A Destination Guide to Filming in Colombia: The Coffee Triangle
Chapter 4, The Coffee Triangle Filming Guide
If there’s one thing which Colombia is deservedly famed for, it’s world-class coffee. Of Colombia’s 32 departments, coffee is grown in over 20; however, the country’s top crop is most famously produced in the area known as the Coffee Triangle. This consists of the departments of Caldas, Risaralda, and Quindio (parts of southern Antioquia and northern Valle del Cauca departments are sometimes included as well).
The Coffee Triangle is located in the Central and Western Andes and divided by the Cauca River Valley. Although the eponymous coffee is best cultivated between 1600-1800masl, the region is made up of every ecosystem from dry Cauca Valley forest to high-Andean paramo, and everything in between. Although Caldas, Risaralda, and Quindio are three of Colombia’s smallest departments, together they form one of the most culturally and ecologically diverse parts of the country.
The three principal cities of the Coffee Triangle are Manizales, Armenia, and Pereira. All three of these cities have modern airports with regular connections to other major Colombian cities. Both Armenia and Pereira airports are also international, with flights from Fort Lauderdale arriving in Armenia, and Pereira connecting with Miami, New York, and Panama City.
It’s worth noting that, although Manizales airport is well-served by flights from Bogota and Medellin, its mountainous location means that flights are often delayed or rerouted to nearby Pereira (roughly one-and-a-half hours away by road). While delays such as these can be more frequent in Andean airports due to visibility issues, Pereira and Armenia airports suffer from fewer delays.
The Coffee Triangle is relatively small in area compared to other regions of Colombia, but mountainous terrain and two-lane highways can make for long journeys over even short distances. Having said that, road connections between the three main cities are good. When venturing further afield to small mountain villages, be prepared for variable road conditions and often winding drives (it’s always worth packing motion sickness medicine if you struggle with such conditions).
Two of Colombia’s most iconic modes of transport are also common in the Coffee Region: Jeep Willys and the colorful Chiva buses. Both are often used as public transport on rural roads, and the Jeeps are available for private hire in most towns.
WhereNext has filmed many projects in different parts of the Coffee Region and has contacts with local transport operators and private vans, making the logistics of planning a shoot in this area simple.
The climate in the Coffee Triangle is highly variable and largely dependent on altitude. The open plains and dry forests of the Cauca River Valley are generally hot and dry, while the high-altitude paramos of the Nevados National Park are characterized by high rainfall and often freezing temperatures. However, the climate of most cities and towns in the region is generally pleasant and warm, but with high levels of rainfall.
Therefore, while the average high temperature in Armenia is a fairly steady 27°C, with an average low of around 16°C, the city also receives, on average, about 2m of rainfall every year. This warm, wet climate is ideal for coffee production. Pereira is equally hot and wet, while the high-altitude Manizales differs somewhat, with an average high temperature of around 21°C and low of 12°C.
The driest months in the region are typically between July and August and December and February, with the heaviest rainfall occurs in April, October, and November.
Key Filming Locations
Filming in the Coffee Triangle gives foreign producers access to a huge range of different ecosystems, as well as a mix of Heritage Towns and cultural sites. The most commonly filmed area is the small town of Salento and the adjacent Cocora Valley, with its record-breaking giant wax palms. While Salento is picturesque and the Cocora Valley is visually stunning, it is worth looking further afield for more off-the-beaten-track areas which have been filmed less frequently. For example, the region also includes beautiful small towns like Salamina, Aguadas, Filandia, Marsella, and Pijao; all of which boast the colorful regional architecture – characterized by brightly colored doors and balconies on white-washed houses - and charm of Salento, with a fraction of the touristic crowds.
Similarly, the Samaria Valley near Salamina has three-times as many wax palms as the Cocora Valley and far fewer visitors. Other excellent natural locations for shooting include the moorlands and snow-capped volcanoes of the Nevados National Park, the cloud forests of Otun Quimbaya Reserve, and Tatama National Park.
There are many coffee farms that are open to the public and several local farmers who can guide you through the entire process, from plant to cup. Hacienda Venecia near Manizales is an example of a working coffee farm set in stunning landscapes and overlooked by a traditional coffee hacienda. For a more off-the-beaten-track coffee experience, the area around Pijao is known for small coffee farms, producing specialty coffee using traditional methods of production and harvesting.
WhereNext has worked on projects with Nescafe, filming with local coffee farmers and producers, and has detailed knowledge of how to film the coffee production process, as well as many contacts of local producers and farmers. For example, earlier this year WhereNext worked on a 3-day shoot at coffee farms in Risaralda department for Nescafe. The project involved filming Nescafe salespeople from the USA visiting local producers and learning in detail about the bean-to-cup process of Colombian coffee and exactly how much work goes into the coffee which they sell at home.
Despite being one of the smallest regions of Colombia, the Coffee Region is densely packed with distinct ecosystems, meaning that it is home to a huge amount of wildlife, particularly birdlife. Many of Colombia’s 80+ endemic bird species reside in the region, and most of them can be easily filmed by visiting several different reserves. Los Nevados National Park is home to the distinctive Buffy Helmetcrest hummingbird, as well as the giant Andean Condor, Colombia’s National Bird. Otun Quimbaya is another protected area where rarities such as the critically endangered Cauca Guan can be filmed; the gorgeous cloud forest surrounding the lodge is also one of the best places in Colombia to film Red Howler Monkeys in their natural habitat.
One of Colombia’s top birding sites is located to the west of Risaralda department: Montezuma Lodge, which has access to the forests of Tatama National Park. This park contains such rare endemic species as Munchique Wood-Wren, Chestnut-bellied Flowerpiercer, and the spectacular Gold-ringed Tanager. During the production of our feature-length film The Birders, WhereNext spent three days filming birds in this park and has worked closely with the owners of Montezuma Lodge.
For those wishing to film the normally shy and elusive family of birds known as antpittas, the area around Manizales is a dream come true. Rio Blanco Reserve has worm feeding-stations which attract four species of these odd, ground-dwelling birds, including the endemic Brown-banded Antpitta. Close by, the new reserve Hacienda El Bosque has feeding stations for Rufous Antpitta and the lovely Crescent-faced Antpitta (a species which is normally almost impossible to capture on film). It would be fair to say that the Coffee Triangle is one of the premier spots in Colombia in which to film birds.
The culture of the Coffee Triangle revolves around the little red beans which have made it famous: this area is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because the entire regional culture is closely connected to Coffee Production. The main coffee harvest in this region takes place between September and December, with another smaller harvest – known as the mitaca – taking place during the second quarter of the year. Filming during the harvest season is the perfect way to capture footage of the Colombian coffee culture in action, as thousands of pickers descend upon the region and the coffee plants are covered in bright red coffee cherries.
A visit to any small Coffee Triangle town allows you to film the traditional day-to-day life which is so unique to this part of Colombia: men in cowboy hats and ponchos, sipping coffee in the town square, women in traditional dress (these women are known locally as Chapoleras), coffee pickers looking for work and playing dominoes to pass the time. Small towns like Pijao, Buenavista, Filandia, and Marsella are excellent destinations to visit and film scenes such as these.
There are multiple festivals celebrated in the Coffee Triangle, but perhaps the most exciting and unique to film is Yipao. During these festivities – which traditionally take place in Armenia and Calarca, Quindio – people celebrate the Jeep Willys which have become such a part of the identity of the region. There are parades of the jeeps, stacked high with traditional decorations of the Coffee Region, and even stunt riding displays, where local daredevils perform audacious tricks in their jeeps. It’s chaotic, fun, slightly dangerous, and wonderfully Colombian.
The Colombian Coffee Region is one of the most iconic regions of Colombia; home to a vibrant coffee culture, diverse landscapes and wildlife and, of course, the best cup of coffee in the world, this is a location not be missed.