Far more slow-paced than its rivals, Armenia is the most traditional of the cities in the Zona Cafetera and feels more like a big town than a departmental capital. Its residents are proud of their coffee culture – and are never too busy to enjoy a cup in one of the city's many small cafes. Like its neighbors, there is not much in the way of attractions here for visitors.
Hardworking Pereira is not your typical tourist destination. In fact it's not really a tourist destination at all. Almost all visitors to Pereira come for one thing – to do business. Founded in 1863, Pereira is the capital of Risaralda and the economic powerhouse of the Zona Cafetera – a hot industrial center most noted for its traffic and throbbing nightlife.
Set amid gorgeous green mountains 24km northeast of Armenia, this small town survives on coffee production, trout farming and, increasingly, tourists, who are drawn by its quaint streets, typical paisa architecture, and proximity to the spectacular Valle de Cocora. It was founded in 1850, and is one of the oldest towns in Quindío.
Tiny Quindío packs plenty into its modest boundaries with fantastic rural accommodation options, one of Colombia's best botanical gardens and fun theme parks that appeal to visitors of all ages. Coffee-farm tourism began here, and there are hundreds of fincas catering to a variety of tastes, mostly Colombian. Numerous publications catalog and rate them.
Parque Nacional Natural (PNN) Los Nevados
Following a spine of snow-covered volcanic peaks, this 583-sq-km national park provides access to some of the most stunning stretches of the Colombian Andes. Its varied altitude range encompasses everything from humid cloud forests and páramo to glaciers on the highest peaks.
Termales San Vicente
Set at the head of a steep, forested valley and straddling a cold creek, these newer thermal pools are 18km east of Santa Rosa de Cabal but feel a world away. There are five thermal pools (37°C), two of which are reserved for hotel guests. Most visitors hang around in the concrete main pool, but the natural Piscina de las Burbujas near the entrance is far nicer.
Established in 1984 just outside the western boundaries of the Parque Nacional Natural (PNN) Los Nevados, this 42-sq-km reserve protects a rugged, forested land around the middle course of the Río Otún, about 30km southeast of Pereira. More than 185 species of bird have been recorded here. From here you can hike up Río Otún, leading through a gorge to PNN Los Nevados.
Valle de Cocora
In a country full of beautiful landscapes, Cocora is one of the most striking. The valley stretches east of Salento into the lower reaches of PNN Los Nevados, with a broad, green valley framed by sharp peaks. Everywhere you'll see palma de cera (wax palm), the largest palm in the world (up to 60m tall). It's Colombia's national tree.
Parque Nacional Del Café
This theme park has a rollercoaster and a waterslide, a small coffee museum, bumper cars and a horseback-riding trail. At the entrance is an 18m-high lookout tower that has great views over Armenia. A cable car offers bird's-eye views of the park, and links the museum with a re-creation of a typical Quindian town. Don't go if it's raining, as most attractions are outdoors.