3rd January 2019
Colombia is the third largest producer of coffee in the world, sitting just behind Brazil and Vietnam. However, if you are talking quality rather than quantity, most people here will tell you Colombia is number one.
And they have a point. Unlike Brazil and Vietnam who predominantly cultivate the robusta bean, a hardy variety generally used in the production of instant coffee, Colombia grows the Arabica bean, which, although harder to grow, is more aromatic and therefore used in ground coffee.
Interestingly, the bean was first brought to Colombia from Venezuela in 1837 by a Catholic priest called Francisco Romero.
Coffee production emerged along the coastal region, however, realising through trial and error this variety grew better at altitude, its cultivation shifted inland and by 1880 was well established in the lush hills around Pereira.
On arrival in Pereira, we drove through the beautiful, lush rolling hills to Hacienda Venezia, where we were given a tour of the farm. Being so close to the equator they don’t have one harvest time, but the plants produce beans pretty much all year around.
As it was Christmas Eve, the processing plant was quiet, and there were no pickers in the field, but it didn’t matter. With the excellent explanations of the estate's guide, Javier, we learnt a great deal about coffee production and sampled a cup of the farms finest brew.
On Christmas Day we visited the pretty old colonial towns of Salento and Filandia – both of which were in fine festive spirits – had a delicious lunch of trout and went for a hike in the Valle de Cocora, part of the Nevados National Park.
As well as being a stunning nature reserve, famed for condors, it is also home to the wax palm – or ceroxylo quindiuense, to use its Latin name (our guide, Diego was a botanist!) – which is the tallest palm tree in the world and can grow up to 60 metres in height.
But our best experience in the coffee region came on Boxing Day when we drove to the little village of Porto Alejandria, where we transferred to a bamboo raft and drifted indolently down the stunning Rio La Vieja.
The Old Lady River, as the name translates, apparently gained its title from a hapless old woman who, many years ago, stole money and jewels from her travelling companions only to drown in the river while making her getaway.
Today it’s a beautiful stretch of water, surrounded by thick vegetation of overhanging bamboo and majestic trees, and is home to many bird species.
On our four-hour sojourn, we saw yellow-headed caracaras, fork-tailed flycatchers, barefaced ibis, greater anis, sandpipers and more cormorants than you could shake a stick at.
Colourful butterflies and dragonflies flitted above the water beside us. At times we jumped in and let the current drag us along by the raft. We stopped for lunch on a sandbank. But above all we just sat on the raft and let the world drift by, enjoying a delicious solitude one rarely experiences these days.
Today we leave the coffee region behind and head north to Santa Marta and the Tayrone National Park on the Caribbean coast.