Who wouldn’t love Manizales, Colombia?
In my mind, Manizales is the great getaway for pretty much ANYONE! Let me share with you some of the things that I did that make me think that just about everyone should love this small city.
First, how I ended up packing so much into one trip.
Several months before coming to Colombia I joined Conversation Exchange. Check out my tips on preparing to travel for more information on that and how I cheated a little. I met a young lady on the conversation exchange from Manizales who was trying to learn English. She was a college student and we never really hit it off, only chatting occasionally on Skype. She offered to show me around if I ever came to Manizales over a year ago, but I sent her a message on Skype letting her know I’d be in town if the offer was still open. To my surprise, she was still interested.
When I arrived in Manizales I really had no plan. It had been a spur of the moment decision and I just asked a taxi driver to take me to a decent hotel. He first tried taking me to a hostel that was popular with travelers, but I was really looking for some peace and quiet, so I asked for a real hotel instead of a hostel. He then took me to a nice hotel that had a Spanish restaurant and bar on the bottom floor. It was a little pricier than I would have liked, but it was clean, safe, and quiet so I took it. I took a photo of the business card and sent it to the gal and about an hour later she showed up.
It was early evening and I had eaten as soon as I arrived so we went straight out for drinks. She took me to a popular part of town with a variety of bars and let me choose. I selected a nice looking Irish pub and we proceeded to share a bottle of rum. She filled me in on plenty of details about Manizales and filled me in on more about her. She was from a small town to the south but was attending college in Manizales. The college was going to be closed for the week due to budget cuts and she had nothing better to do than show me around. Sounded good to me.
One of the things that had kept Manizales, Colombia off my radar as long as it had been was that there really wasn’t much information online. There were a few activities listed here or there on Trip Advisor and a few articles discussing how beautiful Colombia’s coffee region was. Nothing really struck me as spectacular online, though, and there was very little in English. So my guide and I took of the next morning to start exploring. We did far too much in those few days to tell it all, but I think I can share 5 things with you that should help you realize that Manizales truly is the trip for everyone.
El Mirador De Chipre
At the peak of one of Manizales’s most popular neighborhoods lies El Mirador de Chipre. Our first stop was this amazing sky walk located in Parque Observatorio. At about 125 feet above an already towering peak within the city, you are harnessed to a rail above you and walk full circle around a tower. Despite it being a cloudy day, the views were fantastic! Here’s a good video taken inside the tower.
While this isn’t skydiving, if you’re a bit of an adventure seeker, this might be a great stop for you in Manizales. If you’re a little less adventurous, the views from inside the building are still spectacular. But the views weren’t the only thing to see. Just outside the tower was a walkway with art and sculptures. One sculpture in particular had been made of recycled keys.
El Recinto del Pensamiento
A bit of a nature lover are you? This nature reserve has it all. From deer and ostrich, to bonsais and hummingbirds. If you pay a few bucks for the guided tour, you’ll see it all. It starts off with an herb garden where the guide explains growing methods, medicinal uses, and culinary uses for the dozens of plants in its garden. This wouldn’t really have been a highlight of this trip except that this is where the mingling began with the others in the tour. Several people worked together to figure out what an herb was called in English if I didn’t understand and several wanted to know the English name of the herb for the ones I did understand. Lemongrass was an interesting one only because so few of the others were familiar with it, while it had been a key ingredient in my cooking for years.
After a walk past the garden and fish pond, you’re loaded up into a gondola and taken through the dense forest and to the top of the hill. The first stop is a little cottage where you’re served coffee and filled in on some more history and information. Hummingbird feeders draw in tons of lightning fast hummingbirds. Dozens of the little guys floating around enjoying their nectar treats. Although I don’t recall exactly how many different color combinations the guide said there were, I can assure you that taking off my socks wouldn’t have helped me count that high.
Walking past ostrich, deer, and pigs, you’re brought to the butterfly house. The large crystal butterflies were without a doubt my favorite. It was equally amazing to see right through the wings of these little creatures as it was to see their shiny emerald-colored transformation.
After passing through the bonsai area, with trees donated by the Japanese government, you’re taken down the path through the jungle as the guide explains the more interesting flora. Ending back at the main area, you’re free to walk around and check out the other animals or head of for snacks at the gift or coffee shops.
All-in-all, AMAZING experience!
Looking for a quiet luxury getaway?
How about checking out the Termales de Otoño. I did not stay there and it looks like they’ve recently gotten a bad review on TripAdvisor, but I did go for the day pass and had a great time in the hot springs and a fantastic dinner in their restaurant. Their natural hot springs are ultra-refreshing and come in three varieties; warm, hot, and really hot! We had a great time with a waiter bringing fresh lemonade right to us in the pools. We decided to have dinner there and really enjoyed our meals. Then, despite planning on leaving after dinner, we decided to hop back in the pools to experience the real joy of the hot springs on a cool night…with a few beers.
The main building has hotel rooms available and there are also quiet cabins available throughout the property. Most (if not all) of the cabins looked to have working fireplaces, but I never went inside one. After reading the one bad review on TripAdvisor I wish I had asked to check them out. But even if you don’t decide to stay, a day trip here is well worth it!
For the Family?
A day trip to Parque los Yarumos could certainly be the all-inclusive answer. Along with more spectacular views, you can find something for everyone. There are tons of games and activities for the kids, ranging from trampolines and carousels to photo boxes with princesses. There’s an unguided nature walk area and an insect and animal exhibit in the main building. The exhibit was closed when we arrived, but the staff was kind enough to open it up and let us in. There is a zip line across a large portion of the reserve, which was closed for maintenance when we were there, but it should be open now.
Was Parque los Yarumos the highlight of my trip? Not by a long shot, but the group of school kids that were there certainly were having fun and I enjoyed it for a couple of hours. So to be inclusive for all types of travelers, it’s definitely a great family trip.
Isn’t there any nightlife in Manizales?
Of course there is. Now my few nights there certainly didn’t make me an expert on the night life but I enjoyed it. And it just wouldn’t be a post by the Gringo if I didn’t include at least a little. All three nights I ended up checking out bars on the same strip known as the El Cable, but there were other parts of town that I saw during the daytime that looked like they would be good nightlife. There were a variety of bars there, and if you’re new to town and don’t have a fantastic personal guide, start there. You may end up with your own tour guide by night’s end.
Manizales, Colombia: My Conclusion
Manizales is a small city of about 350,000 people. While it didn’t have the hustle and bustle of Medellin, there was plenty to do, especially for a short trip. People were friendly, often times giving off a small-town feel, rather than that of a city. I never really felt uncomfortable as far as safety was concerned. Even when we walked through the poorer areas of town, people were still generally nice and respectful. There were plenty of churches to check out if that’s your thing; they just didn’t make it to my top five list.
In the end, my only complaint is that it’s a little difficult to get around. Most of the city is lined with winding roads going up and down the mountain. While that is part of the city’s charm, take some medicine before getting into the cab if you get car sick.