Protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sazagua Hotel flourishes in the heart of Colombia’s coffee country. The REMOTE team brings to light the strong connection between the hotel and its local ancestral culture from the Quimbaya and how this family-owned property is naturally becoming a local expert in this remote piece of sacred land.
What does the name ‘Sazagua’ stand for?
Sazagua, which literally means “the night of the fire hummingbird”
The name ‘Sazagua’ pays homage to the Quimbaya civilization that inhabited the area. Who were/are these ancestral people and what’s the relevance to the hotel’s history?
The hotel’s location is in the heart of the Coffee Cultural Landscape, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. What are the challenges to operating in a protected area?
At this time, more than taking care of the Quimbaya civilization, we are totally dedicated to preserving the coffee culture of our farmers. Now the Quimbaya culture unfortunately does not have much documented history for us to dedicate ourselves completely to working to preserve it. What we are sure of is our culture, the culture of years ago, of the peasants who colonized these lands. By recovering every detail and preserving the culture so as not to forget, our peasants don’t have to leave the countryside, but can instead live in a dignified manner. For us, our people are the most important thing and it is for them that we carry the title of world heritage site as declared by UNESCO. We’re sure that these are not only our lands, landscapes or towns. For us, it is our people without a doubt.
How do you translate the region’s ancestral farming and family coffee-growing into interesting, genuine and sustainable tourism?
This region of the department of Risaralda was inhabited by the ancient Quimbaya culture. This culture was important since, as it was located at the center of the coffee region, people from other departments such as Cauca and Antioquia had to cross their lands to move and barter in exchange for their passage. As it happened to our ancestors, it is relevant since our hotel is located in the heart of the coffee region, a privileged location being equidistant to all the experiences in the region. Our name, SAZAGUA, pays homage to one of their chiefs. In addition to sounding good, it is impressive as its position within the Quimbaya civilization. When broken down phonetically and studied, the name has another meaning: THE NIGHT OF THE HUMMINGBIRD OF FIRE. In addition to the fact that Sazagua’s garden is filled with hummingbirds, legend has it that hummingbirds are bearers of good news.
Our focus is to help rural families move forward with tourism. But let me share a bit about the process. Seeing that all the coffee experiences in the region were 100% touristy, we felt that none of them reflected the reality of the peasants’ daily lives and the farm owners were the only ones to profit from their work. And we felt the need to show the reality of these people. In Colombia, if you’re not a big landowner and coffee exporter, you’re never going to make a living from this. Coincidentally, this family had lived in Spain working hard to be able to buy a small piece of land, work it and live as their parents did, off of the land that they themselves harvested. After arriving in Colombia and turning to banks for loans to fulfill their dreams, they realized that they weren’t going to make it. Because, at the end of the year, their total earnings were USD 400. After starting to work with us and getting 389 tourists the first year, they managed to pay off their debts, live off the land and earn almost USD 7,000. We lent them the money to equip their farm to be able to receive people without changing their traditions. They paid us back as the tourists arrived and, at a certain point, Sazagua decided to settle the account since we saw that they were getting ahead and were a worthy family that was responsible with the country, the community and tourism.
What was the process like designing those experiences and now planning to become a DMC in the region?
In terms of the experience as a boutique hotel that takes care of every detail for our visitors, it’s reflected in the way our staff makes staying in Sazagua a unique experience, where our workers feel that this is their home and that they are part of the family, a feeling they pass on to our guests. Now let me talk about how we share our commitment and pay tribute to our community. This is the subject that most excites us and we’ve been working on it nonstop for five years. We selected a beautiful traditional peasant family, with whom we have grown over the years, and together we created the true cultural coffee experience, where people share their customs and home-cooked meals just like their ancestors did. They tour the small farm and experience the process from seed to table. As we mentioned, Sazagua provides 80% of profits from this experience to this family, so they can improve their quality of life in every way, and don’t need to leave the fields to earn a living for their family. This teaches them to live and take care of tourism. We’re looking to replicate this project with several families. This is one triumph of which we are particularly proud and the only reason we dream of expanding our company into the social field.
This experience is the favorite among our guests so far. We decided to become a DMC in our region since we saw that the experiences that visitors were having were touristy and did not reflect the region as we know it. For this reason, we began to design tailor-made experiences on private farms. We take our staff all throughout the region and serve them as if they were staying at the hotel. Every trip we make around the world shows us that Colombia has it all and provides us with examples of how to show it in a unique, unforgettable way.
What is the “Pilgrim cuisine for travelers by travelers” that you offer at Sazagua? And how do you see the importance of using native products?(i.e. exotic fruit tasting sessions, cooking classes)
We love to travel and we’re clear that our food is designed by travelers for travelers. We combine flavors, always prioritizing Colombian cuisine and its ingredients, but taking it to a higher level. For example, there’s a traditional Colombian soup called ajiaco based on potatoes and corn. We combine a seafood casserole with this traditional soup and create a new culinary experience.
The exotic fruit tasting session is the best example of showcasing Colombia. We are a country full of color, flavors and diversity, which is reflected in this experience. People can’t believe their eyes.
Our cooking classes are a space for bringing a bit of Colombia to your table. We make sure that the recipes are replicable in terms of ingredients. It is a space to share with friends, sitting at the table just as we do in Colombian haciendas.