manizales, colombia

Living Abroad: Colombia Coffee Triangle Exploration in Manizales

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Traveling and seeing the world is a passion of mine, so it makes sense to start the process of exploring opportunities for living abroad. I’ll write more about this in a separate post, but my travel in the last couple of years is starting to shift to include places where I might consider living when I take “my flying leap” to become an expat and working nomad.

I have started working through some countries in South and Central America and stumbled upon Colombia. It wasn’t on my list as I had the mistaken perception that it was unsafe and unstable, but as I started researching, I became more excited by the prospect of exploring the country. I found reasonable airfare and decided it would be my longest trip of the year in 2018.

Living Abroad as a Working Nomad

There is a concept of a “digital nomad” gaining popularity in recent years. It’s a person who relies on the internet to financially sustain a modern nomad life. I love this idea, and actually work from home now in a job that could really be done anywhere with an internet connection if my company allowed it. I do have calls during the day so the time zone difference would be an issue, but there are plenty of things that could be done with minimal interaction.

The only real requirement with being a digital working nomad is to have a reliable internet connection. Lots of countries offer that, so it would enable me to pursue this dream at some point in the future.

Coffee Triangle (Eje Cafetero)

I subscribe to International Living Magazine as it provides some great information to people interested in living abroad. While the volume of email feels uncomfortably overwhelming and spammy, they do offer some great articles in their magazine. Around the time I was considering a trip to Colombia, the monthly magazine showcased the cities of the Coffee Triangle: Perreira, Manizales, and Armenia.

These three cities sit in the heart of the Colombian Coffee Region. it’s a high-elevation area, ranging between five and seven thousand feet above sea level. This offers springtime-like temperatures all year and some magnificent views. It also provides some hilly areas that provide for a great workout just walking where you want to go! These cities also offer a lower cost of living, 20% on average less than Medellin, with many of the same amenities and excellent healthcare.

Manizales is also close to the western end of the Andes Mountains. The steep terrain surrounding the city an of the nearby Los Nevados National Park offers some amazing views visible from most places in the city. A city with great hiking areas surrounding it sounds like my kind of perfect.

You May Also Like Top 10 Things to do in Salento Colombia

My Trip to Manizales

I chose to visit Manizales as one of my cities in my explorations for living abroad for a number of reasons. First, it was described as a university town. I tend to enjoy university towns as they often have people who are a little more progressive, some well-educated people, a population of young people, and lots of inexpensive things to do. In fact, close to a quarter of the population is comprised of students. It is also not quite on the radar for expats living abroad and is not as heavily touristed as Medellin, Bogota, and Cartagena.

Manizales is the “just right” sized city in the Coffee Triangle, made of Perreira, Armenia, and Manizales. It’s a few hours from Medellin and less than an hour from Perreira, which is a little larger. It’s also under two hours from the magical small town of Salento, with a stunning colonial center and just a Willy ride away from the Cocora Valley and the majestic wax palm trees.

Things to Do in Manizales

Manizales is known as the “city of open doors” due to its kind and welcoming residents, and that was definitely my experience. In a country of friendly and helpful people, Manizales stood out, and that’s saying something. When I was in a restaurant trying to figure out how to order what I wanted, someone approached me offering to help. During my ascent to one of the most amazing viewpoints in Manizales, where I was pretty terrified of the heights, the group was incredibly patient as I gathered the nerve to continue and offered encouragement. There were many other examples for me to admire the people of this city.

I was surprised by how much there is to do in and around this reasonably small city. It checked that box for me when I consider places for living abroad.

Stroll Around Plaza Bolívar

Plaza Bolívar is the heart of Manizales. It is flocked by the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary and the Governor’s Palace. The striking Bolívar Cóndor statue is in the center of the plaza, a sculpture made by Rodrigo Arenas Betancourt in tribute to Simón Bolívar. There are also two ceramic murals by local artist Guillermo Botero.

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Bolívar Cóndor Statue and Manizales Cathedral

Manizales Cathedral (Catedral Basílica Metropolitana de Nuestra Señora del Rosario)

My hotel was right across the street from the impressive Manizales Cathedral, located on Plaza Bolívar, the central square in the city. The Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Rosary has a central tower that rises an impressive 106 meters (347 feet), making it the tallest in all of Colombia and the third tallest in South America.

I read in several places that the view from the top is the best part of this church, but that it’s not for anyone with a fear of heights. That is true, however, people with a pretty significant fear of heights, like yours truly, can still climb to the top of this tower because the people of Colombia are so amazing. I had a whole group of people rooting for me to make it, helping me when I panicked and encouraging me to do it because I really, really wanted to. One of many examples of how amazing the people here are.

Some of the highlights include walking up a staircase on the side of the roof of the main part of the Cathedral, across a narrow corridor to enter the central tower. A staircase thankfully replaced the narrow wooden spiral staircase that people used to climb to the top of the tower. At the top, you can walk around the Polish Corridor, a narrow platform, with some stunning views of the city and surrounding area.

The Cathedral is located at 24-13 Carrera 22, Manizales. The tour is offered in English and Spanish and sells out quickly, so your best bet is to go with some time to spare, purchase your tickets, and wander around the Bolívar Plaza area. The acoustics in the Cathedral are pretty amazing if you happen to time your visit to a mass. Tours are offered every 15 minutes and last for around 75 minutes. The cost is just a few USD and is well worth it.

Staircase to the Manizales Cathedral Central Tower and Old Rickety Wooden Stairs
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Outdoor Tunnel to the Manizales Cathedral Central Tower

Governor’s Palace

The Governor’s Palace is the seat of the governorship of the region. It was destroyed in the fire of 1925 that destroyed 32 acres of the city. The current building replaced the one destroyed in the fire. The plain exterior hides the stunning interior that can be toured for free during the day. It’s a quick walk around and worth doing it when you visit Plaza Bolívar.

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El Recinto del Pensamiento Park

This park is a great escape from the city to enjoy some time in nature. It is a cloud forest less than 10 miles from downtown Manizales. It features forest trails, a butterfly house, and stunning natural gardens that appeal to bird and orchid enthusiasts. In addition, there is a chairlift system with stunning views, bird-watching tours, a wooden pavilion building, and a coffee ritual.

El Recinto del Pensaminto Park is open from Tuesday to Sunday, 9-4 and tours are offered hourly on the hour. Tours range from 18k COP to 70k COP ($5.75 to $22.50 USD). Tours are only offered in Spanish.

Cable Car (Cable Aereo)

The Aereo Cable is part of the public transportation system in Manizales to allow people from the low-lying neighborhoods to easily access downtown, which is high on a hill. It’s also a tourist attraction in its own right and well worth taking a ride for the views of the city.

The cable car rides cost only 1.9k COP (around $.60 USD). One line runs on Carrera 23 to the bus terminal, and there is one from the terminal to nearby Villamaria. The cable cars are available from 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Chipre Viewpoint (Panoramica de Chipre)

This area offers beautiful sunset views and is a popular part of town with locals. It’s not far from the University and you can walk past the lovely Temple del Sagrado Corazon los Agostinos church on the way from Plaza Bolivar. There are some gorgeous views of the countryside and it’s worth a walk to this area.

Torre Chipre offers some “extreme” attractions like a 360-degree skywalk where you are strapped to the outside of the building and you can walk on the edge. There is also a high-elevation swing from high on the tower and a climbing wall.

The Chipre Viewpoint is a freebie and the Torre Chipre is open from 11-8 daily.

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Chipre Viewpoint

Hot Springs

Manizales is surrounded by hot springs and thermal baths as the area is surrounded by volcanos. There are many to choose from, but one of the best is Ruiz Hot Springs (Termales del Ruiz), a lovely boutique hotel and hot springs on the edge of Los Nevados National Park. The hotel also has hummingbird feeders.

Ruiz Hot Springs are open daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. It is located at Paraje De Termales, Villamaria.

My Hotel recommended Termales Tierra Viva, which is the #1 place on TripAdvisor. This mineral hot spring offering stone pools is located in the mountains with a calming environment. It also has a hotel, restaurant, and spa treatments.

Termales Tierra Viva is located at km. 2 Vía a, Gallinazo, Villamaría. It is open daily from 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Prices range from 13k to 18k COP (around $4 USD to $5.75 USD) depending on the day of your visit.

Los Nevados National Park (Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados)

If you need some time with nature to get away from the crowded cities of Colombia, you will want to check out Los Nevados National Park. It is located to the east of town, just a few hours drive from Manizales. Some popular places to go include the Nevado del Ruiz mountain (which is off-limits past a certain point due to volcanic activity) or Santa Isabel, for hiking and mountain biking.

The park is open daily from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. You may want to get there early as there can sometimes be a wait at the entrance. The address is Calle 20 25 Nr. 20-25 | Parque Nacional Natural los Nevados Zona centro sut, Manizales. There are a number of tour companies that visit and I read some great reviews for Kumanday Adventures and Ecosistemas Travel on TripAdvisor.

Zona Rosa

As with many Colombian cities, Zona Rosa is where you find the nightlife. This area is around 20 minutes from downtown Manizales and is where you will find many restaurants, bars and nightclubs, shopping malls, and boutique shops. In the center of this area is Hevero Tower, or “Torre del Cable,” as the locals know it. You can catch buses here from the downtown or a taxi for just a few dollars or take the cable car from Carrera 23.

Coffee Farms

There are two great coffee farm options to choose from. The first is Hacienda Venecia, a working coffee farm that educates visitors about the coffee-making process and coffee farm life. there are rooming options in the main house, guest house, and hostel with a range of costs, offering meals and kitchen space. There are many relaxing ways to spend your time including a tour of the coffee farm, a swimming pool, hammocks, games, hikes, and a library.

Hacienda Venecia offers a coffee tour for 55k COP ($17.75 USD). If you want to go on this tour and are staying in Manizales, no problem! They offer transport to and from Manizales for just 10k COP more ($3.25 USD). Group tours are at 9:30 and last for three hours, and you have the option to do a private tour as well. They also have a cocoa tour, a trip to Los Nevados, and group hiking options.

Cafe Tio Conejo is another option and is the #1 thing to do in Manizales according to TripAdvisor. A “Willy” jeep will pick you up in Manizales for the tour, and they also offer accommodation. Want a Colombian coffee fix without going to Colombia, Cafe Tio Conejo offers an online store.

The Cafe Tio Conejo coffee tour day trip costs 155k COP ($55 USD) and includes transportation to and from Manizales. Overnight stays are 250k COP ($84 USD) including meals and of course, coffee, and additional nights are an additional $40-50 USD.

Churches

In addition to the Cathedral, there are some other beautiful churches in Manizales. Temple del Sagrado Corazon los Agostinos is a stunner that is only a 15-minute walk from the Cathedral heading towards Chipre.

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The Stunning Temple del Sagrado Corazon los Agostinos

Iglesia de la Inmaculada Concepcion is a ten-minute walk from Plaza Bolivar. It’s striking on the outside, but absolutely stunning on the inside with wood-carved cedar beams and arches, and cedar-wood pews. The location of this church is here.

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Iglesia de la Inmaculada Concepcion

Will I Move to Manizales?

There were many things that I liked about Manizales, especially the people. I got sick during my stay, and the woman who worked at the front desk of my small boutique hotel took such great care of me. There is a lot to do in this small city, and it checks off many of the boxes on my list of things I am looking for when I consider living abroad.

I have a lot to think about, though. I consider myself a city girl, though I need my time by the water and in the countryside outside of the city, whether it be in the desert, the forest, etc. Just to be one with nature. However, I felt a bit overloaded in the cities in Colombia. They felt so large and so crowded. Even though Manizales is a small city, it felt very crowded. I like the convenience of cities, but I’m not sure city life in Colombia would be for me. It was an interesting and surprising realization.

Can I Picture Myself Living Abroad in Colombia?

Colombia, in general, is still on my list of possibilities for living abroad. I absolutely fell in love with the people and it is stunning in the countryside. If I were to move there, I think I would prefer a town or very small city near a large city with solid transportation to the city. My trip gave me a great perspective of the country, seeing Bogota, Cartagena, Medellin, Manizales, and Salento, and I think I’d like to see a handful of smaller areas as I really loved Salento.

Each trip helps me further refine what my priorities are and what I’m looking for. The good thing for me is that I don’t have to make a decision immediately. I’m a planner, and I have time to determine where the best fits are for me and to make plans to get there. Since the Colombia peace accord was in 2016, I’d like a few more years of peace under its belt before considering moving there with more permanency than a couple of weeks. (like to that post). But everything I saw in the country leads me to think that it could be a contenter for me living abroad so it’s staying on my list.

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