Here at See Colombia Travel we are passionate about showing the beauty and magic of Colombia to the world, and the list of remarkable destinations in this country makes that job easy to be honest: Tayrona, La Guajira, Amazonas, El Choco…the list could go for a whole blog post! However, an area that is often overlooked is Cundinamarca department, set in the Andes mountains surrounding Bogota. People often associate the whole area with the urban sprawl of the capital, which is a crucial error, because, in actual fact, Cundinamarca contains some of Colombia’s most unique and astonishing ecosystems.
Andes Ecotours is the brainchild of Andres and Chantelle, and is dedicated to showing tourists and travelers the remarkable environment to be found just a few hours outside Bogota, and often practically within the city limits! They offer a range of one-day and multi-day tours, including visits to Sumapaz(the world’s largest paramo), Chingaza National Park, Lake Guatavita and Chicaque National Park. All of these tours are designed so that visitors don’t just get to see these beautiful places, they also get to spend time and interact with the people who call them home, try local delicacies, and, above all, support sustainable and local enterprises.
Which brings me to the trip I took with Andes Ecotours recently on their most popular day-trip: the Coffee and Indian Rock Art tour to Tibacuy in the south of Cundinamarca. This tour does pretty much exactly what it describes, but is so much more than just a visit to a coffee plantation. But I’ll start at the beginning…after meeting at their offices in La Candelaria, our group was driven south of the city for a couple of hours (including a stop for juice in Silvania, formerly a prosperous coffee-driven economy). Andres, in spite of the fact that he was driving, was a fount of information, giving us fascinating information about the history of the area, it’s flora and fauna and it’s modern situation, precisely and in excellent English.
We arrived in Tibacuy, in the shadow of the sacred Cerro del Quinini, soon after, and were met my a local community member. Our group walked the beautiful trails through the forest to the first coffee farm and rock art piece, all the while learning about the plants, fruits and birds of the region. Our first stop was a remarkable, huge flat-topped rock, which when we climbed up it revealed an intricate network of ancient carvings by the Panche indigenous people who once populated the area. The rock art is delicate, so bare feet are required, but the company is also taking steps to raise money to allow professionals to properly clean and preserve these important pieces of national heritage. This was one of the many reasons I loved discovering this world with Andes Ecotours: rather than simply bringing in tourists for a profit, they are committed to improving the lives of those they work with, and preserving the ecosystems they visit.
It was then onto the coffee farms: both farms we visited were small, sustainably-run ones, with largely manual machinery, and simply delicious coffee! We were shown around the farms by their owners, treated to demonstrations of the process (and had a go ourselves), and finally able to try the fruits of their hard-work, with a steaming hot mug of coffee. All of this took place in stunning surroundings: lush green forests, filled with colorful birds of all shapes and sizes, with the magnificent Cerro del Quinini looming large in the distance.
In between these coffee farm visits we were treated to an excellent vegetarian lunch by another local community member. As someone who generally consumes a fair lot of meat, this lunch was a revelation to me: prepared with love and care, and with as many, if not more, flavors than most can manage to get from chicken, it was tasty and plentiful for a meager additional cost of 8000 COP. We finished the day off with a few rounds of tejo and some beers with our guides, and headed back to the metropolis.
It is at this stage that I have to mention APRENAT. But Chris, what’s that? Well, APRENAT is an acronym for the Asociacion de Protectores de los Recursos Naturales de Tibacuy (or Association of the Protectors of the Natural Resources of Tibacuy). This group is made up of the 10 families of coffee-growers living and working in the area, whose farms we visited and who served as our guides for the day. This group is a grassroots organization committed to preserving coffee culture in the area, protecting the local rock-art and conserving the natural beauty of the area. Their excellent coffee is for sale at the end of the tour, and is well-worth a purchase if only to support such an important cause. It’s very easy to overlook small, independent groups like this, but Andes Ecotours is working closely with APRENAT to help them develop their tourism potential and maximise their impact.
The entire trip was excellently organised, full of information and points-of-interest, and, as a coffee tour so far from ‘traditional’ coffee zones, a nice little surprise at the same time. I would highly recommend anyone visiting Colombia to take a few extra days in Bogota and visit some of Colombia’s most underdeveloped natural wonders with Andes Ecotours.
Practical Guide: Andes Ecotours is located Cra. 3 #12B-89 in La Candelaria. Their website with all tour info can be found here. The tour I took cost 125.000 COP.