The main square looks as though it has dropped in from a little European village, the architecture is colourful and doll-house perfect, the nature surrounding the pueblo is lush and green and ripe for exploring, the food is deeelicious and the people, well the people are typically Colombian. So friendly, welcoming and hospitable you won’t want to leave.
Coming from lovely Salento I didn’t think I could be more impressed by any little village, so after 3 buses and a crazy day of travel I was having my doubts about why we even decided to make the journey, but as we approached the main square my doubts melted away to shear love. The biggest town square I’ve ever seen lays under the shadow of a stunning old neo gothic basilica and features a colourful rose garden and a fountain in the middle. Around the edge are cafes galore who all set up bright tables and chairs in the square and sell coffees for around 150 pesos (75c aus). First impressions, I wanted to scrunch this little place in a ball and keep it in my pocket for when I felt blue.
There are also a lot of activities on offer here, hiking, horseback riding, coffee tours, cable car rides, waterfall rappelling and more. We only had 3 days so we made our 1st stop a visit to the information centre on the corner of the square (to the left of the church when you are looking at it). From there we decided to spend our 1st day just soaking up the vibe of the town and here is what we did on day 2 and 3:
A day of wandering: We took a morning to walk a lovely loop path that leads out of town and down over the river through lush green farmland, coffee and banana plantations. It also passes waterfalls and even a cave (you have to pay a small entrance fee to get in and it’s better to arrange beforehand as they lock the gate). To get back into town you can either carry on following the same path or take the cable car back. Unfortunately it wasn’t running when we were there but maybe that’s for the best, as it was a dodgy looking setup that takes you out over the deep river valley and across to the town.
The other option is to carry on and walk back down to the river and then up the other side into town, or very soon there will be a 3rd option to take a new bridge! They were in the process of building while we were there so it shouldn’t be too long before you can just shoot straight across without the trek up and down the hills.
After the trek we had worked up an appetite so we went for another little wander to enjoy a decadent late lunch at the trout farm and restaurant “La Argelia”. I had the garlic trout and Steve had the almond and both were absolutely mouth watering. While we were there we watched the man feeding the fish in the farm and I felt a twang of guilt for munching on their buddy.
The other great thing about Jardín is that it’s a wonderful place to just relax and people watch. We stayed at a place called La Posada which was right on the square near the information centre and has a balcony overlooking the main plaza. This was the perfect spot to soak up the late afternoon sun with a beer or a coffee and watch everyone else do the same.
Horsing around: The next day we had booked in on a horse trek to visit a remote waterfall in the middle of the countryside. Now I’m not really the biggest fan of horses or horse riding but the people of Jardín are well into it. Actually, during the weekend you can’t miss the sound of hooves on concrete as all the local farmers trot about on their horses. This sounds nice but I found it a bit distressing. I’m sure there is nothing wrong with horse riding but the tradition is to make them do that awkward little walk that looks completely unnatural and uncomfortable, and we saw a lot of strained looking horses sweating and with foam coming out of their mouths… I’m sure one day we will look back on this behaviour with shame in our hearts.
Anyway. Olvidio, the man we did our tour with seemed to treat his horses with the utmost respect and as we got to his farm we could see they were all well looked after and shiny. The one I rode was pretty young and a bit naughty, so when he realised I didn’t want to push him around he just started doing what he wanted! The track to the waterfall is very narrow and stoney in parts so the horses do need a little persuasion to take the path that is more comfortable for his rider. I didn’t realise this and let my guy do as he pleased, so he went too close to the rock-face and crushed my knee and leg! After that I learnt how to control him and the rest of the walk was more pleasant. The views were stunning and the waterfall itself has a tunnel dug in behind it using the root structure of the tree as its walls. You crawl down inside the tree and squeeze through a little tunnel, only to pop out underneath the waterfall. It’s really worth the visit and feels very fairy-tailesque!
If you don’t like horses this may not be the right activity, because even though I thought I was getting better at riding, just before we got back to the house the gate shut on me and the horse, so we both panicked. He tried to pull himself through with me still on him, and my leg (the same battered leg from before) got stuck in the gate. I had to jump off and get out of his way so he could get free. It was pretty scary stuff but Olvidio our guide was a complete legend and fixed up my leg with some antiseptic. He didn’t speak any English but was very patient with our Spanish and when we were safely back on our own two legs he showed us around his little farm where he grows passionfruit for export to Europe. While we were waiting for our Willy to arrive it started bucketing down with rain, so Olvidio made us a cheesy bread snack while we hid in the garage and waited for it to stop. Because we opted to make our own way to the farm the tour was only 40,000 pesos ($20 aud) each, which was a great price for such a unique and thrilling experience. The Willy there and back was 4000pesos PP each way and was completely packed with locals, so I rode on the roof with the bunches of bananas. Another unique and thrilling experience!
Eating: We had two favourite restaurants in Jardín which happened to be right across the road from each other! The pizza and burger place is called Giardino (Cra 3 Cordoba # 8-04) and is owned by the friendliest Colombian man you will ever meet! Their pizzas were huge and not at all short on topping. We came here every night for a chat, and even when we didn’t order food here we just sipped on a tasty lemonada de coco and practiced our Spanish. The other restaurant is the cuban sandwich joint across the road. Their Hawaiian burger was just what I had been missing in my life. For something a bit more local La Posada (where we stayed) do a fantastic Bandeja Paisa which is a huge platter of meat, beans, rice, egg and avocado and according to the locals has to be sampled at least once during your time in Colombia. It’s a heart stopper!
Getting in from Salento: The buses from Salento to Pereira leave from Carrera 2 near the intersection of Calle 5. They leave every 20 minutes from 6.30am onwards. We took one at 8am which was a fancy minivan with aircon, cost 7000 pesos each and took 40 minutes to Pereira station.
There are buses from Pereira direct to Riosucio every half hour in the morning (just ask in the station and someone will point you in the direction of the right company) and the bus directly there takes about 3 hours. We left at 9am and arrived just after midday. It cost 17000 pesos each. There are 3 buses from Riosucio: 8am, 2.30pm and 3pm.
The 2.30pm is a minivan, goes via Las Pinturas and costs 25000 pesos but we opted for the 3pm because it was only 19000 pesos and apparently arrives at the same time. It is a big local bus and when we travelled on it it was packed full of panela and maize instead of people (which was very funny). We arrived at 6pm after a very bumpy and interesting journey 🙂
It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again! Well worth the journey! Also, a side note. The bus from here to Medellin only takes 3.5 hours along a paved road and their are many buses per day, so it’s almost the same to go via Medellin… but nowhere near as adventurous. To get out we took the bus onward to Medellin.