|Ignacio Maza chose to stay at Hacienda Bambusa on his recent trip to Colombia’s coffee country.|
Colombia tourism is booming. In the last 15 years, travel to and within the country has tripled in volume. One of the most popular emerging destinations within Colombia is the coffee region, or “eje cafetero,” in Spanish. The heart of the coffee country are the provinces of Quindio, Caldas and Risaralda. The area has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site for its unique character, the richness of its soil, the beauty of the landscape, the range of things to see and do, and of course, the long tradition of growing some of the world’s best coffee.
Many people think coffee is originally from Colombia. This is not the case. Coffee is native to Ethiopia, first cultivated in what today is Yemen, brought to Istanbul by Muslim traders, eventually shipped to Venice by Italian merchants (which explains why we order cappuccinos and espressos to this day), and finally brought to Colombia by Jesuit priests in the 17th century. The first shipment of Colombian coffee reached the U.S. in 1835. Colombia is known for the quality of its coffee, which is of the arabica (or milder) variety. Most of the coffee grown and consumed in the world is of the robusta variety, a courser bean that produces a lower quality, bitter coffee.
|Junior Suites on the second floor, are pool facing with terraces that sport comfy hammocks.|
Where to stay
There are over 500 haciendas and hotels welcoming guests in the coffee country. I stayed at Hacienda Bambusa, considered one of the very best, located about 30 minutes’ drive from Armenia (AXM) airport. Hacienda Bambusa is set on a working farm with over 400 acres of cultivated cacao, bananas and mandarin oranges. Originally opened in 2007, the hacienda closed last year for renovations, and re-opened in December of 2014. The main property offers eight rooms, in Standard, Superior or Junior Suite configurations. Rooms start around 250 square feet, and go up to more than 400 square feet for the Junior Suites. Also, the best rooms are the Junior Suites facing the pool, preferably on the second floor. These rooms have the best views, a big terrace with chairs and a hammock, and more privacy. All rooms have either terrace or outdoor space, and a private bathroom. The hacienda has a very intimate feel, and the experience is similar to staying with friends at a private home — not in a hotel. You have a choice of bed and breakfast rate, or an all-inclusive plan that includes excursions as well. Most people buy the excursions à la carte, as everyone seems to want something different. Rooms have ceiling fans, and ACs are being installed in the Junior Suites. Days are warm and at night the temperature drops to a pleasant high 50s/60s. There is a pool on property and dining is typically on the terrace looking out toward the mountains and the landscape that surrounds the hacienda. There is a buffet breakfast (with a set menu for lunch and dinner, as well as options if your clients want something else). Service is genuine, personal and caring. Staff on property go out of their way to make everyone feel comfortable. This is a genuine, working hacienda — simply decorated and furnished, but comfortable, authentic and well run. The hacienda has been getting a great deal of press lately. In fact, the Financial Times recently mentioned it in its “Where to go in 2015” article. Over all, I loved the peace and quiet, the service, the sense of place, the dining, walks on property, the staff, the views, and waking up with tropical birdsong each day.
|Hacienda Bambusa is simply decorated and furnished, but comfortable and authentic.|
The hacienda can arrange for a walk around the property, to get a feel for the terrain. Request a hike with Camilo, the resident naturalist, who will show you how cacao is grown, the amazing giant bamboo trees called “guadua” which grow a foot per day, and point out some of the more than 100 different bird species found on the property. I also recommend hikes outside Bambusa. My two favorites were to the top of Peñas Blancas, a demanding, 3,000-foot ascent starting from an altitude of about 6,000 feet, and the other a hike at the Cocora Valley, the region’s number one natural attraction, about 1.5-hour drive from Bambusa. Cocora is a nature reserve and a spectacular landscape. The valley is the deepest shade of green you ever saw, populated by the tallest palm trees in the world, the wax palm (Colombia’s national tree), which grows up to 190 feet and can live for 200 years. There are many other options on offer, including rafting on the Rio La Vieja, horseback riding, visiting a coffee plantation (my favorite was La Morelia), Calarca’s botanical and butterfly gardens, and visiting charming colonial towns like Salento and Filandia — the most authentic of all. For clients who seek an over-the-top experience, the property can arrange a balloon ride over the coffee trees.
The coffee country is situated about 4,000-5,000 feet above sea level. Salento and the Cocora Valley are higher — 6,000-8,000 feet. It rains throughout the year, usually in the afternoons. The rainiest period is from November to early January. Advance reservations are a must, especially during peak season (December and January), Easter, and major holidays. You can easily combine Hacienda Bambusa with Bogota and/or Cartagena.