How much is coffee part of the culture here in Colombia? Well let’s just say they literally have a coffee theme park, and it’s twice as big as both Disneyland & California Adventure theme parks combined!
The Coffee Triangle:
Last week I flew with my friend and coffee guru, Evie Smith, to the coffee region of Colombia to visit this amusement park. This region is commonly known as the Coffee Triangle (or locally as “eje cafetero”). This is because it roughly has a triangular parameter with the northern point being the city of Manizales, the southern point being Armenia, and the western point is Periera.
What makes this region so ideal for coffee production is that there is plenty of farmable land while being in the middle of the Andes mountain range. The high elevation, easy hillsides to manage crops on, with rich volcanic soil provides the proper nutrients needed for quality but also to have space for scalability.
I could ride a bus for over 9 hours to get to the Coffee Triangle, or I could take a half hour flight from the domestic airport in Medellin to Armenia. It wasn’t much of a debate.
Parque Del Cafe:
A half hour away from the city of Armenia is the Colombian National Coffee Park (Parque Del Cafe). It’s either 237 or 308 acres; I’m not sure because their site lists both sizes. In any case, it far exceeds the size of Disneyland, since the two Disney parks are on a 160 acre lot.
The park is on the side of a large hill, with the entrance at the top of the hill that overlooks the park. The park is so massive that primary method of reaching the rest of the park is via gondolas that take you to the lower part of the park. There are two gondolas, which take you to the two parts of the park: the amusement park and the museum park.
The Amusement Park:
This park feel just like going to a standard Six Flags park, with numerous roller coasters, water rides, bumper cars, and a ferris wheel. The roller coasters were relatively short in duration, but they sure made up for it in speed. The Krater roller coaster has a 100 ft. straight drop, and reaches a speed of over 50 miles per hour.
It had all the rides, and it had plenty of space, but there were some things that stood out to us as we visited went on all the rides; most notably there were no lines! We had gotten to the park at 10:30am on a Saturday, and the first ride we went to had a 5 minute wait at the very most. We went to another roller coaster and jumped right in line for the next upcoming car. We definitely were not in Disneyland here.
Probably as a byproduct of not having long lines, we also noticed a lack of a narrative to these rides. We decided that we should create narratives that tell a coffee story with each of these rides, which then we felt convinced we should make a proposal to the park to hire us as consultants to help increase the coffee education throughout the park.
The short lines may actually be due to being an off season. Colombia has two different types of school term structures: the first begins in January/February and ends in November, the other is identical to the US in school begins at the end of August, and finishes in June. So perhaps for many, it was just a normal Saturday and not a summer Saturday. In addition, only a few of the signs had english translations, and in addition, there were almost no gringos that we saw there. It appears that this park isn’t that much of a tourist attraction for North Americans; little did they know they’d attract two coffee freaks.
One thing that was cool about the walks between rides was there were fields of coffee trees along either side of the path, and you could see thousands of these gorgeous red coffee cherries. Evie then informed me that it was all sun-grown coffee that was also being over-fertilized, so the quality of these cherries were assuredly going to be low quality. But they were wonderful for decorative appeal.
Coffee Museum Park
We heard there was going to be a play at the other side of the park, that was a performance about the history of the coffee farming culture in Colombia. Just to again demonstrate how big the park was, it took us over 15 minutes to walk from the amusement park to the theater.
The play was beautiful as each act had a narrator explain both in Spanish and English the historical element that was being displayed. There was acrobatics, ballet, and even some ceremonial sword fighting. It was a lovely display, but we couldn’t help but notice that it seemed to only show the positive side of the coffee history. It would have been helpful to see the extractive practices that have been put into place, and the abuse that the small rural farmers have had to endure over the years.
Model Coffee Farm
One of the nerdiest and wonderful parts of this park was they had a complete model coffee farm as part of the park. They had multiple stages that you could go to, where there would be someone that would walk you through one part of the farming process. There was a stage where they had just the initial coffee seedlings, and showed how based on the root structure, they could determine if that seedling was going to result in a healthy tree or not. Then they had fields with coffee trees at various stages of growth.
There were also model processing stages as well. We got to see a pulping machine, and showed how they recycle the fruit parts of the cherry get used as fertilizer for the farm. One of the most interesting parts was they showed different methods of coffee drying that farmers have used. There was just an open bed with coffee bean on it, which we were told that the problem with having the beans out in the open was that when it started to rain, it would take too long to cover them up. They then created this large drawer that had multiple coffee beds stacked on top of each other, that would pull out at increasing length, so they all could get sun exposure, but could close back up into the drawer. The problem with this method was that the farmer sometimes didn’t catch the weather change in time and it would start raining before they could close the drawers up. Many now have resorted to a covered elevated bed. It still allowed sunlight in, and the side covers can be removed, but it still shields against the rain.
The Long Way Back
If you were willing to walk around and not take the gondola, there were multiple paths back up the hill, and each had a different theme. There was one that had statues of many of the mythical creatures that are part of Colombian folklore. They also had a bamboo forest, since Colombia is one of the top bamboo-producing countries. Another was a coffee varietal tour that showed numerous types of coffee trees that are grown in Colombian, including a version of the Maragogipe coffee, called Maragogipe Amarillo. Maragogipe is also known as “Elephant Coffee Beans” because they are typically twice the size of most other coffee beans, but since these trees weren’t being used for actual production, the trees themselves were elephant-sized! The leaves were as big as our faces!
It was an incredible adventure, not just because our passion revolves around coffee, but the park itself was beautiful and there were so many fun activities to enjoy.