Top things to do outside Manizales in Colombia.
Jo-Anne Vandierendonck is a member of our To Travel Too community and when we heard that she was heading off to Colombia (before us) we reached out to her to write about her adventures for us. Have you visited Manizales?
(Editor Update 2021)
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The cities of Colombia served as platforms for me to access the areas surrounding the cities. These experiences were the highlights of my trip to Colombia.
Boarding a Chiva, the colourful rustic buses used in rural communities, in Plaza Caldas, I was the only tourist joining the packed bus of about 50 locals. This bus, specifically designed for mountainous routes, travelled along a bumpy, curvy drive through the spectacular countryside. The sheer drops are not for the faint of heart.
Our final destination was La Cabaña with amazing views of Rίo Guacaica – indigenous for river between the mountains.
Ferney Salgado, a local from this area, provided very interesting commentary as he guided a walking tour of the area. He provided information on the rigours of the local economy of growing coffee, differing styles of homes, plant life and even came equipped with binoculars to point out the lovely birds of the area. Working up an appetite from our hike, I joined the group for ‘una bandeja paisa’, a traditional meal of frijoles, chorizo, egg, plantain, chicharon, arepa, rice, beef and guacamole, in one of the restaurants on-site. This is a popular spot for committed cyclists who travel from Manizales, a tortuous ride in my opinion, but the groups of cyclists all seemed in great spirits.
Arepas come in various types and sizes. The traditional arepa is made from dried corn ground with mortar and pestle, soaked, shaped into a small patty, then baked or grilled. As they accompanied every meal I ate, I ate plenty of them and got to be quite selective. My very favourite was arepa chocolo, served at La Mazorca Paisa in Sector Santagueda, an easy day trip from Manizales. Eating the arepas fresh from the large adobe wood oven in the airy restaurant built from guadua was a real treat.
Friends of my hostesses invited me for an overnight stay at their home in the Arauca area. Having the opportunity to stay at this working citrus farm was memorable. Great thought has been given to the planting of every fruit tree, plant and blossom. The climate changes dramatically within a few hours drive from Manizales so the swimming pool here was a treat in the warm afternoon hours. Here I had my first introduction to aquadiente, the Colombian liquor with its anise flavour. My cocktail of liquor, splash of lemon, sprite and club soda was perfect.
Easily accessed by car from Manizales are termales, natural hot springs courtesy of the local Nevado del Ruiz volcano. I soaked in the ones at Tierra Viva. A guitarist played and sang as I soaked in the 2 outdoor pools, the largest pool with a constant entry of the hottest water. Food and drinks here available here but I ate with a family friend further along the road in an area called Gallinazo which is lined with outdoor food grills covered with platanos ready to be served with the local cheese and chorizo sausages. Time and weather did not permit me a trip to the volcano but tours are available.
In the surrounds of Manizales, the park Recinto de Pensamientos is a treasure not to be missed.
My three-hour walk with a very informative guide included a hike uphill through forest growth to a delightful cabin where I sat with coffee, observed and learnt about the amazing hummingbirds that visited constantly. From there the guide and I hiked through a private collection of bonsai leading to a butterfly location. The stunning walk down was through a naturalised area of orchids.
Great luck favoured me as I saw one orchid that blooms only once every five years and the elusive barranquillo coronado bird.
My experience in Pereira was similarly an opportunity to visit interesting surrounds. Pereira is in the middle of a mostly temperate climate. It is the largest city in the coffee zone and easily reached by air (50 mins flight from Bogota, 30 mins from Medellin) or a 1 hr drive from Manizales.
I stayed in a beautiful private B&B (una casa campestre) in the Risaraldo area which was easily accessed from the central bus station by a Megabus that provides a convenient service with the help of feeder buses. The very knowledgeable brother of my hostess served as my guide over several days. We traveled through mist to Circasia and its “cementario libre’. It was founded in 1933 by Braulio Botera as a place where anyone could be buried regardless of their religion, social class, political party or skin colour. It now serves as a symbol of liberty and equality.
In the nearby department de Guindίo, Municipio de Quimbaya, We stopped to admire el arte barranquismo; huge clay replications of pre-Colombian figures.
El Parque de Café is a family-oriented theme park with rides, a coffee museum, and lovely walking paths through areas of a type of bamboo ‘la guadua’. As the only noticeable tourist surrounded by proud Colombians, the fabulous energy, dance, music and costumes of the daily show which shares the history of coffee was a highlight for me. I was enchanted with the terrain of this area; hills of coffee and platano with forests of guadua, and the colourful traditional houses. It is definitely worthy of a repeat visit, next time staying at one of the many hotels or coffee farms in the area. Colombia has more bird species than any other country, app. 1885 species.
Highlights of Colombia
If I had to describe the highlights of Colombia in 2 words, they would have to be nature and hospitality. Without exception, everybody I met went out of their way to educate me, help me and ensure that I had every opportunity to explore and enjoy the incredible natural beauty of Colombia.
Born and currently residing in Southern Ontario, Canada, I grew up as part of a roving army family so home is wherever I am. I am a curious lifelong experiential learner hoping to make a difference in the world. My physical age is 62 while my spirit age changes with the activity at hand. My favourite destination is the next country on the travel horizon. I love learning as much as possible about the new location before my feet hit the ground; music, food, authors, language. I want the experience to be a cultural experience versus a photo collection.
I flew with Avianca from Toronto to Bogotá with a connecting flight to Manizales. My return flights were $820.00 (2016). I was in Manizales area for about three weeks and the Pereira area one week.
Jo-Anne’s Tip On Obtaining a Sim Card
Cell phones cannot be used within any of the banks. I learned when security staff came and informed me. I was going to purchase a SIM card for my cell but that is very difficult to do in Colombia. Locals have to provide photo ID, have their fingerprints and photo taken, plus provide Colombian references. I was told foreign visitors must first obtain official papers from the Registario government department to present to the phone companies. I didn’t bother. I used my phone in WiFi areas. Along the street are vendors selling cigarettes, chips etc. They also have cell phones which you can pay to use for local calls.
What it cost Jo-Anne
I spent so little money approximately CAD $300 that I am embarrassed to admit it. I brought gifts for each of the three households I stayed in but none of my hosts would accept any payment for food or lodging. Two of my hosts and their family members have been to my home in Canada and I hope will return so I can return the hospitality. I found their hospitality almost a burden as it was impossible to contribute to any of the household costs. I paid for my food and drink when eating out but we rarely ate out. I paid for gas when touring in cars and paid for the transit van Manizales to Pereira (10,000 pesos one way, approx USD3.50 about an hour) as well as any entrance fees (coffee park 50,000 pesos, USD16.50). On my return to Canada, I created photobooks which I have mailed as thank you gifts.
Travel Information for Manizales
What to do in Manizales:
La Nubia is Manizales Airport and it is located 8 km south-east of the city.
Flight Deals to Manizales
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Bus Travel Around Colombia
For the latest bus schedules and ticket prices click here.
Where To Stay in Manizales
Hotel accommodation in Manizales:
Where to Stay in Pereira
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