Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by Sonja Bricker.
Ornate wooden balconies, blossoming trees and roses, an imposing stone cathedral and the aroma of roasting coffee made my first impression of colorful Jardín. The second was of brightly painted doors, window trim, chairs, tables, shutters, even flower pots.
Of course, the groups of senior men in wide brimmed hats drinking coffee from porcelain cups were also impossible to miss.
For that first hour I was simply speechless. This was Jardín? Why hadn’t I visited earlier?
More About Jardín and How to Get There
Founded in 1863, at an elevation of 1750 meters, Jardín has remained largely unchanged for the last 140 years. The colonial architecture predominant throughout the area has been assiduously maintained, long before the arrival of tourists.
The 14,000 inhabitants clearly have a tradition of pride in their town, evident in the flowers, spotless streets, abundant smiles.
Only 134 kilometers from Medellín, getting here is an easy three hour microbus ride, four hours in a standard bus. There are two bus lines that leave from Medellín’s southern terminal: Transporte Suroeste Antioqueño Andes-Jardín and Rápido Ochoa.
The price ranges from 20,000 to 30,000 pesos ($6.75 – $10). I took a 9 seat microbus to Jardín and a full size bus back to Medellín. I definitely preferred the microbus, due to the faster travel time.
Where to Stay in Colorful Jardín
I arrived on a Monday afternoon. The main square was bustling with locals drinking coffee but I saw virtually no foreign tourists. The half-dozen charming hotels that ring the plaza were nearly empty (I went and checked out five). I could have easily picked any room I liked for about 45,000 pesos (US$15, all with private bath, colonial furniture, some with views of the plaza).
Whichever hotel you choose, be aware that the rooms with the best views are also the noisiest, particularly on weekends when the town fills with tourists. Just off the plaza there are many other options, Hotel La Casona looked beautiful and lovingly restored.
After sipping a 1,500 peso perico in the gorgeous interior garden at Café Macanas, taking dozens of flower and architecture photos, I decided to seek out my hotel.
For the next two nights I was staying at Hospedaje La Boira, a spectacular 1.5 kilometer walk (or 3,500 peso tuk tuk ride) from town. Recently featured in the New York Times , it has only three rooms. My room, the Yrsa, was 110,000 pesos ($37) a night. It was comfortable but small. The spacious Cristal suite with private balcony for 200,000 ($67) would be a worthy splurge for two.
My Recent Experiences in Colorful Jardín
That first afternoon I began to wander, hopeful to find some local attractions. Sure enough, I first stumbled upon La Garrucha. Basically a garden shed on cables, it takes you from town, over the Rio Volcanes and up to a lovely viewpoint in about three minutes. Round trip cost 5,000 pesos (US$1.75).
The air in Jardín is intensely aromatic: roasting coffee, roses, orange blossoms, manure. I started walking uphill, under interlaced branches, absorbed in the breathtaking views. This is hilly, fertile country, perfect for growing coffee. In fact, Jardín is in the heart of Antioquia’s coffee belt, the largest-volume coffee producer of Colombia’s 32 departments.
There were coffee trees everywhere, but also vast tracts of bananas, tomatoes, avocado, and mandarins. Several times I stopped and talked with locals on the road, asking about points of interest. I was repeatedly told about a waterfall further along, although exactly how far or what it was called no one could tell me.
After 45 minutes of climbing I saw a magnificent waterfall – in the far distance. As it was approaching sunset I reluctantly turned around and headed back. Then, in the deepening light I saw a pair of barranqueros andinos, or Highland Motmots, one of the most beautiful birds I have ever seen.
Apparently, Jardín, just like Minca, is a birder’s paradise. (Actually, Colombia is the birdiest country on earth, with more than 1,950 species, almost 20% of the world’s total). Even the casual observer without binoculars or a field guide will see dozens of colorful birds, including the bright red Andean cock of the rock and the russet-backed Oropendola, with its distinctive long, hanging nests.
Further down the road I waved at one of the families I’d talked to earlier and they beckoned me closer. Their young son came running out to meet me. He carried half-dozen mandarins between his outstretched palms. I gratefully accepted them.
Serendipitous encounters like this happened frequently during my short stay in Jardín. The open friendliness to share seems second nature to the locals.
Things to See and Do
Although the famous Cueva de Esplendor is closed indefinitely (general misuse and contamination of the property) there is similar waterfall cave, the Cueva de los Guacheros, that can be visited with a guide. Furthermore it is accessible by horseback or on foot.
Jardin Ecotours located within the Jardín es Tuyo hotel on the main plaza can arrange this trip. They can also arrange local coffee farm tours, para-gliding, birding, trout farm visits, waterfall rappelling and short horseback rides into the countryside. There are numerous other guides, ask at the tourist office (Carrera 3N 10-10) which is just off the main plaza.
Food choices in colorful Jardín are numerous and all reasonably priced. My first night I had an excellent dinner at Los Colores and the second at Creperia Trigo y Centano. Café Europa is popular for pizza and Parilla y Costilla is known for their steaks.
For fresh trout be sure to try La Argelia, a trout farm and restaurant on the outskirts of town. If you are lucky enough to be there on the right weekend (every second) you’ll also be able to watch panela being made in a traditional sugar mill on site.
Finally, for sweets cravings seek out Dulces del Jardin, a café and artisanal shop that sells chocolate, jam, arequipe, cookies, cake and candy all made in house. The main location is at Calle 13 #5-47 with a smaller shop on the main square.
The Bottom Line
With its colonial architecture, spectacular scenery, friendly people and varied outdoor activities, colorful Jardín really is a must-do trip from Medellín. One night won’t be enough; I highly recommend two or even three nights.
Sonja is from Whidbey Island, WA. She has traveled to 46 countries but never wanted to settle down in any of them until she discovered Medellin. She is currently living here in Medellín for six months until she figures out how to be a permanent resident.