We’ve been hearing about Jardín, Colombia, practically since the day we moved to Medellin. We had a picture in our minds of a fantastic old colonial square with a huge and striking cathedral and brightly painted, neat-as-a-pin colonial-era homes, all set against a stunning Andes backdrop of near-vertical mountains sporting every hue of green you can imagine. That’s exactly what we found on our recent three-night visit to Jardin, and then some. We’re in love with Jardín, and we can’t wait to go back!
- Jardín is one of 17 Pueblos Patrimonios, historical colonial towns that are the best examples of the country’s cultural heritage. Many publications list Jardín as the most beautiful town in the department of Antioquia. So far, we agree!
- The dominant feature of Parque Principal – in fact, the whole city of Jardín – is the Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, a National Monument of Colombia. Made entirely of hand-cut stones from the nearby Tapartó River, the church really is striking; in fact, it’s visible from the town of Andes, 16 km away. We were surprised to learn that the Basilica was only completed in 1940 – it seems much older. Peek inside to view the beautiful and intricate stained glass windows and tiled ceiling.
- Parque Principal, also known as El Libertador plaza, is another National Monument of Colombia. Flanked by the Basilica on one side, the Parque is surrounded on the other three by whitewashed colonial buildings sporting brightly painted doors, windows, and railings.
Our Lodging: Hosteria El Paraiso
This cozy inn turned out to be the perfect home base for our visit. Located a bit out of town, it’s right on the road leading to the hiking trail for the Cascada La Escalera and the loop up to the Cristo Rey monument. While the rooms are very basic (the suicide showers don’t work too well, for instance), they are spacious, clean, and snug. And the hosts, Dario and Gloria, welcomed us as if we were visiting their own home. El Paraiso will be our go-to lodging for future visits.
Hanging Out in Parque Principal
People say that Jardín has remained largely unchanged for 150 years, compared to other municipalities in Antioquia. That’s in strong evidence at the Parque, the beating heart of the town and the gathering place for locals and visitors alike. Many of the surrounding cafes and bars have staked out their own areas on the Parque with tables and cowhide chairs brightly painted in their own, distinct styles. Have a seat, and before long a friendly server will appear to take your drink order. One of the bar owners, Jorge, became our buddy after a few visits!
At around 5 p.m. or so, as the sun begins setting and the lights start coming on, the Parque really comes alive. You’ll see old-timers chewing the fat and playing dominoes over tintos (small cups of STRONG coffee) and glasses of aguardiente, kids running around and getting into mischief, and ladies exchanging the latest gossip.
Getting Our Hike On
In our three days in Jardín, we barely scratched the surface of the outdoor splendors that await nature lovers, birders, hikers, and other outdoor fanatics. But we made the most of our time with two excellent hikes.
On the first morning, we struck out up the road from our hotel in search of the 55-meter Cascada La Escalera (armed with Dario’s Spanish directions, we finally found it). From there, we hooked back up to the road and walked up to a local landmark, the Cristo Rey monument. Then we found the very steep and muddy path back down into town and made straight for a cold cerveza at our favorite spot on the Parque (Hola, Jorge!).
On the second day, we joined Diego Guerrero, co-owner of Destino Montaña, for a fantastic and vertically challenging day hike in the hills high above Jardín. Diego was a great guide and an excellent companion for the day, and he shared a wealth of information about the changing ecology of the northern Andes region. In addition to hiking, Destino Montaña offers bird watching, coffee tours, rappelling down waterfalls, paragliding, and lots of other adventures. The best way to contact Diego is through WhatsApp (+57-311-752-6550).
Don’t Look Down: La Garrucha
Until a couple of years ago, a sleek and modern cable car ferried people up to the Cristo Rey monument from town. For unclear and apparently political reasons, the cable car is no more. But if you love to ride in a little box many hundreds of feet off the ground, don’t despair – there’s still La Garrucha!
A local landowner built La Garrucha sometime in the 1990s to ferry him and his workers across a deep (and I mean DEEP!) river gorge from the town of Jardin to his property. Today it’s open to the public for about about $2 for a round-trip ride, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. An old truck engine powers the contraption and hauls it along two cables to a high vantage point surrounded by coffee and banana plantations. At the top is a very friendly little cantina with views that rival those on the other side of the gorge, at Cristo Rey. We rode the box back to town, but we’ve been told that the four-mile hike down is very scenic. Next time.
- Getting there: We rented a car and drove ourselves, but there are also buses running from the Medellín Sur Terminal about every four hours. Also, our driver and friend Juan Camilo Aguilar is available to drive folks to Jardín, and he can also arrange a provide coffee tour and other activities. WhatsApp +57-316-833-4225 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you drive, be aware that a large part of the main road from Medellín to Jardín is closed due to a major landslide. There are a couple of detours, both of which will take you through some seriously winding roads and a fair amount of construction. Take it from John, it’s pretty tiring with a stick shift (thinking we’ll rent an automatic next time)! The normally three-hour trip now takes at least four, and longer by bus (but this is not reflected in the posted timetables). But the drive is also really scenic and took us through some areas we might not have otherwise visited. Tiring as it was, we really enjoyed the trip.
- Other things to do (that we’re saving for next time): Visit the Museo de Clara Rojas Perez. Try the Camino Herrera, an old colonial trail that offers an easy and scenic walk on the edge of town. Check out the Parque Natural Jardín de Rocas to view one of Colombia’s most famous birds, the Andean Cock of the Rock. Do the four-mile walk down to Jardín from La Garrucha. Take a coffee tour. Go paragliding. Go birdwatching.
- Dining Out: There are many great restaurants in Jardín, and the prices are generally lower than restaurants in Medellín. As we said, hanging out at any of the little cafés on the Parque is a treat – the drink prices are low, and often they’ll bring you free snacks. Our favorite restaurants: Cafe Europa (oh the pizza!), Bon Appetit (an eclectic menu with many Asian-inspired dishes), La Parilla de Mi Puebla (excellent steaks), and Las Brazzas (try the menú del día for lunch). For sweets, a visit to the landmark Dulces del Jardin is a must (the alfajores are to die for!). Also check out Cafe Macanas, on the right side of the Basilica, to satisfy a late-evening sweet tooth.
In short, we loved our visit to Jardín, and it was well worth the challenging drive to get there. It’s an oasis of colonial charm that reminds us a lot of Arequipa in Peru, but on a smaller and greener scale. Another pleasant surprise: we expected Jardín to be very touristy because it’s a major destination on the backpacker/tour bus circuit, but we encountered very few souvenir shops, touts, or even other tourists. We’re looking forward to visiting the other Pueblos Patrimonios to see how Jardín stacks up, but those 16 towns have a hard act to follow!
Have you recently made a trip to Jardin? Let us know about your experience!