Modern and mountainous Pereira lies in the Risaralda department at the heart of Colombia’s richest coffee growing region, famous for its mild Arabica beans. Mineral-rich volcanic soil makes the area ideal for plantation farming, and you can visit a working hacienda to get an authentic taste of life in rural Colombia – learn about the history of coffee harvesting and discover how the beans are roasted. Pereira has plenty of traditional charm, too; pay a visit to the 19th-Century cathedral with a beautiful latticework roof, check out the César Gaviria Trujillo Viaduct over the Otún River or enjoy an exhibition at The Pereira Art Museum. Once you’ve taken in the sight, get out and about to enjoy a top range of activities – there’s everything from hiking and horse-riding to biking, rafting and kayaking. You can also go zip lining over coffee plantations at Bosques del Samán, a hotel-farm set in the town of Alcala, around an hour’s drive from Pereira.
Salento, in the department of Quindío, is more of a colonial town with distinctive pastel-coloured houses but has plenty of superb scenery to boot. Tourists flock to Salento for Cocora Valley, part of the Los Nevados National Park and home to tropical forests and the lofty Quindío wax palm – Colombia’s national tree. The coffee here is first-class; savour and purchase mouth-watering Arabica coffee at the hip Café Jesús Martín, where you’ll get to taste incredible espresso coffee roasted and prepared in the owner's factory. The town’s main viewing point is Alto de la Cruz (Top of the Cross) – it’s visible from the centre of town, and you’ll have to walk up 238 blue, yellow and green painted stairs to get to the top. There’s no alternative road to the top, but you’ll have a sturdy railing and plenty of space to take a breath and enjoy the view en route. At first the view from the top may not seem that impressive, but follow the left-hand path until you get to a concrete shelter and you’ll have a beautiful view of the surrounding valley and mountains.
Try your hand at Tejo, a traditional Colombian throwing sport and the official sport of Salento. The game consists of throwing a metal puck (the tejo) down an alley, to an angled board covered with clay – the aim is to hit small targets on the clay which contain gunpowder and explode loudly on impact in a puff of smoke. Beta Town is a local hang-out in Salento where friendly locals will introduce you to Tejo over food and drinks.
Within an hour’s drive of Salento you’ll find the Parque Nacional del Café – this National Coffee Park is a theme park owned and operated by the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia. It’s unorthodox but a lovely way for families to learn more about coffee while having a great day out. Enjoy interactive exhibits detailing the history and culture of coffee, a coffee museum and coffee-themed food stalls, as well as log flumes, bumper cars and rollercoasters.