Introduction: Manizales is one of the three main cities of the Coffee Zone, along with Pereira and Armenia. It's south of Medellin, north of Cali, and west of Bogota, and is noted for its universities. Its 400,000 inhabitants are descendants of colonizers from Medellin, who founded the city in 1849 to escape a raging civil war between the Liberal and Conservative parties. Manizales is the capital of Colombia's tiny Caldas department, which borders Antioquia to the north, Boyaca and Cundinamarca to the east, Risaralda to the west, and Tolima to the south.

Manizales has experienced something of a surge in tourism in a way that neighbors Armenia and Pereira have not. This is evidenced by the dozen or so youth hostels you'll find in the city. The universities, which include la Universidad de Caldas, la Universidad de Manizales and la Universidad Catolica de Manizales, ensure a steady flow of young people to the city, which explains the vibrant nightlife. Manizales is also rich in colonial architecture in a way that less fortunate neighbors Pereira and Armenia are not.


Geography: Manizales is a mountainous city with a temperate climate, located 2150m above sea level. It's the logical spot to stay if you want to hit the PNN Nevados, where you'll find some of the highest and most breathtaking terrain in Colombia. Manizales is a bit difficult to navigate due to its rugged terrain, windy roads, and lack of a clear grid system, but the main areas of interest are the downtown and the Zona Rosa area along Avenida Santander, the city's main drag which runs from the city center in the northwest down to the Zona Rosa area to the southeast. 

Transportation: As is the case with most of Colombia, your best options for arriving in Manizales are by plane or bus. With the emergence of many low cost routes in Colombia, it often may be cheaper to fly than to take a bus. Flights from Bogota take about 40 minutes and arrive in La Nubia Airport (MZL). From here, a taxi to the Zona Rosa should only be about 10 minutes, and cost around $10.000. 

Buses arrive at the city's brand new bus terminal located in the south. From here, you can either take a teleferico (cable car) to downtown Manizales, or catch a quick taxi to the Zona Rosa. Buses to Bogota take around 7-8 hours, while Cali and Medellin are each 5 hours away. It's about one hour south to Pereira, and about 2 to Armenia.

From a strategic standpoint, you are likely best off flying into one of the major airports of the Coffee Zone (Armenia, Manizales, Pereira, or Cartago), and then taking short bus rides around the Coffee Zone before heading to the next region of Colombia you plan to visit.


What to See: Manizales has three principal areas of interest for tourism: the Zona Rosa along Avenida Santander on the eastern side of the city, the centro (or downtown) which is located in the middle of the city, where you'll find la Catedral de Manizales and the Plaza de Bolivar, and Chipre, Manizales' historic neighborhood and the highest point of the city, on its western side.

The Zona Rosa, also known as the neighborhood of Palermo, is a stretch along Carrera 23, also known as Avenida Santander, where you'll find great restaurants, bars, nightlife, and most of the city's hostels. There you will also find the Torre de Cable, which towers 70m over the city. The lines running through the Torre de Cable once connected the coffee zone with the "tolimense" cities of Mariquita and Honda, where the coffee would be loaded onto boats via the Magdalena River and shipped north to Barranquilla for export. Right next to the Torre de Cable is the city's Juan Valdez, an important meeting point for business or pleasure in any Colombian city.

In the city center, head to the Plaza de Bolivar where you'll find the most interesting depiction of Bolivar in all of Colombia. He is depicted as a soaring bird, in majestic modernist form. If you are in Manizales the Catedral de Manizales, also located in teh Plaza, is well worth your time. It is the second highest church in all of Latin America, and the fifth highest in the world, at 103m. The Catedral offers daily tours in which you can ascend all the way to the top of the steeple. Only the initial ascent is by elevator. The last 80 meters are so are up a series of staircases, culminating with a towering spiral staircase which is not for those afraid of heights. It's an experience not to be missed. Close by is the Alcaldia, or town hall, of Manizales.

On the western side of the city you will climb up a steep hill on the way to Chipre, the city's historic neighborhood and the highest point in the city. On the northern end of this overlook you'll find the Monument to the Colonizers of Manizales, which depicts the arduous journeys by horse and mule made by the colonizers of the city, who founded the city in 1849.


Ambience: Manizales is also renowned for the powerhouse Once Caldas football team, which holds the distinction of being only the second Colombian team to win the Copa de los Libertadores, in 2004, which is a championship tournament between all teams of Latin America. Only Atletico Nacional of Medellin has also won the cup.

There are two theories on the genesis of the name Manizales. One is that it is derived from the name Manuel Grisales, one of the founders of the city. The other is that it is a combination of the Spanish words "mani" or peanuts, and "sales" or salts, two items that the colonizers needed as basic foodstuffs for the journey and settlement.

Manizales is a green and hilly city, which well encapsulates the spirt of the Coffee Zone. If you're traveling by land between Cali and Medellin, it is a great stop to break up the trip. Or, with an increasing number of low cost flights between Bogota and Manizales, it's a great place to start your foray into the area. Make sure to take advantage of all the opportunities both within the city, and the phenomenal ecotourism activities in the countryside of Caldas, especially the PNN los Nevados.

CBP Housing Ad