Top 10 Things to Do in Manizales

Manizales (photo: David Lee)

The fact that I’m from Manizales is no secret.

I come here often to visit my family and catch up with a few friends, and every time I come there’s something new: a bridge, a building, a road, etc.

There’s quite a bit to do while visiting Manizales. It is called the “city of open doors” for a reason. If you thought Medellín people were friendly, just wait until you visit Manizales. We love tourists and visitors!

About Manizales

Manizales is a city of just over half a million people in the Department of Caldas.

It is a city of lots of hills, small roads, and short people (like me). Years ago, it was known for being rainy and foggy all the time, sitting at about 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius) or less.

However, blame it on whatever you’d like (global warming) but, it’s gotten warmer and brighter. You will, however, want to pack a light jacket.

The city is part of the Coffee Triangle or Axis (Caldas, Risaralda, Quindío) and stands at about 7,152 feet (2,180 meters) above sea level.

It has always been a very Catholic, conservative city. It is full of beautiful churches, and people’s clothing and hairstyles tend to be very similar.

It is a university city, home to the following, among others:

  • University of Caldas
  • National University
  • Manizales University
  • Autonomous University
  • University Institute Luis Amigó
  • Catholic University
  • Saint Thomas University
  • Antonio Narinño University

As a result, Manizales is full of young people.

The people call themselves “Manizaleños” or “Manizalitas” and simultaneously “Paisas” since this city was founded by the same individuals as Medellín.

We say “pues,” we have the same rhythm to our speech, and we love, love, love Bandeja Paisa.

Manizales (photo: Camilo Ramírez Castaño)
The umbrella reads “it’s the weekend the weather doesn’t really matter…” which is a perfect fit for the city. (photo: Camilo Ramírez Castaño)

Arriving, Best Areas, and Transportation

When traveling to Manizales from Medellín your easiest and cheapest option is to take a bus from the Terminal Sur Bus Station.

I like to travel on the Arauca buses because they’re comfortable, and they have Wi-Fi. The entire trip takes about four hours, with a 15-minute stop in La Pintada.

If you’re absolutely against four-hour bus rides, you can fly directly, Medellín to Manizales (a 15-minute ride), with ADA for a range of prices, starting at about 180,000 pesos ($62) one way.

I must warn you, though, that the airport in Manizales closes almost every time it rains so this is not the most reliable travel strategy.

When visiting Manizales, the best areas to stay in are definitely near “El Cable” (a commercial area on Avenida Santander) or the Center near Carrera 22 or 23. There will be plenty to see and try within walking distance, and you can easily find transportation from these points of reference.

However, the city is small enough that you can take a taxi anywhere, and it won’t dent your budget.

(A minimum taxi ride will run you less than 4,000 pesos, about $1.40, with an average being 7,000 pesos, and a max of no more than 20,000 pesos, or about $7).

There is a lot more than just these 10 things to do, so look around, check out Trip Advisor, map out the places you want to see and the things you want to do, and always pack an umbrella.

The Cathedral in Manizales
The Cathedral in Manizales (photo: David Lee)

1. See The Top of the Cathedral

The Cathedral, in Parque Bolívar, is a trip all its own. Parque Bolívar is in the very center of the city (of course) and has a beautiful sculpture by Colombian Artist Rodrigo Arenas Betancourt (as seen in the photo above).

The park itself is pretty big, with lots of activity going on, and the mayor’s office situated across from the large temple. However, the inside of the Cathedral has a lot to offer.

The inside, as with any Cathedral, is a sight to behold. But, the best part is the top called “El Corredor Polaco” or,  The Polish Corridor, from where you can see almost the whole city. Entrance is only about 10,000 pesos ($3.50).

Across the entrance to El Corredor, the elevator in the Cathedral will take you to a café with a view of the entire park. The café itself isn’t noteworthy, but the site is perfect.

2. Walk Through Chipre

Chipre is the highest point of Manizales from which, it’s said, you can see five different Departments of Colombia, including Tolima and Risaralda.

It’s a neighborhood with one busy street filled with restaurants, bars, nightclubs, ice cream shops, etc. Chipre is located near the center of the city.

The best plan is to, after walking the avenue, get a couple of beers and take in the view from the Fundadores Monument.

This intricate sculpture represents the foundation of the city, the difficulties of those who founded it, and the landmarks that mark the city today. (This monument can be seen in the first photo of this post)

One of the sculptures found at Érase Una Vez (photo: Érase Una Vez management)

3. Hit up “Érase Una Vez”

I’ll admit, I’m not big on going out dancing or drinking often. I am a bar-sitting girl most of the time. I like bar conversation and people-watching.

However, when I go out dancing, I like the place to be eccentric like Tíbiri-Tábara, or cool-looking.

Érase Una Vez  (which translates to ‘Once Upon a Time’) is the coolest restaurant/bar/nightclub I’ve seen in Manizales.

It is located further away from other nightclubs because, that way, it avoids the 2 a.m. closing time obliged by Manizales law. This means that the bigger crowds come in after that time.

The place is colorful and has some sculptures that were once placed around the city, fairy lights are strung up front and in the corners.

It is large but inviting. It has both indoor and outdoor areas with space heaters, and great music (live music on the weekends).

The only downside is that they stop serving food after about 10 p.m., so you have to settle for just drinks.

The Holocausto Platform (photo: Brian Felix)
The Holocausto Platform under a giant flag of Manizales (photo: Brian Felix)

4. Attend an Once Caldas Game

Once Caldas is the local soccer team in Manizales. It is at the heart of almost every citizen. The team has gone through great times, like when it won its only Copa Libertadores against Boca Juniors (from Buenos Aires, Argentina) in 2004.

They’ve won several national cups as well, but lately they’re going through a bad streak.

However, Once Caldas has some of the most loyal fans. I’m talking fans that hitchhike their way to Mexico to see them with almost no cash in their pocket!

Their fans keep to the North end of the stadium (which is exhilarating, but can be a bit much for some), and they call themselves “Holocausto” or Holocaust. Read into that what you will.

The games are always fun; you run into all kinds of people who love the team.

The best seats in the stadium, in my opinion, are in the East (Oriental) and West (Occidental) platforms, which are always affordable (the price range depending on the importance of the game).

You can find tickets at the stadium itself or this list of places.

5. Take a Dip in the Hot Springs

There are several hot springs in Manizales, and any place you stay in the city will know all about them.

One of the hot springs, Termales del Otoño, is within a hotel-convention center by the same name just outside the city. This is my favorite spot for thermal baths but, there’re a few things to consider.

First, the other hot springs down the road are only 15,000 pesos ($5); this one is usually around 22,000 pesos ($7.65).

Second, there is a “more exclusive” thermal pool in the hotel for which they charge 35,000 pesos ($12) per adult, but instead of three pools with varying temperatures, it is just one.

Lastly, this place is hardly ever still or tranquil. There are always people there, any day of the week (especially on weekend nights), and they tend to play music somewhat loud. It’s all a part of the experience, I suppose.

For me, it’s worth it every few months to take a dip, especially on a cold night.

6. Recinto del Pensamiento

The Recinto del Pensamiento is another hotel-convention center not far from Termales del Otoño and right by Érase Una Vez.

They’re a nature-filled oasis that offer hikes through aroma gardens, bird watching, butterfly observatories, an orchid forest and a wood pavilion for 14,000 pesos ($4.85). The hike plus the chairlift costs 18,000 pesos ($6.25); the chairlift by itself is 8,000 pesos ($2.80).

From 6:00 a.m to 9:00 a.m. they have birdwatching for 14,000 pesos. Prime bird-watching time.

Nevado del Ruiz Volcano
Nevado del Ruiz Volcano (photo: Camilo Ramírez Castaño)

7. Nevado del Ruiz

I typically recommend people visit Nevada del Ruiz, but, if you want to know a secret, I have never been.

I know, I’ve failed as a Manizaleña. For the past few years, I’ve made a note to go, but the volcano has shown signs of activity, erupting ash, gasses and making the earth shake under Manizales since I was finishing high school (around 2011).

However, it’s still open until a certain point. The views are still beautiful, and it’s worth going. On the other hand, you can enjoy the Santa Isabel volcano entirely if you’re willing to travel a little further.

8. Parque Del Agua Olaya Herrera

The Parque del Agua is a new, small and simple attraction that you can head to on a night after dinner.

It’s near Chipre, and consists of a water and lights show with music. They tend to honor Manizales culture by coordinating the water show to songs like “Feria de Manizales.”

The park was built alongside a Juan Valdez and a Venecia pastry shop, so if you want a dessert, coffee or pastry while you watch the show, they’re there to help. Find show schedules here.

Feria de Manizales in the city center (photo: Jonathan Cheng)
Feria de Manizales in the city center (photo: Jonathan Cheng)

9. See the Famous Feria de Manizales

Horses, bullfights, and beauty queens.

Need I say more?

The first week of January, Manizales gets over their holiday hangover with a batch of Feria de Manizales, the annual festival that has every citizen dressed in jeans, boots, and white hats.

The program includes lots of parades, horse rides, concerts, dancing, drinking, and eating.

Among the many parades is the International beauty pageant queen parade where every “Miss” from dozens of countries passes through Avenida Santander throwing and receiving flowers.

If you don’t happen to be in Manizales during the Feria, and can’t be a part of this great musical and traditional time of year, drop by on almost any Sunday morning next to Parque Caldas Mall on Carrera 22 for an outdoor concert of mostly traditional and locally composed songs by a young Manizales band.

Cable Car Couple (photo: Luis Alveart)
Cable Car Couple (photo: Luis Alveart)

10. Bar Hop at “El Cable”

El Cable is the Zona Rosa of Manizales. It is full of bars, restaurants and cafés to experience. It is best known for its large tower that used to hold a cable car for merchandise to travel through Caldas, ages ago.

Further East from the Tower, a sculpture hangs above the street of a couple sitting on the hanging cable car, honoring a couple that took the merch-cable which passed away when the apparatus (not apt for passengers) malfunctioned and got stuck.

The overall feel of “El Cable” on a Friday night includes teens sitting on the stairs of Cable Plaza Mall, possibly having some drinks to start the night, lots of young people walking the streets: high heels, lipstick, leather jackets, boots, dresses, you’ll see Manizaleños looking their best.

The party begins around 10 p.m.

Here’s are some bars to check out:

While you’re at any of these places, or at a liquor store (hurray for legal outdoor drinking) try out some locally-made Aguardiente Cristal or Ron Viejo de Caldas.

I drank enough aguardiente in high school to last a lifetime, but I am still Ron Viejo de Caldas’ biggest fan.

As a Manizaleña, I hope you visit soon and have a great time!



The first photo was by David Lee.

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  1. Hello

    Thank you for the blog and the links!
    Looking forward to visit this city & the football team.. if i manage to get tickets for next season.