Exploring Colombia's coffee belt
A java junkie's dream trip
Each week, we spotlight a dream vacation recommended by some of the industry's top travel writers. This week's pick is Jardín, Colombia.
Coffee occupies the very heart of life in Jardín, Colombia, and it's "easy to see why," said Gustave Axelson at The New York Times. My love of a good brew was what had brought me to the mountain village four hours outside Medellín, and my first 25-cent café tinto of the day did not disappoint. Here in the northern Andes, in a region that produces more coffee than any other in the nation, I sat in a bustling pastel-splashed plaza in the shadow of a double-spired basilica, lifted a demitasse of black coffee to my lips, and was instantly astonished by the bold, clean flavor that seemed to flow directly from the beans. Looking up, I noticed that the locals talking and laughing all around me were of similar mind. "No one was taking their coffee to go. Everyone was sitting, sipping, enjoying."
Before the morning was over, I was riding on horseback to a mountaintop coffee farm, or finca. The guide I'd hired had arranged my whole itinerary, and our trek up the mountain on a cobblestone path was "a series of pinch-me moments — glorious vistas of the northern Andes," with rays of sun shooting through fluffy clouds, and occasional sightings of "ridiculous-beaked" toucans. We were greeted with an authentic finca lunch, another astonishing café tinto, and a "million-dollar view" of a dozen Andes peaks with bushy coffee plants climbing every flank. I tried my hand at picking coffee berries, and bagged about 50 in 30 seconds. The pros can easily get 200.
At the next finca we visited, I was the first North American the family had ever hosted. The young farmer told me that he cultivated a variety of coffee bean that his grandfather had grown a century earlier but that had all but disappeared before he tracked down the seeds at abandoned farms. I ate dinner with the whole family, relying on my guide, José Castaño Hernández, himself the son of coffee farmers, to translate. The meal ended with a "gorgeous" midnight-black coffee, a final reminder that coffee from this region is a family affair. "And if you slow down, sip, really savor, you can taste earnest endeavors and lifetimes of devotion."