Exploring Manizales, Colombia | 9 Things to See & Do

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Snowy and smoky Ruiz Volcano over Manizales, Colombia



We may have decided to head to Manizales because it would finally complete our trifecta of visiting the three Colombian Coffee Region Capitals (the other two are Armenia and Pereira). But by about hour 3 we all agreed this was one super cool city - and one definitely worth checking out if you are a traveler into art, culture, museums, and the great outdoors.

Manizales - aka the "Coffee Capital of the World" - is situated in the middle of the Andes mountain range - meaning lots of hills, epic mountain views and easy access to hiking and biking trails (and lots of wildlife). If you want to mix urban city exploring, including checking out museums, religious buildings and authentic cuisines with fresh air and adventure, then definitely consider adding Manizales to your Colombian travel itinerary.

Below is a complete guide to the vibrant city, as well as the Top 9 Things to See & Do.

Quick guide to Manizales, Colombia




\\ A Quick History of Manizales

Manizales was founded in October of 1849 by a group of 20 Antioquians (people from the Antioquia region), most of whom were poor farmers looking to find a new place to settle down. This group would become known as The Expedition of the 20.

The early settlers faced harsh conditions - mainly from already established landowners (known as the Compañia) who were not interested in having new neighbors. Eventually, the local government agreed to give the land to the settlers and by the end of the year they had chosen to name the new town Manizales (mani = a gray granite rock that is commonly round in the region's rivers).

By the 1900s the city was a thriving community and an important junction for local trading. Two major events helped shape the city into what it is today. The first was the Great Fire (Incendio) of 1922, which burned down all of the buildings on multiple blocks of town (but only killed one person) and the opening of the Metro Cable (also in 1922).

The cableway ran 72 kilometers (44.7 miles) between Mariquita in the Tolima Department and Manizales and was mostly used to transport coffee between the coffee growing region and the Magdalena River, one of the most common ways to transport goods throughout the country and beyond. Overall, the cableway consisted of 376 metal towers (excluding the Torre de Herveo, which was made of wood and is one of the few towers that still exists), 8 engines and 22 stations. The cableway was finally closed in 1967.


Historically, the city’s main economy centered around the cultivation and production of coffee. This led to the creation of many new types of employment opportunities and the building of numerous factories. Today, while some of the factories still remain in Manizales, many others have either completely moved out of the city or decreased operation (this has led to a bit of an unemployment problem in town).

Presently, Manizales is still the main hub of the Colombian coffee sector due to it being the base for the Departmental Committee of Coffee Growers of Caldas, the companies Almacafé and Cenicafé, as well as a number of other industries involved in the whole process of coffee (like farming machines and exporters).

CITY NICKNAMES: City of Open Doors and the World Capital of Coffee

\\ Where is Manizales

Manizales is located in central Colombia. It is the capital of the Department of Caldas, which is one of the three departments that make up the Colombian Coffee Region (or the Coffee Axis, eje cafetero).

The city is situated in the Colombian Central Mountain Range, which is part of the much larger Andes Mountains. Due to this, the city is very hilly - something you notice right away once you start walking around. The town is also located quite close to Nevado del Ruiz, an active stratovolcano that can be seen from town on clear mornings (you can actually see the volcano smoking from the city).

Besides threats from the volcano - whose most recent major eruption was in 1985 - other issues include landslides and earthquakes.

MANIZALES ELEVATION: 2,160 meters // 7,090 feet

MANIZALES POPULATION: 552,155 in the metro

Manizales skyline lit up at night



Weather in Manizales

The city is considered to be a subtropical highland climate, meaning for almost the whole year you can expect spring-like weather and very limited temperature fluctuations. In Manizales, the temperature almost always hovers around 70° F (21° C) no matter the month. That being said, they do see a fair amount of rain: often up to 59 inches a year (1,500 mm). In fact, the only two real seasons are wet and dry and they will alternate every three months.

Due to the lack of drastic changes in weather, you can pretty much visit any time of the year and get nice, mild weather. The only time this might not be the case is in October, which, on average, is the wettest month of the year.




1. Sunset at the Mirador

We were told that Manizales is known as the “Sunset Factory” for its almost 100% rate of stunning sunsets. Therefore you have to absolutely head up to Mirador de Chipre for at least one sunset (if not all of them).

To reach the mirador from the central area, first start by walking up Carrera 23 until you reach Parque de Agua. From there keep walking up Calle 12 towards Chipre Tower (Torre Chipre), which looks like a large white water tower. From the tower you will start to see numerous food stalls, many of which sell ice cream (helado) or a sweet treat called an obleas, which is a thin cracker-crepe with arequipe (or other sweet fillings) inside.

Keep walking up the road for another 500 meters or so until you reach a wide patio area with tables and benches and more food stalls.

INSIDER TIP: along the way to the mirador there are numerous statues and pieces of street art. If you have the time, head up a bit early so you can check them out before the sun sets.


| COST: it is free to enter the mirador, but you do have the option to purchase many different types of food and drinks; including, coffee, hot chocolate, baked goods, hot dogs and wraps. A hot chocolate cost around 3000 COP ($0.75 USD // €0.66 Euro) while a wrap cost 8000 COP ($2.01 USD // €1.77 Euros)

| LOCATION: the mirador’s exact location is here. It is located right next to Monumento a Los Colonizadores (Colonization Monument).

Large white water tower and sign in Manizales, Colombia

2. Tour the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Rosary (Catedral Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Rosario)

If you are looking to get an amazing birds-eye view of the city - including views of the surrounding mountains (like Nevado del Ruiz) then we highly recommend taking a tour of the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Rosary, aka the highest church in Colombia and the third highest in all of Latin America.


| 106 meters (348 feet) high, from the base to the top of the lightning rod that sits above a cross on the tallest spire

| 800 square meters of stained glass, mostly of Biblical passages

| 2,300 square meters in size (24,756 square feet)

| 5,000 person holding capacity

| 1939, the year the new cathedral was finally completed


If you want to learn more about the history of the cathedral, which is more often referred to as the Manizales Cathedral, as well as more information on the settling and modernization of the city of Manizales as a whole, then we definitely suggest signing up for the tour of the church.

The tour starts on the outside of the cathedral where the tour guide (in Spanish) will describe the overall building process of the church. Then you will go upstairs to another small room and watch a video (this time with English subtitles) on the history of the city - including its numerous run-ins with fire - the history of the many churches that have sat on that spot and more information on the long process of finishing the church. After the video you will get to start the climb up to the top of the tallest spire. If you are afraid of heights this part of the tour can be a bit scary - but we promise the view from the top is worth it.

Altogether, we would say if you only have a day in Manizales then this is one of the things definitely worth doing. The views from the top plus the ability to learn more about the area as a whole is pretty fantastic. We would 10/10 recommend this tour.


| COST: 12000 COP ($3.02 USD // €2.66 Euro) per person

| TIME: 70 minutes

| BRING: a camera and sunglasses (though make sure to hold on to them tightly at the top) and some money - the tour ends in the cathedral's cool coffee shop

| FUN FACT: one question we had during the tour was "what is the difference between a church and a cathedral?" It turns out there are two differences: firstly, a cathedral is bigger than a church in size and secondly, it is run by a bishop instead of a priest or clergyman.

INSIDER TIP: even if you are afraid of heights (like Madalyne is) we still suggest doing this tour. The first climb up to the base of the spire goes along a narrow catwalk but there are thick railings and a cage completely around you (it feels quite safe). Then it is just a climb up a nice wide metal spiral staircase to the very top. If you don’t look down you can totally make it up (promise!).

3. Explore the Other Churches

While the Basilica of Our Lady of Rosary Cathedral might be the most popular religious building in Manizales it is definitely not the only one. The city is full of beautiful churches (iglesias) and many of them are easily within walking distance of the main square (Bolivar Plaza).

| Iglesia Nuestra Senora Carmen: this cream and orange colored church is easily visible from the cable car. It is approximately 1 kilometer from the cathedral.

| Basilica Menor de la Inmaculada Concepcion: easily reached via Carrera 23, this bright white and red church is located on the side of Parque Caldas, which is a popular area for street food late in the day. The basilica is about half a kilometer from the cathedral.

| Parroquia Los Agustinos: another easily accessed religious site in Manizales is this ornate, white parish located along Avenida Gilberto Alzate. The building is easy to see as it completely stands out from the other buildings along the road. It is roughly ⅔ kilometers from the cathedral.

Ornate white and red church in downtown Manizales, Colombia


4. Check Out the Simón Bolívar Statue (El Bolivar Condor)

One thing to know about Colombia is that they love Simón Bolívar, aka The Liberator. So much so that all towns will more than likely have a statue of him in their main square/plaza. While Pereira might have a naked Simon Bolivar riding a horse, Manizales takes it a step further and makes Bolivar into a half-man, half-condor. Yes it is as amazing and wild as you think.

The massive statue, which was created by artist Rodrigo Arenas, was meant to symbolize the transformation of Bolívar from a regular human to a spiritual condor (which also happens to be the national bird). The statue can be seen in Plaza Bolivar, located right in front of the Manizales Cathedral in the downtown area.


| WHERE: the Plaza Bolivar is situated between Carrera 21 and Carrera 22. The exact location is here.

| SEE: besides the large Simón Bolívar statue, you can also see the historic and beautiful main government building of the Caldas department across the way.

5. Ride the Aerial Tramway (Cable Car)

We are definitely the type of people who love riding any form of aerial transportation (if we are being honest this might be why we love skiing so much…). So you can bet the first thing on our Manizales to do list was to ride the aerial tramway/cable car.

Opened in back in 2009, today the cable car has two lines: one connecting the downtown area (el centro) with the main bus station and the other connecting the bus station to the nearby town of Villamaria.

We hopped on the cable car at the bus station where it was super easy to figure out (just look for the signs saying ACESO CABLE AEREO right as you hop off the bus). You simply buy your ticket at the window and then scan the paper to get in line. Each car holds 10 people but it seems like they consider it "full" after 6 people. The ride from the bus station to Fundidores Station (the closest station to downtown) took around 15 minutes.


| COST: it costs 2300 COP ($0.58 USD // €0.51 Euro) per person, per ride; you can also bring bikes on board, but this might cost extra

| ROUTES: right now you can just ride from the main bus station (terminal de transportes) to the downtown area or over to the neighboring town of Villamaria. It looks like there are plans for a third route to the university area but we don't know the extent of that construction.


6. Walk Around the Universities & Explore the Museums

Manizales is home to a number of different universities, to the point where some studies say that it is the second largest university city in the country. In fact, it might have the most universities per capita than any other city in Colombia. In total, you can find 7 different universities and colleges; including, Universidad de Caldas (University of Caldas), Universidad Nacional de Colombia (National University of Colombia), Universidad de Manizales (Manizales University) and Universidad Catolica de Manizales (Catholic University of Manizales).

Many of the universities are home to world-class museums, most notably the University of Caldas which has the Museum of Art, Museum of History, an Archeological Museum and a Botanical Garden within its campus. To reach the University of Caldas you can either take a bus down Avenida Santander (one of the main roads in the city) or walk around 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) from the downtown area. The exact location is