The perfect cup of coffee (and more reasons we keep visiting Colombia)Our Magazine
Our founder Joe Sandillo reflects on his love affair with Colombia – and lays out some of the many reasons we love sending clients there.
Over the last 18 years since I began working in luxury travel, I’ve had the ridiculous good fortune to visit some of the most incredible places on Earth, but Colombia is a hidden gem that keeps me coming back and dreaming up new itineraries for friends and clients.
I had long dreamed of visiting Colombia’s Coffee Region, and that first trip did not disappoint. The first morning at Hacienda Bambusa a working farm and hotel offering rustic luxury just 30 minutes from Armenia airport, I sat on the terrace of my room sipping a glorious cup of coffee grown and roasted right on the farm while four happy hummingbirds buzzed around the feeder just a few feet from me. As someone who typically enjoys dark roasts, it was a revelation – a deeply satisfying lighter roast, with a natural sweetness, slightly nutty taste and beautiful floral aromas. I could have sat there all morning, but duty called– starting with a delicious breakfast of fruit and fresh eggs right from the farm.
My guide for the day, Juan, was a sociologist who relocated to Pijao from Bogota to devote his life to preserving and sharing Colombia’s coffee culture with curious visitors like me. During a walk around the village, we stopped into a coffee shop run by the owners of a nearby small farm, where they produce high-quality organic coffee and then roast, package and sell it themselves in their shop in town. Maria Orfelia welcomed us warmly, and shared her family’s story while preparing one of the best pour-overs of my life.
My caffeine buzz reinforced, we hopped into a Willys Jeep for the bumpy but beautiful journey along mountain roads until reaching an isolated, organic farm whose owner Don Leo gave me a first-hand tour and showed me every step of the coffee process, plant to pour. Aside from the joy of getting to explore a small family farm away from the crowds in other parts of the region, I gained fascinating insight from Don Leo about the challenges of single-origin coffee farming in post-conflict Colombia, as well as the different ways coffee is harvested and roasted in different places its grown like Ethiopia. Perhaps the best part of the visit was meeting Don Leo’s family and sitting down with them for a simple, fresh and delicious lunch of sancocho, a chicken stew.
Later that afternoon, driving through Pijao on our way back to Hacienda Bambusa, Juan spotted a woman he remembered from childhood visits and suggested we stop to say hello. Despite the many years that had passed, she remembered Juan’s perfectly well and invited us in to her house for – what else – a cup of coffee and a tour of her back patio filled with native plants that made my aspiring green thumb jealous, before we bid farewell.
Amazing coffee is just one of many reasons why I keep returning to Colombia and singing its praises to friends and clients alike. Here are just a few more reasons why Colombia should be the next place you visit in South America.
Few crowds – for now
Much of Colombia has been safe for visitors for years, but many people still don’t know this – which is really great for those who go! Most places you’ll visit will rarely be overrun with foreign tourists – with the small exception of some areas of the majestic port of Cartagena. This allows you the chance to get a much more authentic feel for Colombia than you could in many other places.
Colombia has enjoyed growing stability and economic growth over the last decade thanks to the peace process, seen perhaps most vividly in cities like the buzzy capital, Bogotá, and the resurgent second city, Medellin. There’s an unmistakable energy you feel everywhere. Whether checking out the massive, annual Christmas Light Festival in Medellin along with thousands of locals (paisas) or enjoying a craft cocktails at one of Bogota’s new world-class restaurants, it’s impossible not to get excited about Colombians’ confidence in reclaiming their public spaces to share with the world.
Stunning nature & biodiversity
Colombia is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, made all the more amazing by the fact that you can get from one end of the country to another in as little as 2.5 hours! From mountainous coffee region to the beauty of the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, the Amazon to the valleys of Antioquia, there is something for every type of nature lover and largely stable and mild climate year-round.
The coffee & the food
It’s not just the coffee, which I’ve amply covered already. Thanks to the aforementioned biodiversity, Colombia has an almost overwhelming variety of native fruits and vegetables that contribute to the country’s rich gastronomy. For juicing junkies, there’s an array of fruit juices to be found in the markets, cafes and restaurants. Arepas come in lots of different varieties – our favorite is the egg-filled arepa de huevo typical of the Caribbean coast, but we recommend trying as many as your stomach permits! Aside from delicious traditional staples, restaurants in cities like Bogota, Medellin and Cartagena are using obscure native ingredients to create exciting new dishes. Lucky for you, there are ample opportunities to burn off some of the vacation calories with hikes and other activities almost everywhere you go.
Good for families
With the mild climate and diverse options, it’s a great destination that guarantees nobody in your family will get bored. On the coast, hop on a private motorboat for a day of island hopping, snorkeling and swimming. Spend a weekend of rustic luxury on our favorite working coffee farm, where everyone is free to do their own thing – a lazy afternoon reading in a hammock poolside, horseback riding, exploring nearby villages or a sunrise hot air balloon ride. In cities like Bogota and Medellin, mix it up by exploring the vibrant street and contemporary arts scene, taking a cooking class with a top local chef, or hopping on a bike to see the city like a local.
Easy to get to
Bogota is an easy nonstop flight from quite a few major U.S. gateways, and both Cartagena and Medellin also enjoy nonstop service from Miami and New York. From Avianca’s Bogota hub, you’re just a short connection on to other areas of the country, due to Colombia’s size. And forget jet lag – Colombia is on Eastern time half the year and Central the other half! This all makes Colombia an easy, stress-free option for a long weekend or week away to recharge your battery.
The happiest, friendliest people on earth
The woman we stopped to chat with in Pijao is just one example of why Colombians are consistently ranked as among the happiest and friendliest on earth. Colombians really know how to savor good moments and make visitors feel welcome; they are fiercely proud of their country, and always eager to share it with you.
The best luxury value in South America
This is merely the icing on the cake, but Colombia offers an incredible value. You can enjoy five-star luxury accommodations like Four Seasons and Sofitel, exclusive insider experiences and fine dining for far less than you would elsewhere. This is just one of many reasons why Colombia is South America’s hottest destination right now.