EVERYTHING A TRAVELER NEEDS TO KNOW ABOUT EXPLORING MANIZALES, COLOMBIA, INCLUDING THE TOP 9 THINGS TO DO + SEE, WHERE TO STAY AND WHAT TO EAT.
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.
MANIZALES, COLOMBIA: YOUR GUIDE TO COLOMBIA’S COFFEE CAPITAL
\\ 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
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.
TOP 9 THINGS TO DO IN MANIZALES
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).
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.
BY THE NUMBERS:
| 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.
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 here.
7 | Explore Rio Blanco
Located just on the outskirts of town, the Rio Blanco Reserve (Reserva del Rio Blanco) is an amazing place to get back to nature and see some animals - especially birds. The reserve is home to over 380 different species of birds (pajaros), as well as numerous types of mammals, butterflies and orchids - many of which are endemic (only found there).
If you want to fully immerse yourself in the stunning landscape of Rio Blanco then we suggest reaching out to them (at least two days in advance) and booking a night at the reserve's hotel. This allows you to get the full experience of viewing the birds, for many of them are most active in the early morning and late evening.
| COST: free to enter, but you need to reach out to the reserve ahead of time so they know you are coming (it is privately owned)
| LOCATION: the reserve is about 25 minutes from downtown Manizales. You can get a taxi to take you (though you will likely have to walk the last couple of kilometers due to river crossings) or reach out to the reserve's driver. Find all of this information in this in-depth guide to the nature reserve.
8 | Soak & Stay at Some Hot Springs
Due to the region's often volatile volcanic history, it is not super surprising that you can find numerous hot springs (termales) dotted around the area.
Within a short radius of Manizales alone you can find everything from luxury hotels with hot springs that look like pools to more rugged springs in forested campgrounds. Depending on what kind of soaking experience you want to have - and how much money you are willing to spend - you can find the right termales for you. Below are a few good ones.
| Hotel Termales del Ruiz: this might just be the most expensive hot spring hotel in the area (maybe Colombia...), but if you want to spend some time in complete comfort and soak away all of your worries - plus get an awesome view of the mountains - then this spot is perfect. Bonus points for it being the closest to the national park entrance.
COST: 588,745 COP ($147.94 USD / €130.39 Euros) // Book Your Stay
| Hotel Termales El Otoño: one of the highest-rated hot spring resorts/hotels in the area, this quiet spot is located on the main road up to the national park. Altogether the hotel offers three different thermal pools to soak in, as well as a hot spring water park (yes that exists). The hotel is just under 30 minutes from Manizales.
COST: 274484 COP ($68.97 USD / €60.79 Euros), note some of the hot springs/waterpark services cost extra // Book Your Stay
| Hotel Termales Tierra Viva: just a bit further down the road from El Otoño (towards Manizales) is another hot spring resort/hotel, though this one does not offer a waterpark... Instead, it focuses on total relaxation and includes services like massages, facials and pools surrounded by a dense garden.
COST: 260000 COP ($65.33 USD / €57.58 Euros) for the hotel or 30000 COP ($7.52 USD / €6.64 Euro) for a day pass to the hot springs // Book Your Stay
| Termales La Gruta: if you are just looking to soak for a bit and don't want all of the luxuries that come with doing it at a resort or hotel, then your best bet would be to stop by Termales La Gruta, which is located off of the main road into the park and about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from Hotel Termales del Ruiz. These hot springs are really just a couple of stone pools with a few covered areas for overnight tent camping. You do have to pay to enter (it is privately owned) but we suspect it is cheaper than the three termales above.
9 | Visit Nevado del Ruiz & Los Nevados National Park
One of the most unique and beautiful natural attractions close to Manizales has to be Nevado del Ruiz and the greater Los Nevados National Park.
While Ruiz is often easily visible from the city (and in fact we have heard people regularly have to clean ash off of their cars because of the volcano, that's how close it is) it actually takes a fair amount of time to reach the mountain and the national park. In total, expect to spend just under two hours driving between the city and the final stop at the base of the mountain (known as Valle de las Tumbas/Valley of the Tombs).
The valley sits at 4,450 meters (14,599 feet) and is one of the best places to get up close and personal with the mighty volcano - including seeing remnants of past eruptions and even snow. And, if you are really lucky, you might even be able to see the Nevado del Ruiz glacier - one of the last remaining tropical glaciers in the world.
Now, Los Nevados National Park is a massive park, meaning there are a lot of areas to explore. While you do need a guide (or your own personal car) to enter the Nevado del Ruiz/Brisas section, for many other the other areas you can actually enter by foot and without a guide. We were lucky enough to spend 4 days trekking in the section close to Cocora Valley and Salento. If you are just looking to do an epic hike or multi-day trek, then we highly recommend heading towards the southern part of the park where you can still find epic landscapes. Including, places like the Paramillo del Quindio - which looks a bit like a Martian landscape - and Nevado del Tolima, another volcano (though one that is slightly less active).
Learn more about trekking in Los Nevados National Park in this article.
| COST: as far as we know, you must enter the Nevado del Ruiz/Brisas section with a guide. This can cost anywhere between 288969 COP ($72 USD // €64 Euro) to 522837 COP ($131 USD // €115 Euros) depending on the company and the tour. Other sections of the park - including areas close to Salento and Pereira - are mostly free to enter (if not going with a guide).
| WHERE: Valle de las Tumbas (Valley of the Tombs) is an hour and 45 minutes from Manizales. This is the end of the road and really the closest you can get to the volcano. Along the road in you can stop at a few restaurants, hot springs and near the end, a refugio.
MANIZALES | THE NITTY-GRITTY
\\ How to Get to Manizales
The easiest and most common way to reach Manizales is by bus. The main bus station (terminal de transportes) is located on the far south side of the city. From the bus station you can easily reach the main city center by taking the cable car to Fundidores Station (estacion). This will be the second stop on the downtown line.
The bus station has numerous bus companies serving it, making Manizales a great spot to base yourself if planning to explore other towns/spots in the Caldas Department.
COMMON BUS ROUTES
FROM Manizales: Aguadas, Salamina, Honda, Medellin
TO Manizales: Pereira, Armenia, Medellin, Bogota
We took a bus from the main bus terminal in Pereira (one of the other three coffee capitals) to Manizales and it was a really easy ride (though veeeeery curvy). We believe you can get a bus between the two major cities all day long for there were numerous bus companies running the route.
| COST: 13000 - 15000 COP // $3.26 USD // €2.88 Euros for one ticket
| TIME: 50 minutes to 1.5 hours depending on traffic in the two cities (especially Pereira)
💬 INSIDER TIP: if you are someone prone to getting car sick/motion sick, we highly suggest taking some medication before the ride. The road up to Manizales is very curvy and the bus drivers will often go quite fast. Both of us got car sick during the ride up and we actually had someone throw up (yuck) on the ride back down. They do sell Dramamine (motion sickness medication) at the bus stations.
Book your bus ticket ahead of time (and check out possible bus routes) at Busbud.
If you don’t want to take a bus to Manizales there is also the option to fly into Aeropuerto de Nubia, which is located on the southeast side of town. But we have heard the airport is quite small and doesn’t run many flights in and out. It is more likely that you would fly into either Pereira or Medellin and then have to bus to the city anyway.
| COST: flights from Bogota (the capital of Colombia) cost between $59 - $64 USD // €52 - 56 Euros
| TIMING: there are usually two flights a day (usually 7 days a week); one in the early morning (~ 6:35 AM) and one in the afternoon (~ 2 PM)
| AIRLINE: Avianca seemed to be the best airline for finding flights in and out of Manizales. Search their website here.
\\ How to Get Around Manizales
Manizales, even though it is relatively big, is quite easy to get around. The most common way is to simply walk - especially if you are only planning to be in the central/downtown area (el centro).
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: the city is quite hilly - so much so that we started to compare it to San Francisco in the USA, a town famous for its up and down topography. The one street we found to be the least hilly was Carrera 23 - which is lucky since that is also the most walking friendly street in downtown.
Other common forms of transportation in Manizales include riding the cable car (especially from the bus station to downtown), taking a taxi, or trying out the public buses.
You also have the ability to rent a bicycle from one of the public bike sharing stalls. This public service costs 20000 COP ($5 USD // €4.43 Euros) per year for Colombians, so we suspect it is quite cheap if you are looking to rent a bike for the day. The only issue with this is that you may or may not need a Colombian number (cedula). The easiest bike sharing station is right next to the Fundidores Cable Station and Fundidores Park.
💬 INSIDER TIP: Manizales is actually rated as the most bike friendly city in all of Colombia. If you have a bike - or are looking to bike around the city - you will find numerous bike lanes and bike aware drivers.
\\ Where to Stay in Manizales
Hostal Mirador Andino
This is probably one of the coolest hostels in all of Colombia. Located steps from the Fundidores Cable Car Station and easily within walking distance of almost all of the top things to do listed above, Hostel Mirador Andino is an amazing place to stay and base yourself for exploring Manizales.
The hostel offers private rooms and dorms, as well as access to a kitchen and a big sun deck (incredible views of Nevado del Ruiz included). The owners have decorated the hostel with all sorts of interesting items - including Thai religious statues, intricate historic furniture, Victorian-era paintings and photos from all sorts of places and time periods. It honestly feels like you are staying in the house of some exciting National Geographic explorer.
| COST: 170000 COP ($42.59 USD // €37.65 Euros) for a private room with a private bathroom, 68000 COP ($17.04 USD // €15.06 Euros) for a bed in a dorm
| AMENITIES: a big, well-stocked kitchen, a covered patio with a bar (and amazing views), fast internet and great travel resources (books, maps, pamphlets, etc.)
| LOCATION: the hostel is easily seen from the cable car (the name is written in big red letters). It is located right next to Parque Fundidores along Carrera 23. Exact location here.
\\ Where to Eat in Manizales
There are numerous restaurants and bakeries (panaderias) located along Carrera 23, the main walking road through downtown. If you want to try some traditional food then we suggest seeking out a common Colombian breakfast in the region, the bandeja paisa or bandeja frijoles (a large meal consisting of beans, rice, an arepa, plantains, avocado, an egg and different types of meat).
Other popular foods that are worth trying are pandebonos (a type of bread that is gooey and slightly salty, delicious), grilled plantains with cheese (this is easily found on the streets and in the plazas), thick arepas con chocolo (a thick circular “cake” made of sweet yellow corn) and lots of fresh fruit.
Finally, no visit to the coffee region - and especially the “Coffee Capital of the World” is complete without sampling the local café. While you can easily find little tintos (small cups of coffee) along the streets, we also recommend visiting a few local cafes or better yet, visiting some of the local coffee fincas.
| COST: things are relatively cheap in Manizales, even though it is a pretty popular and busy city. You can expect to pay…
12000 - 15000 COP for breakfast/lunch ($3 USD // €2.66 Euros)
1500 - 3000 COP for a cup of coffee (700 COP for a small street cart tinto) ($0.40 USD // €0.33 Euros)
1500 COP for a pandebono ($0.40 USD // €0.33 Euros)
2000 - 3000 COP for a cup of cut fruit like mango and pineapple ($0.50 USD // €0.44 Euros)
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: the city doesn’t really start to come alive until mid-morning so if you are thinking of heading out to grab a coffee or breakfast we suggest waiting until at least 8 AM, even later if it is the weekend. Similarly, like many other areas of Colombia, many places are closed on Sundays.
Manizales might be most famous for its coffee production and proximity to a certain active volcano, but after spending a good three days in the vibrant city we started to realize there was much more to it than what first meets the eye. If you are looking for an exciting city to explore - especially one that easily combines urban comforts with the great outdoors - then we cannot recommend Manizales, Colombia enough.
If you have any questions about the city, or about the Colombian Coffee Region (or just Colombia in general) then please leave a comment below or reach out to us directly here.
MANIZALES TRAVEL MAP
INTERACTIVE MAP OF THE TOP 9 THINGS TO SEE + DO IN MANIZALES
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PACKING ESSENTIALS FOR COLOMBIA
| Reusable water bottle: we cannot imagine traveling without our LARQ water bottles thanks to their fancy rechargeable filter that eliminate up to 99% of bio-contaminants.
| Eco-friendly sunscreen: we love MadHippie sunscreen because it’s cruelty-free, vegan, broad spectrum, and reef safe. And even better, they donate $1 for every purchase to conservation efforts.
| Allbirds shoes: comfortable shoes can make or break an adventure or travel day, these eco-conscious and cozy shoes from Allbirds have been our faves for years.
► Find our full sustainable travel packing list here.
STAYING SAFE & PLANNING AHEAD
| SafetyWing: make sure you are staying safe with this easy-to-sign-up health insurance that is specifically meant for digital nomads. You can even sign up once you are already abroad.
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| iVisa: this site helps make sure you have all of the necessary documents and entry requirements while traveling.
| Wise: this app makes it super easy to transfer money between currencies while abroad, keeping you from worrying about whether you are getting the right exchange rate or not.