Location Jardín Colombia | Dates August 4-6 | Accommodation Sergent Pepper’s
When we boarded our bus to Jardín we were alarmed to see the attendant handing out barf bags to everyone onboard and prepared for another rough ride. A quick 3(+) hour ride later through beautiful landscapes we arrived.
Jardín is a pueblo in the countryside, which sees a lot less tourists than Guatapé and still manages to preserve a traditional Colombian feel. Often described as one of the most beautiful towns in the entire country, the main square is dotted with brightly painted chairs, coffee shops and bars, and real life cowboys.
Downtown Jardín & The Square
Arriving on Saturday meant we got to really enjoy the town’s culture as everyone was out and about. We headed straight for the main square, made of dark bricks and anchored by a church with sharp metal spires, which was impressive although incongruous with the landscape. It looked new, but the plaque told us it was old. For lumch we enjoyed an overpriced menu (we were starving and desperate) at Restaurante las Margaritas.
We selected one of the many local bars on the square and took our spot among the cowboys in their hats and ponchos. We enjoyed Colombian beer from bottles (less than $1 each!), with a pair of beers delivered to us from “el rojo,” a man in red across the square with a large chain cross on his neck. We stayed watching coffee shops turn to clubs (not really clubs but they had disco lights) and cowboys come by for drinks trotting into town on horseback. Said cowboys also left the bar on horseback, definitely drunk in some instances, weaving uncertainly down the dark cobblestones towards their hillside homes.
Gallito de Roca Preserve
We took a bit of time to visit a preserve home to the Andean cock-of-the-rock, the iconic bird with the lumpy red head we’d seen from Bolivia upwards but had yet to see in real life. Down a steep rocked path behind town, the sanctuary is located aside a woman’s home and only open for 2 hours a day (early morning and afternoon). We thought we’d missed it, but while we were debating at the gate the lady materialized, let us in, and charged us the obscene fee of 10,000COP each. Our view of the birds did not disappoint, and we finally saw the neon red creatures up close and personal (heard their mating calls up close, too).
Hike to Cristo Rey
Like many towns in South America, Jardín is topped off with a large, whitewashed statue of Jesus looking down from the hilltop. As usual, it began downpouring the morning we planned to do this short hike. We went anyway. It took about 20 minutes up the muddy mountain, through green-green grasses soaked in water. The view of town is likely amazing when it’s not hidden in clouds. There’s a cable car up but it was out of operation, and we saw no one on our hike. At the top, we discovered some prime nature – bananas growing on trees up close (and not covered in the plastic bags common at the actual farms) which I called “nana primes,” mangoes growing off trees, spiders, perfect dewdrops and even some coffee plants! We used our skills learned at Salento’s coffee farm to identify the beans and plucked a few ripe ones for fun.
On our way to Jardín we passed a bustling town called Los Andes, and determined to go back the 25 minutes to check it out. We grabbed tickets for a shared van there and took our seat in — wait for it — the back row. Leaving Jardín we were stopped by some police which was a common occurrence and nothing new, except this time they asked for ID. I had my license with me, but Sarah had left hers behind secured in the hostel. When she told them this, they asked “why not” she didn’t have it. Luckily a recitation of her passport number was acceptable. As the police turned away he said to her: “We have an order to capture you.” It took Sarah a minute to catch on and laugh appropriately; the second Colombia kidnapping joke in as many days.
Los Andes is substantially more bustling than Jardín — and also much more authentic. In our half day there we saw no other tourists (!!) and it felt extremely authentic. We wandered the streets, pausing on the packed main square to enjoy some street snacks (popcorn with condensed milk on it) among the many cowboys, families and teen girls milling about drinking tintos (coffee) and beer. We enjoyed an egg and meat filled arepa, views of some churches, and climbing stairs winding up the mountain. No town would be complete without a visit to the Mercado Central — this one bustling and full of police and men trying to sell us hunks of raw meat (why?). We enjoyed cheap beers at one of the local bars lining the busy street, staring across the road at the chivas (brightly colored open-air vehicles that transport people, you may remember from Ecuador).
Our bus back was quite eventful. We stopped speeding and passing when we came upon a broken-down bus; before we knew it our driver was pulling over and removing his shirt. Of course, he was stopping to help. Later, he stopped the bus in a random town so he could shower and people entered the bus from nowhere.
Two buses go between Medellín and Jardín – Rapido Ocho and Transportes Suroeste Antioqueño. Buses leave from Medellín’s south terminal, with several departures and arrivals each day. Easy enough to buy tickets right at the window upon arrival on either end.