Making friends over coffee in Manizales

Could Manizales be the friendliest places on earth? Strangers stopped me in the street to talk and a taxi driver turned off his meter to give a tour of town, it was a wonderful welcome to “dangerous” Colombia.

Jesus at sunset in Manizales, Colombia

This university town is sprawling over mountain tops, and it is easy to understand why it has been likened Switzerland when you catch the public transport – the gondola from the bus terminal to the beautiful historical centre.

I came here for the stunning Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados but was very disappointed to find that tours predominately ran from Thursday to Sunday and not enough people registered for tours the days I were there. Tours to the volcano and glacier range from COP130,000-160,000.

Coffee bags at Hacienda Venecia Coffee Farm

Coffee bags at Hacienda Venecia Coffee Finca

To drown my sorrows, I visited the Termales Tierra Viva (hot springs) just a 30 minute bus ride from town. Hot water from the springs are pumped into the stone pools. It is open late into the evening and entrance is COP14,000.

The town’s cathedral is interesting and worth a visit. For beautiful sunset views of the city and (apparently) the volcano, when it is not cloudy, and a little canopy adrenalin – visit Parque Yarumos.

Accommodation: possibly the best hostel in Colombia, (young) grandmother Martha runs the pristine Hostal Kaleidoscopio in the heart of the city. There are massive rooms with big beds, set off the large colonial style communal area. The kitchen is well equipped, cooking utensils are in perfect condition and the breakfast is scrumptious. Martha is lovely, knowledgable on what to do and very helpful. Dorms are COP25,000. Privates are also available.


Hacienda Venecia coffee tour

Tours: Hacienda Venecia has a well run coffee tour that is rich in information about the history and production of the different types of coffee, however we didn’t actually meet a farmer. The tour costs COP45,000. It is an extra COP12,000 for lunch which is very small and bland. You can bring your own lunch too.

Transport: local bus transport in Manizales is frequent and inexpensive. Buses run every two to three hours from Medellin to Manizales and cost COP35,000. Salento and Armenia are 2-3 hours south and cost between COP10-15,000. To get to Salento take a bus to Armenia and change just outside of town.