Nevado del Ruiz

Nevado del Ruiz Covered in Snow: Manizales, Colombia

On clear days I can see Nevado del Ruiz from my apartment. This highly active volcano usually has a dusting of snow and a thick plume of ash trailing off in the wind. The ash has the same blue-grey tone that dryer lint does. I know because I sweep it off my floors every morning.

Nevado del Ruiz is one of three volcanoes in Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados. It is the northern-most volcano and the only one currently active. For this reason, access at this end of the park is only possible with a park ranger.

Nevado del Ruiz Horses on the Murillo turn-off: Manizales, Colombia

Without a car or motorcycle, a guided tour is the next best option. My sister and I filled the last two seats of a Saturday morning tour. We didn’t know it until we arrived at the meeting point at 7am, but we were in the middle of a Mexican-Colombian-American family vacation.

Our family never had vacations, so it was fun to be in the middle of someone else’s. We received snacks, Nan had a riveting discussion about horror films, and we made it into the family photos.

Nevado del Ruiz - streams at the Murillo turn-off: Manizales, Colombia

After breakfast and a canelazo pit stop (agua panela with cinnamon), we made a quick detour to Murillo. It’s a turnoff just before the park entrance. For the life of me I don’t remember why we were there except for the fact that it was beautiful.

Nevado del Ruiz  - the Murillo turn-off: Manizales, Colombia

Before we could enter the park, we had to stop at the tourist center in Las Brisas for an orientation film. Afterwards, a guide lead us up to the highest accessible location. When Nevado del Ruiz was more dormant, guests were able to go up to a lookout point. However, Valle de las Tumbas is where the tour now finishes.


The clouds rolled in shortly after we arrived and shrouded the whole landscape. There are very few places in the world with páramo ecosystems. Not only are they gorgeous and mercurial, but they are an incredibly important source of water.

One plant that carpets the ground with dense green shoots is colloquially known as colchón de pobre, poor person’s mattress. It can hold up to 100x it’s own weight in water and is responsible for regulating the release of water in times of excess and drought.

Nevado del Ruiz - View from Valle de Las Tumbas: Manizales, Colombia

At the end of the tour we were freezing – the páramo can be very, very cold. Luckily for us the last stop of the day was the hot springs at Termales el Otoño. The water was piping hot and the view was stunning.

Nan and I both agreed it was the best family vacation we’d ever been on.

Nevado de Ruiz - View from Valle de Las Tumbas: Manizales, Colombia

About: Kumanday Hostel & Tours

About: Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados – From the visitor center in Las Brisas, the last entrance to the park is at noon. With a Colombian cédula the entrance fee is $120,000 pesos, $140,000 without.

About: Termales el Otoño

The Colonial Pueblos of Barichara & Guane

The colonial cobblestone streets of Guane, Colombia

It was a little bit of a miracle that we even made it to Barichara.

Shortly after landing in Colombia, my sister made the grim realization that all the roads are curvy and that she’s really prone to motion sickness.

After suffering an excruciating 11-hour ride from Bogotá to Bucaramanga, in which I had to ask twice for barf bags, she made me swear we’d fly to Manizales instead of taking the bus. It was a half-hearted promise I made because I knew if we flew we’d miss out on Barichara.

The colonial cobblestone streets of Barichara, Colombia

Barichara is a beautiful pueblo founded in 1702 in the department of Santander. If I weren’t studying for a Spanish exam, and my profe wasn’t regañandome, I’d spend more time trying to describe just how the afternoon sun illuminated the warm tones of the cobblestone streets.

The colonial cobblestone streets of Barichara, Colombia

There was a main cathedral and several more austere, yet beautifully constructed churches. The cemetery was filled with both flowering trees and brightly decorated graves.

A small cobblestone plaza in colonial Barichara, Colombia

This part of the country is famous for a delicacy called hormigas culonas, big-butted ants. I bought a small batch for 8,000 pesos to share at school. They had a very earthy aftertaste that made one of the viglantes cry. Not out of happiness though. The mangoes we passed on our morning walk looked a lot more appetizing.

The colonial cathedral of Guane from a distance: Guane, Colombia

One of the most interesting things you can do in Barichara, in my honest opinion, is an early morning walk to Guane. It’s an older pueblo 9km away. The cobblestone roads are a bit more uneven (see the first photo) and the atmosphere is even more tranquil.

Grazing cattle on the walk from Barichara to Guane, Colombia

The walk from Barichara is a peaceful two-hour downhill stroll. We passed trees draped in moss and grazing cattle.

Near the end of the route was a small finca selling sodas. The energy had just gone out, but the drinks were still cool. The patio was filled with knick knacks for sale, most of it originating from the department of Santander instead of locally in Guane.

Entrance to the catherdral in the colonial pueblo of Guane, Colombia

We ate breakfast in the courtyard of a colonial building while the house cat rubbed its calico head against our legs. Afterwards we visited the cathedral – taking note of the call to sisterhood, and then visited the local museum filled with artifacts from the indigenous Guane culture.

Poster in the Guane catherdral for a call to sisterhood: Guane, Colombia

The afternoon was beginning to heat up, so we split the cost of a mini chiva back to Barichara with a foreign couple. The road hugged the curves of the hills and the little boy in front almost tumbled out the door, but Nan was fine. She was popping motion-sickness pills like candy. I’m glad they were working cause we still had a long trip back to Manizales.

A small cobbletone plaza in the colonial pueblo of Barichara, Colombia

About: Barichara

How to get to Guane: There is a 2 hour walk or periodic buses. Inquire in the main plaza about the scheduled times. Once in Guane, you can hire a car to head back to Barichara. It’s flat-rate, so it’s cheaper if split between more people.

The Colonial Pueblo of Jardín


Jardín is a small pueblo in the department of Antioquia. It is popular because of its cobblestone plaza filled with roses. In the evening a light breeze cooled the plaza and knocked yellow flowers off a tall tree. For dinner I ordered a kebab and an arepa de choclo and sat down at a small table painted with diamonds.


Shortly after sitting down, a woman briskly walked over to the table in front of me and began setting up bowls. She filled them with food and soon enough a hoard of stray dogs wandered over. She chastised the one dog that wouldn’t stop barking, but repented and gently called him ‘Mi alma’.


In the morning I walked across the plaza to the local museum where a petite man in his late 50s gave me a tour. His wrote his full name on the back of my map, but told me to call him Saga. He had an egg-shaped head and red-rimmed eyes.

Saga was more concerned about the photos I was taking than the actual content of the tour. He directed the camera, moved me, and finally demanded my camera when we made it to the courtyard. He steadfastly believed I needed photos of myself with the flowers. However, for all the interest he showed, every single photo of me came out blurry.


At the end of the tour I dropped a 2,000 peso tip in a wooden box. Saga immediately asked me to join him for a coffee. We sat at a little table in the plaza and he told me he was originally from a vereda three hours away. He also thought Spanish was the hardest language in the world. That was not the first time I’d heard that from a Spanish speaker.


Afterwards, I strolled around the pueblo and stopped for a treat at a cafe called Dulces de Jardín. The wall behind the counter was stacked with jars of arequipe. I bought a banana arequipe and a cup of yogurt. The dining area was flooded with natural light and surrounded by hanging plants.


The cable car wasn’t operating, so I walked over to La Garrucha for the funicular. It was a little slatted cattle car that left every hour on the half hour. It cost 5,000 pesos for the round trip ticket. Inside were two opposing wooden benches and the whole thing bounced when I boarded it. We closed ourselves in with a small padlock.


There was a trail that led back down, but I decided to enjoy a pintado and the view for an hour. I spoke with one woman about Colombian authors and just as I was leaving a 70-year-old man asked if I could help him for a second. I had wanted to pay for the coffee, but he whipped out an English worksheet with a ‘que pena’ and placed it in front of me.

We spent the next half hour matching job titles while the funicular rattled up and down the valley on two metal wires. Normally I am very uninterested in giving English lessons, but he was such a sweetheart and he insisted on paying for my coffee. I’m a sucker for old people and pintados.


How to get to Jardín: from the terminal in Manizales, catch a bus to La Pintada and then purchase another ticket from there to Jardín. Total travel time is about 3.5 hours.





Parque Los Nevados


It is not easy to find information online about Parque los Nevados. Most sites direct people to day tours or overnight packages and it also doesn’t help that it’s such a large park with multiple entrances.

After talking to a lot of people I realized that a guide is only needed to access some parts of the northernmost area around the very active Nevado del Ruiz. However, guides are not required for the rest of the park, so I decided to head further south.


I organized a jeep to meet my friends and I at 7am in Villa Maria. This is a neighborhood at the end of the cable car line in Manizales. The 2.5 hour drive to Potosí wound through farm land and green fields. The difference in altitude was marked by a transition from succulent red flowers to white daisies.


Most jeeps head all the way up to Potosí, but Carlos must have had a deal with the occupants of Hospedaje El Bosque. He unloaded our luggage and then ran in for a quick meal before heading back down to Villa Maria. A fluffy rooster walked past the front door while the sugary smell of panela floated out from the kitchen.

We ordered breakfast and sat down in a small dining room with a TV playing in the corner. A crisp breeze blew in through the window. The landscape made me think of The Sound of Music; the telenovela in the corner reminded me I was in Colombia.


From Hospedaje el Bosque, the walk uphill to the Potosí park entrance was about 1.5 hours. It was so tranquil that the wind blowing over the mountains sounded like a distant river. When I stopped to open a snack, the plastic bag sounded like a jumbo jet passing overhead.

The park stops admitting visitors after 1pm. Luckily we made it there within minutes of closing time. The good news was that with our Colombian cédulas we received the locals’ rate – 9,500 pesos. Foreigners without this card have to pay 27,000 pesos. There was no extra fee for camping.

The bad news was that our destination, El Cisne, had been closed for about 5 years. That was really confusing because I knew I’d looked up the hotel and camping rates on their website within the last six months. I’m certain of that!


We changed our destination to a campsite at Laguna del Otún. It was a 4.5 hour hike that I had not been expecting. We were all also coming to terms with the scant amount of food we brought because our original destination, El Cisne, would have had a restaurant. My backpack was filled with wine instead of carbs and protein.


I was definitely feeling the páramo altitude and the blisters that were starting to form on my feet. The sun was bright and I later realized that I had covered everything except for the backs of my hands. Every now and then we heard a rumble on the trail and jumped out of the way just in time for a group a packhorses to pass.


Halfway through the hike we reached the highest point of the trail, which overlooked Laguna del Otún. Golden grasses lined the slope down to the lakefront. Off in the distance a single cascade coursed down the steep rock face.


We were at about 3,950 meters when further along the path we passed through a field of frailejones. A light afternoon shower began and in the process created a double rainbow over the lake.

For dinner we found a small BBQ grill and seven of us split half a loaf of bread, a package of sliced something, and two bottles of wine. We went to bed when the frigid winds were too much too handle. Our sleeping bags were warm, but the wind continued playing with out tent all night.


The next morning we relaxed around the campsite. Some people hiked uphill for a view of Santa Isabel. My blisters were too painful, so I chose a level walk around the north end of Laguna del Otún. At one point I came across a hill with a series of sulphur vents.

Because we were down to very little food, we decided not to camp a second night. We walked back and stayed at the Parquedero in Potosí. It was a basic building with a layout similar to a tiny motel. The guest rooms were completely empty of furniture and the communal bathroom didn’t have a faucet. The toilet handle was a rough green string.

The only place to wash hands was in the warm kitchen, where all the locals congregated on benches along the wall. They served us caldo, arepas and dark, dark agua panela for 4,000 pesos. For dinner we ate eggs, rice, a buttery arepa and hot chocolate for 6,000 pesos.


Now that we were finally full, we headed out back where we had pitched our tents. The moon was so bright it was like a spotlight. My sharply outlined silhouette stretched across the paddock grass.

The following morning, the family who ran the Parquedero was already cooking by the time I woke up. The radio was on and the benches that lined the wall were filled. I sat on a grassy slope outside and watched thick white ash blow out of a vent on the kitchen roof.

Home is where the hearth is. I wondered if there was a Spanish equivalent for that.


Semana Santa & Coffee Fincas in Salamina: Week 263

View from the cemetery in Salamina, Colombia

My second trip to Salamina was actually the very last trip for The Lustrum Project. I can’t believe how quickly the last five years have passed!

Ever since my first visit I’d wanted to return. So when a friend came to town, it was the perfect opportunity to show her a part of Colombia that wasn’t exactly frozen in time but also wasn’t in a hurry to change.

The old lady who sits outside the cemetery with a cat on the end of a string was still there. It was an odd day to relax though, given the wailing of a funeral party on the other side of the wall.

At the back of an artisanal shop was the wool blanket I didn’t buy the first time round. Its plastic sheath was quite dusty.

Wall of records inside the town museum in Salamina, Colombia

Near the cathedral was a museum that displayed the history of the town and old-objects-in-general. While the information wasn’t entirely precise and the items weren’t exactly relevant, the stories were the best.

Photo of an old Catholic priest in the town museum in Salamina, Colombia

On one wall was a portrait of an unsmiling priest. He had maintained a muladar, a separate cemetery for sinners, until his brother was involved in unsavory business. Shortly after that revelation everyone could suddenly be buried in the same location.

A few frames over were collages of ‘typical Salamina people’. The photos were yellowed and each person had their nickname pasted on the photo. Siete Culos had the town’s biggest butt and the most demure stance. It was impossible to tell if he lived up to his reputation.

Photo of the local drunk in the town museum in Salamina, Colombia

The town drunk, Media Vida, had disappeared during turbulent times. Eddy, the caretaker, suggested he was most likely the victim of armed conflict.

Around 6pm Eddy’s wife called. When he answered the phone he said, “Mi Reina, there are a lot of people today!” Eddy had opened the museum especially for us and I had noticed before we left that we were the only two people to sign the guest book in the last three days.

Inner courtyard at Casa Carola B&B in Salamina, Colombia

I usually pick the cheapest hotel or hostel I can find, but my friend and I decided to upgrade for our girls weekend. Casa Carola was definitely worth it. The beautiful old building had been in owner’s family for generations and he had lovingly turned it into a chic bed and breakfast.

Inner courtyard at Casa Carola B&B in Salamina, Colombia

The gardens were lush and Salamina has the perfect weather for sipping tropical juices in the courtyard. A wall of traditional woodwork marked the entrance between the courtyard and the dining room.

Inner courtyard at Casa Carola B&B in Salamina, Colombia

The living room on the other side of the building was papered in a bold print and peppered with cracks. Antique chairs were set in a circle on a plush rug. It was the perfect location to unwind with a bottle of wine or crack open one of the many coffee table books lying around.

Wallpapered living room at Casa Carola B&B in Salamina, Colombia

Semana Santa is a full week of Easter celebrations in Colombia. Most towns hold different processions and we were lucky enough to catch the Procession de las Ramas on Palm Sunday.

Semana Santa Palm Sunday procession in Salamina, Colombia

Semana Santa Palm Sunday procession in Salamina, Colombia

The plaza was filled with school bands and students. The boys anchored small sprigs in the waistband of their pants. All of the Virgins had purple robes and gold shoes.

Semana Santa Palm Sunday procession in Salamina, Colombia

I must be getting older because I noticed that none of the band students had ear protection.

Semana Santa Palm Sunday procession in Salamina, Colombia

After the procession we went on a tour with Don Carlos, my long-lost blue-eyed Colombian relative and owner of Finca La Irlanda. We drove up to his finca, which unraveled over the steep slopes of a mountain, and began the afternoon with a cup of coffee sweetened with panela.

Where coffee beans dry at Finca La Irlanda in Salamina, Colombia

Don Carlos walked us through the process of being Nespresso AAA certified and the life cycle of a coffee plant. While the landscape was beautiful, I couldn’t help but imagine how much work it must have been to cart that ruby-red fruit up the slopes.

Compost pile at Finca La Irlanda in Salamina, Colombia

View of the coffee growing landscape from Finca La Irlanda in Salamina, Colombia

After the tour we were dropped off at a small vereda where a little boy entertained us with a tablet full of Shakira videos. We switched jeeps in La Merced and met a woman who had recently bought a fruit farm. She pointed the gate out to us when she disembarked and invited us to spend the night the next time we passed through.

It feels very clichéd to write about how warm and welcoming people are in Colombia, but it’s something I continually encounter. The country is rapidly modernizing, but there are still many charming places with old-world hospitality. Salamina is just one example, but it’s my personal favorite.

Semana Santa procession on Palm Sunday in Salamina, Colombia

About: Casa Carola B&B and the coffee plantation tour

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