This is a guest post by Ashley Peak from Optimism Rampage, who lives and works in Manizales, ‘The City of Open Doors.’
The first thing locals ask you when they find out you’re visiting Manizales is, “Are you happy here?” Locals are proud of their city, and they want you to be happy in their hometown. Manizales is tucked high in the Andes Mountains of Colombia; it’s surrounded by coffee farms and filled with steep hills. The city is also home to several major Universities in Colombia, which lends to its hip and progressive feel. Manizales is not typically on the tourist route in Colombia, but if you love a city with small town vibes, Manizales is perfect for you, and it will leave you feeling the tranquila and embracing simple pleasures.
Getting to and Around Manizales
Manizales is easily accessible through two major airports: La Nubia in Manizales (a 10 minute cab ride to the city center) and Matecana in Pereira (an hour bus ride). It also has a large bus terminal located next to the lower cable car station (see below): buses depart to destinations throughout Colombia. For example, Bogota-Manizales takes about 8-10 hours (traffic dependent) and costs between 45-60.000 COP. Once in Manizales, taxis are easily found and very inexpensive, but there is also an extensive bus system that costs only 1,600 COP a ride (no passes, cash only). Look for the signs in the front bus windows to figure out where they’re headed. You can also take the cable car system between certain central location, including to the bus terminal for around 2.000 COP per ride.
What to Pack for Manizales
There’s an ongoing joke in Manizales that if you don’t like the weather, wait 15 minutes. I would add, or walk in any direction 15 minutes. It’s a very unique climate – in one part of town, it can be sunny and warm, and in the other, it’ll be raining. Because of this, bring an umbrella, waterproof shoes, and a rain jacket. It might not seem necessary but remember sun-block as well: the Andean sun can be intense when it shines!
Make sure to bring a good pair of hiking shoes as well, as many of the best day-trips from Manizales involve the great outdoors and hiking, sometimes in damp or muddy spots. Also, don’t forget the swimwear: there are lots of thermal baths to enjoy around Manizales due to the active volcanoes nearby. Check out the section ‘What to do in Manizales’ below for more ideas…
Where to Eat in Manizales
- For an authentic meal to the region, head to Don Juaco (Calle 65 #22A-44) and order the Bandeja Paisa, chicharron, or Ajiaco soup.
- Try a popular Colombian pastry, miloha at La Suiza (two locations: one in Centro, Carrera 23 #26-57 and one near Cable Plaza, Carrera 23B #64-06)
- My favorite coffee is found at Kaffe Florida (Calle 65 #23), but the people watching is better at Juan Valdez (across from Cable Plaza).
- Visit Limonaria (Carrera 24A #59-15) for cocktails or a great sangria and an inviting outdoor patio.
- To try a little bit of everything Manizales has to offer, head to the Manizales Food Market (Carrera 23c #63-3). Food trucks from around the city gather in a festive setting, and on Saturday nights there’s live music. This unique space just opened last month.
- Don’t overlook street food, the empanadas are to die for as well as the Mandarinazo juice – you can find both all over the city.
Where to Stay in Manizales
If you’re seeking relaxation in a rural country setting, you can stay at The Secret Garden 30 minutes outside of Manizales in Villa Maria. The welcoming owners, Daniel and Eliesha, also organize tours to local Coffee Farms and the Nevados through Colombia Eco Travel, which seeks to provide sustainable travel options that support the local economy.
For a traditional backpacking and hostel experience, choose Mirador Andino. It features amazing views of the city, an equipped kitchen, and Wi-Fi. Beds in dormitory rooms start at 40,000 COP, and private rooms start at 130,000 COP. It’s conveniently located downtown.
For a more comfortable and private hotel experience, I recommend Quo Hotel. Basic rooms (as shown above) start at $330,000 COP. It’s located in the trendy neighborhood of Palermo near Cable Plaza, where you’ll find some of the best restaurants and nightlife in Manizales.
What to Do in Manizales
- Take a taxi to Tierra Viva and enjoy a sunset while relaxing in the most natural of Manizales’ Hot Springs.
- Play Tejo in Villa Maria…it’s free to play as long as you’re buying beers.
- Plan a biking or hiking adventure to the nearby Nevados through Colombia Eco Travel.
- Rent a bike for a weekend and enjoy the community’s Ciclovia on Sunday mornings.
- Tour the Catedral Basilica de Manizales; it is not only a beautiful cathedral and the top attraction in Manizales, but climbing to the top features a beautiful view of the city. Enjoy a coffee on the 2nd floor in the café after the experience. Note: Tours are mostly given in Spanish, so ask ahead when English tours are being given during your stay.
- Visit the Monumento a los Colonizadores in the Chipre neighborhood, and on your way back take a turn on the giant swing at Torre Aventura.
- Work on your paintballing skills at Distrito Paintball.
- Meet some international friends at Gringo Night at Coffee Pub (Carrera 23A 64-32) on Monday nights.
- Take a trip to Rio Blanco Reserve for some of the best bird-watching in Colombia.
- Visit the lovely natural park Recinto del Pensamiento for some hummingbird watching, cable-car riding, orchid and butterfly spotting, and a lovely day out of the city in nature.
Finally, as you’re packing up your bag to leave Manizales, it is all of our hope that you think to yourself, “Si, estoy muy feliz in Manizales.”
About the Author
Ashley Peak is a world traveler and teacher seeking bright sides and adventures in her new country of Colombia. She’s based out of Manizales and is passionate about education in action, optimism, the power of stories, and experiencing new cultures and places. You can find her contact information and more of her journey through Colombia and South America at www.optimismrampage.com.