Shortly before the end of our studies in Colombia, we were invited to a professor’s home for a gathering and a friend asked the group, “What would you miss most about here?” It was an unexpected question, and I blurted, “the mountains and the people”.
It’s been almost 3 weeks since my return to Singapore. After being away for close to 6 months and immersed in a culture very different from that of my own, I found myself missing bits and pieces of the place I called ‘home’ not so long ago: Armenia, Colombia.
Located in the Andes region, this capital city of Quindio – the smallest department in Colombia (excluding San Andres) – is quite flat but wherever you go, a majestic mountain view is in sight. This is very different from the skyline of metropolitan Singapore. And I often wondered, if I were to return to Quindio, will these magnificent mountains still be around? Will they still look the same? While the tourism scene is not very developed in this central part of the country (which adds to its charms), there are plenty of reasons to visit Armenia and Quindio.
In case you have any doubts, Armenia is a city in Colombia. I am not referring to the country located between Europe and Asia. My Armenia is also known as Miracle City because of her resilience and ability to rebound after encountering a terrible 6.2-magnitude earthquake in 1999. The city was rebuilt and in recent years, it was one of the most visited tourist destinations in Colombia. Here’s sharing some visitors’ information (and reasons for my sentimentalism):
The city has (ahem) three main “roads” but…
If you are planning to visit Quindio, this is an ideal place for a stopover and day trips to other nearby municipals such as Circasia, Salento or Filandia.
Armenia city reminds me of Hamilton in New Zealand, in terms of their laid-back atmosphere and strategic location for easy accessibility to worthy travel destinations. It feels more like a small town, rather than a city (it only has three main “roads”!) but what it lacks in infrastructure and facilities, it makes up for it in other aspects, sometimes intangible.
Spanish is the main language spoken.
My professor (who taught us Spanish) often lamented, “… only 2% of the local population speaks English”. Before you start to feel intimidated about visiting a foreign destination that does not have much English speakers, know that you will get on fine with body language and … Google Translate. I didn’t know Spanish prior to my arrival, but I managed to get around fine, even taking public transport such as buses. Imagine paying 1,700 COP / 0.60 USD for per bus ride (regardless of distance).
The best thing is not the low costs but the courtesy of people.
You can see this in mundane daily routines. Greetings were exchanged with the bus driver upon boarding the bus and passengers shouted “thank you” before disembarking. Simple courtesy, but this is something lacking in many first-world countries, Singapore included.
People in the Quindio region are especially known for their friendliness and good nature.
This is the Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia.
There’s no better place to taste Colombian coffee or visit coffee farms. Recognised by UNESCO as part of the coffee cultural landscape of Colombia, Armenia boosts many cafes from recognised chains (no Starbucks!) to small, independent coffee joints.
While the cafe scene is not as sophisticated as Medellin or Cali, there’s an underlying charm to each cup of Quindio coffee that’s brewed with great sincerity. At the (flagship) Cafe Quindio Gourmet located in the city center, one can enjoy not just good food and coffee, but great hospitality from professional staff! It truly reflects its tagline “El Café del Corazón de Colombia” (the cafe from the heart of Colombia) and this cafe (there are two more smaller ones) can only be found in Armenia.
There are more good people than bad in this world, in Armenia too.
Colombia has always been tagged with the unfortunate image of being dangerous, and associated with drugs and crimes. Yes, there is some truth to that image, albeit a small and shrinking percentage. However, I feel that bad news travel faster and farther while some of the
boring good ones get overlooked easily. One afternoon, I was going for lunch and I carelessly left my phone in a restaurant. I ran back after 10 minutes, and fortunately, the staff helped me to keep it. Often, we’d hear about petty crimes such as thefts and robberies, but hey! There are good people too and this happened in Armenia, Quindio. Colombia!
It’s not the point, but Armenia and I share the same birthday.
It is not easy to write about places that I hold close to heart because while the mind tries to remain rational, the treacherous heart (sometimes) threatens to blind. Interestingly, I realised I have not written much about Singapore or Hamilton, places that I recognised as home at different periods of my life. However, I feel compelled to write about Colombia (that includes Armenia) and share this unpolished gem with more people in the world.
Being an advocate of “good things are meant to be shared”, I will be writing a series of articles on Colombia and Ecuador based on my experiences. These will be featured either here on Travelbeckons or Trip101. Feel free to leave me a message if you have any queries.