If I could have a friend from every country in the world my life would be complete. Nothing is better than experiencing the culture with a local, especially one whom is like a sister. This is how you find places you typically wouldn’t know existed. Locals know the true places, not the ones with mobs of tourists or lining the glossy pages of guidebooks. Typically, I am the group planner for every adventure, but when it came time to plan our trip to Colombia, I handed over the reins to our friend, Patty. The first places people generally explore in Colombia are Bogota, Medellin or Cartagena. Our first city was Pereira, which is where Patty spent every childhood summer, visiting family and friends. So this is where we showed up, ready to absorb the true Colombian culture.
We arrived fashionably late, thanks to a Viva Colombia airlines cancellation. However for the inconvenience they more than made up for the delay with a free round trip airfare (for which we have big plans…. a Salsa weekend in Cali). Patty greeted us at the airport with family and our hired transportation for the next two days, a 8 person van for $180 ($23pp). How I love South American prices! Patty had everything sorted and we arrived at Kolibri Hostel where we had booked the 6 bunk room for ourselves. Clean and with modern upgrades I could not have picked a better place to rest my head.
As quickly as possible we traded our travel leggings for swimsuits and flip flops and hustled downstairs to our waiting van driver. Our pressed time did not keep us from picking up a couple bottles of red wine for the drive, which the hostel gladly sold to us with a stack of plastic cups! The perfect evening had been planned, we were on our way to the hot springs. The Santa Rosa de Cabal area, is about one hour outside of Pereira. Here, several hot springs dot the side of the mountain and of course Patty had chosen the bougie-est of them all. Termales is the highest hot spring on the mountain, in theory you always want to visit the hot spring settled on the highest point, the water there is the purest. As we entered the lobby it was almost as we had stepped back in time, the decor was top to bottom traditional Colombian.
I love hot springs, there is no better way to spend an evening relaxing in the heated water than with cocktails. This particular hot spring had several pools which progressively get hotter, fueled by waterfalls gushing the geothermal heated water. On the furthest end of the spring is a waterfall plunging freezing cold water into the mix. If you dare, jump under this invigorating experience… which only two of us had the balls to try. The only thing that could possibly make the night better was empanadas, which guess what, are available in the cafeteria. It always amazes me how cafeterias or snack bars everywhere else in the world can serve such amazing food. Meanwhile in ‘merica we always settle for the soggy hot dog or burnt pizza.
We headed home for sleep, because the next day we were headed to the coffee park. I love coffee and I love rides, so image learning there is place in existence which combines the two for them, National Coffee Park. This entire amusement park is dedicated to the celebration of coffee, I love Colombia, seriously amazing. There are several packages available at various prices to enter the park. Of course we selected the full ride package, because we were going on every ride.
The park is beautifully manicured with immaculate green spaces. After a quick coffee with whiskey, because well it is us, we jumped on the gondola which expedited us down the section with the rides. Running full force we headed towards the go-carts, because that was the first thing we saw. Working in an insane pattern we snaked our way through the park, hitting every ride that wasn’t designed for someone under 4 feet. As the day grew hot, it was time for the log flume! All five girls piled into the plastic hollowed out log and belted out screams as we zoomed down the shoots; soaked! The boys watched from a distance, with some lame comment about not wanting to be wet– they suck anyways.
Our other goal for the day was to attend the performance which highlights the history of coffee in Colombia through song and dance. The production was amazing, especially the vivid costumes, the only possible improvement would have been beer sales! Time for lunch, the Patacon appeared delicious and we always try something new everyday; food in South America never disappoints. Maybe Guinea pig, but we dodged that bullet. Most of the group chose fried chicken. The Colombians have a thing about getting their hands greasy which is bound to happen with properly fried chicken. Each meal is sold with plastic gloves, now I would prefer to lick the last of the golden deliciousness off my fingers, but every culture has their thing. Still no beer available, this is pretty much the only issue we found with the whole park.
After lunch, we set out to finish our original quest. Here is where we encountered the two best rides we found all day. First the bumper boats, which involved 5 minutes of petty competitiveness trying to shove each other under the various fountains. Finally the roller coaster that we had noticed the bright red track peaking though the landscape all day; and it was time. We all ran up to the gates ready to experience the “biggest thrill” of the park. The ride was amazing, fast, drops, twists and turns and the best part… zero line, zero! So, we rode again and again; three of use rode the coaster five times. Why not, there was no wait and in the U.S. a similar coaster puts us waiting in the heat for hours.
We walked out of the park like we owned the joint; we had pretty much conquered our goal with the exception of kiddie rides, for once I was too tall. Our van transport picked us up at the exit, but not before Julie and I ran across the street to purchase as many beers as we could carry. It was a two hour drive to return, but what else did we have to do… and we had been deprived all day after all.
Because that was not enough action for one day, we later headed out to Circunvalar, which I imagine means “road of bars” in Spanish….am I close? Several amazing bars pumped full of salsa music lined the streets, our favorite was an eclectic little bar exclusively dedicated to shots called Mister Shots. Here is where the night gets fuzzy.
The next morning we jammed out of Pereira early headed for Medellin. Our group was large enough to make the price of renting a private van equilivant to individually buying tickets on a scheduled tourist bus. Traveling in a group often has its perks, in South America always shop around for ground transport, likely you can find an amazing deal.
It’s cities like Pereira that I crave to visit, they have a magical calmness to them, over the hectic bustle of your typical tourist haunts and major cities. This is why I prefer to see the country with a local, they will show you the true flavor of the country. And with that being said we are now accepting applications for you to be our friend and show us your country, we will not disappoint…just kidding, kinda!
Way too Wanderlust Recommends
Kolibri Hostel: Calle 4 #16-35 Circunvalar, Pereira Colombia +57 6 331 39 55 www.kolibrihostel.com
Termales: Calle 14 #15-52 Santa Rosa de Cabel-Risaralda www.termales.com.
National Coffee Park: Km 6 via Montenegro Pueblo Tapao, Montenegro Quindío, Colombia National Coffee Park (information though Wikipedia in English)
Mister Shots: Av Circunvalar 8-94, Pereira