the veranda at the Casa Quimbaya Outdooors
the view from the balcony
you just can’t tell how steep this is
the glass shower cubicle
Diana and her partner who run the Casa Quimbaya live outside Armenia on a farm which will soon be available as an alternative hostel to the one in town and they had invited me and M to spend a night there.
The house which will be named Casa Quimbaya Outdoors it is just a twenty minute bus ride south of Armenia on the road to Barcelona.
Another unique hostel, this is the only one where you can stay on a farm outside of the immediate vicinity of Salento which has several farm/hostels.
We left our big rucksacks at the town hostel and hopped on a little local bus towards Barcelona. The bus driver duly dropped us off at a roundabout and we walked for about ten minutes along a small lane to the house at the end of the track.
Only built ten years ago the house appeared older with wooden floors, stairs and a wrap around veranda. There will be several rooms and sleeping combinations available to visitors but the highlights have to be the large living room with comfy cushions and chairs, the veranda, the gardens and the peace and tranquility.
Out here, breakfast is included in the price of accommodation unless you opt to camp in the level camping area in the large garden and there are plans to cater for lunches and dinners too if required, although guests will also be able to use the kitchen. We ordered out that evening from a local restaurant (the Don Alfredo) that delivers for a nominal charge and we enjoyed the typical food of the region sat around chatting.
When we arrived the sun was out and brightly coloured tropical birds darted around the trees and bushes in the garden and you couldn’t hear any traffic noise at all. Me and M were walking around the garden just looking when we came across Jose, the man who lives next door, feeding his goats. Holstering – or should that be sheathing – his machete, he offered to show us around his and Diana’s land. Leading us down the steepest of slopes he proudly showed us his banana plants and avocado trees. Clinging on for grim death so that we didn’t slide down the hillside into the river at the bottom we followed him around, keeping a wary eye out for tarantulas, snakes and tigretos (little tigers – but he may have made that one up to scare M). Like many very steep but cultivated mountainsides in Colombia, the land is not terraced but little pockets of earth are scooped out and the trees grow in these, giving the impression of a hanging garden from a distance as the trees appear to hover on the impossibly sheer slopes.
Whilst I remember, I have to tell you at this point about one ace little feature that the hostel had. There was a massive shower cubicle in the upstairs bathroom with floor to ceiling glass windows. It was like showering out of doors and it felt very liberating and free. I just trusted Diana when she said that nobody would be around and looking up at that window from outside!
you can just see M at the base of the tree
Whilst in the area we took a day trip from Armenia to Salento. This attractive little town is on every backpackers list and for good reason. Set in the coffee region, fincas and ranches are dotted about the hillsides offering accommodation and coffee tours. The town itself has the prettiest, most colourful buildings, with the ones near to the main plaza containing hostels or little artisan shops. Unlike a lot of places on the tourist circuit these shops offer a wide range of good quality and different local products.
Because we only had one day we didn’t linger in the town but as soon as we could, we jumped into the back of a jeep for the ride up to the Valle de Cocora
After arriving at the base of the valley, me and M signed up for a horse trek up into the forest. We plodded along a stony track and through several rivers for an hour and after we had finished we asked our guide if he could take us on foot to the best viewpoint for the valley in the limited time that we had.
There is a four hour trek advertised but we wanted to be back in Armenia that night so we were happy when our guide agreed to take us up through the private farmland to the top of the valley. After a strenuous climb we found ourselves above the magnificent wax palm trees that the valley is famous for. These trees grow up to sixty metres tall and they can live for two hundred years. They grow on these grassy hillsides, randomly spaced apart and I believe that I am correct to say that this valley is the only, or one of the few places in the world that you can find them. We sat on top of the hill in the sun for ten minutes until the mist came down shrouding the valley in its grey droplets and dropped its damp veil over our world.
dancing in the mist
After slipping and sliding back down the hillside we sheltered from the rain on the veranda of a farmhouse where we were offered agua de panela to drink. This hard to describe drink is an infusion made from sugar cane pulp like a sort of tasty tea and is drunk all over Colombia. We sat on stools made from cut off tree trunks, watching chickens scratching about in the rain and watched by two wide eyed toddlers from the safety of the kitchen doorway.
Back in Salento we tracked down a curry house – my first curry in months and then got the bus and rattled and bounced back to Armenia.
Our room at the Casa Quimbaya Outdoors was set off the rear courtyard and had brightly coloured bed covers and big patio windows out to the garden. In the evening we sat around chatting and reading whilst Diana’s partner, who is a very talented musician gently played his guitar and sang. If you want a few nights peace and quiet and away from the busier hostels, come and stay at the Casa Quimbaya Outdoors. By the time that you read this, it will hopefully be up and running and ready for visitors and is not so far off the beaten track that you feel isolated or secluded.
one of the bright rooms at Casa Quimbaya Outdoors
As I travel around South America I am looking for my most favourite place. I had thought that it was Peru until I moved on. I don’t think that it is going to be possible to name one place or one area or even one country, but I know that Peru, and the north in particular, will remain very special to me.
I have felt the safest travelling in Ecuador but the people in Colombia are the smiliest and they will chat to anybody. Here in Colombia my favourite largish town has been Armenia, the small town has been Amaga and the best city is Medellin (although I will be visiting Cartegena soon), and I do hope to return later this year and check out all the bits that I have missed. I also hope to return and to revisit the coffee farm that I spent a day at (I am currently writing an article for that epic day) and I will return to Ecuador and Peru too.
After the intense searing heat of Cali it was lovely to roll into Armenia. There were more mountains but there was a subtle difference. The air smelt like an early summer’s morning in England when the promise of a beautiful day steals in with the dawn. Cut grass, pollen and rich earth smells attacked our sense of smell and although it was still hot the heat was not as spiteful as in Cali. The people, as everywhere in Colombia are just as quick to laugh and to chat and if you ever ask for directions, people always drop what they are doing and actually take you to the correct bus stop or to the supermarket entrance.
We arrived at our hostel, the Casa Quimbaya which is situated in a residential area at the top end of Armenia and then ensued half an hour of crazy Polish babble as M discovered that Cecilia who works on reception was also originally from Poland. As is often the way in Latin America my email requesting a reservation had not reached its intended audience but luckily there were some beds free in a dorm and we checked in.
Cecilia gave us a guided tour and our dorm was situated down some steps behind the kitchen and the laundry. It resembled a cave with just two sets of bunk beds, a wall of large storage lockers and an en suite bathroom, beings small and narrow, but it was painted a bright white and was very clean.
We threw our bags inside and headed straight for the cafe downstairs and some lunch. We settled on a sandwich each and a coffee. My sandwich contained chunks of hot chicken and vegetables which had been stir-fried in a light sauce, stuffed inside a large roll and with oodles of cheese on top and served with banana chips.
the lovely cafe/bar
After lunch at the Casa Quimbaya hostel me and M decided to check out the Museo Del Oro. We even got ourselves an unexpectedly heavily armed escort for part of the way from one of the soldiers who had been standing guard outside the barracks that we passed. He had doubted our ability to find the museum but he actually managed to get us even more lost than we had been before by taking us down the wrong street.
a gold ornament
When we finally got to it, the museum was quite a nice surprise. It was a large brick building surrounded by lush gardens but best of all it was free to enter. We wove our way around the long corridors learning about the history of the region and its indigenous people, and we marvelled at the gold ornaments and jewellery. Luckily for us, the Quimbaya people buried treasure with their deceased which prevented those dastardly Spaniards from getting their greedy little hands on them and melting the necklaces down into gold bars.
We had arranged to go out salsa dancing that evening and we waited for our friends in the coffee shop while we listened to a great duo who played and sang while we drank a glass or two of red wine. The hostel has some really cool live music here four times a week and with candles flickering on the tables and many locals joining guests it is a cool place to hang out. There is great wifi here, a computer for guests to use, stacks of cupboard space in the dorms and spacey lockers for valuables, some of which also contain charging points. There is a large kitchen and laundry area and the reception is manned twenty four hours a day.
live music in the bar
The Casa Quimbaya is currently the only hostel in the true sense of the word in Armenia and it is situated on a corner plot just one street back from the main road. From the front it looks like any other suburban house but if you go around the side you will find the entrance to the open air cafe and coffee shop. This large space is where you can buy breakfast (I recommend the Ranchero eggs), hot sandwiches, snacks, drinks and of course coffee. So many places in Colombia serve disappointing coffee – they export the best beans – but here at the Casa Quimbaya they sell decent stuff and they have daily recommendations written up on the blackboard.
Anyway, I digress. Our friends Mateo and Brian caught up with us and we set off to the local club, Sky Blue where me and M were treated like celebrities by a group of very sweet eighteen year olds who were desperate to practice their English and wanted to show off their salsa, reggaeton, merengue and bachata moves. If you don’t know bachata check it out – it is hard to keep a straight face dancing bachata whilst being grilled about European culture by an eighteen year old. And it was all washed down with a box of aguardiente which we shared. Aguardiente is an anise flavoured drink derived from sugar cane and on the scale of alcoholic drinks hovers somewhere between tequila and rum but is nowhere near as dangerous as raki (I only need to say ‘wheelchair’ to some people at this point!). Bizarrely it is sold in boxes like wine which I reckon is so that it doesn’t smash and spill when you fall over. Thanks to my super talented salsa teacher in Cali I was now capable of holding my own on the dance floor so I didn’t disgrace myself too much despite dancing until three in the morning.
the clever mural on the wall of the cafe
The Casa Quimbaya hostel has staff that really care. One of the owners, Diana has travelled extensively herself and this comes across in the ambiance that she creates. Diana told me that she believes that people have an energy and they leave some of it behind in the spaces that they inhabit. You can’t buy this energy but her hostel and her farm contain plenty of it. Previous travellers have put their stamp on the interior with some cool artwork including a massive mural of two Quimbaya people painted on the back wall of the coffee shop.
Parque de la Vida, Armenia
The following day we joined our friends and Mateo’s mum and went for a long walk around the Parque de la Vida. This huge public park has walkways and a river with terrapins and fish in it, cascadas and flowers, a forest, bird and plants. We wandered around at dusk with what seemed like half the town and half of the world population of mosquitoes.
In my next post I will tell you all about our stay at Diana’s new venture Casa Quimbaya Outdoors, our horse ride and our trek in Salento
cascada in the Parque de la Vida
Note:- Whilst I received complimentary accommodation at the Casa Quimbaya this did not influence my opinion or review in any way. I have portrayed an honest picture of my stay