Manizales is a City (small, but definitely a City) situated in Colombia’s mountainous Coffee Region “Eje Cafetero”. It is sort of (read very roughly) half way between Medellin & Cali (Two giants of Colombia’s tourism trail), as such all the thousands of travellers who go from Medellin to Cali/Salento literally drive past Manizales without giving it a second thought.
Yet this is a city that has so much to offer; culturally, geographically, photographically and getting-drunkedly (new word?).
And I must be honest I also wouldn’t have come here unless I was placed here as part of Colombia’s Bilingue English Teaching programme. But as a result I was, and I had the pleasure of living here for 4 months. I really got the know the place rather well!
The city has six universities and as a result has a young crowd, great nightlife and a very liberal feel to it.
The main backbone of the city is built across the top of a mountain ridge, with slip-and-rip-your-jeans-steep streets flowing down the mountain sides with houses, cafes and restaurants clinging to them; it’s difficult to be anywhere in Manizales and not have an incredible view of the surrounding mountains (unless you’ve got your eyes shut perhaps).
Home to the tallest Cathedral in Colombia, hot volcanic springs and the most primely located Juan Valdez in all of Colombia; this is an interesting and relaxing place to spend a few days – don’t miss it!
What To Do…
1) Termales (Hot Volcanic Springs)
The number 1 must-do thing in Manizales is visit the hot termales. This is a crucial part of life in Manizales. Locals head to them after work for a few hours in the evenings to relax, chat and drink beers in the naturally hot waters which are heated by the nearby volcano
There are three options:
- Tierra Viva (BEST PICK)
- El Otono (high-end, possibly a bit over priced)
- Acquaparque del Otono (water park, a bit cheap and tacky)
All three are located on the same road heading out of town. It is about 12,000-15,000pesos by taxi, though there are also buses from Avenida Kevin Angel for 2,000pesos. Head there late afternoon/early evening to enjoy the warm steamy water in the cool breeze of the evening.
2) Drink Coffee – Loads of it
You’re in the coffee region of Colombia, and whilst Pereira is officially the capital of the region, I’d argue Manizales deserves the title more – it’s a much more beautiful and tranquil place.
So go and seek out some of my favourite spots for coffee and enjoy a relaxing brew:
- Juan Valdez del Cable; best for sitting outside and people watching
- Santo Kaffeto; best coffee in my opinion. There are two; the one in Chipre is a nicer location.
- Kaffe Florida; owned by an English woman, they also sell proper British tea!!
- Tazzioli; sit beneath the grand, arching windows of Colombia’s tallest cathedral.
- Cafe La Terraza/Azotea; two different places, both on the top of a (different) tall building in downtown Manizales. Azotea wins on views and atmosphere. Cafe La Terraza wins on taste of coffee/cake.
3) Climb the Cathedral
The inside of the main spire of the cathedral has been lovingly renovated to incorporate a huge bright orange spiral staircase that contrasts amazingly with the old concrete/stone of the spire itself. Tours leave every hour, last around an hour, for 11,000pesos per person and we well worth it for the views!
4) Hacienda Venecia
Just 30 minutes by car/taxi outside of Manizales you will find what is arguably Colombia’s most beautiful coffee finca (in my opinion). This place is a very high end luxury guesthouse situated in acres of coffee plantation and forest. There are various houses, villas and so on which make up the different offerings of the Hacienda Venecia; guest house, functioning coffee farm, cabanas, hostels, swimming pool etc etc.
But the best thing is that one of the converted farmhouses is a hostel and it’s only 30,000 for a bed per night. Hostel guests have free unlimited use of the swimming pool at the guest house and the hostel also has a kitchen and BBQ that you can use.
Tip: buy all your food supplies in Manizales and make use of the kitchen. For 50,000pesos more you can take a 4 hour coffee farm tour including lunch.
5) Go to Cyprus
No, there’s not a tunnel to the Island in Europe but, in fact, one of Manizales most pleasant neighbourhoods is called “Chipre” (Cyprus in Spanish).
Situated at the far end of town basically on the top of a cliff, this area of Manizales has a few main things to offer:
- Mirador: climb el torre del Chipre for great views of the surrounding area
- Sunset: the grass area along the edge of the cliff at the farthest end of Chipre is a popular spot for locals to watch the sunset and share an Oblea.
- Paragliding: from the same “sunset” cliff you can paraglide and enjoy views of the surrounding mountains.
- Wander: generally, this is a nice area of town to use those legs and find a good restaurant or cafe to refuel.
6) Nevado del Ruiz
Manizales is a great base to explore the nearby National Park and Volcano. Although people do it from Salento, you’re much closer from here and likely will get a cheaper tour.
I somehow managed to spend 4 months in Manizales and didn’t get up the Volcano which I’m kicking myself about, but what I do know is that Mountain Hostel in Palermo can offer some of the best advice.
7) Cable Your Way to Villamaria
A nice way to spend a couple of hours is to make your way to “Fundadores”; over the road from this goliath shopping mall you will find a metro station for the MetroCable. Travel all the way to the bus station and change again to the second line to head to Villamaria. I recommend to go on a Sunday, when the main square here is alive with locals enjoy street food and listening to local musicians.
8) Recinto del Pensamiento Park
Just outside of Manizales sits this lovely park which is home to hummingbirds and butterflies as well as lovely walks through tropical fauna and flowers. See here for more info.
9) Parque Bosque Popular
(the infamous Ysa-hairflick of Manizales)
Also situated just outside of Manizales is this large park which is often host to festivals/events. When I was there, one weekend Club Colombia (the country’s national beer) hosted a music festival in the park, and it was incredible!! So be sure to look out for events happening here.
10) Drinks in Cable/Milan
Hit the bars and clubs around Cable Plaza (cheaper tiendas, salsa and beers) and further into Milan (cocktails & artisan beers) at the weekend for a great time dancing with locals!
No we’re not heading to the future, but instead we’re getting in a taxi after a few beers in Cable Plaza and we’re heading out of the city to this club situated on the side of the mountain. It’s hellish expensive (think European prices), but it’s worth it for the amazing music (salsa/reggaeton/dance mix), decoration and huge outdoor seating area overlooking the city lights all the way through to 7am.
12) Go see Torre del Cable
The history of Manizales and the role it played in Colombia’s coffee region is retained within the only last remaining tower of an old cable car system that transported coffee from mountain to mountain. The tower is a landmark in the city and lights up at night, with different colours for national and international events – sit and enjoy a coffee at it’s base in Juan Valdez.
Where To Stay…
As Manizales doesn’t see a huge amount of tourism, there isn’t a great wave of hostels, however the best option in my humble opinion is Mountain Hostel in Palermo.
It’s quiet, well priced, perfectly located, includes breakfast and the reception staff are incredibly helpful with tours and so on.