We arrived into popayan the weekend of the Colombian presidential elections. The streets were unnaturally quiet with the anticipation that something monumental may happen.
Jardin | Our guide to the best Colonial Town in Colombia
Jardin, means Garden in Spanish, is a small Andean town south of Medellin which has relatively few tourists and the most interesting vibe. We landed here after spending time in the bustling city of Medellin and were immediately seduced by Jardin’s beauty and tranquility. Not many people travel to Jardin as there’s not loads to do but we found it a perfect place to hike, chill, chase waterfalls and just soak up the atmosphere of this lovely little town.
How did we get to Jardin
As we were in Medellin we had the option of getting a bus which suited us fine. The buses in Colombia are generally clean, on time and fairly comfortable. The company we used was Transported Suroeste and their ticket booth was in the North area of the Terminal del Sur in Medellin. Just a note, there is no metro station that will get you to the Terminal del Sur in Medellin as there is with the north bus terminal so we found the easiest way to get from the Hostel to the bus station was by taxi. The journey cost us approx 15000 COP which is around £3.00. You can get there by local bus but its a bit complicated and there isn’t a direct bus from the Centro area. The estimated journey time from Medellin to Jardin was approx 4 hours however due to roadworks and some recent land slides we were diverted and the journey ended up taking almost 6 hrs. The cost was 34000 COP each which was around £8 and the scenery on the journey made up for the delays.
Where did we stay in Jardin?
Jardin has an abundance of hostels, hotels, home-stays and even camping to choose from. We chose a hostel that was quite close to the centre of town and had all the facilities we needed such as wifi, laundry facilities and a shared kitchen in case we fancied cooking Chris’s famous spaghetti bolognaise again. The hostel we chose was Candieja hostel and it was literally 2 streets away from the main square and all the restaurants, bars and street vendors. It was perfect for our stay. The people who ran the hostel were really accommodating and always seemed happy and upbeat. The rooms were large although ours had no window it didn’t matter at all really. The hostel had a small souvenir shop at the entrance and a bakery right next door and it was so tempting when you could smell the cakes baking. Great location and great value for money.
What did we do in Jardin?
Visit the La Cueva del Esplendor ~ Cave of Spendor
To get to this site you have to book on one of the tours with the Agencia Cueva del Esplendor, which you’ll find at the end of Calle 15 in Jardin, as its not possible now to hike to the cave on your own. The area is locked down and you have to be with a guide to enter so we booked with the tour company and off we went. The time of our tour was 10am and for the ticket price of 60000 COP (approx £12.00) we got the transport to the start of the hike by jeep, breakfast at a restaurant before descending down to the cave, a snack and water, a guide and of course the return journey. When the jeep dropped us off for the start of the hike we had about 2km to walk along a track to the restaurant where we’d have breakfast. Breakfast was an arepa and an empanada and a slice of cheese accompanied by some sweet cocoa tea. It was really nice. After breakfast we followed a path down to a chained gate and were given instructions about it being really slippy and to be careful. Once through the gate we found ourselves descending on a path, sometimes steep and always slippery down towards the waterfall. In most areas the path had rope or steel handrails at the side to help you out. It took about 20 mins in total and just before the waterfall there was a river to cross on some stepping stones with some ropes either side to help balance you. After the river it was a short climb up and over to where the waterfall cascaded through a hole in the cave. It was quite an impressive sight and the noise was incredible. We spent around 20 mins in the cave getting pictures and getting wet before we made our way back up to the gate where we had entered. There was the option to have a dip in the pool with the waterfall but we didn’t take up that option. Apparently, as there’s no light in the cave the water is freezing! This was a good trip albeit a bit bumpy in the jeep on the road up and down but if you’re in Jardin you don’t want to miss it.
Ride La Garrucha
La Garrucha which translates into The Pulley is a small square iron shed which is suspended on two ropes and ferries people from the main area of Jardin up and over the ravine to the more agricultural areas. There is no two ways about it, its a strange looking contraption that wobbles fiercely as it makes it way from the bottom to the top station. If you’re visiting Jardin you have to ride it at least once. We, of course, gave it a go and for 5000 COP each way, per person it was an amazing experience. When it arrives you climb in and the attendant closes the door and signals to the top station. The attendant at the top station presses a button and the pully winch starts to pull the little shed up, over the river and the fields to the top station. The views are fantastic, the wobbles are real and its a pretty surreal experience. It doesn’t go too fast but fast enough for the ride to be over much too soon. When you reach the top you an either take it straight back down or follow the road up to the left for a hike up and round and back down to town. Either way there is a little cafe at the top station so you can have a refreshment before you carry on.
Eat street food and people watch in El Libatore Park
El Libatore Park is the main plaza in Jardin and is full of life and a fantastic place to watch the local people go about their business. The park is lined with bars, restaurants and shops and is dominated at the north end by the impressive basilica.
Basilica Menor of the Immaculate Conception
The imposing basilica is built from hand carved quarried stone local to the town and it is reputed that the original building was built around 1872 when Father San Juan Nepomuceno Barrera from the area, asked local towns people to carry stones equal to their weight to the site of the new church to be absolved of their sins. Whether that is true or not it makes a great story. The church became a parish in 1881 and then further modifications were made throughout the years with the church being finally declared finished in 1932. Whilst its an impressive building from the outside the inside is adorned in blue and gold which adds to its wonderful presence.
Whilst the park is lined on all 4 sides with restaurants and bars in the centre of the park you’ll find the street food vendors offering everything from filled arepas to large plates loaded with meat. My favorite was the small potato and chorizo stall where you can get a plate of baby potatoes and sausage topped with a sauce of your choice. So yummy. There were also stalls selling juices, chocolate covered fruit and the usual empanadas, fried chicken and breads with cheese. You have to try these places if you’re in Jardin. The sights and smells of these stalls is just wonderful.
The weekend is when the park really comes alive. As dusk settles the local towns people and the weekend tourists arrive in the park all dressed up in their finery. The local horsemen prance up and down on their Paso Fino horses showing the control they have and providing a wonderful spectacle for locals and visitors alike. Restaurants, which have been quiet for most of the week, are suddenly full and alive with people. The square has street entertainers all competing for spare tourist cash and there is a tourist train which takes giddy children and adults alike around the town. There is music coming out of every venue and its a wonderful atmosphere and something that, if you’re planning on being in Jardin, not to be missed.
Hike to the Cristo del Rey and have a coffee in Cafe Jardin
There are several ways to get to the Cristo del Rey statue which looks down on the town and we chose the most direct route, straight up from the town. You can also go by road either walking or by car or Tuk Tuk and alternatively you can go by cable car but this wasn’t working when we were there and looked like it hadn’t worked in a good few years.
Our walk started at the junction of Calle 11 and Carrera 2 and there you’ll find a set of steps that descend and wind down to the river. There you’ll cross a yellow bridge and there will be a sign right in front of you saying Cristo del Rey and pointing left. You start by initially climbing up a fairly well trodden path but be careful of the muddy bits and where there are loose rocks. Continuing upwards you’ll come to a banana plantation which the path cuts through and if you follow the path directly up then you’ll come to a restaurant and the white christ statue that overlooks the town. The views are stunning and from here you can see the cable car station which, whilst we were there, was out of use. You can either stop here for a refreshment if it is open or you can continue up the path which comes out onto a road and winds slowly upwards to Cafe Jardin. You can see the Cafe Jardin sign from the town as its letters are about 10ft tall. We stopped here for a coffee and it was really good. The views are a great reward for the hike but be warned its not an easy path. If its been raining then its incredibly muddy and with the loose rocks its not easy to walk on. The other route, via the road, may be a better option if you want a smoother walk.
Visit the many waterfalls in the area
As well as the Cave of Splendour waterfall which we mentioned above there are many more spectacular waterfalls within the vicinity of Jardin and we visited a few.
Firstly there is the Cascade del Amor which is a small waterfall just outside of the main town. To reach it you take Carerra 8 heading out of town on the road and about a mile or so up you’ll come to the cascada del amor on your left hand side. It’s not a massive waterfall but really pretty all the same
Secondly when Chris and I did our Cafe Jardin/Cristo del Rey hike we continued on past the cafe and took a path down to the left which got us onto a trail towards 2 more beautiful waterfalls. You follow the path right to the end passing the first waterfall and then up to the second one, La France, which is really special. The path is fairly straightforward and takes you right to the waterfalls. The path ends at the last waterfall and you then turn and make your way back along the same path. Keep your eye out for birds and other wildlife as there are loads of creatures around here.
Chris did a walk on his own to find some more, yes you guessed it, some more waterfalls. He took the road out of town on Calle 16 and headed upwards on the track. The path is clear and the first waterfall you come to is Cascada la Escalera which is a really pretty waterfall with a double stream of water flowing down. Further up the track around 2.5 km later, you come to the fall of the dragon waterfall which is also really large and impressive. You can continue onwards to 2 other waterfalls but on the day Chris attempted this it was very boggy and incredibly difficult walking so he stuck with the two and returned back to town. A good reason for us to visit Jardin again.
If you like waterfalls then Jardin is the place for you.
The Gallito de Roca bird reserve
The Gallito de Roca or cock of the rock as it is known in English is a spectacular red bird native to South America with distinctive plumage and call. In Jardin there is a protected garden where the lady who owns it allows visitors to come in and view these spectacular birds up close. The reserve is only open from 3pm to 5pm (dusk time) and costs 10000 COP per person to enter. Once inside the lady directs you to some viewing platforms and all you have to do is wait. Within minutes the first of the birds are landing in the trees and calling to each other. Swooping in and out and looking for vantage points settle down. Within about 30 mins or so there were about 10 birds all really close sitting in the trees, calling out occasionally and jostling for position on the branches. It was really special seeing these beautiful birds up close. The lady who owned the garden also had some bird feeders where other special and colourful birds came to feed and as we were leaving she pointed up to 2 little owls sitting in a high tree. This was a wonderful place to visit and I would recommend popping down here in the late afternoon if you want to see these gorgeous birds.
Jardin has to be one of the prettiest places we’ve visited in the world. The lush green landscape with the cutest town nestled in the middle really makes this place special. It is most definitely a tourist town but when we where there it was mainly local tourists this gave the place a very genuine feel. It was great just to sit in a bar sipping coffee watching the day to day life of the town.
Booking resources for your trip to Jardin
Tours & Tickets
You can book your visits as you go at the entrance to your chosen attraction or site. Or you could use the following links to book in advance or just to find out what your choices are in the area. GetYourGuide and Tiqets are our go to choices you could try Viator to see how they compare.
For a full list check out our resources page. Don’t forget always shop around to find the best deal for you. What works for us should be good for you but it’s always reassuring to check.
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