31km (19 miles) from Pereira
Arriving in Filandia feels like you are being let in on a secret. While the town of Salento is firmly on the backpacker trail, Filandia doesn’t like to flaunt its charms. From the town’s picture perfect central plaza, a tidy mosaic of colorful streets lined with humble low-slung colonial homes trail off into valleys where horses, cows, and sheep graze at century-old fincas and dairy farms. The Templo La Inmaculada Concepción, built in 1905, and the oldest house in town, Droguería Bristol (Carrera 6 no. 4–07), are the town’s only real landmarks. Just outside Filandia, a large, rather bizarre, totally anachronistic mirador provides superb panoramic views of the mountains of Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados and the Cauca River valley. The joy of Filandia resides in a couple of hours meandering its picturesque streets, sitting in a bar, bakery, or cafe, and perhaps sharing a table with a cowboy, a suited politician, and maybe a gaggle of neatly turned out schoolchildren.
Founded in 1876, Filandia’s nonchalant air belies its turbulent history. The department of Quindío was at the epicenter of the brutal period known as La Violencia (1948–58), a civil war between Conservative and Liberal parties. Political leaders and right-wing paramilitaries encouraged Conservative-supporting peasants to appropriate the lands of Liberal-supporting peasants, which provoked a bloody civil war that resulted in the murder of more than 200,000 Colombians.
Before the violence of the 1940s, denizens of Filandia and Salento would paint their homes in red or blue to show their party affiliation. This all changed during La Violencia, when peasants would routinely storm rural towns, armed with machetes, to butcher members of the opposing political party; homes and businesses were swiftly repainted in a fanciful rainbow of colors so as not to betray the homeowner’s political leanings.
In a culturally egregious (and quite ludicrous) act, a staggering 122 pieces of gold, discovered in a tomb close to Filandia, were gifted to the Spanish Queen in 1893 by then Colombian president Carlos Holguín; it currently forms part of the collection at the Museum of America in Madrid. Colombia’s attempts to have the treasure repatriated on the grounds that it comprises cultural and archaeological heritage have, so far, proved futile.
If you are in town for lunch, Helena Adentro (Carrera 7a no. 8–01; tel. 320/665-9612; main courses from COP$17,000; Sun–Thurs noon–10pm, Fri and Sat noon–1am) serves solid Colombian classic dishes (with a fair few twists) in an eclectic and charming setting with lots of bamboo, flowers, fairy lights, and curious artifacts.
Unless you are coming from Armenia, outside of taking a taxi (COP$15,000–COP$20,000 from Salento), Filandia is not the easiest place to get to. There are frequent buses from Armenia (around 40 min.). You can catch a bus from Salento to Armenia and ask the driver to let you out at the main road intersection, where you wait for a bus to Filandia; they run approximately every 30 minutes.