Read about our visit to Kasaguadua, Salento, to learn more about the fragile ecosystem of this beautiful region. There is much more to this place than coffee!
We had been in Salento for a few days before noticing a small poster in our hostel, El Zorzal, advertising Kasaguadua. ‘What’s this?!’ we thought. With a quick Google we discovered that this strange word actually means the Guadua House – guadua is a type of bamboo. Kasagaudua is a small nature reserve nestled amongst the coffee farms just outside of Salento. Despite knowing very little about it but decided to go for a visit, and we’re really glad we did! You have to book in advance as guided tours only take place in the morning and the group is small, so we asked our hostel to give them a ring.
Starting the tour
You can take a willy (jeep) from the square, or do what we did and make the most of the views by walking the 40 minute route.
We arrived at the Kasaguadua gates at 08.55am, just before the tour started, to meet our guide Nicholas, a Brit originally from London. Nick bought the land around 11 years ago with his friend Carlos, a Bogotano. The idea was to prove that two people from the city could make their home amongst the wildlife.
We were joined by four others, and even though we were a small group we were very international! We had two Brits, an Israeli, an Aussie, a Belgian, and a German. It was good to see such a mix of people were interested in learning more about the nature of this fantastic place.
As a bit of background, the land used to be owned by coffee farmers and since their purchase Nick and Carlos have worked hard to care for the land and restore it to it’s once natural state. As Nick took us along the little paths, through the different sections of the reserve, it was clear just how passionate both he and Carlos are about their life project. This is something that they take great pride in, it’s a love affair with nature that’s not based on making money but finding contentment in life and the planet that they live on.
The first part of Kasaguada is the path down into the reserve. This area is in the very early stages of redevelopment and is just covered in grass. It provides an important lesson in the effects that agricultural farming can have on the land.
The coffee triangle is well known for its coffee production (hence its name!) but this crop is actually only a small percentage of the region’s overall production – the largest part is livestock.
Travelling around the world you see cows everywhere, so it came as a huge surprise to us to learn that cows aren’t native to Colombia, or to Latin America, they were introduced by the Spanish Conquistadors. The long grass we saw in the entranceway was a byproduct of this introduction all those years ago – grass is a huge part of cattle’s’ diet and so when they came across grass seeds in their stomach entered the land through their faeces. Grass is a very adaptive species and it took to the Americas quickly and easily.
Despite its alien status, grass has become an important part of the recovery of this piece of land. When the land is stripped for livestock farming the minerals in the soil are left bare, vulnerable to the sun’s heat, which removes the water and destroys the fertility of the soil. By allowing the grass to grow it provides shade for the soil, allowing it to cool down and retain water so that it can build it mineral store back up.
The Seed Bank lies underneath the soil, it’s a history of the fauna that once lived on the land before it was stripped away. By providing the correct conditions, restoring the minerals and water content of the soil, these seeds can begin to grow. They have a lifespan of around 80 years, after that their potential is lost.
The path into the reserve, surrounded by grass and small plants looks unexciting, but it’s the very first step in ecological succession, the start of a long journey as the land redevelops. Once in the reserve we learnt about this journey and the different stages of succession which are taking place under Nick and Carlos’ care.
The reserve is very diverse
We learnt about the different species that live within the reserve, these include:
- Bamboo is a species of grass and is actually the native grass of Colombia (before cows!). It’s an adaptable resource which can be a great tool for building if harvested correctly. Just as the moon affects the tides, it affects the water content in the bamboo which is hollow inside and acts as a water store. Because of this the bamboo needs to be harvested at the point in the lunar calendar when it is at its lowest.
- Palms are always referred to as trees, but guess what, they aren’t trees at all! If you think about it, they are completely different. Trees have trunks which then grow branches and leaves. Palms on the other hand grow very different.
As they grow, palms spend many years close to the ground, developing their stunning crown. To do this they need lots of shade and will grow amongst taller trees and plants, protected from the sun. Once ready, their stem develops and they grow skyward, developing the shape that they are famous for.
In the nearby Cocora Valley, the view of the tall palms against the backdrop of the valley, has tourists flocking to the area. Unfortunately though, as you walk around, you won’t see any young palms growing. They can’t grow here. The land was cleared by loggers from the city Medellin years ago. They took all of the trees, a valuable resource, but left the palms as they weren’t worth anything to them. Now the cleared land is used by farmers, and these wonderful palms will begin to weaken and with time will fall. In the close future this unnatural sight will no longer exist.
The Kasaguadua Ecolodge
In addition to protecting the reserve, Nick and Carlos run an eco lodge on the site. The full building plan is only part completed but is livable and guests regularly stay at the property. The friends have worked hard alongside architects and designers to produce a plan that is environmentally conscious and complements its surrounding. The first floor of the structure has been completed (planning for the second is underway) and they have travellers come and stay regularly. The tour group were invited in for a glass of juice and a nosey and it really is a lovely property!
As well as thinking careful about the materials to build with, the friends want the property to impact the land as little as possible and this includes their waste management. They have a special system which filters the water leaving the house, including from the washing machines, toilets and showers. The system treats the water naturally and then distributes it in the reserve – it’s pretty amazing!
At the end of the tour you get to see the section of the cloud forest reserve that was completely untouched by the previous coffee farmers, and it’s a great way to finish with a vision of what once was and what could be again.
Would we recommend a visit?
YES! We would highly recommend a visit to Kasaguada, we really enjoyed the tour and found it a great way to learn more about the nature of Quindio. A couple of the girls on the tour with us were staying as Kasaguadua and sang high praises, so we would definitely consider it as a place to stay if we were ever back in Salento. If you choose to stay elsewhere, we would suggest to make your visit here before going to the Cocora Valley, just so that you can understand more about the views that you see
Nick and Carlos don’t have a set price for the tour, they ask for donations. The money from this and the hostel pays for further development of the land and the hostel.