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Jardín, Colombia: The “Anti-Medellín”
For an ideal getaway from Medellín, you needn’t look far. Just a few hours to the south, the town of Jardín is the perfect place because it’s pretty much the opposite of Medellín:
- Medellín is hectic, rapidly modernizing, trendy, kind of dangerous, and full of beautiful “birds” (as Austin Powers would call them).
- Jardín is relaxed, charmingly timeless, old-school, friendly, and full of beautiful birds (real birds).
If you’re not convinced, read on to find out some of the unexpected highlights from our awesome weekend getaway to Jardín.[Oct 2018 Update: Don’t miss the fantastic comment by Dave Richardson at the bottom of the post for more detail and tips on things to do in Jardin. He adds warnings and tips for the coffee farm tour and a couple other highlights. And don’t forget to contribute your own experiences and tips after your own visit to Jardin.]
Finca de los Angeles Coffee Tour
Jardín is in coffee country, so you can’t go there without doing a coffee tour. And the Finca de los Angeles coffee tour is the one to do, especially if you speak decent Spanish. Even if you don’t drink coffee or have done coffee tours before (like we had), it’s worth it.
Finca de los Angeles isn’t just a coffee farm; it’s a family home that happens to grow coffee.
Andres, the owner, started inviting tourists five years ago out of desperation. Greedy coffee co-operatives were hogging all the profits (doesn’t sound very co-operative to me!) and a disease called “roya” (rust) was decimating his crops. Offering tours saved his farm.
Indeed, it was hearing Andres’ story and learning about the lives of the farmers in Jardín that turned out to be more interesting than learning about the coffee process.
We learned, for example, that unlike in Brazil or Africa, all Jardin’s coffee beans are picked by hand. It’s such hard work that it requires a population of millions of pickers who migrate around Colombia from one harvest to the other all year round. Every coffee farm has a big extra shed to house these hordes of seasonal workers. Crazy.
There’s a lot more to be learned, but I won’t spoil it for you.
Speaking of not spoiling, once we toured the finca we enjoyed some of the freshest coffee ever!
Whereas the coffee back home takes 12 months or more to get from the plant into your cup, this coffee took 12 days or less. Andres also provided a delicious plate of farm-to-table chorizo, fried plantains, and guacamole. Yum!
The tour was $20,000 each (about 7 USD). To book your tour, call Angela Maria, Andres’ wife, to confirm. Then to get there, hop on a chiva (a crazy-colored, extra-wide chicken bus) by the bus terminal at carrera 6 and calle 8, pay $3,000 and enjoy the scenic ride. Alternatively you can pay $15,000 for a boring old taxi.
Running for the Hills and Chasing Waterfalls
If you’re like us, as soon as you see the lush hills surrounding Jardín, you’ll want to explore them. And if you’re like us, you should. It’s awesome.
Kim and I eschewed the organized hiking tours and created our own adventure. We got lost… and found our own waterfall.
It wasn’t easy, but if you want to be maybe the only other foreigners to ever visit these falls (based on the absence of any trail, we’re not even sure locals ever go there), here are the directions:
- Walk from town in the direction of the Cascada del Amor and Charco Corazon, then uphill towards the garrucha.
- At the top of the hill, you’ll get to an intersection. Instead of turning right (which will take you to the garrucha), go left.
- Walk for a kilometer and a half or so past a bunch of tomato farms and soon enough you’ll see the waterfall in the distance to your right (see photo below)
- Continue up the road until you see a dirt trail leading down to a little bridge (coordinates here). There’s no gate or anything and the trail’s easily visible from the road.
- Once you get over the bridge, you’re on your own. Make it to the waterfall whatever way you can. I recommend taking off your shoes and bare-footing it through the mud, over the barbed wire, and eventually up the stream and through the jungle. It’s not for the faint of heart, but that’s what makes it an adventure.
For all we know, there are other, more beautiful, and more easily accessed waterfalls in the area. If we had more time, we’d have tried to find them all.
That’s the point. Just get out there and explore.
No matter where you venture in Jardín you won’t come away disappointed.
A Natural All-You-Can-Eat and See Buffet
We found a lot more than waterfalls while wandering the Jardín countryside.
First off, there are the birds. Before getting to Jardín, Kim and I had read that Jardín is a “birdwatchers’ paradise.” We could’ve cared less. From our experience, towns only promote birdwatching as a tourist attraction when there’s nothing else to do.
In Jardín’s case, though, they’re right to highlight birdwatching as an attraction.
Not only did we see a couple of the famous cock-of-the-rocks, but also we saw more brightly-colored birds than on a box of Fruit Loops. We couldn’t name any of them, but they sure looked pretty.
Just as colorful as the birds were the flowers.
And the fruit. During our wanders we found wild blackberries, strawberries, guava, oranges, limes, mangoes, and avocados. It’s like the world’s greatest fruit salad. And it’s free! You just have to keep your head up and pick the fruit for your salad yourself.
Oh, and we even found some mushrooms, like this morel:
In short, Jardín was a smorgasbord of visual and edible delights.
More Eating and Drinking
When back in town, we found food options to be somewhat limited, but we did manage to come across a few places worth recommending:
- Café de los Andes – Is where I’m sitting as I write this. Located on the second floor of a building right on the main square, Café de los Andes is spacious, open air, and an excellent place to do some blogging, internetting, coffee drinking, and spying on the action from above.
- Las Brazzas – A couple of locals we spoke to recommended Las Brazzas, a grill just a block off the main square. It seemed to always be open (unlike most other places), the food was good, and so was the service.
Strong-stomached, daring eaters should try the chunchurria (fried small intestine). When I ordered the dish, the kitchen staff told the waiter to double check with me. They said too many gringos had ordered it previously only to been so put off by it they asked for a refund. No such refund was needed for me. On the outside it was delightfully crispy, while on the inside it had a liver-like taste and texture. Nice!
If intestines sounds shitty to you (pun intended!), get something else. Most locals seemed to go for the chicken.
- Restaurante Gloria – A super busy, laid-back place where you can try the local trucha in a platter for just $13,000. Don’t judge it Restaurante Gloria by its cover. From the outside it looks like a tiny hole in the wall, but venture in and you’ll see it’s a spacious, comfortable, and happening diner.
- Consulado Vegetal – For those worried about the carnage they’re causing to their bodies by eating so much fried meat, and the carnage they’re causing to the animals they’re eating, Consulado Vegetal is a welcome refuge.
How to Get There, And Where to Stay in Jardín
Getting between Jardín and Medellin is easy: Go to Terminal Sur in Medellín (just west of Poblado station) and take a bus. They’re comfortable, have assigned seating (so reserve earlier than later), and even stop halfway for a bathroom break.
As of this writing, tickets are $26,000 to $28,000 each way, leaving multiple times a day. When we were planning our trip the blogs we read said tickets were only $18,000, so prices (and schedules) change frequently.
As for where to stay, we were happy with our choice of Hotel Internacional Jardín. At first we were concerned by the fact that it was out of town, but it turned out to be not far at all. The location turned out to be a blessing, as it was quiet at night.
All-in-all Hotel Internacional Jardiín was super clean and very affordable and we’d stay there again.
Back in Medellín
If you’re returning back to Medellin and looking for things to do, check out the compilation of 50+ of the web’s top bloggers’ recommendations in the super Medellín travel guide.
And just because you’re back in the city doesn’t mean you can’t find waterfalls and nature. Discover the amazing hikes like Cerro Quitasol and this waterfall and prison hike in Arenales that are just a metro ride away.