in the previous episode, I told you about my adventures in the North coast of Colombia and Medellin.
In this post, I am taking you to a complete different stage by traveling further South. No more sea, beaches or urban landscapes, we are now going to smaller cities in the mountains.
But before I start, I would like to share something with you.
In this blog, I try to share with you what I see and what I feel. However it’s very difficult to share the other things that make the travel experience complete, like the sounds or the flavors. To enhance a bit the reading of my posts, my colombian friends, who are fond of music, suggested me to add some music, which I think is a good idea. So here is the link to some nice latino music. Enjoy!
The first stop is Manizales. It is a small city of 400000 souls located in the North of the Colombian coffee area (Efe cafetero). It has a difficult topography as it is located directly on the side of a mountain and has 3 cable cars to reach remote parts of the city. My hostel is located in the Zona Rosa. It is an area in the East side of the city a bit far from the historical downtown but very active as it is where the night life and the student community are located.
After a quick check in, I start planning my activities. My first idea was to hike to the top of a volcano nearby (EL Nevado de Ruiz, 5311m) but due to recent volcanic activities, the access to the volcano is strictly forbidden.
As Plan B, I choose to spend the next day simply exploring the city.
In the evening, I meet Julie, my neighbour in the dormitory. She’s a nice french traveler living in Guyane who started exploring South America along the Amazon river.
We exchange a bit about our plans and she gives me a lot of tips for Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
The first night in Manizales is quite chilly. I can feel the effect of the altitude (2200m) on the temperature and a bit on the air.
On the next day, I wake up quite early to walk a bit in the city. I start by checking the Cable Tower, a big known metallic tower a few blocks from my hostel.
A few kilometers further West, I arrive at the central Plaza Bolivar where I take a look inside the cathedral. I also go to the top by taking the so called polish corridor, which is a high platform accessible by orange spiral stairs. The polish corridor got his name from the invasion of Poland by Hitler, which triggers WWII and which happened at the same time the building was finished.
After a quick lunch in the area, I start walking to the Chypre area in the North West, which offers a nice view on the city and the valley.
After another chilly night in Manizales, I take the bus to the city of Salento to explore the Los Nevados national park.
The ride is not so long, about 2,5 hours with a stop in Pereira, but it is a bit shaky due to the mountain roads and because inter city bus drivers tend to drive very fast. The scenery is very beautiful, especially all the green coffee plantations around.
I arrive in the middle of the afternoon in Salento to check in at a hostel managed by a french/argentinian couple where Julie arrived the day before. After having dropped my bag, I am taking the small challenge to get a haircut. I go to a small salon near the hostel where people are curious to see me come in. With a mix of English and Spanish, I try to explain the hairdresser that I don’t want a “Christiano Ronaldo” style haircut like the other boys in the room, but he seems not to understand my joke ;). I know, dear readers, some of you already warned me to be careful with my jokes, as my humour is sometimes too.. high level? 😉 and can be misinterpreted.
After that, I go watch the sunset on the city on a viewpoint located on a hill near the city center.
Back at the hostel, I discuss with some other guests about the plan for the next days. The main highlight of the area is the Cocora valley which offers different levels hike. The longest and the most beautiful one takes 3 days (37kms, 2000m+) and ends at the top of a volcano at 5000m. However due to time constraints and my still poor acclimatization to the altitude, I prefer not to try it this time. I will go instead for the 1 day short version (16kms, 700m+) which offers great views on the valley and goes through palm tree fields.
This hike is on the plan for the next day. I wake up verrrry early (08:30) to have breakfast and some time to buy snacks for the day. Some people got motivated for the long hike and left already at 06:30. Julie is the only one motivated to come with me on the day hike.
We take a jeep at 09:30 from the central place to the trailhead. The 30mins ride is quite interesting. On a first sight, there’s only 6 place in the vehicule, 2 in the front, 4 in the back, but actually, the jeeps are not leaving if there are not full, which means 13 people 🙂 The 7 others are standing in the middle or in the back of the jeep.
We are really lucky with the weather. It is sunny and quite warm, which is the exact opposite of the weather forecast (cold wind and rain). The trail is simply amazing and one of the best I walked in my life. The landscape is beautiful and very diverse. We see different waterfalls on our way and have the coffee plantations in the background.
At the furthest point, which is the middle of the trail, we arrive at a small farm where we have lunch while looking at beautiful hummingbirds. It’s quite challenging to take pictures of them as they’re flying very fast but everything is possible with a bit of patience.
The second part of the trail is the most difficult. It becomes very steep, and I can also feel the effect of the altitude (we are at 3000m). However the view on the valley is stunning and it’s a nice experience to walk between giant palm trees.
After a bit more than 6 hours, we are back to the jeep parking, where we find a vehicle to bring us back to Salento.
In the evening, I feel quite exhausted by the day and go to bed quite early.
On the next day, the program is a bit lighter. After a short breakfast and a nice discussion with a group of french travelers arrived during the night, I decide to walk to a coffee farm to attend a coffee tour. The walk is quite short (only 3 kms) but not so easy as it’s going up and down the whole way. The tour starts with a very small group, we are only 3, a young Belgian couple and I. The tour is very interesting. Every step of the production process is explained, from the seed to the final cup of tea. I enjoy particularly walking among the coffee trees and picking the red beans (mature enough to be processed). At the end of the tour, we of course got the right to enjoy a nice cup of coffee made with fresh coffee.
Back in Salento, I have a quick lunch with the belgian friends, and they then take the bus to Medellin. I spend some time in the very colorful city center to take some pictures before going back to the hostel.
We start the evening with some friends from the hostel at the central square drinking local beer and we then head to a bar nearby to play a local game called Tejo. The game is quite fun. The goal is to throw some 2kgs metal discs to an area filled with clay with a metal circle in the middle on which are put some paper triangle. The particularity of those triangle is that they are filled with gunpowder and so when, the disc hit the metal circle with the right angle, it sets the paper triangle on fire, which triggers a small explosion.
We finish the night at a billiard bar, where French friends challenged English guys from the group. Not surprisingly, the English won 🙂
After 2,5 days in Salento, it is time for me to continue my journey and take the bus to the city of Popayan. Actually, I initially planned to go to San Agustin first, but as the bus trip was too long, I chose to split the journey in 2.
After a nice diner at a cheap Chinese restaurant near my hostel, I start planning my activities for the next day. Unfortunately, everything that could interest me, like a hike on the Purace volcano are not possible due to bad weather conditions. I finally choose to spend the morning visiting the city center and to come back in the middle of the afternoon to watch the football game France against Portugal (finale of the UEFA Euro Cup 2016).
Popayan is a very nice colonial city. It is listed as a UNESCO heritage site as the white city, due to the color of most of the buildings and houses. In 1983 it suffered a earthquake with destroyed most of the city. Everything was mostly rebuilt, but some ruins are still to be seen.
Nothing particular to say about the football game 😉
After a second night in Popayan, I leave by bus to another highlight in Columbia, the archaeological park in San Agustin.
Report about it in the next Post!