When we first made our way to the sleepy village of Jardin, Colombia, the plan was to spend one or two nights before continuing on. Not wanting to spend a full day in transit to reach the towns of Filandia and Salento further South, we were simply looking for something to break up the journey.
As the road twisted through high mountain passes blanketed in heavy fog, we still weren’t entirely sure what to expect. Soon, the late afternoon sun cut through the mist just as we began our final descent into the valley.
Minutes later, we stood on a small road lined with colourful buildings and breathed in the fresh mountain air. Jeeps full of the days harvest rolled into town from the local farms. Old men in cowboy hats and ponchos sat at street side tables sipping beer while children played in the wet streets, that glistened in the setting sun.
Before going to sleep that first evening, our decision was made. We’d extended our stay for a week.
What to do in Jardin, Colombia
Jardin hasn’t yet hit the tourism boom as other towns in Colombia’s coffee region, at least not for the gringos. That being said, it is a bustling weekend spot for locals from Medellin and other nearby towns.
At first glance, the sleepy town doesn’t appear to offer a lot more than the selection of lively cafes and restaurants lining the town square. However, the locals will proudly proclaim the many activities there gorgeous valley has to offer.
Arguably our favourite activity during our visit was hiking in the hills around the village.
There are several simple routes, in the form of small dirt roads, that leave right from the edge of town. Each one leading through beautiful farming communities on different sides of the valley.
To the Jesus Statue
On the north side, you can head up to the statue of Christ by following Calle 13 out of town and through the valley. Stick to the road, eventually it will do almost a full 180 and begin climbing. Alternatively, take a left when you see the sign for La Argelia Tucheria. Follow the road up past the trout farm and you’ll find a rough cow path winding up the hill which will eventually meet up with the previously mentioned road. Take a left and follow the road until you reach the next left and follow it down to the statue.
Once you reach the statue, you can hike back down beneath the cable car (which was not operational during our visit). There are a couple different paths to follow, we’re not sure where they all lead – other than down. We chose the one on the left of the viewpoint. Stay left at the first turn and a right at the second. You’ll eventually pass by a farmhouse near the valley floor where you’ll see a bridge over the stream beyond the house to the left.
If you don’t already have it, download the Maps.me app. It has these little roads clearly marked for you.
Waterfalls and Farmland
At the east end of Carrera 6, a stone path through a tunnel of trees is the beginning of another great walk. Continue straight when the path meets up with the road and take a right at the split. The road winds down passed some small waterfalls and crosses the river before climbing back up.
After the first bridge crossing, there are several short trails you can follow, but eventually you’ll want to get back on the road that winds up the hill. Eventually, you’ll make your way up the winding road and head through some beautiful farmland with banana trees and fields of tomatoes. Small farmhouses will dot the countryside and you’ll pass several smiling locals who can help point you in the right direction.
A great way to complete the circuit is to either follow the road around back to town via the newly constructed bridge on the south end. Though a better option, in our opinion, is to head to the cafe for a snack and a beer before taking a ride in the rusty garden shed…
Jardin has two cable cars, one on either side of the valley. The north cable car is a fairly modern system that brings visitors to the Statue of Christ. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, it was closed and seemed to be for quite some time.
The other cable car is a much more exciting – albeit questionable – ride. Nicknamed the rusty garden shed, the name holds true. The ride itself is a little shaky but it’s a fun way to reach the hills above town.
If you’re short on time or hiking isn’t your thing, you can simply ride the cable car up to the little cafe and take in the brilliant views before riding back.
Prices seem to fluctuate heavily from source to source. But for the two of us, the ride cost 7,000 Pesos (about 2 USD), one way.
The clip-clop of horseshoes on the streets can be heard from dawn to dusk in Jardin. A popular mode of transportation in the hillsides, owners will often prance their ponies past the bars and cafes for onlookers.
For a small fee, horses are available to ride through the town for a few minutes, a fun perspective to check out the buildings. Another option is to take a horse on a tour of some of the surrounding countryside.
A Waterfall inside of a Cave
Cueva del Esplendor has been one of the most popular activities over the years to visitors of Jardin. The natural waterfall inside of a mountain cave has recently reopened for visitors after being closed for over a year. The closure was due to some destruction from too many careless visitors and not enough regulation.
Due to some unfortunate miscommunication, during our visit, we had believed it was still closed. However, we met a French couple who toured the cave and had an amazing time. They paid 60,000 COP per person and said it was completely worth the cost.
One thing to note is that while access on horseback is no longer an option – as part of the new restrictions – there is a small river you must wade through to reach the cave. Just something to consider when dressing for the hike.
Catch your own lunch
The coffee region of Colombia is also famous for its freshwater trout. The cold, clean waters of the mountains provide a perfect environment for the tasty fish.
While it’s easy to find trout at one of the many great restaurants in town, some of the truchereas (trout farms) around town allow you to fish from their ponds and catch a fish yourself. They’ll prepare and cook the fresh trout while you sit and enjoy a drink.
Now, is it really fishing if it’s from a farm? Some may argue no, but it’s a great experience either way!
Fill your belly
For a little puebla, there are some really amazing options for food! We won’t list everything we tried, this post would be much too long if we did. Instead, here are a few of our absolute favourites:
Fantastic Fresh Trout
As mentioned above, trout is famous in this area and if you’re a fan of fish, you can’t leave without trying some. It’s offered in nearly every restaurant, but why not go straight to the source?
If catching your own fish isn’t your thing, you can still head to one of the great farm/restaurants and enjoy some delicious trout. Trucheria Montemar is where we ate one afternoon and the food was outstanding. The place was all but deserted aside from the two women who worked on site, but they happily prepared an amazing meal of fried trout, plantains, salad and sauces – all from scratch while we waited. The tartar sauce alone is worth the visit!
A Really Sweet Shop
If you’ve got a sweet-tooth, Dulces de Jardin has you covered. Famous throughout the region for its rich desserts and candies using local ingredients, it also has a small cafe attached where you can sit back and enjoy a coffee with your snack.
Our favourite is one of their specialties, Arequipe, a thick milk and sugar based paste, similar to a thin fudge. We picked up a jar of the delicious mocha-flavoured for only a couple dollars and devoured it by the spoonful.
Some Great Colombian Cuisine
Seeing as though this is a farm town, there’s a lot of hard working folks around here and the food shows it. There are many restaurants around town that serve the typical huge portions of very hearty meals usually involving huge amounts of meat and carbs.
Our two favourites are Gloria and El Meson Paisa. Gloria is open from late morning to mid-afternoon and caters to the working locals. It’s a simple spot with a very typical menu with huge portions and incredibly flavourful food with great prices. We shared a plate and walked away full.
El Meson Paisa is another nondescript spot with no frills and simply great traditional fare. We loved the authentic food here so much we visited several times. Aside from grilled meats and traditional soups, they also have the best Bandeja Paisa we found in the country!
Soak in the atmosphere
Unlike some of the other towns in this beautiful region of Colombia, this little Puebla seems to hold onto the essence of the small town vibe. While that’s not to say places like Salento and Filandia have lost the charm, Jardin just seems to have a little more.
Relax in the square under a tree on one of the colourful chairs and sip some delicious locally grown and roasted coffee while nibbling on a freshly baked pastry. Return again in the evening while horses prance in the streets and music engulfs the square from the many cafes. Sit back and mingle with the locals over a few cool beers as the evening winds down.
Getting There and Away
The easiest way and how most people visit is via Medellin. Several buses leave daily from Medellin’s South terminal and cost around 26,000 COP. Try to snag a window seat for this 3-1/2 to 4-hour journey, as the views are breathtaking!
Heading back to Medellin, a similar schedule is available in the opposite direction.
If heading to Salento or Filandia, catch the Chivas to Riosucio at 8 am from the same place you arrived, the cost is 20,000 per person. This “bus” is an incredible ride through some very sketchy mountain paths and is a thrilling experience in itself. Be aware that there are no closed doors or windows on these buses, so dress warm – it can get quite cold at altitude, especially if it rains. This is one of the most interesting ways to travel in Colombia!
The roughly 3-hour ride will get you to Riosucio around noon, where you’ll transfer to another bus heading to Pereira. This 3.5-hour journey is on a regular bus and costs 18,000. From Pereira, catch the final shuttle to either Filandia or Salento for roughly 6,600 COP. This final leg is under an hour.
If coming from Salento or Filandia, simply travel the route in the opposite direction. The only important thing of note is the Chivas only runs from Rio Sucio to Jardin at 8 am and 3 pm.
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