By Joanna MarracelliOne of my favorite things about traveling in Colombia is the impression that time has come to a standstill. In our modern world filled with notifications, constant updates and the ability to message anyone anywhere in the world at any time of the day, instant gratification has never been so easy. We are connected more than ever and those connections indeed spread far and wide but yet they remain quite shallow. Whiling away the day chatting over a cup of coffee is nearly absent, something only reserved for special occasions like getting together with an old, dear friend. It’s become something we add to our calendars rather than a way of life. These opportunities for deep connections are often eschewed due to a perceived ‘lack of time’. Our schedules are constantly filled up with things to do and even a real phone call can seem like another thing to add to the list.
Traveling throughout Colombia has served as a reminder of just how important these deeper connections are. The ones formed over doing something as simple as chatting with someone day in and day out over a cup coffee. Talking to the point where the day has passed and you find that time really did stand still for quite a while. There are many small towns found all over this country that exemplify this idea. Large families gather with friends while children play outside without adults hanging over them. Everything feels looser. It harkens back to an earlier time when our lives more simple. Back then, we seemingly had more time but in reality, we took the time to take time. Jardin, Colombia is one of those places where time is taken and when one takes that time, you can discover a depth in connection that transcends above all.
At first glance Jardin, located in the department of Antioquia, may look like just another idyllic Colombian town with vibrant colonial architecture lined with balconies that seem to drip with flowers and horses clopping through the streets. It’s true Jardin has these things as well as other destinations like Salamina or Salento. What sets Jardin apart is not just the immediate attractiveness of the town, its truly breathtaking scenery and near perfect climate (days average about 20 degrees and nights 13 C). This pueblo is one of the Patrimonial Pueblos of the country and is well-deserving of that title as it arguably may be the most beautiful of all the pueblos. It has remained virtually unchanged for more than a century. The thing that makes Jardin so unique is a feeling of uninterrupted continuity that you find in everything here from the centuries-old white washed façades to the daily coffee drinking rituals in the plaza.
Like many other towns in Colombia, the spacious, flower-filled plaza serves as the focal point for meeting up and the stunning neo-Gothic church in the center will command your attention with its striking dark brick and silver façade. Every day handmade leather-back chairs in every color, are set out beneath welcoming umbrellas by café owners and restaurateurs. This is a coffee-growing region and there are more than a dozen places lining the plaza to sample local beans, one better than the next and its here that both tourists and locals alike gather. Children chase the pigeons while gauchos keep a watchful eye over their horses. Families meet with friends as vendors sell their tropical fruits with an aroma so alluring, you can’t help but stop and admire their wares. It seems the entire population of just over 20,000 is here as well as the lucky visitors to take in the day. And that’s all that is done. Drinking coffee, talking, and admiring the beauty around may not seem like doing much but it’s this sense of allowing yourself to truly be in the moment where doing nothing can mean everything.
That doesn’t mean that there are no activities to be done in this town. While it’s true the best moments of your trip to Jardin will likely be spent sitting in the plaza drinking coffee and chatting it up with the locals, there are many activities on hand to keep you staying longer than you intended. After sampling the coffee on hand and deciding which is your favorite, head over to the Dulces del Jardin to indulge your sweet tooth. Don’t miss the locally made arequipe, a confection very similar to dulce de leche. Another place to satisfy your sweet cravings is Café Macana. They serve outstanding alfajores and chocolate cake to complement their perfect cup of coffee. Our other favorite cup of joe was at Café de los Andes. Both of these places are located in the plaza. But part of the fun is sampling for yourself and deciding which is you like best.
If you are looking for a day trip out, you can’t miss an adventure to La Cueva del Esplendor, which is a waterfall located inside a cave. The truly daring can attempt to rappel down into the chilly waters, an unforgettable entry. Tour trips can be arranged through various accommodations found around town or from local tour operators. You have the option of either hiring a horse for the day to take you in or hiking the 18 km (roundtrip) on foot. Transport by Jeep to the trailhead is normally included as is a typical lunch of the area known as a fiambré. Meat, rice and plantains are wrapped up in a giant banana leaf, creating an instant (and natural) plate. We booked our tour through the wonderful Finca Hostal Condor de los Andes (see below in Where to stay for more information). Price for the guided hike with lunch was 40,000 COP (US $15). If you want to rappel it will cost you 80,000 COP (US $30) which includes all necessary equipment. Horseback riding was 55,000 COP (about US $20).
For even more adventure, Hostal Condor de los Andes also offers paragliding (known here as parapente) with experienced guides. Both the scenery and winds are ideal for this sport. You can expect to pay between 80,000-100,000 COP (US $31-40). Another sport that is growing in popularity is paintball, which is another nice choice due to the nature surrounding Jardin. Rates are approximately 15,000 COP (US $7) for 90 shots. This includes camouflage, guns and helmet. If you are interested, you can call +57 312 286 3243 for more details or simply ask around town. Locals here are among the friendliest in Colombia (and that’s saying a lot) and are always willing to help out or chat.
If you would like some nice views without doing that much work, Jardin boasts two small teleferico (gondola) rides. One is a modern version and for 5000 COP (US $2) you will be whisked away uphill amid flower gardens with unbeatable views (you will especially realize from this vantage point just how large and impressive the church is). There is small café here where you can have a cold beer or a hot cup of coffee, whatever mood may strike you. The other teleferico, known as La Garrucha, is much older and made of wood and provides a real thrill. There are times when you can swear you might drop to the river and ravine below! Both of these offer sweeping views of the region and are sure not to disappoint.
For the best in seeing the city sites, you can hire a motorcarro (motorcycle taxi) for a few hours. Two hours should cost you about 20,000 COP (US $8) and the driver will be happy to take you around town, pointing out historical and architectural points of interest. Your driver will probably take you out to one of the trout farms in the area. There are two main farms of interest, La Argelia and Estadero El Arka. These farms use the natural rivers to capture the flowing water and fish. The trout are held in large reservoirs and you are permitted to walk around the premises. Both of these trout farms offer lunch with the freshly caught fish prepared a variety of mouthwatering ways. Highly recommended.
If you are in town during the weekend at night, you are in for a special treat. On Saturday evenings, the local gauchos get their hats and horses and ride into the main square to parade their horses around town. You will be treated to a variety of trots and gallops as the whole town breaks into a festive atmosphere. Music blares from all the cafes, children run amok and sometimes there is even live music in the square. Beers clank, their sound only trumped by the clopping of the horse hooves on the pavement. It’s another of those time-slowing moments which you will relish with pleasure.
Colombia is well known by birders as a bird-watching paradise and Jardin is no exception. The beautiful red-hooded El Gallito de Roca is a rare species you will have the chance to view in town. Outside of the restaurant, Las Margaritas in the main plaza, you can pay to have a guide take you down the steep, rocky path (inquire within the restaurant). Or you can arrange to go yourself, just ask anyone in town to point you in the right direction. It’s best to go for either the sunrise or sunset when dozens of these birds flock to a large grove of trees where viewing platforms have been constructed. It’s private property, so you will have to pay a small fee to the owner (about 8000 COP $3) but well worth it for this rare experience.
Jardin is sure to seduce you with its old-world charm. It’s a chance at life as it used to be. More simple, less complicated and the focus on doing absolutely nothing but taking it all in, which in this modern era, is everything.
How to arrive: Jardin sits about 3.5 hours away along a pretty, paved road from Medellin. From the southern bus terminal (Terminal Sur) in the city, both Rapido Ochoa and Transporte Suroeste Antioqueño make the trip for approximately 18,000 COP (US $7). Buses leave several times a day, check the schedules as they change frequently.
Where to stay: Budget travelers should be sure to check out Finca Hostal Condor de los Andes. Run by a sweet, helpful Colombian family they offer breakfast included in the rate as well as various tours. A double room with private bathroom will set you back only 70000 (US $27). For those who want a small taste of luxury, Hotel Hacienda Balandu should fit the bill with its jacuzzi, swimming pool and luxury touches. Surprisingly it comes at such an affordable price tag of only 100,000 COP (US $40) for a double room with breakfast. It’s located 800 m from the town proper, so hiring a mototaxi (US $2) is helpful.
Where to eat: For delicious homemade, thin crust pizzas and pastas, head over to Café Europa (one block down from the main plaza). The German owner is quite friendly and they offer wines by the glass too. It’s small and popular, so go early to be sure to get a seat. For traditional Colombian eats, including the standard chicken, rice and beans, check out Las Margaritas in the main plaza. They also do a hearty breakfast in the event that your accommodation doesn’t offer one. Creperie Trigo y Centeno is a cute place offering decent crepes (the sweet are better than the savory) as well as imported teas. The lulada (fresh juice made with the quintessential Colombian fruit lulo) is to die for and not to be missed. Café Macana will satisfy your sweet tooth, also try their fresh juices and do not miss the alfajore.