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.


Salento and the Valley

When Tyson and I arrived in Salento, we stood behind the desk of the hostel and listened to the coffee-hyped, European hostel owner tell us that we were in the most important tourist destination in Colombia.

“The Valle de Cocora,” he told us, as he pointed out Salento’s wonders, “that’s a can’t miss!”

This we knew. Although, we hadn’t told the hostel owner, this was our second trip to Salento. A few weeks earlier we had explored the hilly, colourful streets, tried the coffee and tasted the pink fleshed fish Salento was famous for.

On the morning we had planned to get up and trek the valley though, it was pouring down rain and we were fated to another pleasant day coffee shop hopping and snapping shots of the streets before we headed back to Pereira for work on Monday morning.

After all the hype we had heard about the trek, we decided we would have to come back and see for ourselves what all the fuss was about.

The Valle de Cocora

A few weeks later, after waking up early to clear skies, we packed the camera and the raincoat and headed to flag the bus to Salento, in order to walk the valley that morning.

After more reading more about Cocora, it became clear that rain was more often than not. It was best to start trekking as early as possible in order to beat the rain that rolls in on most afternoons.

The savviest travellers take to the trail with waterproof bags, umbrellas, spray jackets and even gumboots. We however, rarely savvy, had one raincoat between us and not even a plastic bag for our valuables.

By the time we arrived in Salento’s main square it was almost 9am. We crammed in the jeep that takes you out to the start of the walk and tried to sneak peeks at the already incredible scenery around us.

The start of the trek was sun-soaked, scenic and pretty easy going. A little way in we came across the point to pay the 2000 COP entry, from which the trail turned to mud. We slipped and sludged along until we hit the mountain, which we followed up, to the first major stopping point Acaime.

Known for the hummingbirds that are lured in for the tourists, Acaime is a pleasant, and often busy, spot for trekkers to stop for a drink or lunch halfway along the trail. Here we sipped hot chocolate and coffee and then picked ourselves up and left the crowd, to find the turn off to La Montaña, the next stop off on our walk.

Near the entrance to Acaime is the start of the trail to Estrella del Agua. I had read about this track and whilst it was supposedly beautiful, it was also meant to be a steep and difficult walk. As the clouds were already rolling in we decided to head straight up the walk to La Montaña.

Unexpectedly, the short walk through the pine forest up La Montaña was also fairly steep and difficult. Luckily we found plenty of logs to rest on, on the way up and happily let other, more athletic trekkers take the lead.

By the time we reached the top the mist had settled around the bottom of the mountain giving us an eerie, spectacular view above the clouds.

From here we started our decent down the mountain and tried to catch glimpses of the wax palms which occasionally revealed themselves through the mist.

We arrived at a clearing which, looked over the valley and across the palms. We sat here for a while, amazed by the trees that stretched over us. The bizarre palms sprung from nowhere and it seemed as though they belonged somewhere else.

The promised afternoon rain soon got us moving again and we made out way out across the valley, walking amongst the wax palms. We walked out of the park soaking wet and smiling and made our way back to the crowded little jeeps.

The five hour walk through the Valle de Cocora was beautiful from beginning to end. It’s no wonder that so many people come to Salento to walk it. The little European hostel owner was right, the Valle de Cocora: it’s a can’t miss.