Most people visit Manizales on their way to Salento or Armenia (where you can catch a bus to Bogota) or to Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados. It is a destination if you are interested in exploring any of the nearby nature reserves or natural parks and is also a nice way to break up a longer drive. Below we’ll share tips learned from time in Manizales. Read along for travel inspiration and to help plan your visit should your travels take you to Manizales.
Manizales in a Nutshell
Manizales is a city founded by native agrarians seeking to build a new city on a hill. It is literally on a hill. It is a buzzing city with few defining characteristics besides its peculiar sculptures, in my opinion.
If you find yourself in Manizales, your are most likely interested in visiting the northern half of Parque Nacional Natural (PNN) Los Nevados or you are on your way to another destination and would prefer to break up your drive. If you don’t fall into either camp, I wouldn’t recommend stopping in Manizales.
Do’s & Don’ts
Do come to Manizales if you like:
- visiting coffee farms
- day-long or multi-day hikes through national parks
- learning about unique ecosystems
Do not come to Manizales expecting to find:
- the best food of any kind
- luxury hotels
- amazing sunsets (while El Chipre is praised for sunsets, clouds do tend to come in and overtake the view, and not in a complementary way)
Things To Do
You can certainly spend a full day in Manizales and have plenty leftover. Below we’ll share things to do, and then a recommended itinerary based on our travels.
- Plaza Bolivar – the main plaza
- Cafe La Terraza – a cafe next to the church with incredible views
- Torre Chipre – a tall tower with an external skywalk.*
- Los Colonizadores (sculpture) & Coffee Musuem
- Rencinto del Pensamiento (nature reserve)
- Excursion to PNN Los Nevados
*You may want to adjust the time of your visit to Torre Chipre depending on cloud cover. Clouds tend to roll in in the afternoon and obstruct the views, but the skywalk opens at 2pm. We’d recommend going whenever the sky is clear, and if the skywalk entices you, going back.
Day 1 – first half: Explore the town
Start the day off with a walk through Plaza Bolivar. Note the main sculpture, Bolivar Condor, which is a tribute to Simon Bolivar, considered the leader of Colombia’s independence. His face is etched on two sides of the sculpture stand. The condor is Colombia’s national bird. I can’t help you with the significance of attaching a condor to a majestic male’s bottom half.
Visit the main church on the square, it has the tallest spire in Colombia which you can climb to if you take the 1.25 hour tour. It’s about 10,000 COP per person and runs every 30min. There’s also a cafe on the 2nd floor. We skipped both and instead went to Cafe La Terraza, which is one block away and has an equally good view of the town. (The first picture of this post was taken from Cafe La Terraza.)
From Cafe La Terraza, you’ll see your next destination, Torre Chipre, on the left side of your panorama. This will be your next lookout point. The walk to Torre Chipre is mostly uphill, but it’s really not bad. Plus you’ll want to wet your appetite for lunch.
From Torre Chipre, you can see the Cordillera Occidental, which is the western mountain range, and on an ultra clear day, you may be able to see the two glaciers in nearby PNN Los Nevados. (We didn’t see this.) There is a restaurant that opens at 12:30 and a skywalk (on the outside of the observatory) that opens at 2pm. We wouldn’t recommend either simply because we didn’t see anyone at the restaurant and the skywalk was questionable.
Los Colonizadores & Museo del Cafe
Further uphill (only slightly!) from Torre Chipre is the sculpture Los Colonizadores. Walk along the main road up the hill and you will literally run into Los Colonizadores park.
At first, the sculpture may look like it’s suffered from damage, but after a VERY insightful conversation with a park employee, we learned that it is most definitely NOT damaged and everything is intentional. The sculpture became infinitely more interesting to me once I learned the meaning, but I’m a huge nerd. If you’re ready for a deep-dive on the symbolism of the sculpture, click here. If not, just know you can visit the new Museo del Cafe which is underneath the sculpture for free.
Day 1 – second half: Explore a nature reserve
After lunch and maybe another coffee (because why not, you’re in Colombia’s coffee region), head to Recinto del Pensamiento, a nature reserve on the eastern part of town. To get there, you’ll need to take a bus or a taxi. The bus is easy to take, just ask your hotel/hostel where to pick it up and is less than $1 USD!
Guided tours are required at Recinto del Pensamiento and they’re offered routinely in Spanish through 4pm. There are only a few daily English tours, and the last one is at 2:30pm. Entrance is 2-for-1 and is $18,000 COP for the hike and $25,000 for the cable car up. The hike is uphill, but it’s easy, and everyone will walk down together after the tour.
We took the last tour at 4pm, and our highlight was the hummingbird (colibris) house. We learned lots of fun facts about hummingbirds and got to see many of them up close. Of the ~360 hummingbird species in the world, this park has 26!
Day 2: Explore outside of Manizales
First, decide if you want to go to PNN Los Nevados and visit the paramo. The paramo is a unique ecosystem that thrives in 4000-4800 meters, and 40% of all paramo ecosystems are located in Colombia.
If you choose to visit PNN Los Nevados, a guide is required. You can drive to the park by yourself, but will have to be led by a guide upon entering the park. Otherwise, you can go on a guided tour from Manizales. We chose a tour company called Ecosistemas after being recommended them by other blogs and friends alike. There are day-long and multi-day tours. We took a day-long tour to Nevado el Ruiz which actually spent only 2.5 hours within the national park itself.
You’ll have to wake up early to meet your group. Pack a daybag with your swimsuit and sunscreen (breakfast and lunch are usually provided by your tour company).
The paramo was beautiful but PNN Los Nevados was freezing cold and cloudy. It also has parts that look like you could be on the moon.
Other options for things to do around Manizales are to visit the thermal pools (natural hot springs) or visit a coffee farm. We wish we’d known about Hacienda Venecia Coffee Farm before planning our trip. We didn’t have the chance to visit, but it looks amazing, has great reviews, and is less than an hour away from the town center.
How to Get There
We arrived in Manizales after a grueling 6 hour bus ride from Jardin. We wouldn’t recommend this bus ride to anyone; however, sometimes your travels require such choices. If you can adjust your trip to go from Medellin to Manizales, I’ve heard that bus ride is much more comfortable and takes a similar amount of time. (This doesn’t mean you should skip Jardin, however, which is essential if you are in Medellin for any time over a week!)
Where to Stay
We stayed at Golden Frog Mountain Hostel, which is in the town center. They have both dorm and private rooms that are decently priced and a spacious, light-filled common area where you can meet other travelers and exchange tips and stories.
While we didn’t stay there, I would have loved to stay at Hacienda Venecia Coffee Farm for two nights. It’s less than an hour away from the town center and has so many relaxing and adventure oppotunities.
Where to Eat
We are keen to cook for ourselves for multiple reasons. Several locals recommended we eat at La Antioqueña, which is near the plaza, and we ate there and were unimpressed.
We did have an impromptu lechon lunch (for once, NOT menu del dia) at Carlos Lechona. While I’m not a big meat eater, they had a roasted pig (lechon) out front and everyone was eating it, and it’s in the name! So we had to try it. It was only $12,000 COP, too! Carlos Lechona is between Plaza Bolivar and Torre Chipre — highly recommended by us if you eat pork!
One recommended vegetarian restaurant that we would’ve liked to try, but didn’t get to, was Restaurante Saudavel. Note, it is only open for lunch, from 12-3pm.
Where to Go Next?
Manizales is an urban hub. From there, you can easily take a bus to Santa Rosa de Cabal, Pereira, Salento, or Armenia. We recommend Santa Rosa de Cabal, as it’s a small town with lots of charm and yet few tourists. It’s a good stopping point between the hustle and bustle of Manizales and the tourist-filled Salento. Our itinerary did just that.
- All prices and durations are as of late August 2019.
- We do not claim to have know the in’s & out’s of this town nor of its every restaurant or hotel. There are so many things you could do that would work perfectly fine.