Jardín: So Worth the Adventure

I had heard the legends about Jardín. A beautiful, colourful, cowboy town hidden amongst the banana plantations in the middle of the Colombian Andes. I knew I had to go there.

So, when I found myself with a bit of spare time in Manizales, I made a last minute decision to jump on bus and duck up to Jardín.

If only it had been that easy!

Most people head to Jardín as a side trip from Medellín, but being that I was in Manizales, seemingly nearby on the map, I figured we could find some quick way to get there.

Everything I could find online talked about the need to take a van to a little town called Riosucio, and then a chiva or second mini bus across the mountains from there. It sounded like a bit of an adventure, but no one had really suggested it was too challenging.

The internet travellers spoke of three daily buses leaving Riosucio, one at 8am, one at 2:20pm and one at 3pm. We wanted to spend the day exploring, so, we decided to get up early and aim to be in Riosucio to make the 8am bus.

When we arrived at the Manizales terminal, though, (at 5:30am), we were told that no buses left early enough to get us to Riosucio in time for the 8am bus.

The man selling us the ticket told us that things weren’t completely hopeless, there was another bus leaving from Riosucio at midday. We wouldn’t have to wait too long.

We finally left Manizales at about 6:45, after waiting for our little bus to fill up, and set off on the two hour journey to Riosucio. We were both frustrated and sleep deprived but the journey through the mountains was gorgeous enough to cheer anyone up.

When we arrived at the Riosucio terminal, at around 9am. A hoard of incredibly cheerful bus company men told us that there was definitely no midday bus. The buses always, only left to Jardín at 8am, 2:20pm and 3pm. We should have slept in!

We bought a ticket for the 2:20 bus (26,000 COP), left our bags with the jolly bus drivers and headed into the Riosucio with five hours to kill.

Riosucio actually turned out to be a pretty cute stopover, with a couple of nice squares, multiple restaurants and far too many casinos for such a tiny town. We had coffee, breakfast, lunch and people watched in the square.

Finally 2pm came and we headed back to the terminal and crammed back in a van, waiting again for it to fill up.

The second trip through the mountains also was stunning, but unexpectedly long. We arrived in Jardín finally at around 5:30pm. Just in time to watch the cowboys drift in from the outskirts of town and fill the square.

Little Jardín, with it’s colourful, toy-like tables and chairs buzzed with atmosphere, as locals gossiped, sipped beers and waited for the sun to go down.

We checked into our hostel, Sgt Peppers, and after finding (some fairly average) dinner, turned in for the night, exhausted from spending almost 12 hours trying to get to Jardín. For anyone coming from Manizales, my advice is to sleep in and aim to be in Riosucio for the afternoon buses!

In the morning we set off to explore around the town. We were advised on a number of good walking spots and set off to track down the first of the trails, a short walk just outside town to Charco Corazon.

On the way we passed a small waterfall which told a legend of everlasting love for those who kissed in front of it. My friend Georgia and I kept walking.

Charco Corazon, a small sandbar in middle of a fast-running river, was a great spot for us to stop and swim for a while. The water was icy cold, but was welcomed after our walk in the sun.

Later, after a quick stop in the back in the town square we headed off down another pebble path on the edge of town and soon arrived at a little bridge and another tranquil river spot.

Surrounded by mountains, rivers and valleys, Jardín was full of picturesque places to explore we just needed follow the inconspicuous paths hidden at the end of the streets.

We had been told about the old, wooden cable car that takes travellers up into the mountains to a colourful cafe that overlooks the city. We headed up there in the late afternoon.

After buying our tickets we waited for the cable car to be sent down. Soon a small, yellow, wooden box, which looked more like an outhouse, was bumping down the cable toward us.

While the view from the cable car was fairly obscured, the novelty was definitely worth it as we were dragged up through the banana trees.

We stopped for some beers on the side of the mountain and admired the view. After getting some advice from a couple of other travellers we headed, walking, back down the mountain, just before the sun went down.

The walk was easy and we were back in the square again in time to see it fill up with big hatted, thirsty locals.

I was up early the next morning for another huge day of travelling. Trying to make my way back to Cali. The road Jardín to Cali is fairly under travelled and it took me ten hours and 3 buses to get home.

The traveller legends about Jardín were all true. A picturesque little cowboy town, nestled between the banana trees in the Colombian Andes. I would happily take on the mini buses, the early mornings and the too many hours again, to spend another perfect day following the pebble paths of Jardín.

 

Outside Medellín: Guatapé and Santa Fe de Antioquia

Everyone will tell you that Medellín is great. Before I arrived, travellers filled me with stories about the fun, the excitement, the perfect weather.

It’s true, Medellín is fun, it can be exciting and it does have perfect weather. But in the two weeks I spent there I was constantly waiting for the Medellín magic to kick in. Maybe i was missing something, but it seemed to be just another big city full of partying travellers and fancy cafes.

Modern Medellín lacked some of that unique Colombian charm that wins you over, and that you can find in spades around the rest of the country. Luckily though, if like me, it’s charm that you are looking for, you don’t have to go very far.

Guatapé

We took a trip to Guatapé on a weekend before we left Medellín for Colombia’s coffee region. The little town is famous for its almost blinding colour, the little pictures that skirt the colonial buildings and beautiful lake that it sits on the edge of.

While most people visit it in a day or two there are plenty of things to keep you entertained if you wanted to stay longer. We spent the weekend roaming the cobblestone streets, listening to the buskers in cafes that line the little outdoor amphitheatre and making the most of one of Colombia’s biggest lakes.

It takes about two hours to get from Medellín to Guatapé and on the weekend it fills up with Medellín locals, so if you are looking for a more relaxed experience aim to get there during the week.

Just outside of Guatapé is the Piedra del Peñon, which is a giant rock that once climbed gives you an impressive view over the lake. Wanting to ride in the decorated moto taxis, we took one of the tuk tuks from the cute main square to the bottom of the rock and lined up with the hoards of tourists to climb to the top.

The view was nice, but I am not sure it was worth the crowds of tourists, I wouldn’t recommend if you are there on a weekend like we were.

There are also other places around town to go exploring, waterfalls and nice spots along the lake. We stayed in Lake View hostel and they recommended a few spots and offered motorbike or horse rentals if you wanted to go and check them out. You can also get out on the lake in various boat tours and other things.

We mostly stayed around the town though, and were pretty content with the beautiful streets and musical buzzing atmosphere. Little Guatapé is definitely worth the trip, especially if you are feeling a little underwhelmed by Medellín like I was, this place has plenty to keep you inspired.

Santa Fe de Antioquia

Arriving in this little white town was a breath of fresh air. The bougainvillea twisted around the streets and led us from one pretty square to the next.

Once the capital of Antioquia, this little town is oozing with old, presidential charm. The main square, which was sadly under construction when we were there, is lined with plenty of restaurants where you can sit and watch the day pass.

Although, there isn’t a great deal of big draw attractions, the town makes for a pretty and relaxing day wandering through the streets. If you wanted to learn a little bit more about it there is also a small free museum hidden in one of the many colonial buildings.

To get to Santa Fe, we caught a quick and easy bus out from Medellín which took a little over an hour.  It was the perfect little terracotta town for a day trip, and it was well spent, relaxing in the sun out of the city.