Peaceful Jardin: Coffee and Cowboys

It took almost four hours to make the trip from Medellin to Jardin (pronounced Har-deen), a distance of just 130 km; passable by the only available route that links the two cities – a twisty mountain road high in the Andes. We have traversed similar roads on mini-buses with poor suspension, hurtling over potholes by homicidal drivers, but we lucked out this time. We climbed onto the Cadillac of buses, outfitted with leather reclining seats, loads of legroom and AC. Our driver sedately followed the road, disinclined to pass every single vehicle in front of him, and we arrived in Jardin with nerves intact.

What a perfect introduction to the town and an absolute change of mood from busy Medellin. Jardin (garden) is an oasis of calm, green and birdsong. Peaceful, tranquil, serene – there is no other way to describe this place.

We booked an Airbnb on the edge of town, in part because it was described as “quiet“. Aside from the normal sounds of music, dogs, kids and revving motorcycles, I think “quiet” describes most of Jardin.

People in Jardin are incredibly friendly and curious. Possibly because we are a few decades older than the usual backpacker crowd, we stand out and are a source of interest to the locals. “Hello!“, called out a gentleman from a table of four in the plaza. “Where are you from?” We stopped to chat, them with their limited English and us with our limited Spanish. Their interest was genuine and they were justifiably proud of their country and happy to hear we were enjoying ourselves so much.

Another time we passed a table of well-dressed, well-coiffed senoras who gave me a smile and an appraising once-over. You only have to be in Colombia a short time to appreciate how beautiful many of their residents are. Glossy black hair, perfect white teeth, form-fitting clothes and salon nails. I can’t compete with my rumpled pants and hiking shoes, but that is hardly the point. Colombians are welcoming, mannerly and delightful to be around.

Hanging out, watching the world go by – this is what makes life fun in Jardin. There is no shortage of bars and cafes in this town, and every one of them has a line-up like this one.

The older gents often just sit for the companionship. Sometimes a cafe tinto, sometimes a beer, but often just a sit and a gossip.

Jardin is a central town in the coffee zone; known as much for its colourfully painted homes and its Paso Fino horses as it is for the surrounding coffee, sugar and banana plantations.

The glorious Paso Fino (fine step) horses are a gaited breed unique to South America. They are known for their sleek looks and distinctive trotting “dance” gait, and although we never saw them “perform” in the central square, we were practically tripping over them all throughout town and on our hikes.

This is a common sight:

On one of our hikes, we came across this beauty:

Horseback riding is a key tourist attraction and it looks so effortless and so much fun. How I wish I could overcome my fear of horses, but between my tentative approach which inevitably sends their ears back and their back legs poised to kick, or my terrified grip on the reins, I put myself in peril every time I attempt to “ride” (hang on for dear life).

We also crossed paths a couple of times with this pair. The young woman was with a guide (we eavesdropped at the cafe where we first met them), and she was obviously very comfortable on horseback.

Stephen is way more comfortable than I am with horses, but this youngster was not entirely sure about him. It took that “tcch, tchh, tchh” sound and pretending to hold up hay that finally won him over.

There are so many wonderful hikes in and around Jardin. One of the best hikes we did was only about 5 km. in length, but it took us through some of the most spectacular scenery in the area. This is called the Cascada del Amor hike, named after a small waterfall, but it was hardly the highlight. Every step of the way revealed such beauty.

This cobblestone path called the Camino a la Herrera sets the tone.

The path wound into thicker vegetation and climbed a little higher; offering views like this one.

We crossed the Charco Corazon river a few times. Although we did not wade in, I’m quite sure the cold water would be very refreshing on a hot day.

The Cascada del Amor – neither terribly huge nor particularly love-inspiring, it is nonetheless a pretty stop along the way.

We passed by a few beautiful homes and gardens along the way. You have to really want to live here, as the tiny road requires a sturdy jeep or a motorbike to get around, there are virtually no flat areas and it is not convenient to anything. Still, the beauty is undeniable.

There are two ways to get back to town at this point. A dusty road winds down and around and adds another 40 minutes to the hike. Or, there is La Garrucha. A rudimentary cable car, big enough to hold 6 people, is operated by a mechanical pulley system and zips passengers high across the valley in about 2 minutes; coming to an abrupt stop at the other side. This joy ride costs about $1.50 each and was built to help people living in the hills avoid the tedious walk or drive around.

Another hike took us up to Cristo del Rey, a viewpoint overseen by a statue of Christ, which was supposed to be 30 minutes from the town square, but we chose the footpath instead of the road, and began with this unlikely entrance.

Down and down the hill we climbed until we reached the bottom and had to cross over this rickety bridge.

Now the climb up the other side began; a tortuous, at times on hands-and-knees crawl up a red mud hill. This lasted for about 15 minutes and felt like an hour. Out of the mud and into the banana plantation.

We came upon a young man who was pruning and preparing the bananas for harvest; first cutting down the “flower“, then wrapping the huge bunches of bananas in plastic. It was interesting to watch how agile he was and how comfortable he was poised on a bamboo ladder at a precarious angle.

Finally, we made it to the top, and this was our reward:

The cafe was just opening and for about a half hour we had the place to ourselves. We soaked in the sight of the layers of mountains, the dramatic clouds, the soaring birds and then in the midst of our reverie, the first notes of a pan flute wafted out.

Zamfir, with his version of The Sounds of Silence. It could have been corny, but instead it was quite moving – the Colombian soundtrack for the majesty of the Andes.

We followed this young mother and her son on the way back down – a far easier trail made of stone and concrete and one that took us through a different landscape.

Our quest for birds has been hit and miss. We see a flash of colour and its gone. But luckily for us, the Reserva Natural de Rocas in Jardin is both a much-revered conservation area for the exquisite Gallito de Roca and a guaranteed sighting for us.

The Gallitos, or Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, are naturally found in the Andean foothills and are regarded as the National Bird of Peru. This conservation site, which was established over 20 years ago, has helped to preserve this bird and protect them from predators. They fly freely in the area, but presumably stick around because of the food source.

They’re quite bizarrely beautiful, with their vivid orange plumage, their crested heads, weird little eyes and hard-to-see beaks. We were with about 20 people or so, all of us speaking in whispers as the birds squawked and flitted about.

The females have quite drab plumage by comparison, and during the hour we were there, we only saw the flamboyant males.

The area also attracted other birds, which we did not see, and hummingbirds – just saw one. The Gallitos were clearly the main attraction. There was also a sweet little coffee shop, offering organic pressed coffee, which Stephen could not resist.

And now – back into town. Jardin possesses one of the most beautiful centre plazas, Plaza del Libertador, which serves as a meeting point for both locals and tourists. We’ve been to centre squares in other places that had little to offer other than park benches and pigeons, but Jardin’s square is full of life day and night.

The centrepiece is the stunning Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, which was built from locally quarried stone.

While the square is ringed with many restaurants and cafes, there are also food trucks set up; all of them specializing in high-fat, meat and potato comfort food. Not a green vegetable to be found, this is the home of French fries, homemade potato chips, roasted baby potatoes (to die for), chorizo, chicken skewers, sausage and hamburgers.

To walk around Jardin is to be fully immersed in one photo op after another. Doors, windows and railings are painted every colour of the rainbow and with very few exceptions, they are in grand repair.

Wouldn’t you love to stay in this inn and have a room with a balcony?

As you can see, doors and windows open right onto the sidewalk. It can be a bit disconcerting to walk by and peer right into someone’s bedroom. We walked past this house at night and the bottles were all lit up – a clever design trick.

Most of the houses in Jardin are joined, one to the other for a whole block. In this neighbourhood, there were some beautiful, larger detached homes.

And, my friends, that is it for our time in Jardin. We have a long bus trip tomorrow to Salento, where we have trips planned to coffee fincas and some epic hikes through wax palms. That will be our last stop in Colombia and we want to savour every minute.

24 thoughts on “Peaceful Jardin: Coffee and Cowboys

    1. We are in Salento now and there’s so much to see and do here. Interestingly, Anne, we have met a number of Israeli travellers – one guy keeps kosher and has travelled through central and south America for 5 months! There is a kosher restaurant here in Salento. I tried to get more information, but the lady only spoke Spanish.


  1. Oh Ginny, I’m like you, terrified of horses and wish I could overcome it. I would like nothing more than to go off riding a horse but can’t overcome the fear. This has been a beautiful blog. I know someone who said he makes his home here and Columbia & now I know why. Beautiful countryside & love the wild colours on the houses. You certainly are fit to do that hiking. Love & hugs Lyn


  2. More great photos and stories! I have spent a month in that part of Colombia and your photos sure bring back memories. I belong to a Spiritual practice called “Subud” and our Colombian members have a project there called “Amanacer” which you know means sunrise. It is in a beautiful rural area and I forget the name of the nearby town. I will look it up. Jardin looks like such a lovely place for you to rest and hike and enjoy yourselves before moving on to any bigger, busier places. Thanks for sharing!


    1. I think Colombia is full of beautiful little spots in the countryside. We are hitting the tourist ones, but we met a man who is travelling all over and discovering places just by deciding to stop there for a few days. Great way to travel.


  3. It looks like Jardin’s spectating gents tend to wear hats and have comfortable bellies, and to be good-natured and curious about passers-by. Sounds like a great way to spend a couple of hours!

    I liked the cobbled paths – how many feet have polished those stones?


    1. I think those gents are also quite sure of their place in the world – not trying to figure out where they should live next – like your sister!
      And yes, every time I’m walking down a cobblestone path or street, it makes me remember what a speck in the universe I am – so many gone before me and so many yet to come.


  4. Oh, Ginny, you brought back so many memories of the beautiful, out of the way places we have visited. It is truly wonderful having those places brought back to mind. Have a great time in your next village.


    1. Isn’t that the joy of travelling though – finding yourself in a slightly-off-the-beaten-path place? Jardin is far from overrun with tourists, but now we are in Salento – different story. Still beautiful, but I hear a lot more English and see a LOT more backpacks!


  5. Absolutely beautiful….the birds are exquisite…..and the “older gents” have their happiness all figured out…a good drink, a good chat…and watching the day go by with your good friends. Amazing pictures and narrative!! Thank you both for sharing…..Cheers, Michelle


  6. I too was interested in the different style of hats. Your pictures and descriptions are fantastic…thank you for taking me along.


    1. Thanks Nanc, and if we could buy a similar hat and bring it home, we would, but they are not meant to be scrunched up into a backpack. We’re in Salento now and my goodness, so many beautiful things. We will have to save our shopping until the end of the trip and hope we find interesting things then.


  7. What a beautiful part of the world !! So love the painted buildings! The maritime colours here seem drab compared. Hummingbirds on walls, lovely.
    The gents in the town square… makes me smile. Same the world over I think, well, where there is warmth in the square to sit with friends and solve the world issues, or engage. LOL. Thank you for sharing!


  8. We are so enjoying your trip to Colombia, it brings back so many memories of the wonderful people and places we visited. We are loving it here in Brazil but just wish we spoke a little Portuguese!


    1. Hi Sheila – We’ve been following your Brazil blog with interest as well. Gorgeous country and stunning beaches. Have you been in swimming yet? I think Portuguese is a bit of a challenge if you speak Spanish – it seems to me they are so different.


  9. What a great place to visit, after your last stop! Great planning on your part (done intentionally, I suspect!). The place looks absolutely beautiful, a perfect place to rest and recharge.


  10. Delighted that I carved out time to read this! Ginny I can hear your voice narrating. Spectacular photos – I am so happy for you both! I hope Steve’s backpack is holding up well. Thanks for the giggle at the very clear description of him connecting with the horse and for sharing your gift with words!


    1. Erin! So good to hear from you and I’m glad you’re reading. I tried to add Jordan’s address to the blog but it wouldn’t accept it – maybe I have it wrong.
      This is such an incredible country and we see quite a few families travelling about – maybe you guys will make it here one day.


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