When you think of Colombia, you might think of lush jungles and beautiful warm beaches, but there is even more magic to Colombia than what comes to mind. Colombia has beautiful mountain towns with glaciers and hot springs. The town of Manizales is a short drive away from Medellin in the Antioquia region.
We were fortunate to travel to Manizales from Medellin during a two-week trip to Colombia with some adventure-loving friends. While there, I fell sick and decided not to hike to the glacier as planned, but our friends were able to go on the hike while I explored around town. We invited Travis to tell you more about his experience hiking a glacier in Manizales, and then we recapped other things to do in Manizales below. Keep reading to find out what to do on your next trip to Manizales, Colombia.
Manizales Travel Guide
So we know, we know… when most people think of Colombia they think of the drug war (remember the name Pablo Escobar?), violent politics, and all other negative connotations that they can think of tied to Latin America. But times have changed and Colombia is at the forefront of revitalizing tourism in Latin America. A more stable political climate and the recent negotiations with guerilla groups, notably the FARC, who drove much of the violence in Colombia, have slowly been turning in their weapons and re-integrating themselves back into society. As a result, travel is safe within the country and tourism is more widely embraced because of the safer communities.
Over the last 5 years, foreign tourist numbers have risen a steady 8-10% per year. In 2022, over 3 million foreign tourists visited the country, which included over 700,000 US residents (Colombia Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Tourism)
These numbers are expected to increase over the coming years as the country builds on its recent success in attracting tourists. And rightly so, as the country boasts a number of attractions.
First, it is a beautiful place, with hundreds of miles of coastline, towering mountain ranges, swathes of jungle (Amazon anyone?), and everything in between.
Colombia is known for its cultural heritage. Each region has unique cuisine, language innuendos, and cultural traditions (i.e. Medellin’s Flower Festival held each year in August). So whether you’re looking to explore the less-beaten path or want to enjoy the glamor of city life and culture in cities like Cartagena, Bogota, Medellin, or Cali, Colombia truly offers it all. And to top it off Colombians are known to be some of the most welcoming and genuinely friendly people of all Latin Americans.
Let’s get out and explore Manizales!
We made a weekend visit to Manizales from Medellin. By car, it takes 4-5 hours as you wind through the mountains. Nestled on rolling hills, the city of Manizales reminds you of San Francisco, with steep city streets and housing perched on every available space up and down the hills. Temperature ranges from 50-75 degrees year-round, a nice cool climate.
Home to over 300,000 urban residents and over half a million including the surrounding areas, there is plenty of activity in the city. The altitude in Manizales, Colombia is 7,000 feet (2133 meters), so prepare to adjust as you arrive in this beautiful mountain town.
How to get to Manizales
By Car – Driving to Manizales from Medellin, the route on Autopista Medellin-Bogota should be between 4-5 hours. Hiring a taxi would cost ~$60 USD (according to Rome2Rio as of February 2023). BlaBlaCar doesn’t seem to have caught on yet in Colombia but feel free to keep an eye out as it expands to other countries.
By Bus – Taking the bus is the most economical way to get to Manizales from Medellin. Several companies offer routes, including Expreso Brasilia and Monterrey. Tickets can be purchased online or at the terminal for around $25 USD per person, one way. The trip takes about 5-6 hours depending on the company and route.
By Plane – Technically you can fly from Medellin to Manizales, but as it is so close we would recommend another mode of transportation. If you intend to fly, you can catch a direct 50-minute flight any day of the week with LATAM (~$25 one way) and Avianca (~$45 one way) airlines.
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By Car – The fastest way to get to Manizales from Bogota is by car. The drive takes roughly 6-7 hours and goes along the Autopista Nacional via Neiva and Pereira. It is also possible to travel on the Libramiento Ponedera road, which takes around 8 hours in total. Hiring a taxi for this drive
By Plane – The easiest way to get from Bogota to Manizales is by plane. Flights take just over an hour and depart daily from El Dorado International Airport in Bogota. Airlines with routes between these two cities include EasyFly, Avianca, LATAM Colombia, VivaColombia, and Copa Airlines. Prices for a one-way ticket typically range between $50 – $100.
By Bus – If you don´t want to pay for a plane ticket, another option is taking a bus. There are several companies offering express service between both cities, such as Expreso Brasilia and Coomotor. The journey takes anywhere between 8-10 hours depending on traffic conditions and stops en route. Fares cost roughly $20-$30 USD one-way for most buses and some companies offer discounts for roundtrip tickets.
Hiking to a Glacier in Manizales
Although a short trip, we decided to hit one of the main attractions, Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados. Parque Los Nevados is one of the top three visited national parks in the country. It hosts eight volcanoes and three glaciers. Known to be the source of water for much of the coffee and agricultural economy in the region with its glaciers and snow-capped mountains, it is an important conservation destination.
We used the tour agency through our hostel Mountain Hostel to arrange for the day trip to hike to the Santa Isabel glacier section.
The itinerary for the guided glacier Hike:
- 4:30am – Leave from Manizales, grab snacks in town before heading up the mountains: 7,000 feet (2,134 meters)
- 7:00am – Stop for breakfast at a host family’s home: 7,700 feet (2,346 meters)
- 9:00am – Arrive at Parque Los Nevados Entrance: 13,451 feet (4,084 meters)
- 1:00pm – Arrive at base of Santa Isabel Glacier: 15,000 feet (4,572 meters)
- 4:00pm – Return to the park entrance and drive to Manizales
The views were breathtaking as we drove farther up the mountains to reach our breakfast spot.
We arrived at our breakfast hosts, a rural farmhouse with chickens out front, horses tied up along the fence, and cattle roaming in the fields around the home.
Breakfast was a meal of eggs, potatoes, tortillas, and coffee/tea.
We arrived at the ranger station about an hour later to check in and then continued to the trailhead.
What to Bring:
- Layers of clothing: in the morning ride to the park and starting the hike you will want at the very least long sleeves and a jacket.
- Hat, scarf: depending on the weather, as you climb towards the glacier it could get cooler and at times misty
- Hiking shoes/boots: the trail is a mix of gravel and rocks, and many times you have to walk over loose rock so sturdy footwear is highly recommended. You can visit a shop like REI to be fitted for proper boots, and if you are on a budget use that knowledge to find boots elsewhere that fit your needs. We like boots with ankle support, so we go for a high top, like these Timberlands. They’re also waterproof which is great for hiking on muddy wet trails.
- Hiking socks: wool socks, like Darn Tough, are great for hiking because they wick away moisture and last a long time.
- Water: 2-3 bottles should be enough depending on how much you are accustomed to drinking on a 6-hour hike. A water bladder like this one from platypus is a great way to carry the water on your back without having to bring multiple bottles.
- Snacks: we like these energy gels, but whatever you bring make sure you have protein and electrolytes!
What to consider:
As this is a high-altitude hike, it is possible that you could experience signs of altitude sickness; if you have never hiked at high altitude be aware that especially your lungs and head could suffer from the exercise at high altitude.
As for your lungs, if you were to experience prolonged shortness of breath, coughing with crackles, or complete loss of breath it would be extremely important to stop hiking and descend to a lower elevation until your symptoms ended.
The same would go for any head-related symptoms; prolonged headache, impaired speech or loss of consciousness would all be signs that you were suffering from a lesser to a greater degree of cerebral altitude sickness.
Again, the best way to recover would be to descend and rest at a lower elevation until your symptoms subsided.
But let’s hope that doesn’t happen and you could enjoy the entire journey all the way to the glacier and back.
Contributed by Travis Walker of Walker Wellness
Travis is a travel enthusiast and wellness advocate! He hopes that people get out and explore the world.
He also loves to help others succeed in their personal wellness goals. You can find him on Tiktok.
Photography from this section contributed by Peter Wedell
Other Things to do in Manizales, Colombia
If that early morning wake-up call and all-day hike doesn’t strike your fancy, you can stay behind like me and spend the day exploring the cute little mountain town of Manizales with many things to do. Instead of a 4 am wake-up call followed by a long bus ride in the dark, imagine waking up after a peaceful sleep-in and seeing this calm scene outside of your hostel window.
Grab some coffee and explore Manizales town
After a lazy morning in, I arose from my ridiculously comfortable bed in Mountain Hostel Manizales and gazed out the window over the sleepy, grayscale town. Believe it or not, but a little hummingbird zoomed in and landed on the bare tree branch situated in the courtyard outside of the window.
The scene was peaceful enough to spend a few minutes taking it in, but soon my stomach grumbled for breakfast.
I decided to head down to grab some hostel breakfast then out to check out the city in the daylight, as we had arrived late the night before and only grabbed dinner.
Just up the road from the hostel is the main street in Manizales called Santander, and after a quick internet search, I decided to check out a little coffee shop just around the corner at Pasteleria La Suiza.
I grabbed a coffee and a decadent treat, then headed outside to the patio to grab a view of the city while I indulged in this splurge of the day.
Today is all about taking my time and soaking in the slow pace of this mountain town, a welcome change from the hustle and bustle of Medellin only the day before.
Though it is smaller, Manizales boasts a great art scene, and it’s worth a browse on your slow day.
After coffee, spend some time traipsing up and down the main road Santander to see the restaurant scene, some thought-provoking murals and installations, and breathtaking mountain views from either end.
Climb to the top of Manizales Cathedral
Once you have hopped around the cafe culture and art scene, head East on Calle Santander to catch a view of the oldest church in Manizales: Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Rosary, which is the highest cathedral in Colombia.
The Manizales Cathedral, as it is also called, is beautiful inside with intricate stained glass windows casting colorful rays of light and shadow along the walls and vaulted ceilings. You can also head up to the top for a sweeping view of Manizales for a small fee. Then, continue down the main road until it reaches the edge of town, and take in the view of mountain layers fading into the distance.
Visit a Coffee Farm
While you are in the coffee capital of the world, you can take a coffee tour in Manizales at Hacienda Venicia. Coffee tours are offered with transportation from Manizales for around 100,000 Colombian Pesos, which is roughly $20 USD. The tour lasts about 2 and a half hours and is offered in both English and Spanish.
Hacienda Venicia is over 100 years old and features a charming working coffee farm set in the Zona Cafetera surrounded by beautiful nature you can enjoy on miles of hiking trails. Nearby is the Los Nevados National Natural Park where the above glacier hike is located. They also offer accommodations on the property if you want to extend your stay in this beautiful countryside.
End the day relaxing in the Colombian Hot Springs
Colombia is home to a vast countryside dotted with sixteen volcanos, so it’s time to take advantage of that geothermal energy and visit the hot springs. Whether you spend the day climbing the glacier or wandering through town, you can end it with a relaxing dip in the thermal baths.
This is an especially great way to meet back up if your group splits during the day for different activities, or also a relaxing way to wind down after a day of traveling to get here. There are several hot springs close to Manizales, some even open until nearly midnight. Your hostel should know about all of them, but to list a few:
- Termales El Otoño
- Termales Tierra Viva
- Termales Del Ruiz
Taking a trip to Manizales, Colombia is an adventure like no other. Boasting activities such as hiking a glacier in Los Nevados National Natural Park, taking a coffee tour, decompressing in natural hot springs, and the charming town of Manizales itself, this city has something for everyone.
Whether you’re looking for an activity-filled getaway or just want to relax with some local amenities, Manizales is an excellent choice for adventures in Colombia. With its wide range of attractions and beautiful landscapes, you can easily make your way around the region and explore the many wonders it has to offer.
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