Jardín: A Sweet Journey In Colombia

The view of Jardin from the trail to Cueva del Esplendor
The view of Jardin from the trail to Cueva del Esplendor (photo: David Lee)
The colorful buildings around Jardin’s main plaza (photo: David Lee)

The water washed and weathered the same spot over hundreds of years, one time after another, persistent as taxes, until it finally broke through to form a waterfall inside a cave.

That’s the way I picture it. I’m not sure how else to explain the beauty of this place, perhaps the prettiest part of Jardín and the area around the old Colombian town about 3 ½ hours south of Medellín.

I went last month because my friend Natalia insisted that it’s a pueblo everyone should see in the Department of Antioquia. It is a nice trip, 18,000 pesos (about $10) for the bus and if you stay the night, anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000 pesos ($11 to $22) for lodging. A meal should not cost you more than 10,000 pesos (about $5.50).

Like most, if not all, Colombian pueblos, there is a central plaza with a big church, buildings with notable Spanish architecture, often colorful, and in Jardín they were. And almost all of these buildings around the plaza are home to bars and restaurants and little stores that sell day-to-day items from fabrics to groceries.

It’s a nice place to spend an afternoon, or, if you want to party with the paisas when they gather in and around the square, a night. There are several hotels around or near the plaza.

I didn’t go to party. I didn’t even have a beer when I was there. I had some sugary snacks, thanks to my new friend Hernan, whose family owns Dulces del Jardín, a company famous for making some of the country’s best sweets.

Making arequipe
Making arequipe

It was fitting that his business was my last stop, the dessert of my trip. The meat of it came just before, during the trek to the cave to see the water glisten in the daylight diving in from above and sneaking in from the surrounding green space.

I had heard that arriving at the cave meant a horseback riding trip, something I love, and a short hike, a frequent activity for me in South America that I always enjoy.

I already knew about the lunch too, a typical Colombian meal that comes wrapped in large banana leaves, but comida tipica can mean several things.

I had beef, yucca, rice, plantains, mashed potatoes and a hard-boiled egg, with mora (raspberry juice) to wash it down. The only way it could have been any better is with a microwave, but if you’re the kind of person that dwells on something like that, then there’s a Four Seasons somewhere awaiting your call.

I took the excursion with a local named Jaime Marín, someone who seems well-known in the town so you should be able to find him by asking around, like I did.

It’s 55,000 pesos (about $28) for about five hours in the infinite hills. After meeting Jaime by the town square, we jumped in the back of a truck and took a skinny road that climbed to a farm, the place we got our horses.

We rode for almost four hours that day, bouncing along a bumpy trail that, for one short stretch, peered down into Jardín. We stopped at another small farm and a calf walked over to me, looked up at me, leaned on me.

Others in the group tried to pet her but it only scared her, and it infuriated her mother, who started storming up the hill to protect her baby. Jaime immediately took the calf away and pushed it toward its mother.

“Brava,” Jaime said, using the word for angry.

Cueva del Esplendor
Cueva del Esplendor

From here we walked down into a valley. When we got to the cave, or Cueva del Esplendor, I took a lot of pictures then paused to appreciate Colombia and the wonders she offers.

The ride back to the farm was a little eventful, if only because there was a Czech woman who got motion sickness from bouncing on the horse. At that point she might have been wishing for the Four Seasons.

The view of Jardin from the trail to Cueva del Esplendor
The view of Jardin from the trail to Cueva del Esplendor (photo: David Lee)

The second time we passed the stretch of the trail with the great view of Jardín, I noticed it was even better. It was the middle of the afternoon, and now the sun was shining, and it gave the town a certain glow.

I took a few more pictures because it’s a habit at this point, not because I thought I might forget. You don’t forget the beautiful things you see in Colombia. You simply make a record of them, to share them with the rest of the world.

Like the story? Take a second to support Medellin Living on Patreon!