When Craig and I were trying to figure out whether we should go straight from Salento to Medellin, or make a pit stop in Manizales, he asked our Colombian hostel manager in Salento about her opinion. “Manizales??” she said, “Es frío, feo, y grande.” It’s cold, ugly, and big. Not a very good endorsement. Then we met some other travelers who had come from there, and they said they had like it. Since local opinion is sometimes way different than backpackers’ opinion, and we wanted to cut the bus ride into separate travel days, off to Manizales we went.
And we were very glad we did.
The first amazing thing about Manizales, is the cable car. Straight from the bus terminal to the heart of the city, the cable car stretches across a huge, hilly terrain and several neighborhoods. Craig and I were flabbergasted at its breadth. Why can’t we do something like that in Seattle? It would just suit the hills and be so convenient and quick, especially from Capitol Hill to Seattle Center. But Craig reminded me of the plague of NIMBYers who would probably protest commuters floating above their houses. Such a shame, because that cable car was magical.
We stayed in Centro, at the Hostal Kalaidoscopio, which was a magical place that I think is my favorite hostel so far. The owner, Martha, was knowledgeable, helpful, and sooooo nice. They also had cable TV in the living room and in our private room, so that I could keep up with the U.S. Open. And the included breakfasts! Gah. I can’t talk about it. It makes me want to go back.
Amazing hostel aside, we liked Manizales quite a lot just for the city itself. As Craig and I have come to realize, we love big cities. I, especially, am enamored of all the shops. Even though I have no room in my backpack for any new purchases, I still like window shopping… it satisfies a certain feminine craving in my soul. Craig, obviously, could care less. He likes the buildings and the architecture and the mass transit. Not that I don’t enjoy these things, but… to each his own.
We had really sweltering heat for our first two days (which completely defied the prophesies of the hostel manager in Salento), but the third day dawned cloudy. We still set off for the Recinto de Pensamientos, a nature reserve on the very edge of the city, but still only a $0.75 bus ride practically door to door from our hostel. When we arrived, the incredibly nice Colombian family that were also on the same tour, blatantly took pictures of us–the Gringos–and gave us advice and insisted that we visit their own home when we arrived to their region. We’ve found that Colombians, by and large, are as extremely friendly and hospitable as everybody has told us.
The nature reserve was really beautiful, and we saw lots of awesome plants (bonsai trees, orchids), and they had a butterfly garden. It doesn’t sound like much, but Craig and I thought it was worth the 13,000 COP ($7USD) price tag. It was a really beautiful walk through the grounds, and we got to practice our Spanish with the other visitors and the tour guide.
All in all, it was a great city to relax in, to watch some tennis, to cook some borscht, and to enjoy big city life again. I left with a heavy heart, even knowing that we were headed to an even bigger city (Medellin!). I don’t think we’ll ever be able to go back, at least not on this trip, but it will always be a good reminder to experience things and places for ourselves and to not pay too much attention to any negative commentary. It wasn’t the first time we’ve heard that a place is horrible and found it to wonderful, and I don’t think it will be the last.