Due to two devastating earthquakes in 1875 and 1878, and then a catastrophic fire in 1925, much of Manizales was left destroyed. However, the city is full of great food, a buzzing nightlife and plenty of adrenaline-pumping activities. From soaking in natural hot springs to testing your nerve on a giant catapult swing, here are 10 awesome things to do in Manizales.
Like most towns in Colombia, there’s a compulsory statue of Simón Bolívar (represented as half-man, half-condor) standing proudly in the centre of Manizales’ main plaza. Plaza Bolívar is surrounded by most of the town’s cultural and historically important buildings, including the Palacio de la Gobernación on the north side (a beautiful Neoclassical building built in the late 1920s), and the Basilica de Manizales on the south side, both of which are well worth checking out.
With staff in 1950s-style burgundy-and-white uniforms, stained-glass windows and dark wooden booths, a visit to Pastería La Suiza is like stepping back in time. On weekends, the place is packed with retired locals reading the paper over a piping hot cup of coffee. La Suiza is most famous for its homemade cakes (the banana bread is dangerously good) and beautifully decorated chocolates. However, they also serve gourmet wraps, salads, pasta and amazing huevos rancheros breakfasts.
One of Colombia’s biggest coffee exporters, family-run Hacienda Venecia – with its stunning red-and-white colonial casitas, traditional machinery and WW2 Willys Jeeps chugging along the property’s dirt roads – somehow still manages to feel truly authentic. Set amidst rolling, green hills, the Hacienda staff run professional coffee tours, starting with a quick crash course in the ‘coffee classroom’ (including plenty of tastings!), followed by a guided tour of the fields and the processing, drying and quality control rooms. It’s also possible to stay on the property, either in the stunning Main House (equipped with its own pool) or there’s also a great little hostel for budget-conscious travellers.
The centrepiece of Manizales and the pride and joy of all of Manizaleños, the beautiful Catedral Basílica is a must-visit during your trip here. Measuring 106 metres (348 feet) from the base to the tip of the top spire, this is one of Colombia’s highest (and most impressive) cathedrals. With its glistening, gold altars, stained-glass windows and beautifully detailed ceiling, the inside is a beautiful sight to behold. However, the most impressive views, if you can handle the stomach-churning steps to the top, are from El Corredor Polaco; the cathedral’s highest accessible point. You’ll need a guide and to pay a fee to go up there, but it’s well worth it!
There are several hot springs in and around Manizales; perfect for those chilly, misty Zona Cafetera evenings. The most popular (and probably the nicest) are the Termales del Otoño, located in a hotel by the same name just outside the centre of town. If you go from Tuesday to Thursday, you’ll not only get fewer crowds, but you’ll also get a cheaper ticket. If you plan on going to Parque los Nevados, the Tierra Viva Hot Springs, located just outside the park, are also worth visiting. There are some cheaper hot springs in town, but note that these are usually overcrowded and have reggaeton music playing at full volume.
Introducing the juiciest steaks in the Zona Cafetera. Preparing each cut of meat and their respective side dishes to perfection, the staff at BFFL Serrano take their beautifully presented farm-to-table plates seriously. The décor is modern and tasteful, and the service second to none. Make sure you try the pink peppercorn sirloin served with seasonal vegetables and creamy mash, washed down with a glass of Chilean red.
If you’re looking to see the Zona Cafetera’s best tango, vallenato and salsa bands in a laid-back, locals spot, La Prendería is the place to go. At weekends, the bar is packed with a mixed, friendly crowd who know how to get the party started Manizaleño-style. The drink to try here is a carajillo, a strong espresso with a generous splash of rum. Be warned: after a few of these there’s no doubt you’ll be joining the locals for a dance!
Located atop Manizales’ highest point, Torre de Chipre is a 360-degree lookout point standing 30 metres (98 feet) tall, offering views of up to five Colombian departments, including Risaralda and Tolima. For 15,000 COP (US $5), it’s possible to strap on a harness and walk around the perimetre of the lookout, known around town as the SkyWalk. This area is also home to lots of bars, restaurants and small ice cream shops. So, after you’ve tested your nerve up on the tower, treat yourself to a beer (or two).
While you’re in the neighbourhood of Chipre, be sure to also check Manizales’ most impressive monument, Los Colonizadores. Crafted out of 50 tonnes (56 tons) of bronze, this beautiful work of art represents the city’s founding in 1849 and honours those who fought to protect it. Another highlighting here is the epic view over the city and, on a clear day, of the snow-capped Parque Nacional Natural (PNN) Los Nevados.
Los Yarumos, a 50-hectare (123-acre) protected park scattered with hiking trails, waterfalls and zip lines, is a great place to kick back, relax or get involved in some fun adrenaline activities. The park offers free, guided nature trail hikes, where you’ll likely spot birds and beautiful flora, while you can also go on their rubber catapult swing. If you fancy sticking around a little longer, you can pay for a range of action-packed activities, including abseiling, zip-lining, and full-day treks that include an 80-metre (262-foot) Tibetan rope-bridge crossing.