Weather-wise, anytime of the year is a good time to visit Medellín and the coffee region. There’s a reason why they call Medellín the “City of Eternal Spring”: The entire region has a temperate climate.
While renting a car in Colombia is not often the best option, here it makes sense.Medellín completely empties during the end of the year holidays, from December 15 to January 15, and also during Semana Santa (Easter week). This is peak time for pueblos and coffee region haciendas. During school vacations (June-July), natural parks and reserves and coffee haciendas get busy again.
Give Medellín three days. During that amount of time, you can experience “old Medellín” sights in the Centro, such as the Museo de Antioquia, as well as check out the modern Medellín icons that are the subject of great pride: the Metrocable, Biblioteca España, the café culture of cool El Poblado, and the Parque Explora. Consider spending a weekend in Medellín, when hotel rates drop, and especially if you’re interested in checking out the city’s nightlife scene. In a week you can add one or two other destinations in Antioquia, such as the Reserva Natural Río Claro or one of the picture-perfect Paisa pueblos, such as Jardín or Jericó. These are within about a three-hour bus ride from the Antioquian capital of Medellín.
Many visitors visit the gorgeous colonial town of Santa Fe de Antioquia to the north of Medellín as a day trip, but it’s better to spend one night there, in order to enjoy strolling its quaint streets after the sun has gone down. On the banks of the mighty Río Cauca, Santa Fe is one of the hottest towns in the region. Guatape, with its famous rock, El Peñol, makes for a nice overnight on the way to or back from the Río Claro reserve, where two nights are necessary. These three destinations are popular on weekends and holidays. The stunning natural beauty of Río Claro is best enjoyed during the week.
To the south of Medellín are two picture-perfect Paisa pueblos: Jardín and Jericó. A couple of days in one of those should be enough. You can continue from there southward into the coffee region on winding country roads.
Medellín is not a base for visiting the coffee region: The cities of Armenia, Manizales, and Pereira are. Pereira has good air connections, while the Manizales airport is often shrouded in fog.
One of the joys of this region is to book a few days at a coffee hacienda. Many tour operators will pack your days with day-trip activities. Resist! As it gets dark at 6pm every day, it would be a shame to miss spending some daylight hours strolling the grounds of the finca (farm), lazing in a hammock or rocking chair, or doing nothing at all.
You’ll need a week or more to decompress on the coffee farm and see the region’s top sights: the Valle de Cocora, the Jardín Botánico del Quindío, and Museo del Oro Quimbaya near Armenia, and one or two of the national and regional parks. There are very good transportation links between the three major cities and Salento. Roads are generally excellent. While renting a car in Colombia is not often the best option, here it makes sense.
Though you can enjoy this magnificent region just by taking a bus ride from one place to the next, there are a few spots that warrant special attention. East of Medellín toward the Río Magdalena lays the Reserva Natural Río Claro, a lush, deep canyon. The Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados and surrounding regional parks (such as Parque Regional Natural Ucumarí) offer innumerable opportunities for day hikes and longer treks. A bit off the beaten track, Parque Municipal Natural Planes de San Rafael offers beautiful hikes in the less-visited Cordillera Occidental.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Colombia.