Serranía del Perijá
Our communities are located in the department of Cesar at the foot of Colombia’s eastern Andes in Sierra de Perija, an area of enormous biological importance, filled with beautiful and rare forests and home to an exceptional array of plant and animal life. Although our two communities belong to two different municipal districts, with Estados Unidos in Becerril and La Victoria de San Isidro in Jagua de Ibirico, we are united by our shared history and our close relationship with the ecosystems of the Sierra de Perija. Our shared vision as two neighbouring communities is to develop an ecotourism project to help protect the exceptional nature that surrounds us, to improve our quality of life and enable us to share our story.
During the decades of Colombia’s civil war our communities found themselves unwillingly at the epicentre of violent conflict as armed groups moved into villages, farmlands and forests. As a measure of the enormous debilitating impact the violence had on our lives and our communities, the number of residents in Estados Unidos fell from 1600 to just nine people at the peak of the conflict. This drastic fall in our population came as residents were murdered, disappeared or forced to abandon their land to escape the violence.
Throughout the 80s and 90s our communities some of the most affected by the armed conflict in the region and the cycle of combating violence with more violence that characterised Colombia’s civil war. First with the presence of the FARC guerrilla group hiding out here, then with the paramilitaries and throughout this period we saw continuous battles between the army and guerrilla groups. According to official figures from the Red Nacional de Information, since the 1980s the armed conflict impacted the lives of 72,000 from our province of Cesar. Of these 6000 people were killed and 66,000 people displaced from their home, leaving orphans, widows and farmers forced to abandon their land or sell for a fraction of its value.
Since Colombia’s historic peace agreement in 2016 things have changed significantly. Many of those who were displaced are returning to the communities and to their land, where they are now making a living out of sustainable coffee production and working to preserve the forests and the amazing biodiversity within them. Other community members are dedicated to our ecotourism project as the region once more welcomes tourists to explore and enjoy the wonders of Sierra de Perija.
Sustainable Coffee Production
As part of our vision to create a sustainable future, we are developing sustainable agriculture practices, most notably agroforestry in the form of coffee production which helps generate income and is an important part of what we want to share with visitors to our communities.
Our guests will see that interspersed with the forest are areas of coffee that is being grown in a sustainable way. Combining areas of coffee growing with the forests creates and preserves the coffee ecosystems with the trees helping preserve soil, water and organic matter. Trees slow runoff, stabilizing the soil and increasing its water retention capacity, they also create organic matter, enriching the soil and preventing degradation.
One such projects is Café La Victoria de San Isidro, a high quality coffee which is cultivated and processed by the farmers from the community of La Victoria. Grown at an altitude of between 1000 and 2100 meters this project is a great example of how coffee production can go hand in hand with the conservation of native forest whilst at the same time creating sustainable incomes for the families from the region.
It also allows us to offer our guests a truly immersive coffee tour, with the chance to spend time with local farmers and coffee entrepreneurs – providing an insight into our vision of combining nature with sustainable agriculture and allows guests to get involved in the process of creating and the culture of Colombian coffee.
The exceptionally rich biodiversity to be found in the mountains and forests around us is thanks to its wide range of habitats. Some of the more notable residents include spectacle bear, jaguar, puma, howler monkey, spider monkey, white fronted capuchin monkey and white tailed deer to name but a few!
To find out more about the species you can find download our wildlife guide
Our forest ecosystems
As well as high Andean Paramo which is above the treeline, there are five different kinds of forests in Sierra de Perija, each with its own unique qualities and wildlife
Tropical Dry Forest
These forests have an average temperature in excess of 24oC and an average rainfall of between 1.000-2.000 mm. They are found at altitudes between 0 and 1100 meters above sea level.
Subtropical humid forest
Characterised by temperatures between 17-24oC and average annual rainfall between 2.000-4.000mm. They are found at elevations between 1000-2000 meters above sea level.
Very humid low montane forest
These forests have an average temperature between 12-18 oC and average rainfall between 2.000 – 4.000 mm per year, characterised not only by mountains but also rivers, creeks and canyons
Very humid montane Forest
These forests are charactirsed by temperaturas between 6-12 oC and an average rainfall between 1.000 and 2.000 mm annually and are found at an altitude of 2.700-2.900 meters above sea level.
Montane Rain Forest (cloud forests)
These forests are also known as Andean Forests and low paramo and are found between 3000 and 3600 meters above sea level with annual rainfall above 2.000 m and temperatures below 12 oC. Rich forest dripping with ephiphytes (plants that grow on other plants) beautiful mosses,
Vallenato in Perijá
No discussion about the important elements that define our communities would be complete without mentioning vallenato, the soundtrack to much of our daily life here. One of Colombia’s most loved kinds of folk music, vallenato’s official birthplace is in Valledupar, 2 hours’ drive from here. A ubiquitous, accordion-driven folk music, it sings of love and loss of life and politics. Vallenato translates as ‘born in the valley’ and originated from farmers who used to travel through the region with their cattle who mixed Spanish and West African rhythms as they entertained themselves walking between towns and villages.
Becerril itself is the birthplace of one of vallenatos most famous singers, Rafael Orozco Maestre who brought vallenato to the attention of the world with his legendary performance at Madison Square Garden in New York.