A 4 hour bus ride from Medellin brought us to the beautiful city of Manizales where we able to visit more of Manu’s family. Since we had previously toured the coffee triangle with friends I was a little hesitant at first to make the rough trip through the mountains again. I am glad we made the effort to explore Manizales more closely as it was enchanting and I fell in love with this region once more.
The city has a mountainous landscape and a small-town feel. Here you can find magnificent and exquisitely preserved architecture, nearby volcanoes and hot springs. The weather is cool and comfortable while the people are warm and welcoming. Geographically the city was small and fairly easy to navigate since taxis and busses were easily accessible and inexpensive. On main streets that run East and West (Carerra 23/Santander) you could find numerous shops, restaurants and supermarkets. We found the city to be invitingly safe and walkable even late at night.
On our first night there Manu’s family took us to Chipre where we dined on mouthwatering salads and fresh salmon. For dessert we headed to the local street vendor booths to enjoy the city’s delectable Obleas, a wafer-like pancake stuffed with arequipe. In Chipre one can easily walk to Monumento a los Colonizadores, an incredible sculpture located at the highest point of the city. From here we witnessed extraordinary views of the entire city and watched locals happily flying kites. If you’re lucky and happen to be there on a clear afternoon you can witness a stunning displaying of colors during sunset.
In need of some good exercise we decided to take a 2.5-hour hike uphill around Cerro de Oro. It was challenging but we enjoyed incredible views along the entire walk. It is definitely recommended that visitors bring comfortable shoes or hiking boots, as the terrain can be slippery at some points.
We hadn’t had enough so that afternoon we headed over to Plaza Bolivar where we decided to tour the Catedral Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Rosario de Manizales, which included climbing 456 stairs. For 10,000 COP/$ (Aug., 2015) we were provided with an excellent and knowledgeable tour guide who recounted the Cathedral’s history and spoke about its breathtaking architecture. After a tough climb we were rewarded with an astonishing 360-degree view of the entire city.
The next day we were up and early for our tour to El Nevado de Ruiz, an active volcano about 2 hours away. The cost was 130,000 COP/$ 41.87 for foreigners and 110,000 COP for Colombian residents (Aug., 2015). This included the entrance fee to the park, transportation, breakfast, lunch and entrance to the local hot springs. Since it is an active volcano the guide informed us that we would only be ascending to a certain point.
At the park’s entrance we stopped at a refuge and were debriefed on the history of the park including the eruption of ’85 that tragically wiped out the nearby town of Armero. They also spoke of climate change and how it has affected the area, while showing us historic pictures of a snow-capped mountain in years past. As we ascended the temperature dropped and we stopped at another refuge for some coca tea recommend by the locals to alleviate altitude sickness. I’m not sure if it helped or not but it was definitely useful for warming up. I would highly recommend hikers pack warmer clothes so that they are more comfortable as they climb.
While driving into the park and higher up into the mountains the terrain changed from lush greenery to what seemed like an extraterrestrial landscape. The tour concluded with our guide asking us to give thanks to nature by shouting towards the peaks and listening quietly for the echo. This experience was magical and moving. It was amazing to be in that place and feel the energy of the earth surround us.
Next, we headed to Termales de Otoño and enjoyed a picturesque view of the mountains that surrounded us while relaxing in the hotsprings. The water here seemed much warmer than another springs we had visited but was complemented but the fresh mountain air. Fellow backpackers we had met on the tour all kept daring one another to go into the hottest pool but no one could do it. A refreshing rain shower cooled us down and was invigorating but soon a thunderstorm began and it was time to head home.
To avoid the long drive back to Medellin one can take the cable car in town to the bus station and hop on a bus to nearby Pereira. Once in town ask the driver to drop you off at a well know stop near a supermarket called “El Exito”. Here cabs are waiting on the curb to quickly get you to the airport in Pereira. The whole ride took about 1 hour and cost around 60,000 COP.
Manizales is a special place that is well worth exploring when visiting the coffee triangle. If you’re looking for gorgeous scenery, magnificent architecture, adventure and great hikes don’t miss the chance to fall in love with this magical city.