Nominally a slang term to describe anyone from the mountainous region of Antioquia, paisas are alternately the butt of jokes and the object of envy for many Colombians. What makes them stand out is their rugged individualism and reputation for industriousness. Their fame dates back to the early nineteenth century, when they cleared Colombia’s hinterland for farming in exchange for the government’s carrot of free land. Perhaps the biggest paisa contribution to Colombia is its role in the spread of coffee.
The heart of paisa country is the metropolis of Medellín, which has made a remarkable turnaround since its days as Colombia’s murder capital in the early 1990s, and turned into an attractive cosmopolitan city. The picturesque coffee-growing fincas near the modern cities of Manizales and Pereira were almost all established by paisa homesteaders and some growers have opened their estates to tourists, who during harvest time can partake in the picking process. Easily accessible from Pereira, the incredibly photogenic village of Salento is the gateway to some great hiking in the misty Valle de Cócora. The so-called Zona Cafetera, or “Coffee Zone”, is the base for exploring one of Colombia’s most postcard-perfect national parks, Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados.