It’s early evening in Jardin Colombia. I’m sitting at a sidewalk cafe in the central plaza, chatting in makeshift Spanish with a coffee farmer wearing a cowboy hat. In the background I hear the clip-clop of horses pacing cobblestone streets. As the sun sets behind the snow-capped peaks of nearby Nevados National Park, the plaza comes to life with street performers and families. This is exactly what I imagined Colombia would be like, and one of the best things to do in Jardin is simply to experience it.
Jardin is a small town in Colombia’s Zona Cafetera — the “Coffee Axis.” It’s deeply traditional — businesses close for long siestas, most restaurants serve only a menu del dia, people know their neighbors, coffee is the lifeblood of the town, and everyone — I do mean everyone — has a horse.
Better yet, even though it’s just three hours from Medellin, Jardin is still remote enough and hard enough to reach to remain firmly off the beaten path. You can walk around the city center for hours without seeing another gringo. Word is slowly spreading and a small-scale tourism industry now exists here, but it mostly caters to Colombians on weekend trips. Visit during the week and it’s amazingly low-key.
While Jardin is quiet, it’s certainly not boring. In this post, I’ll cover the top things to do in Jardin Colombia so you can plan the perfect trip!
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- 1 The best things to do in Jardin: Drink coffee and people-watch
- 2 Walk around town and explore the architecture
- 3 Top things to do in Jardin for active travelers: Go for a hike
- 4 Go birdwatching in Reserva Natural Gallito de la Roca
- 5 Eat trout and sample local sweets in Jardin
- 6 Where to stay in Jardin Colombia
- 7 How to get to Jardin
The best things to do in Jardin: Drink coffee and people-watch
Jardin is the kind of place where you don’t really have to do anything. It’s enough to simply by a coffee from any cafe on the plaza, choose your brightly colored table to sit at, and people-watch for hours. It’s magical.
Unlike most of Colombia, where locals don’t really drink coffee and you mostly end up with terrible tinto (instant coffee), coffee culture is huge in Jardin. Every cafe in town serves great beans, which were probably recently harvested from a farm within 10 km of town. You can still order a tinto, but it will be a proper single-origin brew the likes of which you’d pay $6 for in a cafe in the U.S.
Additionally, Jardin’s coffee scene is very small-business-oriented. You won’t find Juan Valdez here, and pretentious third-wave coffee shops are a big no-no. Jardin’s cafes are accessible to all, down-to-earth and very friendly. And every dollar you spend goes directly to the community and local farmers.
Plus the people-watching is simply amazing. Old men play dominoes or poker, or sit and read the paper. Entire families gather for an afternoon on the town. Millennial friends gossip about their relationship troubles. It really feels like you’ve stepped back 100 years in time.
While you can get great coffee and people-watch literally anywhere in Jardin, a couple places stand out. De Los Andes Cafe has the perfect balcony for wiling away an afternoon, and it runs community projects for local farmers. And Cafe Macanas has a lovely interior courtyard and delicious pastries and breakfasts. A tinto at either costs less than 2,000 COP.
Walk around town and explore the architecture
Jardin’s trademark architectural style is typical for the Zona Cafetera — white houses with brightly painted balconies. You can see similar styles in Guatape or Salento. But what makes Jardin Colombia more charming is that it doesn’t feel like a show put on for tourists — the beautiful houses are actually people’s homes and shops, not tacky souvenir places or boutique hotels.
Two of the prettiest streets are Calle 9 running southwest from the plaza, and Carrera 5 running northwest from the plaza. But really, you can pick any random side street and you’ll find some lovely buildings.
You can poke your nose into any of the churches while you’re walking around. The Gothic cathedral on the central plaza is beautiful, as is the much smaller chapel at Carrera 2 and Calle 7.
The best time to walk around for photography is in the early evening, right at dusk — 5-6 pm. You could also go exploring early in the morning, around 7 am, but the people-watching isn’t as interesting since most people are still at home.
Top things to do in Jardin for active travelers: Go for a hike
Jardin is in the foothills of Los Nevados National Park — one of the high-altitude mountain ranges in Colombia. On a clear day you can see the 4,000+-meter peaks from the town center. But most of the area immediately around town is green hills rather than huge mountains. This makes day hiking one of the best activities in Jardin.
If you simply walk to the outskirts of town, you can pick up a trail pretty much anywhere in Jardin Colombia. A loose network of footpaths runs through the coffee farms and villages in the surrounding hills. The route is more or less circular, and you can see the town from pretty much everywhere, so it’s impossible to get lost.
Hike to Mirador Cristo Rey
One of the best hikes is to the Mirador Cristo Rey (notable from the giant statue you can see from town). You used to be able to get here by cable car, but the cable car hasn’t been consistently working for years — it was closed when I visited.
Pick up the trail at Calle 13 and Carrera 2. A steep descent on some stairs takes you to a bridge crossing a small stream. From here, follow any of the paths upward. Depending on which trail you take, you may find a road or you may just stay on a path until you reach private property. The farmer doesn’t mind if you pass through his gate and continue along the trail all the way up the hill.
The views from the top are incredible. If you go in the afternoon or evening, the drink stall up here might be open — or it might only open when the cable car is working. Either way, it’s a great place to relax and take some photos before hiking back down the same way you came.
The whole hike is less than 3 km, and it won’t take you more than 90 minutes. The trail is not marked at all but it’s impossible to get completely lost. It’s fairly easy, although some short sections are steep and very muddy after it rains. Hikers with bad knees should descend along the road.
Do a loop past Cascada del Amor and up to the Garrucha Cable Car
Another spectacular day-hike takes you past some small waterfalls on the way to an alternative viewpoint south of town. The hiking is easier than Mirador Cristo Rey, but this one takes longer.
Start by heading out of town on the footpath at the end of Carrera 8. Stay on the dirt road for about 1 km and you’ll eventually reach a (small, barely even noticeable) waterfall to your left. This is Cascada del Amor.
From here, keep descending along the road until you reach the river. You can swim here at the campground, or grab a snack at the restaurant. Then cross the river and follow the road leading up. Keep in mind that the town center should be on your right at this point — don’t take any of the footpaths that lead to your left. You’ll never be far from a village and lots of local mountain bikers use these paths, so if you get lost you can ask for directions. (There are no signs.)
After ascending for about 30 minutes, you’ll come to a flat ridge. Continue straight and you’ll encounter some small shops where you can grab a cold drink.
Eventually, you’ll see a sign for the Garrucha Cable Car. This is the best place to get a view of the Jardin Colombia town center. The shop at the top is open during the day until sunset and serves typical Colombian lunches and cold drinks.
If you’re feeling brave, you can ride the hand-powered Garrucha cable car down to the town center. This costs 3,500 COP one-way. Alternatively, walk down — ask at the restaurant for the correct pathway. It’s pretty steep at times.
This entire hike takes about two hours. It involves one short-but-steep climb and a steep and muddy descent. It’s also a popular horseback-riding route.
Hike to Cueva del Esplendor
If you want to go on a longer trek, the hike to la Cueva del Esplendor is one of the best things to do in Jardin.
The cave has a waterfall pouring through the ceiling into a crystal-clear pond at the bottom. You can swim in it — the water is freezing — or simply go for the natural scenery.
The most popular way to visit la Cueva del Esplendor is a horseback riding tour. But if you don’t ride horses for ethical reasons, you want to save money, or you simply prefer to walk, you can also hike there.
The simplest option is to pick up a moto taxi in central Jardin and get a lift to the entry gate (15,000 COP). It’s not far from town, but walking there is straight uphill along the road. Admission to the hiking trail is 7,000 COP. From here it’s a 90-minute muddy walk to the cave. You can walk all the way back to Jardin in about three hours, since it’s all downhill.
But if you want to avoid the moto taxi ride and the road, you can take the more adventurous route on the mountain paths. Allow a minimum of 8 hours total. Bring food and plenty of water. You absolutely must download maps.me to do this safely. None of the trails are marked in any way and it’s extremely easy to get lost. It’s also very, very muddy and quite steep in sections. You could also hire a guide to take you for around 70,000 COP.
Go birdwatching in Reserva Natural Gallito de la Roca
Jardin’s Andean-foothills location means abundant bird life inhabits the forests surrounding it. Most twitchers come in search of the famous cock-of-the-rock.
The best place to see this bird and others is in the Reserva Natural Gallito de la Roca. You can walk here from town — follow Calle 9 to the river. The reserve is on private property, so you should call ahead (312-756-2650).
Entrance to the reserve costs 10,000 COP. Go very early in the morning (before 7:30) or around 4 pm to see the cock-of-the-rock.
More serious birdwatchers can book trips through any of the tour agencies in town to some of the more remote reserves. No public transport runs to these locations, so you need your own wheels or to go on a tour. Expect to pay around 70,000 COP for an all-day outing including lunch.
Eat trout and sample local sweets in Jardin
In addition to coffee, trout is the other major cash crop in this part of Colombia. It’s the most common meal on restaurant menus. And you can even visit a trout farm and pick out your own lunch!
La Argelia trout farm is about a 15-minute walk out of town along a dirt road. that you can pick up from Calle 13 You can hire a moto taxi for about 5,000 COP. A simple lunch of trout with a few side dishes costs around 12,000 COP. The menu doesn’t have much to offer beyond trout.
After lunch, don’t miss a visit to Dulces de Jardin. This long-standing, locally owned and operated shop makes homemade candies that are famous throughout Colombia. (My walking tour guide in Bogota actually recommended it to me!)
The shop sells all kinds of sugary treats, but you’re really here to try the arequipes (similar to caramels). You can try them for just a few cents, or buy a larger box to take home.
Where to stay in Jardin Colombia
Given that Jardin is still pretty off the beaten path, it doesn’t have the same hostel culture as big cities like Medellin and Bogota. You may have to lower your standards a bit if you’re traveling on a budget — but I promise, it’s worth it.
I stayed at Canto de Agua, one of a handful of hostels slightly out of town. The setting was gorgeous. The neighbors were all farms, and you could see the mountains from the lovely front porch. The walk out of town was safe at night provided you have a torch (or phone flashlight). Unfortunately, I can’t really recommend it unless you really need to save money by staying in a dorm. The gringo staff played terrible music very loudly until around 11 pm every night, totally detracting from the peaceful country house atmosphere.
Instead, I’d recommend staying at Hotel La Casona. As soon as I saw it, I regretted not staying there. It’s in one of the traditional houses less than a block from the main plaza. It as a pretty courtyard and many of the rooms have private balconies. The tour agency at the front desk can help with organizing most Jardin tours. In addition to the excursions mentioned above, they can also arrange a Jardin coffee tour.
How to get to Jardin
Jardin is just three hours from Medellin, and about halfway between Medellin and Salento. Click on the links to learn more about these bus trips. If you’re coming from Bogota, Cartagena, or elsewhere in Colombia, you’ll have to transit through Medellin.
Jardin seduces everyone who visits with its coffee-country charm, its off the beaten path vibe, and its array of activities in the surrounding mountains. Two days is the perfect amount of time to cover all these things to do in Jardin and to get away from the main tourist trail. Don’t miss this hidden gem when you go backpacking in Colombia!
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