The Best Way to Experience Colombian Coffee? Salento’s Coffee Route!
The small, colorful mountain town of Salento sits at the heart of the Colombian coffee region. It is therefore one of the best places to explore one of Colombia’s biggest exports: coffee. And there is no better way to explore all sides of the coffee industry than by heading out to explore various family-owned coffee farms (fincas). Luckily, there is a specific route that allows you to visit 5 family-owned and operated coffee fincas in the beautiful hillsides that surround Salento. This route is known as the Rute Cafecito, or the Coffee Route.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about adventuring along the Rute Cafecito.
THINGS TO KNOW:
- Tinto: this is one of the most common ways to drink coffee in Colombia. While we got various answers as to what tinto actually is, we found that the most common form of tinto was just a smaller cup of coffee (about 4–6 oz) that often contained panela.
- Panela: Colombians don’t use processed sugar in their coffee. Instead, they choose to add a bit of panela, which is just unrefined whole cane sugar. In our opinion, panela is a much smoother type of sweetness and in a way, it tastes much more natural than normal sugar. Highly recommend.
- Finca: you will see this word all over Colombia, and in the coffee region in particular. A finca is simply a piece of rural land that often has some building on it (a house commonly). Usually, a finca will be a relatively large plot of land (more than 2000 square meters). In the area around Salento, most fincas grow coffee as well as other popular crops (bananas, plantains, yucca, etc.).
\\ What is the Coffee Route
In its simplest form, the Coffee Route (Ruta Cafecito) is a walking loop that starts in Salento and ends in the small town of Boquia. The loop takes you by hillsides covered in coffee plants, over raging rivers, and through small family-owned fincas.
The coffee region of Colombia (the Coffee Triangle) is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and therefore has been able to retain its traditional way of life. Including, the tradition of growing coffee in small plots in the high-altitude forest, and the way farmers have adapted cultivation to difficult mountain conditions. The Ruta Cafecito takes you through this high-altitude landscape and helps you understand the methods and traditions that coffee farmers still use today.
In total, the route is a loop and is about 9.5 kilometers long. It is most commonly done by walking, though there is also the option to ride a horse (there are many places that rent horses in and around Salento), by car — most commonly with one of the Willy jeeps you see in town, or by bicycle. We suggest putting aside at least a couple of hours (4–6) to complete the loop so you have enough time to explore the landscape as well as some of the coffee fincas.
\\ How to Get to the Coffee Route
The coffee route can easily be accessed right from Salento. To reach the trail, head down Calle 6 (from the main square) towards Carrera 5. Turn left and keep walking straight, across the bridge and towards the cemetery. Soon you will reach a wide dirt road — keep heading straight, now slightly downhill.
Keep going on the dirt road, past a couple of homes and open fields. After about 3 kilometers (1 mile) of walking, you will reach Yambolombia Hostel — a great spot to stay if you want to escape the busyness of Salento. Once you pass the hostel, continue on the road for another kilometer until you reach the first farm on the coffee route: Las Acacias Coffee Farm (Café Acacias).
INSIDER TIP: once you leave Café Acacias, take the road on the right to continue on the coffee route. We took the road on the left when we first did the route, and while the walk was beautiful (you can reach another waterfall on this road) it did waste some time.
\\ The Fincas on the Coffee Route
There are five popular coffee fincas along the coffee route: Acacias, Ocaso, Luger, Elias and Azarcia; with Café Elias being by far the most popular finca for travelers to tour because there is often a chance to have an English-speaking guide.
In fact, when we set off to do the coffee route ourselves, we planned to do the Don Elias tour but then we found Café Luger and decided to explore someplace new. So, while the Don Elias finca and tour is very popular, just remember that there are other fincas to explore along the way.
Below are the five fincas you will come across along the Coffee Route:
LAS ACACIAS COFFEE
The first finca on the route, Café Acacias, is a great spot to have your first taste of the region’s coffee products. Make sure to stop in for a simple cup of tinto coffee, sit on the covered balcony and take in the views of the coffee farm and animals. And, if you want to learn more about the family-run farm, they also offer tours. Plus, when we visited the tinto coffee was free — they just asked for a tip.
GET IN TOUCH: check out their Facebook page or message them on WhatsApp (+57 310 463–8585).
FINCA EL OCASO
The second coffee finca along the route is located a bit off the main road. If you are looking for an in-depth coffee tour, including one that allows you to do a “sensorial workshop” aka an intense coffee tasting, then definitely consider signing up for their Premium Coffee Tour.
GET IN TOUCH: if you are curious to learn more about their tours, check out their website. Or message them on WhatsApp (+57 313 425–3669).
COST: the premium coffee tour costs 70000 COP (~ $18.40) each and takes around 3 hours. The English tour is at 2 PM (though reach out to make sure this is still the case).
INSIDER TIP: if you are looking to take a shortcut on the Coffee Route (which cuts the distance in half), then you can take the singletrack trail right in front of Finca El Ocaso down to the river and then up the road to the right.
COFFEE TOUR LUGER
If you are looking to do a tour that combines learning about the entire coffee process and learning about the coffee culture, then we cannot recommend Coffee Tour Luger strongly enough.
We walked up to the coffee finca with the hope of just doing a short tour. In the end, we spent over 6 hours at Luger, learning about all aspects of the coffee process. This included getting to go out and pick coffee beans ourselves, washing the beans, sorting them and then roasting them over an open flame before finally grinding the beans up and drinking the fresh coffee. So darn good.
And, if that wasn’t enough, during the whole tour, we also got to learn about living sustainably off the land (including being able to grow all the food you could need on a 2-hectare plot), how to have a 100% organic farm and what life is actually like running a coffee finca in the famous coffee region.
Our guide was Jaime, an adorable, highly intelligent older Colombian man that showed us everything about the organic coffee farm, including his composting set-up, his baby chickens and all of the indigenous plants on his land. His passion for the land and for coffee was incredibly inspiring. Plus, he made us a darn good vegetarian lunch.
COST: the full ~ 6-hour cost us 80000 COP ($21) total and included lunch.
INSIDER TIP: one of the things we loved most about this tour was Jaime’s view on taking your time to explore a place, including spending 5+ hours learning about the entire coffee process.
CAFE DON ELIAS
Like we mentioned, this is by far the most common coffee finca for travelers to tour. If you want to get a basic overview of the coffee process, including getting to tour the coffee plants themselves, then definitely consider visiting this finca — located just down the road from Luger and Ocaso. And one cool thing about Café Don Elias is that they were one of the first fincas to actually offer tours, so they definitely know what they are doing.
GET IN TOUCH: check out their Instagram, or reach out using WhatsApp (+57 315 606 1113).
The last coffee finca on the Coffee Route is located just past Don Elias. There isn’t much to know about this coffee finca, though we suspect that it has similar services as the other fincas in the area: a tour of the coffee plants and a basic overview of the coffee process. If you are looking to explore a less popular (touristy) finca, definitely consider stopping by Azarcia.
From Café Azarcia, you will continue walking down the same road you have been on until you reach a bridge over the Quindio River. Once across the bridge, turn right and head up the road towards the town of Boquia (and from there on to Salento). From the bridge, it will be about another 4.5 kilometers to Boquia. Also, if you have the time, you can also keep hiking from Boquia up to the Santa Rita Waterfall.
\\ Other Things to Know
The Coffee Route (Ruta Cafecito) is around 9.5 kilometers round-trip (it is roughly 4.5 kilometers from Salento to Café Azarcia), so we recommend either bringing some snacks with you or purchasing some food at one of the fincas (some do offer meals). Also, don’t forget to bring a rain jacket, wear sturdy shoes and carry plenty of water.
Finally, if you want to spend even more time along the Coffee Route, then consider staying at Finca El Ocaso, which offers rooms with Wifi, private bathrooms and inclusion on one of their regular coffee tours (find prices here).
The Coffee Route is a great way to explore the history of the coffee triangle and get to know the families and farmers on the frontline of the coffee growing landscape. We definitely recommend spending at least a couple of hours exploring one of the farms, as well as just walking around the back roads of Salento to see the coffee-covered hills, the thick green forests and the small little towns.
Find even more adventures in the Coffee Triangle, as well as more slow + adventure travel inspiration and information at Backroad Packers.