I’ve never been a coffee connoisseur. I tossed coffee back by the 24oz paper cup for the pick-me-up, not the flavor. Could just as well be siphoned from the office can, pumped at a gas station, or a five-dollar cup of hipster brew excreted from the pits of cherries pooped out by feral cats. I was indiscriminate.
But that was before I traveled to a place proudly distinguished as the Coffee Triangle.
Wedged between the Pacific and the Andes, and lying just 5˚ north of the equator, sits a small plot of Colombian soil that is acidic, hosts mild temps, and gets steady moisture – upwards of 10 feet of rain annually. The yields of this trifecta? Near-perfect grounds for what some deem to be the very best coffee fruit in the world, Coffea arabica.
The Arabica bean is a delicate berry that only flourishes at specific altitudes under consistent temperatures, with precise sun, unique soil and buckets of rain. And it’s grown on steep hills … hills too steep to harvest by machine. Colombia is the third largest producer of Arabica beans and fills over 11.5 million jute bags packed with ripe, red berries each year … and you guessed it, all of them stuffed with berries picked by hand.
Sure, you can still manage to get a poor cup of coffee in paradise. In fact, much of the Triangle’s beans are exported to North America and across the Atlantic to Europe. But a younger entrepreneurial spirit has caught a whiff of a good thing and great grounds can be found in abundance, even in the smallest town.
Here’s our guide to finding your own fresh coffee experience in Colombia’s coffee triangle…
Where to visit coffee farms in Colombia
Start in Pereira, where you’ll find locals as colorful as the buildings. There’s also a small “International” airport, making it an easy spot to begin and end. From there, you’ll head south to dirt roads, rural villages, and the coffee farms.
And it’s all situated in undulating mountainous terrain that packs plenty of scenery. And climbing, so pack light.
Most of Colombia’s coffee plantations are small, family-run fincas (or farms), and many offer a restaurant, bar, lodging, or all of the above on site. The “Coffee Triangle” is the region triangulated by Medellin on the north, Bogata on the West, and Cali on the southeast. Center yourself inside that region and you’ll find plenty of great roads to ride (or drive) and even more fincas to tour.
Our first stop was Filandia, where made an impromptu stop at a random farm after checking out the Mirador Colina Iluminada observation tower. We were mesmerized by the rows of arabica and checked out the roaster and the sorting machinery. The farm we visited seems to have closed since, but there are innumerable small operations in the area…Google Map it and you’ll see.
Just ride around and swing by one that catches your eye, or try to connect in advance to reserve a room (few of them seem to have websites, but a little digging can often find a Facebook page or something). Rates range from $21 to $31 per night for most, so it’s very affordable!
From there, head west. El Ocaso, a traditional family finca sitting five km outside of Salento, offers six daily tours. Visitors can walk the fields learn about the planting process and watch how beans are stripped, dried and processed for delivery.
For a more authentic experience, check out The Plantation House. The 100 year old Plantation house offers tours in English to its own local farm, Don Eduardo, where you can get schooled on harvesting, drying and roasting the local coffee cherries.
Though now somewhat “discovered” by backpackers making their way through South America, Salento is the launching point into the Cocora Valley and hosts a pair of fincas just outside of town. You simply must ride through the Cocora Valley, home to the Seussical forest of wax palms, the tallest palm trees in the world.
To the north of Salento (and just south of Manizales), Hacienda Venecia has been harvesting and processing coffee beans for over 100 years. The hacienda has a bed and breakfast with a main lodge, plus a hostel that can meet any budget. With sustainable cultivation and empowering local farmers, the Hacienda is the perfect blend of eco-lodge and social responsibility and is a fantastic hub to launch an immersive coffee experience in the triangle.
For an immersive experience that brings you from berry to brew, (and is widely hailed as the best coffee tour in Colombia) take time to spend a few hours with Experiencia Cafetera in the vibrant town of Pijao. The working plantation offers a Wakecup tour, where visitors can follow the bean from when its picked in the fields to hitching a ride on a Jeep Willys to the plantation for processing. Oh yeah, and they offer unlimited cups of their specialty coffee. Need we say more?
If coffee is the heart of the triangle, the Jeep Willys are the circulatory system. Sold off to the Colombian Government after WWII, the Willys found a new home on the steep slopes of the Andes. The reliable (and repairable) jeep quickly replaced the mule and has become a staple in the Colombian highlands, hauling coffee (and people) off the verdant slopes. Each year Yipao Jeep Parades celebrate the role of the Willys with stout loads and decorative kitsch. Even if you can’t make a parade, catching a ride in a Jeep Willys is a must do on your visit.
Back in Pereira, leave a day or two for walking around and enjoying the scenery and local food, fruit, and drink.
What is the best time to visit Colombia?
Given it’s proximity to the equator, December through April are the best and most popular times, and probably the best time for bikepacking or riding. Unfortunately, December through February are also the most expensive since they’re high tourism season, as are the weeks around Easter.
If you can stand a little more heat, June through August is between the rainy seasons and could work out. But you run a higher risk of mud, which could make traveling or exploring by bike more difficult. Some folks recommend September through November, which has the lowest tourism and prices, but again runs some risk of it being a bit wetter.
What to bring bikepacking in Colombia
We rode 3T Exploro gravel bikes, outfitted with 650B x 47 tires, which provided the right mix of comfort and traction over the dirt roads on loaded bikes. With an abundance of very affordable lodges, hotels and hostels, there’s no need to bring camping gear or cooking equipment. Sample the local flavors and sleep in a good bed and it’s easy to pack light.
A few changes of clothes that hold up to multiple days of wear (like Ibex’s wool boxer briefs and merino tencel tees) and a quick drying cycling kit makes it easy to leave room for a real camera. We always bring a lightweight rain coat (like the Gore ShakeDry or Mission Workshop Orion), and love the Mission Workshop Traverse XC shorts for gravel riding and exploring when full Spandex just doesn’t seem appropriate.
The frame, handlebar, seat, and top-tube bags from Apidura (some models available on Amazon) are hard to beat. We’ve logged so many miles on these and they’ve held up incredibly well to all conditions.
Interested in touring this area by bike? Check out our full bikepacking route for this trip on Bikerumor.com!
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