Jardín is the kind of place that feels like it has been stuck in time. It hasn't succumbed to the pressures of the outside world (i.e. materialism) nor has it faded into a memory that only the old-timers can recount. It's still a bustling little town, but it feels genuine. Like how a Colombian town in the Andes should feel. At least when I was there. Families enjoyed late afternoon coffees in the colorful town square, men pranced their horses along the cobbled streets, traditional dress was not a ploy to get tourists to buy souvenirs, and I got enough friendly stares to make me feel like I was doing this travel thing right - getting off the beaten path as much as I could and trying to see real Colombia.
WHAT TO DO
Walk the backroads of jardín though banana and coffee plantations
I spent a fabulous morning walking around the backroads of Jardín, taking in the stunning views, smelling the numerous smells, and listening to all sorts of birds songs overhead. On maps.me (my go-to travel app) the roads show up as trails, but they are indeed dirt roads.
Route: as on depicted on maps.me, start off in the east part of town and head toward the Cascada del Amor. Follow to road up past several waterfalls and switchbacks then turn right toward the Teleferico La Garrucha. Before getting to La Garrucha, though, make a left toward La Tangara Hostal Rural. Follow to road as it curves around then take a right back down towards town. There is a road here, but somehow I missed it and ended up on a steep, rugged trail. It still spit me out where I wanted to, but see if you can stay on the road instead.
See the Gallitos at the Jardín de Roca
The gallitos de roca (Andean cock-of-the-rock) are quite a spectacle and they put on a good show here in Jardín. Their head and upper body is a brilliant red or orange and they have a large disk-like crown adorning their head. They’re also quite large and nosiy, making them easy to spot. Spend a half hour or so in the garden watching their antics.
How to get there: head south out of town on calle 9. Just before the big yellow bridge, take a right down a narrow, stone-lined path. At the next bend you’ll see a gate with a sign for the Jardín de Roca above it. The path is quite steep, so wear good shoes.
Cost: I was asked to pay 10,000 COP at the gate which is pretty steep (until you realize it’s only $3.35 USD), but I didn’t mind because the money is going to a good cause: protecting the gallitos de roca
Opening times: The reserve is open (more or less) from 6-7:30am and 4-6pm. If the gate is closed and locked during those times wait a few minutes, someone should be up to let you in.
Hike to Cascada la Escalera
Without signing up for a tour, this is one of the best waterfalls in the area that you can get to by yourself. It’s about a two mile walk outside of town on dirt roads or you can rent a bike in town. Don’t be an idiot like me and not wear your bathing suit!
How to get there: follow calle 13 north out of town toward Canto de Agua Hostel. Keep going down this road until you get to a bridge. Take a right after the bridge then another right just after the really cool house on the left (you’ll know). Keep heading down this road until you see the waterfall on your left.
Ride the cable cars
Jardín has two cable cars - one is pretty much just a yellow and green wooden and metal slatted box that carries you high above over the river Volcanes. It’s an exhilarating ride and there’s a great view at the top to enjoy with a fresh orange juice. Come right back down or explore the back roads for a bit. The other cable car is more modern and it carries you up to a Jesus Christ statue on the other side of town.
Cost: 7,000 COP for a two-way ride
Visit La Argelia trout farm for lunch
What a treat! This was such a great lunch experience after my long walk along the backroads of Jardín. The restaurant/trout farm is located in a beautiful, peaceful setting outside of town and the food is absolutely delicious. You have several options on how you want your trout cooked, but I recommend la molienda (with panela). It’s slightly sweet and so delicious. You can also catch your own lunch if you so chose.
How to get there: follow calle 13 north out of town for about three quarters of a mile. Keep left at the forks and you will come to a river with the restaurant and trout farm on the other side of the bridge.
Cost: a complete lunch consisting of trout, rice, coleslaw, arepa, plantain cake, and fresh juice is between 19,000-25,000 COP
Try the sweets at Los Dulces de Jardín
If you have a sweet tooth, this is the place to be! The cafe is owned and operated by a local family and they have a huge selection of house-made arequipes (dulce de leche), jams, jellies, desserts, and my personal favorite - yogurt. If they have the flavor uchuva, definitely give it a try. I also loved their mixed container of wrapped candies. The coconut panela is amazing! You can try any of the sweets at the bar, so prepare yourself for a sugar rush.
Sit in the square in the evening with a beer or coffee and watch the Colombian men prance their horses through the streets
Whenever I heard the clip clop of horse feet on the cobblestone streets in Jardin, I eagerly looked around for the stately cowboy that was no doubt riding a magnificent steed. These cowboys on their horses are a sight to behold and it’s worth spending an hour or two in the main square in the evening watching them prance through town. The balcony at De Los Andes is a good place to station yourself.
WHERE TO STAY
I stayed at Hotel Kantarrana Urbana Jardin and I can’t say enough good things about it. The location is perfect - just off the main square to be quiet at night but close enough to everything to not feel like you’re too far away from it all. When I checked, in the hostess gave me a thorough welcome and tons of recommendations on things to do and places to eat. My favorite part, though, is the beautiful and tranquil inner courtyard that is a great respite from the hustle and bustle of town. A filling breakfast is also included. Rooms can also be booked through Airbnb.
Another good option is a rural hostel a bit outside of town called Canto de Agua. It’s located in a quiet setting setting by a river and they have a free shuttle and bicycles for guests to use. They also offer lots of different tours for their guests like hiking, horseback riding, and rappelling.
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK COFFEE
There are several great restaurants to dine at in Jardín plus plenty of street food carts in the main square (but to be honest, at this point in my trip I was getting a little tired of fried arepas and empanadas). Bon Appetit has delicious food and cocktails, although their menu is a little odd - Asian/Italian noodle dishes. I also loved the pizza and ambiance at Cafe Europa. On my last day in town I discovered Con Su Lado Vegetal, a super cute vegetarian place that is open for breakfast and lunch and serves up some super tasty, healthy meals.
For coffee, check out De Los Andes Cafe with a great view over the town square (try the boozy drinks in the afternoon), Cafe Macanas with delicious baked treats (there are two locations, one in Dulces de Jardin and one on the main square), and the fantastic Cafe El Artesano (only open from 4pm-8pm)
HOW TO GET TO JARDíN
In Medellin, head to Terminal de Transportes del Sur (South Bus Terminal) near the Poblado Metro Station. Unlike the Terminal Norte, the bus station isn’t attached to the metro station, so you can either grab a cab (~5,000 COP) or you can walk. It’s about a mile, though. Once at the bus station, go to window #2 and purchase tickets to Jardín. The trip takes roughly 3.5-4 hours and costs around 23,000 COP. Most likely you’ll make a stop in the town of Andes, but you don’t need to transfer buses.