Latin America has always been renowned for being home to some of the best coffee-growing countries in the world although up until a decade ago was not actually known to serve the best coffee in the world. As demand and prices for high-quality Colombian, Peruvian and Guatemalan beans skyrocketed, their home-growing countries were left with lower-grade leftovers as locals, among the poorest in the world, simply could not afford – or rather compete – with the kind of prices the rest of us were willing to pay. For years, local Latin Americans woke up to a cup of instant coffee served with a dash of sweetened evaporated milk. Visitors looking for a great cup of freshly brewed coffee could only get their fix in major cities and touristed hubs, where a few coffee shops catered for tourists who willing to pay more for better coffee. Yet things, over the last 15 years or so, have changed dramatically and the whole continent now boasts a myriad of sensational places where coffee lovers can indulge their taste buds.
The impressive rise of Latin America’s coffee culture has changed the scene dramatically. As more and more Latinos shift their taste buds away from their overly-sweet Nescafe tradition, we’ve seen a rise of specialist coffee shops catering specifically to locals, not just tourists. Even famous coffee-chains like Starbucks, for example, have tapped into the growing gap in the market. In countries like Chile, specialist coffee shops have literally exploded into action. In Santiago alone, Starbucks opened over 50 stores in the last 10 years and even though a supersized Frappuccino with almond essence may not be every coffee addict’s dream, it simply goes to show the kind of coffee revolution the continent is going through.
As we searched for the best destinations in Latin America for coffee lovers, we specifically looked for places that offer more than just a fabulous cup of Joe. From authentic coffee plantation tours to historic coffee houses and overnight stay in coffee farms, our favourite coffee-lovin’ spots are all located in some of the continent’s most splendid destinations, where you’ll find a wealth of highlights to discover and experience in-between those cups of coffee!
What better way to celebrate International Coffee Day, on the 1st October, then to add one of these fabulous places to your Latin America itinerary?
1. Lake Atitlan, GUATEMALA
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Revered for its superior quality and complexity of flavours, Guatemalan coffee is a step above the rest, arguably because many coffee fincas (plantations) still harvest beans in the most traditional of ways. The nation’s highlands are where you’ll want to head and – luckily for your – where you can experience the country’s long-held passion for coffee and discover some of the most magnificent landscapes in the entire continent. The most popular region for coffee lovers to visit is Lake Atitlan, a spectacular area framed by three volcanoes, close to the Pacific Ocean. Harvested during the first three months of the year, the Lake Atitlan coffee beans are renowned for producing full-bodied brews which are immensely flavoursome. They grow at altitudes of between 1200 and 1700m with the cooler temps making for more intense flavours. Water from the lake is used to hydrate farms and organic fertilizers are used instead of synthetic ones. Coffee beans are sun-dried and then shipped out for exports yet your chances to savour these incredible coffees, straight from the source, are numerous in Antigua and Lake Atitlan. Head out to San Juan to take a fantastic and in-depth tour of the organic cooperative farm at La Voz, where you can learn about the labour-intensive process of harvesting coffee. The women’s coop also offers beautiful hand-woven scarves, shawls and tablecloths (for that little stint of retail therapy you’ll no-doubt crave) and, considering the coop is made up mostly of women farmers, the proceeds have helped create a mother & child health clinic next door, which is wonderful to see. Learn all about the painstaking work that goes into traditional coffee making, enjoy a superb cuppa and make a difference to the lives of locals in Guatemala…what’s not to love about that?
Standing on top of a mountain at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
2. Café Tortoni, Buenos Aires, ARGENTINA
Experience tasteful coffee in Argentina.
Argentina’s capital has always been Latin America’s coffee capital and long before any neighbouring nation even knew of the existence of a ‘latte’, porteños were sipping macchiatos (called lagrimas) and café con leche like it was nobody’s business. The city has always offered the best coffee in the entire continent – mostly due to its influx of Italian immigrants – and visiting coffee-meccas like Café Tortoni (the oldest coffee house in Buenos Aires) is a rite of passage for every visiting coffee lover. Roasting and grinding its own beans since 1858, Café Tortoni isn’t just the place to get your morning fix. This Buenos Aires icon is drenched in illustrious history, having been the favoured meeting place for the city’s literary giants and philosophers throughout the 20, 30s and 40s. Since then, the café has attracted a bunch of famous characters: from Albert Einstein to Hillary Clinton, as well as local and international actors and celebrities. When spending a few days in Buenos Aires, a cortado at Tortoni is an absolute must, coffee lover or not. The basement serves as an authentic jazz and tango bar and, besides all of that, the café is simply drop-dead-gorgeous, having retained its traditional décor since its inception.
Drinking coffee in the famous Tortoni Cafe
3. The Coffee Triangle, COLOMBIA
Drink unforgettable coffee on our tours to Colombia.
Lying at the western end of the Andes Mountain Region, Colombia’s ‘Eje Cafetero’ (Coffee Triangle) is one of the country’s most beautiful regions and a UNESCO heritage-listed treasure of Mother Nature. It is here that some of the world’s very best coffee beans are grown and, aside from the coffee highlights, the region showcases absolutely stunning attributes. Breath-taking landscapes of rolling verdant hills, distinct architecture and welcoming locals are the main reasons Colombia’s Coffee Triangle is becoming increasingly popular with foreign visitors, not to mention the fact that there is SO much to experience here. Coffee has been harvested in this region since the mid-1800s with the sunny climate and rich volcanic soil proving ideal for coffee cultivation. The stunning city of Medellin (where you can become a barista for a day at Toucan Café) is the springboard for tours of the Coffee Triangle and, from here, you can visit the Colombian National Coffee Park (with in-house museum and theatre recounting the history of coffee growing in Colombia, a theme park and coffee garden to meander through) and the charming tows of Salento and Pijao with their characteristic architecture and abundance of coffee tours to working coffee farms, some of which also offer overnight accommodation for a truly immersive experience. Colombia’s Coffee Triangle is also a hub for hikers, nature lovers and birding enthusiasts. Include a day’s trek in the spectacular Los Nevados National Park, a visit to the Montezuma Nature Reserve and, if you’re looking for a truly special treat, a hot air balloon ride through this incredibly stunning region. Out here, a mouth-watering cup of tinto is the order of the day. Take a look-see at our Colombia Highlights tour and ask us how you can include a side-trip to vibrant Medellin so you can explore this incredible corner of the country.
Coffee hills on Colombia's coffee triangle
4. Amazonas, Lima, Cusco, PERU
Good coffee of Peru will make your holiday even better. Check our trips to Peru.
Peru may be internationally renowned for being the birthplace e of the mighty ancient Inca Empire and for boasting one of Latin America’s most impressive historical highlights (that wee little gem of Machu Picchu) yet avid coffee connoisseurs also know the country produces some of the best organic and fair-trade coffee of all. Alongside Buenos Aires, the main Peruvian cities of Lima, Cusco and Arequipa have been the trusted ‘real’ coffee refuelling stops for years although nowadays great brews – and excellent coffee farm tours – are becoming very popular outside these hubs. Revered for being brilliant growers of Arabica coffee, Peruvians traditionally love their fresh coffee made from concentrate, where boiling hot water is added to a crazy intense liquid essence (the kind a teaspoon can stand up in) to reach the desired strength. Cooperative farming is also hugely popular here – as in Colombia – and extensive and very interesting coffee plantation tours are offered in Rodrigues de Mendoza, where COOPARM comprises over 500 organic micro-farms. Coffee tours are offered in all major tourist areas nearby growing regions and include speciality coffee shop tours in Lima, the capital, and overnight coffee farm experiences in the famed Valley of the Incas outside Cusco. Don’t miss the town’s Museo del Café, a super cool coffee shop and restaurant that not only serves amazing brews but also offers workshops where you can learn more about the history of coffee growing in Peru and the art of making the perfect brew. Include both Lima and Cusco on an Andean Explorer tour and ask us about bespoke tours to Rodrigues de Mendoza.
Coffee beans in their raw form in Peru
At Viva Expeditions, we offer dedicated tours through Latin America and can create bespoke itineraries to take in the very best coffee lover’s highlights – be they infamous destinations like Guatemala, Argentina, Colombia and Peru – or hidden hubs like Chile, Uruguay and Cuba. So if you have a coffee addiction to feed and wish to explore some of the most incredible destinations on our planet where organic, fair-trade and world-class coffee is made, simply give us a call.
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