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Colombia: Coffee + Tejo + Cocora Valley + Santuario Las Lajas

Updated: May 26, 2023

Near Salento in Colombia in the coffee triangle, I had been intrigued by these grandiose images of wax palms, measuring almost 60 meters and growing at full altitude. We were also finally able to play the famous Tejo game, Colombian national sport. Short stop also at Santuario Las Lajas near the border of Ecuador.

La Vallée de Cocora, Colombie
La Vallée de Cocora, Colombie

coffee triangle

What also brought me to these places was the coffee that Colombia produces there, Arabica. I had been buying fair trade coffee for years, but finally, maybe it was an opportunity to understand why I was doing it... Several tours are offered in this region and in the charming town of Filandia of 12,000 inhabitants, large production to what could be described as a small business, and I had obviously chosen the small one, believing that we would experience something a little more authentic. And what a good choice!

Our guide, Santiago, is 19 years old and speaks very good English, but we ask him to do the presentation in Spanish for the film and because we understand it. It's great because we are the only ones for the visit! This small coffee plantation company is very traditional, and we learn that their products are mainly grown for the inhabitants of the village of Filandia, but also exported worldwide. After visiting and understanding all the stages of cultivation, we will prepare our own coffee ourselves, freshly collected by hand by this family and dried on site. We remain amazed at the length of the process and the hard work it can entail… for just a few cups of coffee, it took us almost two hours to finally get to sit around the table for the tasting!

Cocora Valley

In love with extraordinary landscapes, I talk to my co-travelers about the Cocora Valley, where we find these 60 m high wax palms! I talk about it a little more in detail below because in the film AURORA, the images of the Cocora Valley are not accompanied by a narration. These are the moments that I call ''landscape music videos'': playful moments combined with music composed by Quebec musicians, to get lost in our thoughts, as we can sometimes do while traveling.

Vallée de Cocora, Colombie
Cocora Valley, Colombia

General admission to the site costs $1 CAD. If you want to climb a little further into the protected area, you still have to pay a little extra dollar. We learn that this palm is the official tree of Colombia, no less, and that the word Cocora means ''star of water'' in the pre-Columbian Quimbaya language. What is impressive about these palms, other than their supernatural height, is that they have managed to adapt to the altitude which rises between 1800 and 2400 m and the mountainous climate of min. 12 degrees and max. 25 degrees, while their cousins prefer the beach and the hot climate! The Ceroxylon quindiuense (wax palm) is threatened by overexploitation, but now fortunately protected. The fruit was used as food for farm animals, the leaves in Catholic celebrations, wax to make candles and the trunk to create hydraulic systems for poorer people. It was fascinating to film them swinging in the light wind of the valley, through the clouds. We had heard that there were two courses on this tour, but because of the altitude, and the relatively steep slope (and also, it must be said, the ton of tourists on the spot), we was a little discouraged to do another 3 hours of walking. But despite all that, I was very satisfied with the plans I was able to have.

La ''petite'' pente, Vallée de Cocora, Colombie
Cocora Valley, Colombia
Le panorama, Vallée de Cocora, Colombie
Cocora Valley, Colombia

El Tejo

More than once I spoke to you about the Tejo in my adventures without explaining to you what it was! Because I wanted to make a complete explanation about it! It's by far one of the most brilliant popular culture games I've had the chance to play in my life, I would gladly replace it against our famous petanque!

Small funny fact: we had made friends with the guide of the café, Santiago, and the proof that very often, we do not explore enough what our own country offers us... we thought that Colombians all knew how to play Tejo and we made a mistake! Santiago told us that it was the first time he played there, but not the last!

Colombian national sport, the Tejo is absolutely brilliant, you will not believe it; very simple principle resembling 'pockets' (a very Quebec term whose real name I have no idea...), except... instead of throwing a pocket of sand, you throw a large block of lead at a target of… gunpowder! I let you guess the following…

Excerpt (10sec.) from the film AURORA about the Tejo and what the game looks like (NB: put the sound on!) ↯

The Tejo is on several tourist routes in Colombia, but avoid them! The best is to mingle with local Colombians in the evening who love to gather and drink a beer around this cacophonous game! And as soon as you prove to them that you can detonate the target a few times... don't get too many ideas, you'll still be a Gringo, but they'll be happy that you like playing it!

No need to tell you where we spent all our evenings in Colombia!

Santuario Las Lajas

We were then about to cross the border to Ecuador! But before, I had insisted on making a small stop in Ipiales. From Filandia to Ipiales, you have to take a night bus of about 12 hours, for about $30 (depending on whether you have enough budget to take the seat beds, which I advise you anyway, we kept saying that we should take them, because you always sleep badly on the buses... finally every time we arrived to buy bus tickets, we always decided to take the lowest price...)

Little bonus stop here which is extremely worth it! The Santuario Las Lajas, an architectural marvel defying the laws of nature: the cathedral is built in the middle of a canyon, it's magnificent!

Santuario Las Lajas, Ipiales, Colombie
Santuario Las Lajas, Ipiales, Colombia

It is one of the most important pilgrimage centers in South America. The Colombians decided to build this neo-Gothic church because several events due to Providence would have occurred on these places. The legend says that a mute little girl, taken at the bottom of the canyon, would have miraculously found her voice.

Be sure to arrive a bit later in the afternoon to stay until sunset, when you'll have a dazzling light show.

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