One of the capital cities of Colombia’s Coffee Triangle, Pereira is set amongst rolling hills and green valleys on the edge of the Andes. With warm weather year round and immense biodiversity in the surrounding landscapes, it’s the perfect city for exploring nature as well as the local coffee plantations. There are mountains to climb, nature reserves for wildlife watching, and plenty of camping, hiking, and biking within arm’s reach.
While Pereira itself might not be that pretty of a city, it sits in one of the most beautiful regions of Colombia and makes a good base for exploring the nearby towns of Salento and Manizales. You’ll find a coffee-based amusement park, plenty of cafes where you can get your fill of the stuff, and tours to explore how the country’s major export is grown and produced.
Let’s have a look at the best things to do in Pereira:
1. Bike Tours
There’s no better way to explore Pereira and the surrounding coffee region than with a bike tour if you want to get outside and sneak in a little bit of exercise.
These tours are super popular because the guides give detailed insight into the destinations, culture, and wildlife.
RetroCiclas gets great reviews, and they’ll take you to some of the must-do sites around Pereira, whether you have one day or two weeks.
Using a combination of bikes and jeeps, you’ll visit nature reserves, coffee plantations, and visit smaller towns in the Colombian countryside that you might not see otherwise.
2. Parque del Café
An amusement park dedicated to coffee? Yep, located not too far away in the town of Quindio, you’ll find a whole theme park with rides, roller coasters, shows, games, and water attractions based on one of the country’s biggest crops.
Oh, and there are several cafes and restaurants where you can grab a cup of brew here too.
There’s an interactive coffee museum, trails through forested landscapes, and horseback rides, but the biggest attraction is the popular Coffee Show (Show del Café). It features talented performers showcasing local traditions, indigenous dances, and the music of the region with brilliant costumes, choreography, and stories.
3. Plaza Bolívar and the Catedral La Señora de Nuestra Pobreza
Another Latin American square dedicated to “El Libertador,” this Plaza Bolívar is a place where people meet up to socialize, play chess, get their shoes shined, and grab something to eat from the street vendors.
One key difference in Pereira: the statue of Simon Bolivar, while still on horseback, is naked like a Greek god.
After you’ve had a glimpse, wander into the Catedral La Señora de Nuestra Pobreza to see its impressively high ceilings supported by intricate woodwork.
A feat of engineering, the interior is austere rather than ornate, making it a rarity among Catholic churches in this neck of the woods.
4. Lake Otún
Located in the Parque Nacional Los Nevados, get out and visit Lake Otún, one of Pereira’s sources of freshwater.
Bring a fishing rod (or rent one) to try your hand at catching rainbow trout.
The lake is also an important habitat for many endangered Colombian species of birds, so you can try to spot them here.
You can camp around the lake if you want to spend the night, but remember the higher altitude makes it much cooler here! Take some hikes to viewpoints and check out all the interesting plants that make up the unique Páramo ecosystem.
There are many trails to attempt here – lots of visitors do a multi-day hike (staying in refugios) from El Cedral to La Pastora to El Jordan, with the arrival at Laguna del Otún as the final stop.
5. Buy Some Tailor-Made Clothing
There’s a huge clothing industry in Pereira, with big brands like Arturo Calle, Costa Azul, and Gino Pascalli all based here.
But even in the face of huge factories, this Colombian city retains the longtime tradition of making bespoke clothes.
If you’re not into shopping at the big stores, visit a mom and pop tailor shop for clothes made specifically to fit your body.
Check out Donnotto’s, where the owner has been in the business of clothing and dressmaking for many years.
He can measure and create pants, suits, and dresses within a few days, even adding in custom details like secret pockets.
6. Plaza de Mercado Minorista
It’s weird, it’s interesting, and it’s filled with everything from exotic fruit to live animals.
Pereira’s biggest market (also known as Plaza Mercado de La 40) is the perfect place to see an authentic part of the city and take great photographs.
Go in the early morning when most stalls are open and prices are competitive.
Everyone shops here, from little old ladies to restaurant owners to old men in ponchos carrying machetes to young, hip Colombians.
It’s located near Calle 40 and Avenida 30 de Agosto, and there are lots of cheap places to try typical Colombian foods nearby.
7. Nevado Santa Isabel
Another gorgeous site within Los Nevados National Park, go hiking up or around Santa Isabel, a shield volcano.
You can even reach the snowy summit if you love trekking and have a day to spare.
This hike is perfect if you’re interested in seeing the volcanic landscape, the páramo, and the interesting plant species like frailejones shrubs and cojines cushion plants.
These hikes aren’t for the faint of heart as the altitude is no joke, so be sure to acclimatize nearby for at least a day or two.
You can organize a tour – Ecosistemas is popular – if you want to do this 5 hour trek with a guide, transport, and meals all included.
8. Take a Coffee Tour
One of the main attractions of the coffee region is seeing how Colombia’s key export is made and then drinking some of the final product.
There are tons of fincas or farms where you can take tours to see how the owners grow, pick, dry, and process the coffee beans, and almost all of them culminate in a nice cup of Colombian brew.
You can DIY it by heading out to one of the farms like Don Manolo where they lead two tours per day to show you around their lush estate.
Or if you want to hit multiple producers and villages, you can book with a company like Viator that’ll provide transport out to Quindio, Pijao, or Santa Rosa de Cabal for tours and tastings.
9. Parque Regional Natural Ucumari
A natural reserve that’s filled with waterfalls, lush greenery, and miles of walking trails, this is the place for you if you enjoy spending time in nature.
Just southeast of the city, it contains a range of rustic but comfortable accommodations, from cabins to hostel beds to camping spots, all set in the middle of the wilderness.
Entry to the actual reserve is free, but you’ll have to arrive on foot via a six-kilometer trail from El Cedral – it’s worth it though! You can purchase meals here and relax by the fire at night while drinking hot chocolate and listening to animal sounds.
10. Take a Day Trip to the Cocora Valley and Salento
Pereira’s smaller and seemingly more popular little cousin, the village of Salento receives a ton of tourists for its proximity to the Valle de Cocora.
Even if you’re not staying there, be sure to make your way out to Salento to see these giant wax palms in the middle of the bright green valley.
They’re the iconic postcard image of Colombia’s coffee region and a sight to behold, whether or not you do the five-hour hike through the valley and into the cloud forest.
Afterwards, swing by the village to see Salento’s charming and colorful main square and have a meal of fresh trout.
11. Cafe Culture
You’re in the coffee region, so what better place to immerse yourself in a city’s cafe culture? In the past, rumor has it so many beans were exported that Colombians weren’t actually drinking too much of the quality stuff.
But a new wave of millennials and younger coffee producers are changing that by sourcing the best beans for independently owned coffee shops around Pereira.
So after you’ve tried Juan Valdez (the Colombian version of Starbucks, but better), hit some of the cool cafes for a really nice cup of joe… or fancy coffee drink.
El Barista, Cafetalex, Veredal , and Toranj are all good bets.
Then be sure to check out the colorful coffee jeeps on the side of the road because they serve up the freshest beans straight from the farm.
12. Otun Quimbaya Flora and Fauna Sanctuary
To get a glimpse of Colombia’s incredible biodiversity, check out this 489-hectare nature reserve southeast of Pereira (accessible via chiva bus). Otun Quimbaya has more than 300 species of birds, as well as two kinds of monkeys and tons of butterflies.
There are lots of hiking trails in the forests here, and you can even hire a guide to take a night walk when the wildlife is at its most active.
If you want to stay here, rooms have balconies that open up to the forest – your days will be filled with birdsong and animal sounds.
13. Visit Manizales
Just over an hour away from Pereira, you’ll find Manizales – “The City of Open Doors” – which is full of friendly people, universities, and the rolling hills of the Coffee Triangle.
Stay in El Cable, the commercial and nightlife center of the city and explore the hip bars and restaurants from there.
The city also has several hot springs, plazas, cable cars, an enormous cathedral, and a local soccer team, the Once Caldas.
Be sure to walk through Chipre, the highest point of the city, where you’ll have a great view of five different Colombian departments from up near the Fundadores Monument.
While in Pereira, you’ll obviously be drinking lots of coffee, but you should also try the traditional foods of Antioquia.
This includes mondongo, a hearty stew of tripe and vegetables, as well as the ubiquitous arepas, corn flour discs that are often filled with cheese.
Bandeja paisa is perhaps the most famous dish of the region.
It’s a gut-busting platter of meats like sausage and chicharron, beans, an egg, and an avocado thrown in for good measure.
La Ruana serves up traditional Colombian fare and a great bandeja paisa, but for something a little more elevated, check out La Latina.
If you’re feeling like a big steak served alongside your arepas, visit Rio y Carbon
15. Pereira Art Museum
If you’re an art lover, make a stop at the Pereira Art Museum for a wander through its four exhibition halls, audiovisual room, and movie theater.
Entry is free, and there’s also a library where you can relax and read.
It’s mostly contemporary artwork, and they frequently show independent films and host lectures here too.
The museum serves as a cultural space for the center, so check their Facebook page to see what events are coming up.