Traveling to the Colombian Coffee Belt is easy, safe and low-budget.
One initial warning: Colombia is NOT what Hollywood depicts in its infamous movies, so if you think you will be traveling on dirt roads in a torn bus with chickens flying on top of you, you will be disappointed. Try the imaginary Hollywood countries instead.
There are many flights from all over the world to Bogotá and there are several flights from this city to Pereira. Another way is to fly to Cali and then drive to the Belt using Highway 25, a very wide and well built road with lots of sightseeing and good food going north on the Cauca Valley, a lush, green valley planted with sugar cane and some fruits and vegetables and running between the Occidental and the Central ranges.
There are also flights from Fort Lauderdale to Pereira.
There are three big cities in the Belt:
Manizales the capital of the Caldas Department, founded in 1849 at 7,000 feet, average temperature 62F, currently with almost 500,000 inhabitants, very close to the Nevado del Ruiz, a snow-capped mountain where you can ski or climb. They have their Festival and bullfights in January every year.
Then there is Pereira capital of the Risaralda Department, founded in 1863 at 4,600 feet, average temperature 71F, currently with almost 600,000 residents. It is right in the coffee growing area, but there are also some citrus and passion fruit plantations. Pereira has become an industrial center that produces processed foods, clothing and industrial goods.
Armenia, the capital of the Quindío Department, was founded in 1889 at 5,000 feet, average temperature 70F, currently with nearly 350,000 residents. This is the heart of the Coffee Belt and this city depends mostly on coffee.
All three cities have five-star hotels, restaurants and many attractions. However, my recommendation is to stay in a Finca Cafetera. Many families have transformed their farm houses (fincas or haciendas) into lodging facilities where you can spend quality time in the middle of the most green, cool, quiet and beautiful environment. Here are some examples: http://www.turismoquindio.com/montenegro.php and http://www.asoatur.com/?gclid=CPbdn6nS4q4CFcWP7QodIBI7Wg and http://www.guiaturisticadelquindio.com/historia.html but you can also Google for lodging in the Coffee Belt (write: fincas cafeteras). Choose the one you like most, you will always win. You will be staying in a beautiful high-ceilinged house, with comfortable rooms, one bath per room, swimming pools, gardens, flowers, birds and the most friendly and warm people you can find. The food is abundant, delicious and of course very typical.
San Francisco is one place where we have stayed and a few times and have enjoyed every minute: http://www.turismoquindio.com/casa_sanfrancisco.php
From the finca you can drive to the cities or to the Parque Nacional del Café near Armenia (http://www.parquenacionaldelcafe.com/newpage/ ) a theme park dedicated to the culture of coffee growing; a walk-around tour of coffee planting, vegetation and coffee processing and the Coffee Museum.
The first thing you will notice is that coffee in this area is shade-grown and they use banana and plantain to shade the coffee, with some fincas also using other types of trees.
Cocoa is also being planted in some areas.
The only risk you take is wanting to stay longer… or to return very soon.
/files/u200/Armenia.jpg" hspace="-1" vspace="0" border="0" alt="ARMENIA" align="bottom" title="ARMENIA" height="190" width="265" />/files/u200/Pereira.jpg" hspace="-1" vspace="0" border="0" alt="PEREIRA" align="bottom" title="PEREIRA" height="194" width="259" />/files/u200/Manizales.jpg" hspace="-1" vspace="0" border="0" alt="MANIZALES" align="bottom" title="MANIZALES" height="129" width="200" />/files/u200/Ruiz.jpg" hspace="-1" vspace="0" border="0" alt="NEVADO DEL RUIZ" align="bottom" title="NEVADO DEL RUIZ" height="177" width="284" />/files/u200/finca_2.jpg" hspace="-1" vspace="0" border="0" alt="FINCA" align="bottom" title="FINCA" height="194" width="259" />