After being in Medellin for so long, I decided it was time to try somewhere else in Colombia. Manizales had been on my radar for a while and was only 4 hours from Medellin. Manizales is the capital of the Caldas region and was founded in 1848. Situated in the coffee region of the country, the city sits 2,126 metres above sea level and has half a million residents.
Drawn to the region by the promise of good coffee, hot springs and a snow-peaked mountain, I headed to Manizales for some well-needed Colombia adventure.
So what is there to do here? Here are my top things to do in Manizales.
Hike Nevados National Park
In the Colombian Andes, sits Los Nevados National Park with snow-capped peaks and numerous volcanoes. This area has a very somber history. In 1985, the tallest of the volcanoes, Nevada del Ruiz erupted and buried the town of Armero, killing over 20,000 residents. The tour takes you to the lodge which shows you a map of where the town used to be.
The scenery is spectacular and changes as you climb altitude, and has a unique pink lava, which according to the tour guide, is the only pink lava in the world. The higher we got, the more we lost visibility. I was so grateful that I had purchased a hat and gloves as the tour began, as I shivered through the fog.
Not being great with altitude, I admit that I did struggle a bit when we got to 4400 metres. If you feel a bit more adventurous, you can hike the glacier which leaves at 4.15 am and includes approx 4-5 hours of hiking.
I took my tour with Ecosistemas which had a Spanish tour guide and culminated in a well-needed hot spring.
Relax in the Thermales
Manizales is known for hot springs. The cheapest and the best in my opinion is Tierra Viva Thermal Springs. It’s only $15,000 COP to enter and is open until 11.30 pm during the week and 1 am on the weekends. It’s small but resembles what you would expect a hot spring to look like. Accompanied by a French guy I met at the hostel we visited at night, which seemed to attract couples with its romantic ambience, and green glow. It even rained on us in the springs when we were there. The sulphur did affect my silver so make sure to remove any rings before stepping in.
I also visited El Otono Thermal Springs on my tour which is completely different. This costs $30,000 COP and has three pools, each one hotter than the next. It looks more like a swimming pool complex but is surrounded by amazing scenery. There are more to choose from.
Climb the Cathedral
Situated in Parque Bolivar in the city, the Catedral Basilica de Manizales Corridor Polaco is a stunning cathedral (especially if you visit at night).
The view from the top is just amazing and costs 10,000 COP for a 1.5-hour tour which consists of watching a video (in Spanish) and numerous steps you need to climb to the top. You reach a certain level with the group then go in smaller numbers to see the view from the small crow's nest at the top. You have to wait for the whole group to see the top before you can head back down so don’t do what I did and come back down by yourself or you will get asked where your guide is and get told off.
Even if you decide to not go to the top for the view, you can go inside for free. It’s definitely worth visiting this area just for the amazing statue in the square, designed by a Colombian artist.
Ride the Cable Car
Unlike the cable car in Medellin which takes you high up the mountains, the Cable Aereo in Manizales goes across the city and connects the bus terminal with the rest of the city. Cable Aereo operates over 110 kilometres and is an easier way of getting around the city than taking the roads which can be incredibly steep in places. It only costs 1,700 COP too.
I didn’t even need to make any extra time for this one as I just took the cable car from the city to the bus station as I left Manizales to head back to Medellin.
Visit a Coffee Finca
Being in the coffee region, visiting a coffee farm should definitely be on your list. Some of these tours are a bit pricey but if you’ve never seen the coffee process before then they are worth doing. Hacienda Venecia has a 2-3 hour tour in the mornings in both English and Spanish and only Spanish in the afternoons. Hacienda Guayabal has a swimming pool which you can use after the tour, and Hacienda Tio Conejo is a family coffee farm which shows you the whole process from cultivation to production.
Watch the Sunset at El Chipre
If you love sunsets, El Chipre has one of the best viewpoints in Manizales. You can walk up the hill to the structure called Tower to the Sky. I didn't make it to the structure but I did make it to the sculpture of the thinking man and the dog, with two guys I met at the hostel. This area has a few bars and fast food restaurants and is a really nice place to be at dusk.
Manizales feels much hillier than Medellin. It’s lush, and green and has amazing views and the people here are just as friendly as they are in Medellin. It is cooler though and I struggled with the cold during my first week. Expect it to rain a lot too but it is a beautiful city.
Where To Stay in Manizales
I stayed at Mountain Hostels, near the Zona Rosa area of the city. This area is full of cafes and bars and has more of a European university feel to it than other parts of the city. I really loved this hostel which has two hostels in the same street. They have their own dance studio with two evening classes. I attended one which only cost 10,000 and was so much fun. They organise tours for you and I met some really nice people here, which was perfect for me being solo.
TIP – The water in Manizales is the best that I’ve tasted in Colombia.
How to get to Manizales from Medellin
I took a bus from Terminal de Sur in Manizales. As soon as I walked into the terminal, a man shouted “Manizales” when he saw me and we left 5 minutes later. There are lots of counters so just look for the one saying Manizales. A one-way ticket cost me 38,000 COP and took 4.5 hours (it can take a lot longer depending on traffic). We stopped halfway at a restaurant for lunch and a refreshment stop. The journey can get windy so be prepared if you suffer from travel sickness.
How good is Manizales for solos? I liked this place so much that I stayed for 3 weeks. Apart from a friend visiting me for 4 nights, I spent the rest of the time here solo. I would give it 4 stars!