The coffee region in Colombia remains Andy’s favourite part of the country. Imagine rolling green valleys, colourfully-painted balconies and little old men wearing traditional hats riding their horses down country paths. Oh, and the occasional howler monkey, too. As Salento picks up more and more momentum in Quindío tourism, Filandia is fast becoming a peaceful alternative where life feels more natural. For now (at the time of writing), it has a touch of tourism but nothing major, and there are no tourist coaches or obvious organised tours. This guide aims to help you decide whether to visit Salento or Filandia, then where to stay, where to eat, and what to do in Filandia, Colombia’s alternative coffee town.
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Should you visit Salento or Filandia, Colombia?
Well, isn’t that the golden question? The most well-known Colombian coffee region town of Salento has had a few years to come to terms with the increased interest from international tourists and prepare accordingly. So far, they’re doing a pretty good job of updating their infrastructure to keep up with the demand. Salento is the town written in all the travel guide books and blogs, so it’s the number 1 destination for tourists in Colombia’s coffee region – in fact, it’s now the third most visited place in Colombia. Things will therefore go generally more smoothly in Salento than in Filandia, and there will be more options for accommodation, food and tours (check some out here!).
However, if you’re looking to escape the mass tourism, Filandia is a much more chilled alternative, which has been heard of by tourists but is rarely actually visited en masse. There’s certainly enough there to keep you occupied, but things are less polished, and the town is not as pristine all the way to edges as Salento is, but Filandia is in no way unsafe. Due to less tourism, things do tend to be cheaper in Filandia compared to Salento. We see the question of Salento or Filandia as mainly down to the level of raw Colombia you want to delve into. You can see our time spent in both Salento, Filandia and Cocora Valley during our second visit in April 2019, here:
Other towns in Colombia’s coffee region that aren’t Salento or Filandia
We have visited a few other towns in the area to try and get a grasp of real life in Quindío, a) because it’s interesting and b) because Salento had us wondering how much of the vibrant colour was put on for tourism. Honestly, Salento and Filandia have most of the tourism for good reason – other coffee region towns such as Circasia have a bit of the colour splash but aren’t half as well maintained, and the vibe is less welcoming. If you really want to dodge the crowds, check out Pijao or Quimbaya. Lots of people enjoy a visit to Manizales up in Caldas, but this is a pretty sprawling city compared with the colourful pueblos of Salento and Filandia.
Things to do in Filandia, Colombia
Check out the view
Not to be missed is looking out over the valley views from Filandia; Colombia shows its true beauty from here. There are many points in which to do this, the most established being the Mirador Colina Iluminada, just outside of the South-West of town. This is sort of like a treehouse without the tree, and costs 8000 to enter. For a free viewpoint, head through the market and to the balcony at Casa del Mirador. This area is one of the few parts of Filandia built with tourists in mind, but that makes it no less quaint, somehow. This is also the place to pick up coffee region souvenirs, and will be cheaper than buying them in Salento.
Take the road from Filandia to Quimbaya
Another quaint town in near Filandia in Colombia’s coffee region, Quimbaya sits about 17km to the South-West. The countryside in this area is really peaceful, and the roads tend not to be too busy, so it’s a perfect place to take a bike ride on a sunny day then explore the pueblo. Willy jeeps go to Quimabaya from Filandia’s main plaza and back for 4000 COP. If you get tired and don’t fancy the ride home, you can attach your bike to a Willy for an extra 2000 COP.
Learn about coffee on a finca tour
There’s a reason Salento has built up the tourism and Filandia has lagged behind, and that’s mainly due to its proximity to visitor-ready coffee farms. There are a couple of coffee tours around Filandia, but we preferred to stick to the ones closer to Salento because they are higher rated and less expensive. We’ve now done 3 coffee tours in Salento during our multiple visits to Quindío, you can see a full breakdown of which are best in our complete guide to Salento.
If you want to find something nearer to Filandia, you have the option of Finca El Mirador, which is reservation only and includes a whole hour of coffee tasting after the hour tour, so you can expect it to go as in-depth as wine tasting for any coffee connoisseurs out there. However, for 50,000 COP for just the tour and an extra 25,000 for tasting, this is up there with the most expensive coffee tours in the area.
You’ve come to Filandia instead of Salento to relax in authentic small town Colombia, right? So do it! Sit with a café tinto in the park of the main plaza and just watch the world go by. Buy some obleas or empanadas and fresh fruit juice at the little wooden stalls, and soak up the pavement culture around you.
Refresh yourself in Las Casadas Dobles
About a 90 minute walk from the centre of Filandia, in the direction of Chapinero, you can find Las Cascadas Dobles, or ‘the double waterfalls’. Unsurprisingly, these are two waterfalls close together, pouring into a refreshing natural pool. Las Cascadas Dobles lie on private farmland, but for 6000 COP the owners are comfortable with travellers hiking through their hills, past their cows. Las Cascadas Dobles do not exist on Google Maps, so you’ll need to rely on information from your accommodation host and directions from locals to get there.
Hike the Cocora Valley (or just have a wee look)
It would be a shame to be in the Quindío area without checking out the world’s tallest palm trees in Cocora Valley! Whilst most people opt for the longer 5-hour hike which takes you all around the valley itself, there is a shorter 1 hour hike available with similarly rewarding views, and you can even just sit in one of the cafés that have recently been built towards the entrance of the hike if you’re not in a fit physical/mental state to walk uphill for so long. If you are going to do the 5-hour hike, don’t forget to read our guide to not hiking the wrong mountian in the Cocora Valley first. It will make your life a lot easier!
The entrance to the Cocora Valley park is a 30km drive away from the centre of Filandia. If you have a car, the road to the palm trees is smooth and you can park at the entrance to the Cocora Valley park, if not, you can arrange a willy jeep to take you from the main plaza.
Day trip to Salento
Even though you’ve chosen Filandia over Salento, the main attraction is still 100% worth a visit. There’s a lot more going on over there, and plenty to keep you occupied. Make sure you’ve read our full guide to Salento before going. There is no direct bus between Salento and Filandia. You instead need to jump on the bus out of town and tell the driver to drop you at the pick-up point for the bus that goes to Salento. You can also jump on a half-hour ride on a Willy jeep from Filandia to Salento for 5500 COP per person – check in the square for the latest times, they usually leave once every 1-2 hours.
Where to stay in Filandia: Colombian traditional houses galore!
While there are over 250 accommodation options in nearby Salento, Filandia doesn’t have such a wealth of choices. There are several little hostels in town which have got the right kind of vibe to go far, such as Bidea Hostel which seems to be the best rating to price ratio (and offers free bike hire), and Mythos Hostel which has a very traditional style and sits right on the main plaza. If you’re travelling in a bigger group, or you want to spend a little more, check out Casa Campestre la Montaña. This beautiful wood-beamed house with uninterrupted valley views is owned by the wonderfully jolly Gloria, who can be contacted here (Spanish only): email@example.com. Rooms cost in the range of £50-75pp per night including breakfast.
Where to eat in Filandia
Everyone – eveeeeerryyyonnnne – immediately recommends Helena Adentro, which is the top-rated restaurant in the whole region, and does indeed live up to the hype. It’s a restaurant serving traditional Colombian food with gourmet twists. However, first on our list of where to eat in Filandia is José Fernando, a grand-looking restaurant one block from the main square, on Carrera 5 #8. The food is divine, and the setting stunning. Based on the incredible décor (hello, garden courtyard), level of service and quality of food we received at José Fernando, we would have expected to pay biggggggg bucks, but in fact we spent £12 each including a nice wine.
Newly opened in Filandia is a Mexican restaurant called Fogón Azteca. The family who run it are from northern Mexico, and welcomed us so warmly that we felt like we were home. The tacos and quesadillas are excellent, and the limonada de coco is a must-try!
To eat with a view of the valley and Armenia off in the distance, head down to Carrera 9 on the edge of Filandia. There are a few restaurants to choose from down here, including Cultivar Café and something more casual at one of the restaurants in the previously-mentioned Casa del Mirador.
For a beer in Filandia, the best place to be is on the main square. Although there are many little bars and convenience stores in which to plonk yourself down with a bottle of Águila, our favourite by far was Claudia Bar attached to Hotel Tibouchina. Again, this was mostly down to the incredible welcome we received from the owner, but the balcony upstairs also provides an excellent people watching point directly opposite the church.
Do you need a car to visit Filandia, Colombia?
Not necessarily, though it would certainly help. If you’re planning on staying outside the town, getting a hire car in Filandia is a must as the roads are very rural and buses don’t pass often – if at all on some roads. A 4×4 would be ideal, but if you’re careful a normal car will survive the rocky roads.
Though to you can a bus directly to Filandia from Pereira or Armenia, there is no direct bus between Salento and Filandia. You instead need to jump on the bus out of town and tell the driver to drop you at the pick-up point for the bus that goes to Salento. You can also privately organise a quick ride on a Willy jeep from Filandia to Salento and other surrounding pueblos/fincas. Public transport options in Filandia are still pretty sparse for how many people the town receives. We get the impression that tourism has grown a little faster than the infrastructure has been able to cater for, though they are definitely trying to keep up.
Most parking in Filandia town centre is free, though if you park on weekends, holidays or very near the centre you can expect a little parking assistant to help you line up, then ask for a small fee (often just a propina of 2-4000 COP) to watch your car for you while you’re gone. It may not look official, but it’s a fee that you should pay as local drivers always respect the request.
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