Jardin Waterfall

Jardin, Colombia is one of those places you don’t need a plan to enjoy. If you’re looking for a break from planning, a vacation-from-your-vacation, beautiful sites, great coffee, and perfect weather, this is the town for you. Alternatively, if you’re looking for luxury hotels and five-star restaurants, steer elsewhere. We found three days to be the perfect amount of time to get a good feel for Jardin, though we could have easily stayed much longer. Read along for travel inspiration and to help plan your perfect three (or more) days in Jardin.

View of Plaza from Cafe de los Andes in Jardin
View from Cafe de los Andes

As I write this, I am on the second floor terrace of Cafe de los Andes, treating myself to a perico and pastel de zanahoria, looking out over the plaza and at an incredible view, and the weather is a perfect sunny and 72F. I am definitely on a Jardin-high. Perhaps I am biased, particularly after our lackluster time in Cartagena and a particularly smoggy last few days in Medellin. No, the praise is definitely warranted, because we just came from a wonderful few days in Jerico.

Point is, these small paisa towns in the Andean foothills are where it’s at. Read along for our 3 day itinerary and why we thought it was so great, in case you choose to go.

Jardin in a Nutshell

Jardin is a quaint and colorful townin the Andean foothills, just south of Medellin, in the coffee-growing region of Colombia. It is simultaneously an adventure-lover’s paradise and a retirement community. I’m serious. Spend any time in the plaza and you’ll notice the swaths of Colombianos here enjoying a fresh cup of coffee and basking in the glorious weather.

Their ability to sit and just do nothing is truly remarkable, something to aspire to really. We’ve walked by hours apart and it seems that no one will have moved. They’re just sitting there. Zen, perfected. Apparently, Colombians will move to Jardin from other parts of Colombia to enjoy their old age. I say, right on.

Locals drinking coffee and beer in Jardin town square

Do’s & Don’ts

Do come to Jardin if you like:

  • hikes of all levels through banana farms and pastures, through the jungle and pine forests, to and from lakes and waterfalls
  • people-watching in the plaza, or being watched by people in the plaza
  • the freshest cup of coffee from local coffee farms
  • learning about coffee and the coffee-making process
  • horseback riding (anywhere and for any reason)
  • beautiful courtyards

Do not come to Jardin expecting to find:

  • the best bandeja paisa, nor the best food of any kind (We did have the best arepa we’ve ever had here, though that really isn’t saying much since (A) arepas are basically cardboard and (B) this one was mostly cheese, which explains why it was so good.)
  • luxury hotels
Locals Walking the streets of Jardin

Things To Do

Keep reading below for things to do in Jardin. I’ll first share an overview of our itinerary, which I think worked out very well.

Day 1:  Do some light exploring. Walk around the plaza and take an easier hike.

Day 2: Adventure. Take a guided tour to one of the many waterfalls in the mountains, like Salto del Angel (Angel Falls).

Day 3: Lounge like the Jardineños. Relax at a coffee shop or in the plaza. Hike or go horseback to Cristo Rey.

Before diving deeper, a few notes:

  • There are MANY guided tours one can take. You can go biking, horseback riding, paragliding, caving, or rappelling down waterfalls. Choose whichever speaks to you! We befriended a group of young adults on the ride here and chose to hike with them.
  • Coffee tours are huge here, and for good reason because Jardin is in the zona cafetera. We skipped this activity because we are planning to work on a coffee farm. If you haven’t taken a coffee tour and would like to, a good idea would be to do this on Day 3 (you can go to the coffee farm via horseback, too).

Day 1: Stroll through town & pastures

Start the day off with a walk through town. Order a tinto (an espresso) or perico (an espresso with milk) and just take in the town. When you’re ready, you can start off your hike by walking from the plaza to Calle 13 and turning right. On your left, you’ll see a gravel road with a sign for Camino de La Herrera (left-most picture below).  After the cobblestone trail ends and the dirt road begins, you’ll see a sign on the right and an opening in the barbed wire fence (middle picture below). The path sometimes follows a dirt road where few cars pass and eventually leads to a pretty blue door where you can pay 5,000 COP for a 20min tour that takes you through the manmade cave and ends at a waterfall. We highly recommend!

After the walk, stroll back into town for a menu del dia at La Parrilla de Mi Pueblo for a late lunch, then for a coffee on the plaza (we recommend Cafe Macana). Then around 5, make your way to the Reserva Natural Jardín de Rocas to see the gallitos de roca, an exotic red bird that is mostly found only in Colombia. It’s less than a 10min walk from the plaza. Just take Calle 9 away from the mountain and take a right BEFORE the big yellow bridge.

Day 2: Go on an adventure!

We usually prefer self-guided hikes, and there are a few self-guided ones you can take around Jardín, like Cuevas del Esplendor, but for a real adventure, dish out the pesos and take a tour. This will require some planning beforehand, but it’s worth it. Ask your hostel/hotel for recommendations based on your preferences.

You’ll have to wake up early to meet your group and take a jeep to the starting point. Pack a daybag with your swimsuit and sunscreen (and lunch if it’s not provided by your tour company).

We hiked to Salto del Angel and Santuario de los Guácharos and passed many other waterfalls on the hike back to town. The whole excursion took about 10 hours, but we stopped a lot, took a dip into every lake (of freezing cold water) and even took a nap.

Cueva de los Guacharos Jardin Colombia
Our new friends Efraín & Omar at Santuario de los Guácharos

Day 3: Lounge

After a day of adventuring, you’ve earned a day to take it easy. Do as the locals do and just hang out at the plaza. Or go for another hike (to the Christ monument?) if you’re feeling up to it. This would also be a good time to go on a coffee tour or to one of the local museums or art galleries.

Dogs laying down in Jardin cafe
Even the dogs have perfected the art of doing nothing.

How to Get There

There are buses from Medellin, Salento & more. We took a chiva, an open-air bus used to navigate narrow country roads, from Jerico and had the time of our lives. We’ve heard the bus from Salento is a nightmare, so you might want to stop in Manizales for a few days if you’re coming from that direction. The bus to and from Medellin should be perfectly fine. Figure out where you want to go before and after, and ask your hostel/hotel for recommendations.

Female Traveler walking through green mountain side near Jardin Colombia

Where to Stay

We stayed at Sgt Peppers Hostel, and it was wonderful! 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. Their staff is amazing, and so very friendly and knowledgeable.

Where to Eat

We are keen to cook for ourselves for multiple reasons. A local mentioned Las Margaritas to us, which is on the plaza, and we ate there and were unimpressed. (I think he hadn’t eaten there himself, but had only seen it.) We DID have two great menu del dia at La Parrilla de Mi Pueblo and Restaurante de Andres and recommend them both!

Our favorite cafes were Cafe Macana (beautiful indoor courtyard) and Cafe de los Andes (beautiful view of the plaza) for “tintos” (small black coffee) or cafe con leches.

Other recommended restaurants that we would’ve liked to try but didn’t get to were Cafe Europa (italian) and Destino Sylvestre (vegetarian).

La Parrilla de mi Pueblo lunch
Menu del dia at La Parrilla de mi Pueblo

Where to Go Next?

If you’re heading south (like we were), Manizales is your next big hub. From there, you can practically get anywhere. However, the trip from Jardin to Manizales is not one we recommend. From talking to other travelers, you’re better off bussing back to Medellin and then heading further south from there. We know, it seems circuitous (and stupid), and we agree. However, your other options for getting to Manizales are either equally circuitous or downright painful, probably both. If you still plan on heading south from Jardin, here are your opions:

  1. There’s a 6:20am and ~2:15pm bus that is recommended most by hotels/hostels. It goes up from Jardin, nearly back to Medellin, and circles around (essentially a U-turn) from Jardin. If you came from Medellin, this means you’ll be passing all the same towns you did to get to Jardin. This is the shortest-duration option if you can believe it, and the one most recommended to us. Due to construction closures (or just closures because we saw very little construction), it will take about 6 hours. Don’t worry, it feels like about half of that time is sitting still in traffic. If you go this route, TAKE THE EARLIER OPTION, as some of these buses don’t have air conditioning, which would be brutal in the afternoon heat.
  2. There’s a 8:30am chiva (open-aired bus) that goes south from Jardin to Rio Sucio. It’s not a recommended route due to the quality of the road. From there, you’ll get on a new bus that follows the same construction-laden road to Manizales. It will be a brutal ~8 hours total, depending on your layover time in Rio Sucio.

We only took option #1 above, but given everyone recommended option #1 OVER option #2 and given how exhausted we were after option #1, we can’t recommend either. Instead, we recommend going back to Medellin, and taking a comfortable bus south from there. Make sure to confirm any departure times with your hostel and purchase your bus ticket a day in advance!

Other Notes

  • All prices and durations are as of late August 2019.