19th February 2020
Just back from a Wild Frontiers Recce/road trip with Alex Rodriguez (Ex Colombian Police and expert Tour Leader) who will lead the next Wild Frontiers Colombia group tour, Viva Colombia scheduled to depart in March this year. This new itinerary aims to get deeper and further into Colombia than we previously have and uncover more hidden gems that this amazing destination has to offer.
The trip was a two-day overnight experience visiting Aguadas, a small village in the rural part of Colombia’s coffee growing region, and very much off the normal tourist trail.
The trip started from Manizales, and with the obligatory pre-tour snack of Calentado in one of Alex's favorite restaurants in downtown Manizales, where he has been going with his grandad since he was a boy. Calentado is a typical local Colombian breakfast dish of rice and beans, usually served with scrambled eggs and arepa, a local corn bread snack, and soft cheese. Fueled up and ready we hit the road, taking the winding country route north on the way to our first stop, Salamina.
We arrived mid-morning after a lovely drive and saw a few hawks sat on a fence post by the road. Both Alex and I know Salamina well, famous for its colonial style village architecture, pretty central square and access on to the tiny village of San Felix and its forests of wax palm trees. We took a quick look at the hotel we will be using for the group trip and made sure all was fine while Alex pre-selected his room! Then after a hit of delicious Colombian coffee, we headed on further north passing through the town of Pacora, and further on to Aguadas. Neither Alex or I had done this drive before and were pleasantly surprised by the condition of the road, unpaved but mostly well-maintained bar a few potholes to negotiate, but nothing extreme. We arrived to Aguadas in time for lunch then headed off to meet Luis, the local tourism representative appointed by the local mayor, who was also waiting to meet us!
Aguadas is a small local Colombian village famous for its “Sombrero Aguadeño” hats, worn by many locals and Colombians all over the country. This quaint village also has some amazing colonial architecture as well as a lively main square dominated by the local church whose bells ring out for mass as we head to speak to Luis.
Luis proudly tells us about his projects to increase tourism in the village, he hopes in 2020 to break last year’s figures of international visitors, a grand total of 458 in 2019. We then head out with Luis on a tour of the village. He takes us to see Claudia, who sits on a small wooden chair delicately weaving one of the famous sombreros. She is part of the local hat making cooperative, dedicated to keeping this art alive and ensuring fair prices for the work. She comes with us to a small workshop where the owner negotiates a price with her for the hat. Here the hat is then formed, styled and sized ready for sale.
Next, we head to the sombrero museum, where, along with a number of unique artifacts from the village’s history, are several rooms dedicated to showcasing the sombrero hat in all its forms, styles and colours, providing an insight into why this head piece is so crucial to the cultural heritage of the city. Next, we stopped by the local Police office and admire the statue outside, made by a local artist and dedicated to the continued peace that Colombia is enjoying. We pass by the school where they are focusing on music to keep the local youth occupied and hopefully inspire them to use their time productively.
After a very pleasant afternoon we say goodbye to Luis and Alex and I take a walk around the plaza and find a quiet rooftop bar and spend an hour drinking a well-earned local beer, watching the village pass from late afternoon to early evening. The plaza fills with locals who chat and gossip about the day while the local Chiva buses drop off passengers coming back to the city from the local countryside and avocado farms. Two local transit Police sit (quite bored!) on their police bikes until a group of girls walk past who seem to catch their eye.
The following morning, after a sound sleep, we take a trip just a mile or so out of town to the Monserrate viewpoint - a hill overlooking the village with the most amazing 360-degree views over the rolling hillsides. The views are stunning and well worth the journey for this alone! Though the whole trip has been an overriding success and both Alex and I agree it will be a top destination for Wild Frontiers clients and we hope we can help contribute to the village goal of passing the figure of 458 international visitors in 2020!
Blog provided by our ground agent, Russ Coleman.