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Colombia's Culture Goes Far Beyond Coffee, But That's Good, Too

Santiago Duarte
The Salt Cathedral, near Bogota, was carved out of an old salt mine. Today it's a hot spot for visitors.

Craig Holt knows coffee.

In 1997, he started the Seattle-based Atlas Coffee Importers. Now, he travels to do business in coffee-growing regions of the world. One of those places is Colombia, in South America.

“You’re given this impression from the media that you’re going to step off the plane, a bomb is going to go off, you’re going to be kidnapped and sitting in a coca field within 10 minutes,” he said. “Right away it becomes very clear that the media has only given you the worst of what that place has to offer in this case.”

The drug story might be the news from Colombia, but day-to-day life is far from the metaphorical and literal danger zone we see in the headlines.

Three Recommendations

Holt says Colombia is a great place to vacation. Here are his favorite stops:

1. Cartagena

Founded in 1533, this walled city is a UN World Heritage site. You can tour the cultural history of the region or hit the beach, where snorkeling, SCUBA diving, and hang-gliding are all available.

2. Medellin

The city sits in the bottom of a valley, and is known as “the land of eternal spring.”

“It looks like jewels strung up the valley,” Holt said.

This is also the birthplace of Fernando Botero. The Colombian artist is considered a national cultural treasure. His work is on display at the Museo de Antioquia here. Medellin is also one of the coffee growing regions of Colombia.

3. Bogota

"You’re near the equator, but you’re at 8,500 feet, so it’s very cool,” Holt said. “It’s a modern city with some great history.” Check out the Gold Museum, and the nearby Salt Cathedral. It’s an old salt mine near the city that was eventually carved into a church.

Coffee, anyone?

One of the quintessential parts of Colombian culture is its coffee. In Bogota, there are some great places to visit.

Amor Perfecto. Operated by Luis Velez, the name translates to “Perfect Love” in English. “That’s something to live up to in terms of the coffee experience,” Holt said. “He does a great job.”

Catacion Publica. Or “Public Tasting” in English. “That guy is one of those great insane coffee people who’s so into it, it’s almost frightening.”

Café Juan Valdez. Named for the character created to market Colombian coffee, these cafes have a lot of outdoors eating. “You can ride your bike, pull up to the Café Juan Valdez, have a great macchiato, and watch the people go by.”


Going Places is KPLU's weekly exploration of travel, from destinations around the globe to quick getaways nearby. It's hosted by Matthew Brumley, co-founder of Earthbound Expeditions, which provides small-group travel to clients including KPLU. This week, we heard from special guest Craig Holt, founder of Atlas Coffee Importers in Seattle.

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.