Earlier this month I was fortunate enough to take part in an exquisitely designed yoga and coffee retreat planned by Eliesha of Yoga Love Colombia. (She and I are planning a collaborative offering later this year in Colombia—enter your email address to be notified as that develops!)
The retreat was themed according to the elements of earth, water, fire, and air. Each day's yoga classes and activities related to the theme for that day. Special gifts in our welcome baskets tied the four elements together and provided a lasting keepsake that let us bring the spirit of the retreat home with us. This was just one of many small, thoughtful touches, and I can't say enough about what an attentive and supportive hostess/facilitator Eliesha is!
The retreat took place on a coffee farm with beautiful grounds that provided a wonderful setting just to explore, relax, and admire the views.
Located in the mountains in Colombia (near Manizales and the somewhat larger airports of Armenia/El Edén and Pereira), the farm offers two lodging options: the main house, which felt similar to a bed and breakfast (built and preserved in a historic style, decorated with family photos and ornate furniture), and the coffee lodge, where we stayed. The coffee lodge was built more recently in a modern style, and while simple, it had all the modern conveniences (wifi, en suite bathrooms) along with plenty of cute and charming touches—it definitely didn't lack personality! The main house might be where I'd stay if I were here for my honeymoon, but otherwise I'd go with the coffee lodge—such a comfortable and cozy place to hang out!
All of our meals were cooked in the kitchen on site, made fresh by the staff and served family style. The food was delicious, and Eliesha had made sure we got a vegetable and/or salad at every meal (along with protein and carbs). I know they also were accommodating for vegetarian, dairy-free and other special diets. The best part was the fresh juices at every meal!
In general, the schedule was to begin the day with a yoga class, then eat breakfast, then prepare for the day's main activity, which would take place from 9 or 10 until noon or 1. The time after lunch was free until the pre-dinner yoga class. We generally lingered over dinner and went to bed right after—sometimes a little earlier, sometimes a little later.
Our group shared the coffee lodge with vacationers, and because of this the vibe was pretty jovial and social, but most of the travelers were on the older side, and therefore the place was buttoned down for the night, with all the lights turned off, by 11 p.m. It made for a nice combination of a lively community with plenty of time for solitude and reflection.
On retreats, it's always a challenge to strike the right balance of activities relative to free time. This one had more scheduled activities than other retreats I've been on, but I think it would have been a shame to visit this area without taking the time to check out the unique local attractions that tied in so well with our elemental themes—and there still were at least a couple of hours of free, unscheduled time each day.
On our first full day, we went for a hike, then went to the thermal baths pictured at the top of this article (Termales del Otoño). We enjoyed the baths and had lunch at the restaurant on site. This was truly a magical place and I felt I could have spent an entire week there! (They do have a hotel on site, should you wish to do just that.)
With three pools of varying temperatures terraced into the hillside, this mountain sanctuary offers a spot to just chill and have a sensory experience while looking out over breathtaking views. The baths are geothermally heated by a nearby volcano. Although this was our "water" day, I was definitely feeling the fiery energy of the earth as well!
The second full day included a three-hour coffee tour. Although this sounds long, I can say that I wasn't bored for one second! The tour was extremely thorough, giving interesting facts about what goes into producing the coffee we drink—all the way from seeds planted in the ground to harvesting, drying, roasting, and brewing. Each step of the process involves choices that affect the flavor of the coffee. This was one of the most informative tours of any kind that I've ever been on, and it only left me wanting to learn even more.
At the end of the tour, you do receive samples—and actually you have a chance to taste all the way through the process, from a raw bean in the field, to biting into a light roast versus dark roast coffee bean, to comparing espresso vs. drip coffee vs. French press and pour-over. And there is, of course, the chance to buy some to take hoe with you!
The same day, after lunch, a massage therapist visited the coffee lodge to provide massages. She had a portable massage table that she brought into each of our rooms, and it was so lovely and comfortable since we didn't need to go anyplace afterwards and could just transfer from the massage table to the bed to chill out some more. Highly recommend :-)
On the third full day, we had a dance class. A teacher came to give the class on the back deck of the coffee lodge, in the space where we had our daily morning and evening yoga classes. (I really appreciated how many of the activities were brought to us, so we could take the time to immerse ourselves in the energy of the place rather than rushing from place to place.) The dance class explored several different types of Latin dance, some traditional to Colombia and others (such as bachata) originating elsewhere. Our instructor was very skilled and knowledgeable, telling us about the stories behind the dances as we learned them. There were moments during the class when I thought my heart would break from all the beauty—the music, the movement, the stunning vista out over the edge of the balcony... just wow!
The back deck of the coffee lodge offers mountain views and a charming tile floor that worked perfectly for yoga and dance (as well as admiring the sunset). Even better, there are landing spots for the wide variety of colorful birds that inhabit the property, and in the mornings the staff would put out fruit at these landing spots. The birds would come in for their breakfast, and we'd get to admire their vibrant hues as we balanced in yoga poses.
(My only caveat is that if you do visit this place and spend time outside at dusk, wear bug spray. I noticed a few bug bites while there, but seemed to have a delayed reaction—the bites got significantly worse after I got home, were insanely itchy and painfully swollen, and took two weeks to fully go away. Definitely not like the mosquitoes we have in Wisconsin!)
As a yoga teacher myself, I've taken and taught many classes, but Eliesha's were memorable because of the playful way she crafted the sequences in line with the elements, as described above. The partner work we did on the last evening was also enlightening!
I could easily have spent an entire week just relaxing at Hacienda Venecia, and am thrilled to be planning a return trip so I can enjoy it more. The house and grounds have so many different environments—hammocks, a swimming pool, dining tables, the back deck with comfy chairs, an indoor lounge area furnished with a guitar and board games. And don't forget to make time to enjoy the swimming pool—the coffee lodge and the main house each have their own!
The property also includes a backpackers' hostel, and although I think I've aged out of that kind of bare-bones accommodation, it's a great option for budget travelers to see this very special part of the world.
Amenities aside, the location was what made this experience so magical. You really could feel the energy of the earth (water, fire, wind). There was a primal sense of connection to nature, and it felt like a powerful catalyst for creativity.
I am excited to hatch a plan to return to this one-of-a-kind place, and will be sure to post an update as those plans develop!