211km (131 miles) S from Medellín
Capital of the department of Risaralda, with a population just shy of half a million, Pereira is a lively hub for exploring Colombia’s coffee triangle and getting under the skin of traditional Antioquian rituals. Since the city was founded in 1863, it has been repeatedly devastated by earthquakes—the last major earthquake occurred in 1999 and killed more than 1,000 people. Certainly, Pereira is hardly a beauty with its prosaic architectural mishmash of civic and cultural structures. On the city periphery, factories and warehouses testify to the city’s thrusting manufacturing prowess, and its status as the region’s economic powerhouse.
While it may be low on sights and cultural attractions, there is a buzz and self-confidence to Pereira that’s hard not to appreciate. Built on the site of the Spanish colonial city of Cartago Viejo (abandoned in 1691), Pereira prides itself on its spirit of inclusivity; in the 1950s, during the period known as La Violencia, Pereira provided shelter to thousands of Colombians displaced by sectarian violence. The city is also known as the birthplace of César Gaviria, Colombia’s 40th president (1990–94), who led the fight against the Medellín and Cali cartels. Gaviria was the target of successive attacks by Escobar; he should have been a passenger on the Avianca flight to Cali, which the drug lord bombed.