One of Colombia’s most beautiful National Parks is Los Nevados, a high-altitude park home to several active, snow-capped volcanos, and some stunning paramo ecosystems and mountain lakes. Manizales sits alongside the park, so it’s easily visited on a day trip. It’s no longer possible to reach the snowline of Ruiz Volcano, but adventurous types can enjoy a trek up to the glacier of Santa Isabel Volcano instead.
Manizales is the capital city of Caldas department, which is one of three regions that make up the Colombian Coffee Triangle. Therefore, it stands to reason that it’s a great place to discover the wonderful world of Colombian coffee firsthand. Hacienda Venecia is a beautiful working coffee farm just outside Manizales: you can visit for a day tour and learn all about the coffee process, or stay overnight in one of their beautiful authentic houses.
A lovely cloud forest park just 11 kilometers from downtown Manizales, El Recinto del Pensamiento has a beautiful butterfly house, lovely forest trails perfect for bird and orchid enthusiasts, and a chair-lift to take you up into the surrounding hills. It’s the perfect way to escape the city for a morning and enjoy some time in nature.
The impressive Manizales Cathedral boasts, at 106 meters, the tallest church tower in the whole of Colombia. It’s an impressive enough structure from below, with an unusual architectural style and made of reinforced concrete—but the views from the top of the tower are the main selling point. You’ll need to climb it as part of an organized tour, and it’s not for anyone with a fear of heights, but the views are simply astounding.
Manizales has also been colloquially known as “the factory of sunsets” within Colombia, due to the astounding sunsets which can be seen from the city daily. The best way to enjoy a Manizales sunset is from Chipre neighborhood, a popular part of town with locals, which is higher up than most of the city giving it privileged panoramic views. It’s best on a Sunday when local families visit and food vendors sell traditional snacks.
Manizales is surrounded by lovely hot springs and thermal baths, due to its position surrounded by volcanos. There are many to choose from, but the best-of-the-best is Termales del Ruiz, or Ruiz Hot Springs—a delightful boutique hotel and hot springs on the edge of Los Nevados National Park. The baths are lovely, and the hotel’s hummingbird feeders attract a plethora of exotic species.
If the view from Chipre or the Cathedral Tower isn’t good enough for you, then give the SkyWalk a go instead. This huge, elevated metal tower allows visitors to walk out—safely harnassed of course—onto a precarious metal platform for a once-in-a-lifetime view over the city below. Not for the faint-hearted, this one!
One of Manizales’ most beloved and iconic monuments is the spectacular Monument to the Colonists. This giant bronze tribute to the hardy first settlers of the region by local artist Luis Guillermo Vallejo is an aesthetically-beautiful piece of work as well as an important reminder of the pioneering history of the region.
Admittedly, this is an activity that you can only enjoy once a year, but it’s as good a reason to visit Manizales as any other. The Manizales Fair—or Feria de Manizales—is one of Colombia’s most fun festivals, taking place every year in the second week of January. With bullfights—although this part is controversial—craft shows, and the International Coffee Pageant, it’s a great way to shake off the New Year blues and get back into the party spirit.
If you’re interested in birds then Colombia is the best country to visit in the world, and Rio Blanco Reserve on the edge of Manizales is one of the best birding spots in the entire country. With five possible species of the rare and elusive antpitta, as well as the enigmatic masked saltator and dusky piha, a day birding at Rio Blanco is a sure highlight for any nature enthusiast in Manizales