From butterfly house to local farms and coffee plantations, Calarca is a lovely, charming town in the Colombian coffee region of Quindio. Neighbour to the capital city of Armenia, its namesake traces to a legendary leader (cacique) of the Pijao tribe predating the present municipality that was founded only in 1886. But, do not be mistaken. The town is young, but the land is old and full of treasures. So, pay attention.
“The quality of life is in proportion, always, to the capacity for delight. The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention.” — Julia Cameron
Here is where one experiences the life of a coffee picker in traditional wear, savours the best chicken on a cart, and possibly befriend the beautiful female mayor of Calarca! Nature promises adventures for the thrill-seekers and rejuvenation for laid-back travellers. Whenever you are ready, here are some delightful experiences and things to do in Calarca, Quindio of Colombia:
Coffee Culture Tour at Recuca
Coffee plantations and tours are aplenty in Colombia but no one does it better than Recuca in Calarca. Upon arrival, one will be warmly welcome with a drink, and friendly ambassadors in traditional costumes will walk you through the coffee plantation. Relive the history of coffee here and learn the process from growth till end product. The fun part? Be prepared to dress as coffee pickers and dance your way to picking the right beans. At the end of the guided tour, savour freshly brewed coffee and learn to identify quality in a cup!
Tip: Check out the shop for some souvenirs unique to your Recuca experience!
Recuca (Recorrido De La Cultura Cafetera)
Address: Vereda Callelarga, municipality of Calarcá, Corregimiento of Barcelona. Located 20 minutes from Calarca or Armenia, by paved road, easy access and with a spectacular landscape.
Chicken on a cart (Pollo a La Carreta)
Located near Quindío Botanical Garden, this restaurant by the road appears at first glance to be in the middle of nowhere but pay attention! It is almost always a full house and for good reasons. The menu is extensive including traditional local dishes such as Bandeja Paisa (a filling plate of rice, pork, avocado, red beans, ground meat, chicharrón, fried egg, banana, sausage, arepa and the list goes on!), trucha (trout fish), etc. However, the specialty is Pollo a la carreta, which is your baked chicken served literally on a cart, albeit a small cute one.
While not many food in Colombia is worth raving, this is one restaurant that does things right! Tender with a smoky taste, the baked chicken is paired with well-seasoned salad. If you have been craving flavourful spices, the chili here is the best that you can get in the region.
Pollo a La Carreta
Address: Kilometro 3 Via Al Valle Calarca , Calarca, Colombia
Contact number: +57 315 4108635
Willy ride(s) in Calarca
While it is easy to navigate the Plaza de Bolivar - town center - on foot, many noteworthy places in Calarca such as Recuca will require travel in a vehicle. For those that don’t drive, a willy is your best choice. When in Quindio, this is one travel experience that you should not miss! These American Jeeps are extremely practical vehicles with an open trunk that can usually fit 12 people (or more) while navigating the steep hills in the Andes. Wait for the willy to be filled or offer to pay more to get the driver moving! Each experience on a willy is an exhilarating one!
Tip: Willys are available at the town center of Calarca, and if you happened to see one driving by, you may also flag to the driver for you to hop on.
Don’t miss the Yipao parade!
The willys, also known as ‘yipao’ or ‘mechanical mules’, have a fond spot in the hearts of Colombians, especially those in the coffee regions. These Jeeps were first introduced to Colombia after World War 2 where they found a home on the unpaved mountainous roads and carry a large group of people, sacks of harvested produce, livestock and even furniture during house moving!
Every year, Calarca hosts the National Coffee Festival (Fiesta Nacional Del Cafe) that includes a Yipao parade where locals pile everything they owned onto a willy and it is a sight to behold! In fact, Calarca once won the Guinness World Records for the “Longest Jeep Parade” with the participation of over 370 Willys! But if you cannot visit during the festival that usually happens in June or July, know that you can always bring home a miniature yipao memento from the shops at Plaza de Bolivar.
Arts in Bolivar Square (Plaza de Bolivar)
In every Colombian city and town, one will find a Bolivar Square (Plaza de Bolivar) right in the center of town where one will find an open space for social gatherings, a church, important monuments, and amenities such as hotels, shops and cafes. This is no different in Calarca, but pay attention to your surroundings! You will notice an artistic flair in the colonial buildings, colourful houses with the occasional street art and poetry because Calarca has been home to famous poets such as Luis Vidales and Baudilio Montoya.
Check out the House of Culture for some musical or dance performances and join a local festival such as the National Coffee Festival. You may just get lucky like me, and meet the inspirational and beautiful female mayor of Calarca - Mdm. Yenny Alexandra Trujillo Alzate!
Nature at Chorros de San Rafael
Located on the outskirts of Calarca, Chorros de San Rafael marks the meeting point of the San Rafael stream and the Santo Domingo river. The highlight of this natural landscape lies in the waterfalls at a height of ~50 meters, but the journey itself to the falls is a delight, as one hikes past local farm houses and discover native trees and random horses. Comfortable footwear is recommended as the hike takes at least 45 minutes from the Los Balsos estate.
For adventure seekers looking for bigger thrills, check out the Peñas Blancas park for rock climbing and hiking activities.
Quindío Botanical Garden (Jardín Botánico del Quindío)
Imagine walking through a sub-Andean forest just 10 minutes away from a bustling town and relaxing amidst flora and fauna. Opened since the year 2000, the Quindío Botanical Garden is a large, well-preserved environmental classroom that promises interesting lessons in heritage, environment and conservation. Unlike most Colombian attractions, this botanic garden offers a tour in English in addition to the local language. Each tour takes ~2.5 hours and is conducted by a volunteer guide, whose professionalism and knowledge will likely impress all visitors! These are people that truly care for the environment!
Interestingly, we learnt that ‘Matapalos’ (strangler trees/figs) are affectionately known as “mother-in-law’s hug” in local terms, expressing Colombian humour! If the sun is out, pay attention! Butterflies will be more lively, and you can interact with these beautiful winged-creatures in the butterfly garden. Looking for a different perspective or perhaps you are an avid birdwatcher? Head up to the 7-story lookout (mirador) tower and focus on the canopy of trees. You may catch a glimpse of a few of the >120 species of birds.
Tip: Quindío Botanical Garden is located about 10 minutes by drive or bus from Calarca. There are direct buses from Armenia, which takes about 20 minutes each way.
Quindío Botanical Garden
Address: Km 3 vía al Valle del Cauca, Calarcá, Quindío, Colombia
Website: [Quindío Botanical Garden](http://www.jardinbotanicoquindio.org/
Don’t miss Calarca in Quindio!
Nestled in the Colombian Andes along the Cordillera Central, Calarca is a land of coffee, poetry and nature. This second largest municipality of Quindio in Colombia has much to offer. So, pay attention in your Colombian travels before you overlook Quindio and Calarca - a gem in the making.
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