7 Day - The Perfect Loop
Colombia Coffee Region Motorcycle Trip
The Absolute Best Of Colombia's Coffee Region: Wax Palm Forrests, Hot Springs, Remote/Isolated Villages And Spectacular Scenery
Colombia’s best geography for coffee production also happens to be ideal for motorcycle touring.
If you’re looking to experience the best of Colombia and only have a week, we highly recommend this trip. Based on the feedback from dozens of travelers, we have put together what we consider to be the “Perfect Loop” of Colombia's famous coffee region. Best of all, it's located right in our backyard, only 2 hours from Medellin.
A coffee region motorcycle trip checks all the boxes:
Lush green mountain vistas with soaring wax palms over 150ft tall. Check. Colonial haciendas turned into chic hotels and bed and breakfasts. Check. Hot springs flowing from snow-capped volcanoes. Check. Twist the throttle and lean into turn after turn after turn as you make your way through high mountain passes and fog covered forests. Check. Include the cosmopolitan city of Medellin as the starting point of the trip, and you have a motorcycle trip from heaven.
Nevado Ruiz Volcano - Explore a stratovolcano
Thermal Springs - Stay at a beautiful hot springs hotel
Handfeed Hummingbirds - A one of a kind experience
Paramo - Ride through alpine tundra. See 200 year old plants.
Coffee Farm Visit - Harvest coffee with a local family
Wax Palms Forest - See the tallest palm trees in the world
Spectacular Views - As always, enjoying all the twists and turns while riding through some of the most amazing scenery in the world.
Day 1 - Medellin – Sonson
Recommended Hotel: El Tesoro
This is going to be an interesting trip. Today we ride to the former guerilla conflict zone of Sonson. Sonson has been off-limits for decades due to guerilla activity. Although it's safe now there is very little information on the internet about the area. Consequently, it’s untouched by tourism which makes it the perfect place to get an authentic taste of Colombia.
The ride to Sonson is great. One of the best things about this ride is the miles and miles of exciting twists and turns. Ups, downs, ascending curves, descending curves, increasing radius curves, decreasing radius curves. You’re going to get a ton of riding experience on just this one road. The pavement here is in good shape and as is the case in lots of areas in the countryside, there is very little traffic.
Midway we’re going to stop off at Luisa’s house and have a cup of local coffee called tinto. If you like kids you’ll be delighted to meet her twin toddlers. Tourists never stop here and you’ll see how happy she is to talk with us. Besides being a fun way to connect with the locals, it's a way to directly support a family business.
We’ll visit the HALO demining operations and learn about their efforts to remove leftover anti-personnel landmines from the area. We get the chance to hold deactivated landmines they have recovered. Yep, there are still landmines out here.
The town of Sonson is located at a high elevation but we’re going to climb even higher. The Paramo de Sonson is a lookout point that stands at over 10,000ft in elevation. The lookout has a scenic view of the fog rolling across the cloud forest and nearby valley. By now it will be late afternoon and we’ll head back to town to check in to our hotel and grab a pizza and a beer.
We stay at the El Tesoro hotel located on the main square. This is a 200-year-old mansion that has been converted into a unique hotel. Unlike other hotels, this one hasn't been updated and still retains its original charm. In addition, the hotel is somewhat of a museum and is filled with an eclectic collection of antiques. Looking over everything will keep you captivated for hours.
Located next door to the hotel is a great pizza restaurant. From the second-story balcony, we can enjoy a brick oven pizza while people-watching on the main square. It’s good to note that Sonson leaves the warm weather of Guatape behind. Located at 8,100ft you’ll want to bring a jacket because it's going to be cold at night.
Day 2 - Sonsón to CaldasInstead of heading directly to Salamina today, we will drive from Sonson down into the jungle. From there, we take the backroads across the mountains to the isolated villages located in the department of Caldas. One of the most beautiful roads I've ever seen!
Day 3 - Caldas to Salamina
Recommended Hotel: Salamina Highs
Salamina is Colombia's best-kept secret. Tucked away in a far off corner of the coffee region, the beauty of Salamina is a sight to behold. The town itself is situated on the peak of a mountain, with entire streets sometimes appearing as if they are about to slide off the side of the mountain. Once we enter the town, we see why it has earned national heritage status. Houses climb the sloping streets with each one seeming determined to outdo its neighbors. Elaborate woodworking takes the form of intricately decorated doors, windows, balconies, and zócalos (the distinct lower sections of the whitewashed facades). It's hard to walk the streets of Salamina without constantly looking upward at the flower-filled balconies.
A gorgeous bronze basin fountain made in Paris sits in the central plaza surrounded by tall trees and benches. In 1900 the fountain was brought to town on the back of ox and mules. Since then it has become a symbol of the region. There are also various restaurants surrounding the main square where you can try typical local dishes, including the local favorite of steamed eggs (Huevos al Vapor), made with the help of an espresso machine.
The road from Sonson is unpaved but in good condition. Almost as soon as we leave Sonson we have to stop to take photos of the expansive valley right outside of town. The rest of the ride consists of windy roads and spectacular views of the surrounding coffee and sugarcane plantations. In the middle of the trip, we drop into a warm valley and cross a bridge over a white water river before winding back into the mountains on the other side. Just before we arrive in town, there's a panoramic view of the town precariously sitting on the top of a hill. Once we arrive, we feel like you have somehow discovered a special place that hardly any other foreigner has set eyes upon.
One of the nicer boutique options in Salamina is the Salamina Highs hotel. Formerly a coffee hacienda, the owners have beautifully restored the house and converted it into a charming boutique hotel. The property is complete with spacious rooms, king-sized beds, and a beautiful courtyard with jasmine trees and a jacuzzi. The hotel has a perfect location and is only a two-minute walk from the main square.
IMPORTANT NOTE - Google Maps isn't 100% accurate
I've had people try to drive from Sonson to Salamina with Google Maps and it took them down some sort of walking path. If you are driving from Sonson to Salamina please be sure to ask the people to show you the road to Salamina.
Also, note that the road to Salamina is a big unpaved road that cars and big trucks drive down. It's not a walking path.
GAIA GPS is accurate. I recommend getting a paid subscription to GAIA GPS and downloading the map to your phone.
Remember, I'm always available to help you. Just give me a call and I'll help you out in any way I can.
Day 4 - Free Day in Salamina
Recommended Hotel: Salamina Highs
Most travelers come to town and only get to see the beautiful architecture of the town. Lucky for us we have motorcycles and can travel into the backcountry outside Salamina and see some truly breathtaking landscapes. Today we take a trip over to the hamlet of San Felix and the nearby Samaria Valley. Here, growing on the slopes of lush green mountains, we find the national tree of Colombia, the Quindío Wax Palm. The wax palm is the tallest palm in the world, reaching heights of over four stories. Not only are the palms themselves beautiful, but they are home to green and yellow parrots, which can be seen flying overhead. The views across the valley are picture-perfect, and once you arrive, feel like you have somehow discovered a special place that hardly any other foreigner has set eyes upon.
The ride to the valley is as spectacular as the destination itself. The road out of Salamina takes us across a ridge with yet again, spectacular views of the town and the surrounding cloud forests with fog spilling over the treetops. The road is almost completely paved and makes for some easy riding before arriving in the small town of San Felix. San Felix is a pretty quiet place, and we won't see much activity other than the occasional local farmer wandering around the plaza dressed in his poncho and cowboy hat. This area is still relatively undiscovered, and it wouldn't be surprising if we were the only foreigners in town. Heading from San Felix to the wax palm forest, the road becomes unpaved but well maintained with hard-packed gravel. The ride to the palm forest is only 15 minutes and takes us through tropical forest and farmland with cows and horses dotting the lush green hillsides.
Before sequoias were discovered in California, the wax palm was considered the world’s tallest tree, with some growing 200 feet high. This palm species can grow to a height of 45 m (148 ft) —or rarely, even as high as 60 m (200 ft).
The wax palms of the Samaria Valley isn't the only sight to see. The surrounding area is filled with isolated off-road tracks that are perfect for riders wanting to explore more of the area. Visiting isolated towns such as Marulanda and Manzanares make great day trips if you wake up early. Continuing the drive south from Manzanares to the Nevado del Ruiz volcano is a great trip. Better yet, it keeps us out of the city traffic in Manizales. The ride is truly breathtaking and takes us through spectacular cloud forest landscapes with rolling fog spilling over the treetops.
Day 5 - Salamina to Manizales
Recommended Hotel: Termales del Otoño
Nevado de Ruiz
Today takes us to the famous Nevado Ruiz Volcano. Colombia is part of the Ring of Fire, a 40,000 kilometer (24,900 miles) long string of volcanoes that forms a horseshoe-shaped ring around the edge of the Pacific Ocean. This Ring of Fire contains 75% of the world's volcanoes and 90% of its earthquakes with Colombia itself being home to 23 volcanoes, of which 19 are considered active. Conveniently located right in the heart of the coffee region is Nevado Ruiz stratovolcano which reaches a staggering height of 5,311m (17,424ft)
Rides around the Nevado del Ruiz are often touted as “The best rides in Colombia.” You’ll ride up through the clouds until arriving in a high altitude tundra known as Paramo. Sitting at 13,000ft you will be surrounded by ancient plants that look a lot like cactus. Called frailejones these plants are actually related to sunflowers and are over 150 years old. Although you are at a high altitude the temperatures aren’t freezing and the cool air feels more like a sunny day in the Swiss Alps than sitting on a stratovolcano on the equator.
Although beautiful, Nevado Ruiz was the cause of one of the most devastating events in Colombian history. On November 13, 1985, after ignoring evacuation warnings from geologists, the Nevado del Ruiz erupted. The intense heat of the eruption melted the volcano's ice caps producing high-speed avalanches of mud, water, and debris (called lahars) that rushed down the side of the mountain destroying the town of Armero and claiming the lives of 23,080 of its residents.
You can still visit the destroyed town of Armero and see abandoned buildings which are actually the upper levels of the town with the lower parts still covered with dirt.