It’s name “Jardín” literally means “garden” in Spanish, so this little pueblo in Colombia had a lot to live up to – especially since Henk and I had chosen it over several other places for a weekend excursion from Medellin. But after a 3 1/2 hour trip winding our way through lush mountains and valleys to get there, it took less than half of that time for this small colonial town and its people to charm its way into our hearts.
Pronounced har-deen, the pueblo of Jardín is a small town of less than 10,000 people, nestled between mountains in the southernmost part of the state of Antioquia. Virtually unchanged architecturally for the last 140 years, the characteristic main square, El Libertador plaza, reflects classic colonial city planning: a large church (the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception) fronting the plaza, and a perimeter lined with two-story shops and hotels with colourful balconies and pretty interior courtyards. What is unique to this particular square – perhaps built to reflect its ‘garden’ name – are 8 rose gardens laid out in front of the church in a symmetrical design around the central fountain.
But beyond its architecture, what Jardín has is a secluded, peaceful location that is far enough away from the city of Medellin to make it a wonderful country getaway for that city’s paisas and an absolutely authentic small-town experience for foreign visitors who find their way here. Henk and I spent 2 days enjoying the local culture and hospitality, filling our time with unhurried activities that helped make our visit to Jardín one of our favourite experiences in Colombia.
Here’s our guide for what to do when visiting Jardín and why we fell in love with this little pueblo.
Ride the Cable Car to Alto de las Flores (Flower Hilltop)
Medellin isn’t the only place that has cable cars in Colombia, which makes sense when you think about how much of the country is mountainous. But to find these modern conveyances in a town as small as Jardín was a surprise – so of course Henk and I wanted to hop on it to see where it would take us.
It turns out that this teleférico (cablecar) takes you to the top of the Cristo Rey hill, also known as the Alto de las Flores, where you’ll get one of the best views of the pueblo and surrounding countryside.
There’s even a casual bar/restaurant at the top that isn’t at all the kind of tourist trap you’d expect, but instead is just a local establishment that offers a cold glass of beer to go with the terrific view. While we sat there, Henk and I met a trio of Colombian teens who were enjoying the view as well (one was here from a neighbouring town visiting his Jardín girlfriend). We all got to practice a little English/Spanish in an impromptu cultural exchange, and with the help of Instagram and Facebook, we made the exchange that much more interesting with photos! (ah, social media!)
After enjoying the late afternoon sun and the beautiful view, Henk and I decided to hike down to town rather than taking the cable car, since it was nearing dusk and the timing was perfect for a little walk in the countryside.
The trail down was more of a goat path in places, but the light was beautiful, the temperature perfect, and the hike even took us right past one of the town’s trout farms on the river. (Jardín is known for its local trout, so if you’re a fish fan, this is what you should eat while you are here.)
Hike the Camino La Herrera to the Garrucha cable car
If you’re looking for more robust hikes, the natural surroundings in which Jardín is nestled are perfect for any level of hiker. The most ambitious might want to hike the 10 km to the Cueva del Esplendor (Cave of Splendors) where you can rappel down into a cave or swim under the waterfall that spills into it. (You can also take an organized adventure tour from the town which will take you there on horseback, if you’d like.) Unfortunately, the Cave was closed during our visit, so we decided instead to do a hike just outside town called the Camino La Herrera.
This hike starts out on a pretty bougainvillea-draped path on the edge of town, and hooks up with a road that takes you past a small waterfall called the Cascada Del Amor (Waterfall of Love) and across a river up to the Reserva Cuchilla Jardín Tamesis Nature Reserve. Here, hikers and birders can enjoy the scenery and keep their eye out for the Cock of the Rock and other local Andean species of birds that call this place home.
Henk and I did spot an Oropendola flying out of its nest, which is built high in the trees and normally way out of ‘eyeshot’. Luckily, Henk had his drone with him, so he was able to launch it and get up level with the metre-long nest.
Check out the drone footage for another look:
Since part of the reason for our hike was to get to see Jardín’s older, wooden cable car on the other side of the river, Henk and I didn’t go through the Reserve but instead followed the country road that would take us up to La Garrucha hill.
Like on the Cristo Rey hill, there is a perfectly situated bar right beside the cable car that gives you another beautiful view of town, and an excellent excuse to enjoy some snacks and drinks while waiting for the cable car departure time. (I had a freshly-squeezed lemonade made from ripe lemons growing on the nearby trees.)
The cable car itself was a scream (or would be if I were afraid of heights!) as this tiny wooden box literally brushes past banana plants before crossing a deep river gorge and rattling its way to its terminal in town. Even though these cars are here to give farmers and locals easier access to and from town, I thought it was the best sightseeing ride going!
Indulge Your Sweettooth at Dulces del Jardín
Every article I read said that a visit to Jardín without sampling their signature Dulces del Jardín would be a wasted trip, so Henk and I dutifully set out to find the shop/cafe where this sweet spread is made. These confections are the Colombian version of arequipe, made with sweetened milk and various natural flavourings that ends up with a Nutella-type consistency. After walking into the shop and seeing shelf upon shelf of these different flavours, I knew choosing one to take home would be harder than I first thought.
Thankfully, the staff were happy to let us sample the various flavours (even though they spoke little English, they know what people want!) and Henk and I settled on a mocha coffee flavour to take back home. I also grabbed a sweet pastry to eat right there and then in a pretty little nook reserved for exactly that purpose.
Walk the townAlthough Guatapé may take the title as “Colombia’s most colourful town”, Jardín is no slouch when it comes to their colourful streetscapes. Walk around on the cobbled streets and you’ll find more than enough reason to max out the memory card in your camera.
And while Jardín may not have the decorative zocalós that make Guatapé’s houses so famous, this pueblo has something else that Guatapé doesn’t have: cowboys and Paso Fino horses! This is after all, rural Colombia, where ranching is a way of life. One of the unique purebred horses that you’ll find here in South America are the Paso Finos, known for their smooth trotting gait. (Henk and I got a chance to first ride these horses when we visited Peru several years ago, and I can honestly say, it was one of the most comfortable rides I’ve ever had on a horse, and I’ve had a few.)
So it was a completely unexpected and pleasant surprise to be walking the cobblestone streets of Jardín and suddenly hear a rapid ‘clop-clop-clop’ and see a cowboy dance by on one of these horses!
In fact, as we strolled around before dinner one night, we saw a couple of these riders who apparently like to take their horses out for a tour around town on Friday nights (probably to show off to some of the other cowboys hanging in the main square). I guess it’s Jardín’s version of trotting out your classic car for a cruise around town.
Check out this video we took to see – and hear – these Paso Finos in action during cowboy ‘rush hour’ in Jardín:
Hang in El Libertador square
By far the best thing to do in Jardin is just hang out in the main plaza, especially in the evening and on weekends when it seems the whole town comes out to socialize here. Whether you want to have a coffee or a drink, enjoy some helado (ice cream), or just chat about your day, this square really is the heart and soul of Jardîn.
Take a seat on one of the brightly-coloured chairs which are colour-coded to match the bars and cafes on the perimeter, whose servers will come and take your order after you sit down. And because there’s no hurry in this town, you can spend as much time as you like, without the least bit of pressure to order more food or vacate the table.
It’s a decidedly civilized way to pass the time, and on weekends, the square gets even busier in the evening with street vendors selling delicious snacks like empanadas, buñuelos, arepas and papas rellenas, an irresistible deep-fried potato ball stuffed with savoury meat and spices – yum!
Jardín is small-town Colombia at its most authentic, and probably one of the reasons why Henk and I enjoyed our visit here so much. And even though Colombia itself is still not on most travellers’ radar, we were glad that Jardín is even farther off the beaten path so that it remains completely unspoiled – making it one of our favourite pueblos in all of Colombia.
When to go:
Henk and I went in mid-February on a weekend and the town was pleasantly quiet and almost tourist-free (we were one of only 3 gringos in town!). But if you want to be part of a unique festival during high season, time your visit for the first long weekend in January, when you can take in the Fiestas de la Rosa, see the roses in bloom in the plaza’s 8 rose gardens, and get an even better idea of why Jardín has come by its ‘garden’ name honestly.
How to Get to Jardín from Medellin:
Buses are the best way for you to make the trip and leave from the Terminal Sud in Medellin. There are different sized buses from large vans to full-on coaches with washrooms in the back, but they all take about 3 1/2 hours to make the trip. Bring food if you are prone to get ‘hangry’, as there aren’t many stops along the route. Or you can always purchase snacks from the vendors who hop on and off the bus along the way to sell everything from still-warm arepas to potato chips.
Where to stay:
We decided to go cheap and cheerful and stayed just off the plaza at the older Hotel El Dorado, which was about as bare-bones as it gets, but clean and with friendly staff. A more luxurious option would be the Hotel Hacienda Balandú which is a 15-minute walk outside of town (on the Herrera trail road) which is a modern hotel with a pool, the usual 4-star amenities and a quiet country setting.
Where to eat:
Parilla y Costillas (Grilled meat and ribs)
For a traditional taste of Colombian grilled fare, visit this restaurant which served up an enormous portion of perfectly cooked, tender steak and the usual fixin’s. Bring an appetite!
Bon Appetit (international cuisine)
South Asian cuisine from a Russian-born chef now living in Jardín? Not what you would expect in a small Colombian pueblo, but we enjoyed a good stirfry at this eclectic little restaurant and had an interesting conversation with the owner, Sasha, who lived in Bangkok for 7 years, hence the Asian influence on the menu. Plus he had an Italian mentor, which explains the bruschetta there as well!
TIP: If you are coming to visit the Cueva del Esplendor, check with the local tourist office to see if it is open or you might be disappointed. (It’s difficult to find this information online if you don’t read Spanish, but you could try Palenque Tours, which offers tours to Jardín and should know.)