The Mesa de los Santos is a popular place to go during the weekend for people from Bucaramanga. The mesa is a flatter area at about 1500m up and it is fairly dry which gives it a pleasantly cooler climate. It only takes about an hour to get there, and the drive from the main road to Bogotá is curvy and steep but in good condition. It can get busy at times when everyone returns to the city on a bank holiday Monday, but normally it´s not too crowded.
The Mesa overlooks the Chicamocha canyon and houses one end of the cable car that crosses the canyon from Panachi, the tourist centre on the main Bogotá road. The area is fast developing as a place for holiday homes, and property prices are high, but there are still many small farms, mostly of cattle and chickens.
Tucked away just off the main road is the Hacienda el Roble (Roble means Oak Tree in Spanish). This was once a large cattle and chicken farm, but was converted in the 1970´s to coffee and now prides itself on high quality shade-grown organic speciality production. People might not think of Santander when they think of Colombian coffee - we are far from the Coffee Region - but there is plenty grown.
We took a 2 hour tour which was interesting and they explained how they can maintain quality in a sustainable way. They use 3 levels of shading for the coffee bushes- using trees such as Chachafruto (Erythrina edulis), a legume, fixing nitrogen in the soil as well as having edible fruit like very large french beans. The lowest shade level is of bananas or platanos (plantains). These three shade levels create a good range of habitats for the birds on the hacienda. In addition there are several small lakes proving homes for some aquatic species and we also saw several Ospreys overhead.
As an organic producer, they are not using insecticides and pesticides which is more bird friendly and they are proud to proclaim they have recorded around 122 species. It´s not a spectacular total for Colombia but not bad for a commercial farm. They have got a Smithsonian Migratory Bird Centre certification for their coffee as a result. They've also got Rainforest Alliance and several other certifications and this helps them sell to Japan, USA and the UK, including I believe to Waitrose supermarket. You can read more about the benefits of shade-grown coffee here.
Being specialized organic coffee, it fetches a premium price and the vast majority goes for export. Much of Colombian coffee goes for export. Sadly most Colombians are stuck with low-quality varieties most of which are imported!
On the northern edge of the Mesa is the salto del mico, a picturesque secluded waterfall surrounded by woodland. The owner makes a small charge for entry, the path is precipitous and probably very slippery when wet, but it was worth the short walk. Best to go a little after a rainy period when the falls have a good flow.