The Colonial Pueblo of Filandia


I have been to a lot of pueblos in the coffee-growing region of Colombia. Some people might like the beach, others might like the cities, but me- I love the plazas surrounded by brightly painted colonial architecture and jade green mountain ranges. I’d take a bottle of aguardiente and a vallenato play list before a tropical daiquiri on the beach any day. I burn too easily anyway.


A lot of people might think, “but once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all…” I disagree. I’ve had a unique experience at each pueblo I’ve been to and Filandia was no different. It is very close to its more famous counterpart Salento but doesn’t receive nearly as much tourism.

That’s not to say it doesn’t receive tourists- it definitely does. Filandia is well known for basket weaving and has lots of different types for sale all over town. It also has some really great restaurants. As soon as we got into town, my friend Rian and I headed over to Helena Adentro. helena-adentro-courtyard-filandia-colombia


It had very quirky decor and really, really good food. It’s Colombian but with a twist. Highly recommended.


Afterwards we headed to a tea house that overlooked the main plaza. Jahn Hostal & Salón de Té had a small variety of loose-leaf tea to choose from. Rian and I already had plans to have a coffee later on at another cafe, so I didn’t feel traitorous drinking tea in the Eje Cafetero (which has been UNESCO designated since 2011).


A short walk out of town is Ecoparque Mirador Colina. It’s a tall tower that overlooks the town and the rolling landscape. A few tables were set up at the base for tintos (black coffee) and snacks. Because it was a very quiet Saturday afternoon, the vendor was slumped in a white lawn chair next to a radio.walk-to-finca-el-mirador-filandia-colombia-2

The last stop of our day was Finca El Mirador. It’s a popular destination for tourists interested in learning more about the coffee growing process. I’ve already been on a tour, so we went just to have a coffee on the patio overlooking the valley. Rian’s friend sent us a photo of her visit and it looked gorgeous.


There are jeeps that leave from Finlandia in the direction of the finca, but we didn’t feel like waiting. From Ecoparque Mirador we continued walking in the opposite direction of Filandia. The dirt road was quiet and the views were beautiful. Half an hour later we were enjoying the balcony view with a cup of coffee. It would have been nice to stay for sunset, but we wanted to walk back before it got dark.

Filandia was a pleasant surprise because it had the boutique shops (like Quintaesencia) and gourmet restaurants that Salento has, but with less tourists. We both spontaneously arrived at the conclusion that it would make for a great weekend retreat with a significant other. Or, as Rian has learned to say, si no hay ganado Filandia is always a good day trip from Manizales with your friends.

Eat: Jahn Hostal & Salón de Té

Eat: Helena Adentro

Visit Ecoparque Mirador Colina: 5,000 pesos to enter

Visit: Finca el Mirador

Shop: Quintaesencia

How to get to Filandia: Hourly buses depart from Pereira and cost 5,800 pesos

Santa Fe de Antioquia


During a three-day weekend, the nothern bus terminal in Medellín is packed with tourists. When I saw the crowds lining up for tickets, I almost turned around and headed back to the metro. The only reason I didn’t was that I had no alternate plan for the day.

Thankfully most people were trying to get to Guatapé, which is in the opposite direction, so I only waited 45 minutes for my bus departure. The hour-long drive to Santa Fe de Antioquia is lined with fincas and water parks. Whenever I start to see these, I realize that the weather is going to be hotter than anticipated.


Although Santa Fe de Antioquia was founded in 1541, the most iconic construction only dates back to 1895. Puente Occidente is a wooden suspension bridge which spans the río Cauca. It has a very delicate design with two walkways framing a small one-way road that is alternately shared by traffic.

The bridge used to be a very important transportation link but nowadays it’s a tourist attraction best enjoyed with a beer. At least that’s what my driver recommended.


Because of the three-day weekend, the main plaza was filled with people, food, and souvenirs. I ate lunch on a shady balcony overlooking the tent-filled plaza before heading to the Museo Juan del Corral. It had a little bit of everything relating to colonial life.


The most famous item there is the table where the Independence Act was signed in 1813. My favorite pieces were the wrought iron portraits of the heroes of independence.


Down the road is the Museo de Arte Religioso and across from that is an artisanal ice cream shop. Both are worth a visit. The two-level museum is located inside a very pretty building and the upstairs has a nice view of the cathedral.



Santa Fe de Antioquia is a pretty place to visit if you are around Medellín. The best way to enjoy it would be to stay on a nearby finca for a few days to soak up the sun, cool off in a pool, and then head to the plaza in the evening for food and music. Maybe it’s a conspiracy, but I’m pretty sure the livliest bars are always the ones closest to the cathedral.


About Santa Fe de Antioquia: $14,000 pesos from Medellín on Transportes Gómez Hernández

About Puente Occidente: 4km outside the pueblo and is best accessed by a mototaxi. The set rate is $15,000 pesos for a return trip and 30 minutes at the bridge.

About Museo Juan del Corral: Calle 11 No. 9-77, free entrance

About Museo de Arte Religioso: Calle 11 No. 8-12, $3,000 peso entrance

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.





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