This post was originally written for and published on Colombia Eco Travel.
Have you ever been on that top 10 must do popular destination trip and had to constantly remind yourself that you’re supposed to be enjoying it? Getting sucked into the strong tractor beam of the tourist trap happens to the best of travelers. I’ve found myself both in a large hiking tour group walking past litter every few steps and spending hours in line to get into a museum only to find that the one special painting is behind thick glass and has a swarm of people around it with flashing cameras. Needless to say, these haven’t been my most gratifying experiences.
But there is one way to overcome this disappointment…run in the opposite direction for a small town hardly mentioned in the guidebooks. Manizales is just such a town in Colombia. What’s really great about Manizales is that you aren’t obligated to do anything particular; there are no musts or top 10s or fanny-pack filled lines. Here are 5 reasons why travelers will fall in love with this small city in the coffee region of Colombia.
Imagine a Sunday in Manizales waking up to a cup of coffee from Kaffe Florida, taking part in Ciclovia with friends and the community (a wonderful Sunday tradition in which the main roadway is closed for walkers, runners, and cyclists), packing a lunch and a good book to Recinto del Pensamiento, and lastly catching a bus up to the Chipre neighborhood to take in the sunset. Manizales is a great city to catch your breath and remember how it feels just to enjoy the little things.
Off the “Gringo Trail”
You would have to search pretty hard to find a tourist in Manizales; a lot of people spend a night or two here on their way to somewhere else, but I think that’s a shame. Even though it’s off the typical tourist route, there’s still a lot to experience. You can hike in the Nevados, visit the active volcano Nevado del Ruiz, tour a sustainable coffee farm, play the explosive (literally) game of Tejo, and delight in the natural hot springs of Termales Tierra Viva.
The Food & Drink
Manizales has one of the top 10 cleanest waters in the world. This means you can enjoy fresh juice from local stands, cocktails with ice, and avoid bottled water – wonderful luxuries not found in Cartagena or Santa Marta. You can also find gourmet yet inexpensive meals at trendy restaurants like Limonaria and La Suiza or you can explore the food truck scene at the Manizales Food Market and taste a little bit of everything Manizales has to offer.
Close to Nature
Manizales is nestled in the Nevados mountains, which means there’s an abundance of hiking and mountain biking trails right outside the city. A favorite route among locals is Cerro de Oro, and it’s only 20 minutes by bus from the city center. You can also visit the Reserva Ecologica Rio Blanco for exotic bird watching.
The Most Welcoming People in the World
The people here in Manizales are uniquely welcoming. In my time here, I’ve been offered rides while walking in the rain, a family cooking lesson on the perfect ajiaco, and an invitation to join a family for juice and bicycle riding after only meeting them once, in addition to more free Spanish lessons than I can count.
I’ve been to Medellin, Santa Marta, and Cartagena, but every time I’m away, I can’t help but look forward to my return to Manizales.