bamboo bridges, rested in the hilltop palapa overlooking the coffee fields, and as usual, spent hours catching butterflies and other bugs. What a beautiful and comfortable place we were lucky to have found and thank you Jorge and family of Hacienda Guayabal for being such gracious hosts.
What makes Zona Cafetera such a great place to visit is also its proximity to the Los Nevados National Park, a park of tall snowy peaks and is responsible for all the water supply to the surrounding coffee farms and towns. We first entered the park from the North entrance to see the tallest active volcano, Nevado del Ruiz, which is off limits to hiking right now because of eruption activity. Of course it was cloudy and misty and no tall peaks could be glimpsed, but the scenery from the two hour drive up to over 4300 meters was breathtaking.
We arrived at Termales del Ruiz, a thermal pool resort in the area and camped for free on the side of the road outside the hotel. It’s a “road” but it is so remote and sparsely populated, there is no one up there. The entire resort was undergoing serious construction inside and out, but the sounds of jackhammer and electric saw didn’t stop us from enjoying a perfectly temperature-ed thermal pool. That’s one thing we have learned from the road trip. To enjoy what we can when we can and stop complaining too much (but we still do sometimes). Ty and I went in first and Simon went alone after Jamie went to bed, but all of us enjoyed running between the hot water and the ice cold outdoor shower. It was possibly the best thermal pool we have ever been in. The next morning we were a bit stressed out with the low performance of the van in high altitude. Even though there were lots of foot trails around the property, we took only a short walk to a waterfall viewpoint and decided to descend the mountain.
After the Termales, it was time to head to the south side of Los Nevados. There we would spend the next two weeks in what would become our favorite stop of the trip.