Filandia: A Salento Alternative

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As you may have read in my last post, I really love Salento. I rave about it on a regular basis for its cuteness as a town and for how close it is to the amazing Cocora Valley.

However, there’s a lesser-known town nearby that is very similar to Salento, but with less tourists and more of an authentic feel! That place is Filandia.

Twin towns

You can think of Salento and Filandia as twin sisters. They look a lot alike: both towns are surrounded by beautiful rolling hills, both have a main square with a park in the middle, and both have similar colourful houses lining the streets. Additionally, they’re only 20km apart and both are part of the department Quindio.

But if we talk of their personality, Salento is the outgoing, social sister while Filandia is the more introverted, laidback, hippie sister. Both are awesome to get to know in their own way but each one offers something just a bit different.

My Visit

I visited Filandia with my mom as part of our weekend trip through the Coffee region. We stayed in a cute little place on the outskirts of town called Hostal Campestre El Santuario – but here’s where I should mention that Filandia is small. We were on the outskirts, but that meant just a 5-minute walk to the main square.

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One of the rooms at our lovely guesthouse

For that reason alone, I highly recommend Filandia as a day-trip or weekend trip. It’s quaint and comfortable, plus easy to navigate!

We weren’t there very long, just one evening and one morning, but that was enough time to realize how laidback it was, with a really calm, positive energy.

Argentinian Food & Acoustic Despacito

In the evening, we went to a little Argentinian restaurant/bar with awesome live music and great food. We had intended to visit the restaurant across the street from it (Helena Adentro) after reading great reviews on the internet, but the music coming from this place, Nata Lu, drew us in.

We didn’t regret it – the musicians played really well, and even played Despacito on acoustic guitar and a bongo-type drum (I evidently don’t know much about instruments). The waitress even had me and some others up and dancing at one point. All the staff were really sweet, and the food (Colombian-Argentinian fusion) was delicious. 

Coffee and Views and Sheep, oh my!

The following morning, after a tasty breakfast in the main square, we were picked up by our guide for a tour at Finca El Miradora beautiful coffee farm in the surrounding countryside.

The coffee tour was a highlight for both my mom and me – how could it not be when it was personalized just for us! I organized the tour by phone a few days in advance, and it all worked more than perfectly. Like I said, our guide picked us up (and dropped us off after), and opened the farm just for us.

Even the tour was just us three; she showed us all around and we learned a lot about the process of coffee and how to distinguish between good and bad quality brews. Here’s an abridged version of the (very long) process:

Besides learning lots about coffee, the place was simply stunning. It was a hot, sunny day, and with a name like El Mirador (The Viewpoint), you can just imagine how beautiful it was. But a picture speaks a thousand words so…

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My favourite part though, being the animal lover I am, was meeting the sheep that lives on the farm. Her name is Coffee, she’s super friendly, and yes she eats coffee!

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I even managed to get her to play with me! Putting my hands out over the fence, she jumped up so her fluffy head would bump my hand. It was toooooo cute.

OK Cool, but how do I get there without a car?

Getting to both Salento and Filandia is easy by bus. You can catch buses to both towns from Armenia and Pereira. And if you want to travel between the two? That’s easy as well!

From Filandia to Salento, catch a bus going towards Armenia, ask to get off at the road to Salento, cross the highway, and wait for a bus there that has a sign saying it’s going to Salento.

From Salento to Filandia, catch a bus going to Pereira, ask to get off at the road to Filandia, cross the highway, and wait for a bus there that that has a sign saying it’s headed to Filandia.

Of course, if there’s any confusion, just ask! Colombians are generally very happy to help with any concern you have.

Colourful architecture of FIlandia; similar buildings can be found in Salento!
Colourful architecture of Filandia; similar buildings can also be found in Salento.

So, Salento or Filandia?

Ultimately, it depends what you’re looking for!

In general, I’d recommend Salento simply because of its close access to the Cocora Valley. But, if you’re looking more for the town feel of each place, remember the ‘personalities’.

Salento is outgoing: go there if you want to go out at night, try lots of food, and be surrounded by lots of people. Filandia is relaxed: go there if you want a calm getaway, a less touristy atmosphere, and very short walking distances!

 All in all, though, both are great places to visit, so hey, if you have time for both, go for it!

Happy travels!

L

Coffee Region Paradise: Salento and The Cocora Valley  

 

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In my last post I wrote about hiking in Los Nevados National Park – a chilly but absolutely beautiful park here in Colombia’s coffee region.

At the end of the hike, we arrived in the Cocora Valley, or Valle de Cocora en español. The valley is stunning – as you may remember reading, it’s home to some of the largest palm trees in the world! We walked through the valley for just over half an hour before arriving at the main public area and from there, we promptly caught a jeep into the town.

Hiking through the valley looking up at these giants
Hiking through the valley looking up at these giants

Arriving in Salento was exciting, I’d heard so much about it – it’s one of the most visited places in Colombia! And sure enough, I could quickly see what all the hype was about – the colourful houses were bright and bold and the whole town is surrounded by lush green mountains.

My cousin and my friend and I had booked a hostel for the night to explore the town a bit the following day, so the jeep took us straight there. Where we stayed is called Luciérnaga Food Drinks Music Hostel and I definitely recommend it if you’re planning on visiting!

It’s really modern with big spacious rooms, hot showers, and amazing balcony views. And as the name suggests, it has food, drinks, and music in a modern American-style restaurant below the hostel.

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View from the hostel balcony!

One warning though – extreme caution with the bedside lamps!! My arm was burned pretty nastily by the lightbulb as I was attempting to scramble down from my top bunk. It was probably bad luck on my part and doesn’t change my good opinion of the place but it gave me a good laugh (and scar).

I’d survived the tough four-day hike at high altitudes with no injuries or incidents, but once safe and sound in a modern hostel, voila! Perhaps it’s the universe telling me that I should just stay outdoors… hmm… that wouldn’t be so bad!  🙂

That night we wandered into town and as it was the Saturday night before Easter, there were hordes and hordes of people. We also got to witness a pretty funky Easter night celebration.

It involved someone in the upper church window sending down balls of fire on a string that led into a bonfire… these lit it up and people had come prepared with candles that they brought forward to be lit from the giant flames. I don’t know where people come up with these things but it was definitely amusing to watch.

Oh, there was also a Jesus truck.

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This is the moment where I should mention that I also visited Salento and the Cocora Valley a second time, about a month later, when my mom came to visit!

We did a little tour around the coffee region (more details in a future post!) and Salento was one of our stops. After the first trip I knew I had to take her to see it, it’s too beautiful to miss!

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Beautiful and typical Salento houses

Of course, even after two trips, I am no Salento expert. BUT, here’s a list of some of the things I did and places I visited that I recommend if you’re planning on making the trip:

  1. Cocora Valley
    You may have gotten the idea already that I really love the Cocora Valley. You absolutely can’t miss it if you’re in Salento. To get there, you can take a jeep (or a “Willy”) from the centre square. A bunch of them leave about every hour and will the ride will cost you just under 4000COP per person. The trip lasts about half an hour. In the valley itself, there’s camping and various accommodations so you could even stay a night if you wanted. Otherwise, you can do a variety of things like hiking, horseback riding, or just enjoying the sights.20170528_175307
    Hiking is definitely one of the most popular activities. You can do a short walk through the palms, or do the well-known loop trail (I haven’t done it – will write about it if and when I do!). You can even do a multi-day trek, using it as the starting point into Los Nevados the way that it was the endpoint on our own hike.There’s also a trout farm that I visited with my mom upon the pressing insistence of a man who’d caught the jeep with us. People go there to fish for trout, or visitors can pay a small entry fee to get a bag of fish food to give to the fish.You’re essentially paying to fatten up their fish which is a little messed up, but oh well, it was cool to see all the baby trout and adult trout swimming through the water and charging for the food.
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    The last scheduled jeeps back to Salento leave around 6:30, although you’re not completely stuck if you end up staying later. Workers there can call jeeps to come when needed, just be prepared to possibly pay a bit more.
  2. Main Plaza
    The main plaza in Salento is very cute with a pretty park in the centre and the church watching cooly over the square. There are also lots of restaurants and food/drink stands around so head there if you’re hungry or thirsty.unnamed-4-copy
  3. Empanadas de Trucha
    Also in the main plaza, you can find a stand that sells trout empanadas. Time to eat fried dough stuffed with potatoes and the fish that you helped fatten up at the trucha farm!!! Yikes.But anyways, they’re really unique and tasty. Look for the “Centro Artesanal” on the right hand side when facing the church and it’s right beside it.
  4. Centro Artesanal
    After enjoying your empanada de trucha, you can go into the centro artesanal. There, you’ll walk down a corridor with lots of little businesses along the sides.If I had more money and more luggage space, I would have bought so much here – there are really cute handcrafts, clothing, art, and plants, all at very reasonable prices.I ended up buying a cute pair of colourful handmade shoes (partly out of necessity – my flip flops were killing me – but also because they were cute!) If you’re looking for a souvenir to take home, this could be your place.
  5. Walk the Main Street
    The Main street starts in the square, and both times I visited it was buzzing with activity. Didn’t find anything in the Centro Artesanal? Maybe you’ll find something here – the street is lined with cute shops, cafes, and restaurants (psst – some even give out free samples).On my first trip there, we also happened upon two gentlemen singing and playing some amazing guitar music. We took a stop on our stroll and enjoyed for a while!20170410_062719There are also lots of friendly street dogs if all you really want in life is a furry friend!

    All I really want is life is a furry friend, personally.
    All I really want in life is a furry friend, personally.
  6. Check out the Viewpoint
    If you continue down the main street walking away from the square, you’ll eventually arrive at a large set of stairs. Climb these, and you’ll be rewarded with a great view of the town and the surrounding landscapes.There are a few vendors up there too in case you want an ice cream or a beer. Plus, there’s a (dodgy-looking) swing set. YES! Unleash the inner child!20170410_061116
  7. Enjoy Western-style food
    I personally love Colombian food and could eat it all day e’rryday, but I know a lot of visitors here find most of it to be too bland. Salento is your chance, dear visitor who doesn’t fancy Colombian food, to eat what you’ve been missing.Check out Brunch de Salento or Luciérnaga (mentioned above) to kill that craving.
  8. Postres!
    Postre is one of my favourite Spanish words. It means dessert! You can’t go wrong with the postres in Salento, they’re all crazy good. One of the tastiest I had was an oblea filled with arequipe (basically caramel sauce) and cream.Also, there’s a great café near the main square called Jesús Martín. The cakes we had there were amazing and the place’s aesthetic is super creative and colourful. They specialize in coffee as well, leading to my final tip…

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    Jesús Martín cafe
  9. Coffee
    Salento is a prime coffee region town. There are lots of coffee farms around if you’re interested in taking a tour. I’ve heard in particular of the fincas, El Ocaso and Don Eduardo.I personally took a tour a bit farther away in the nearby town of Filandia at Finca El Mirador. It was amazing and they have even have a sheep named Coffee (!) in case you’re interested in visiting a smaller, less busy but equally cute version of Salento.

    My mama and I at Finca El Mirador in Filandia.
    My mama and I at Finca El Mirador in Filandia.

Conclusion: If you’re able to make the time to visit Salento on your travels in Colombia, don’t let it go – the town is adorable but even the Cocora Valley alone makes it worth the while! Happy travels!

Til next post,

L

 

Hiking in Colombia’s Los Nevados National Park

About a month ago, I went hiking with a group of friends and my cousin, Carlos, in Los Nevados National Park. It was Semana Santa (Holy Week) so we had a week off teaching to relax and travel! We thus decided to do a four-day trek through the nearby national park.

Where is Los Nevados?

Los Nevados is located in the Central Mountain Range of the Colombian Andes (the highest range out of 3 branches of the Andes). It is pretty close to Manizales, where I’m living, and as you may have read in previous posts, I can usually see it from my bedroom window, like here:

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Volcanoes!!

 The park features many volcanoes, mostly dormant, and three of which still have their glaciers: the Ruiz, the Santa Isabel, and the Tolima. The highest one, the Ruiz, is closest to Manizales and is still active– Manizaleños can often see it smoking on a clear day.

A relatively recent eruption in 1985 caused Colombia’s worst-ever natural disaster. The lahar (residue/debris that races down a volcano) erased a small town called Armero in its path – leaving only a quarter of its 28,700 residents alive.

The Ruiz, then, is a truly sublime force – it’s beautiful to look at it, but it also inspires fear and reverence at the powerful force of nature.

Not just that, but it also serves as evidence of the incredible diversity on this planet. May I remind you that I am currently in Colombia – a country very close to the equator known for its hot temperatures and beautiful beaches and jungles in many parts of the country. But somehow in spite of all this, there is a park with glaciers in it!? That’s right. Colombia is AWESOME.

OK – let’s hike this thing.

Our decision to go on the trek was ultimately pretty last-minute. We managed to get enough people on board just in time so the night before the trek, we all met at Juan Valdez (basically the Starbucks of Colombia) to discuss logistics and the game plan for the next day.

At 5AM the next morning, the final group of eight of us met our jeep driver with all our gear and giddily hopped into the jeep to start our journey.

Here’s a rough outline of our itinerary:

Day One: Hiking up to the Santa Isabel Glacier. 6km. Night at Potosí Finca
Day Two: Potosí Finca to Berlín Finca. ~17km. Highlights: Laguna del Otún, forests of frailéjones in the paramo.
Day Three: Berlín Finca to Primavera Finca. ~14km Highlights: more paramo, marshlands.
Day Four: Primavera Finca to Cocora Valley, and a jeep to Salento! ~15 km  Highlights: slipping and sliding in the mud all day; getting to our final destination!

Day One: Reaching High Altitudes on the Santa Isabel Glacier

After our jeep picked us up in Manizales, we had a ride of about 2 hours ahead of us to get to the park. We had a few stops on the way though to start acclimatizing. The first was in the neighbouring town of Villamaria to pick up some of our equipment and to grab a quick coffee or coca tea.

We then stopped for breakfast at a beautiful countryside finca – hot chocolate with bread, arepas, and eggs. This was roughly the same breakfast we would eat every morning of the hike.

Our last stop before arriving at the park was a quick stop to admire this incredible waterfall: 20170412_073828

The whole ride was breathtaking, really. Getting to the park entrance (below), we looked up at the heavy cloud cover, hoping it wouldn’t start to rain. Also feeling the cold nip at our skin when we got out of the jeep, I started hoping my cheap dollar store gloves would be enough to get me through the next four days! 

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Soon after arriving and doing a quick assessment of what we needed to bring up to the peak with us, we started on our way. The ‘paramo’ (a high-altitude tropical tundra climate) was amazing to see.

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Nearing the top, a bit of altitude sickness started to hit. My head started to pound and my breathing was shallow. But step by step, we kept moving forward.

I was grateful for the numbers of layers I had brought up! Sweating one minute while the sun was out, and then shivering for the wind, they were definitely necessary.
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Before we knew it, we had made it!

The glacier was incredible – rocky and barren, no more paramo plants in sight. We could also walk on it up to a certain point, but not too far for risk of falling through without the proper gear. It was especially cool to see where there were some cracks in the ice; you could look through to amazing crystal water. My cousin and I took advantage of the ice to make some ‘ice’ angels…. *brrr*

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What’s sad is that the glacier probably won’t last much longer – ten years at most, according to scientists. It’s been receding rapidly over the past few years. There’s even a marker on a rock that says “2003,” marking where the glacier went up to 14 years ago, and it’s shockingly far back from where  the glacier starts now.

It was awesome, though, to be able to take in this sight knowing that it won’t be like this much longer. Oh the ephemerality of it all!

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The hike, though pretty short at just 6km total, drained us completely. Once we got to the finca, the owners gave us some agua de panela and lunch, and then we went straight to bed – at about 3 p.m!

Despite our sleeping bags and the cozy blankets that the owners gave us, many of us were freezing. I tried to stay absolutely still because moving just a bit made me feel cold. Around 7, they called us for dinner, but I could hardly muster the energy to get up and eat. Only the idea of a warm soup finally lured me out from under the covers.

It was crazy to see how the day’s climb and the altitude had exhausted us so much physically and mentally. While some didn’t seem too affected by it, most of us had headaches, or felt nauseous, or were just really tired. It felt like nature’s hangover. Only one thing to do – sleep it off. We went to bed super early to be fresh for the next day.

Day Two: We have to walk up THAT?

Day two was a LONG day. We started bright and early after having a quick and yummy breakfast at the finca. The Nevado del Ruiz was amazingly clear that morning, and we were able to see it smoking impressively as we started on our way.

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It was then roughly a 7km gradual uphill walk to get to the Laguna del Otun – a big beautiful lake in the middle of the park. We were fortunate to have the sun peeking out of the clouds just in time when we got there. My cousin and I couldn’t resist the perfect moment for a photo.


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We then descended into a green and pretty canyon, where we caught our first glimpses of frailejón forests in this well-maintained one called “Bosque de Eden” (Forest of Eden). The mountains in the distance made for a beautiful backdrop.

Around this time, I also successfully miscalculated the depth of a mud puddle and got one leg well stuck. Thankfully my cousin was nearby and was able to help pull me out!
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Shortly after, it started to hail a bit, and there was thunder and lightning. Still far off from our destination, we all picked up the pace to try and avoid getting stuck in a storm.

As soon as we made it to a finca where we were going to have a break, it started to rain really hard. Just in time! We warmed up with some agua de panela, played with some baby chicks (aww) and then headed back out on our way – a few more kilometres to go.

The sun came out and we were able to take off our layers as we walked through the lush countryside. I said hola to every cow and every horse, of course. 
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Our guide then casually mentioned that we had to then climb up the mountain that was directly in front of us. I’m sorry, what!? Totally unexpected, this was going to be a challenge after already walking about 15km that day!

We started the climb, stopping frequently for a breather, and admiring the countryside view which got smaller and smaller as we climbed.
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Alexis and I started invoking the name of inspirational women to get us through. For Oprah! For Emma Watson! For Ellen DeGeneres!

In the end, we all made it. Exhausted but in awe of the beautiful view.

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There was then just about a kilometre more until we arrived at Berlín Finca, our home for the night. As there were no rooms available, we had to camp that night outside the house.

We set up our tents as soon as we arrived and then went to huddle around the stove in the kitchen where we stayed chatting and relaxing as the owner made us agua de panela, and then dinner. We were starving and ate as if we hadn’t eaten in ten days and soon after got into our tents to pass out.

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Day Three: Wet and Wonderful 

Day three was wet. Very wet. It started raining while we were taking down our tents and continued raining on and off the whole day. Those crappy dollar store gloves I mentioned earlier? Yeah, they weren’t much help this day. We got absolutely soaked.

But – the day was also wonderful! We passed through amazing dense paramo forests, filled with frailéjones.

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Not just that, though. We also passed through an incredible marshy area that in Spanish is called a “pantano.” It’s basically a swamp with very strong, spongy green plants that you can step on. Trying to jump from one to the other and making sure to only step on the truly strong ones felt like a video game. It was so fun!
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I was not always successful, though.

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And, despite the rain, we were able to catch a foggy glimpse of the Paramillo of Quindío sitting near the marsh. (“Paramillo” is the term used for the volcanoes that no longer have their glaciers) Wonderful!

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At Primavera finca that night, we strung out some rope all over our dorm room and hung everything on it with the naive hope that it would dry a bit. But, with the cold? No such luck. We had to suck it up and put on our wet boots and some wet clothes the next day, yum!

Day Four: Slipping and sliding down to the Cocora Valley

Our final day woke up beautiful, with a bright sun and a view of the Nevado of Tolima in the distance. It didn’t stay that way long though. As we started the last day’s hike, it got foggy and gloomy once more.

Luckily there was no rain, but the ground was still very wet from the downpour the day before. Nearly the whole day consisted of trudging in the mud on our descent into the Cocora Valley.

Most of us fell at least a few times. It was tricky but very, very amusing. Check out all that mud!
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After a bit of walking, we got to an extremely windy ridge. The guide explained that it was where two winds from separate mountain chains meet, making it a perpetual windy crossroads.

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At the top, we stopped to take pictures and revel in the wind! My hands started going numb… those damn gloves were still too wet to be any use. We didn’t stay up there too long, anyway. It was time to descend down into the valley!

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Getting into the valley, it warmed up a lot, and we were greeted by beautiful rolling hills all around us.

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After a lot of walking and trying not to fall that day, we reached a section of the path with lots of river crossings. The majority of the bridges were pretty dodgy, some missing parts or looking pretty worn out, but hey we survived!

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Soon after, we arrived at our destination: Cocora Valley! The sun was shining bright and hot, so all the lush green hills around looked incredible. The tall waxy palm trees soon came into sight as well – they are some of the tallest in the world!


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It was an amazing end to an amazing hike.


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From the valley, we took a jeep into the nearby town of Salento. There were more of us than could fit sitting so I and three others hung onto the back! It was such a cool feeling to have the wind blow in our hair and to be driving after having walked so long.

Some in our group headed back to Manizales right away but Carlos, Alexis, and I stayed in Salento for the night. It’s a beautiful, colourful town and since we were there during Easter, it was packed! That’s for another post though! Keep your eyes out for it. 🙂

Til then,

L