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Saints and Satchels – Jericó, Colombia

Jericó is not the biggest or most famous colonial town in Colombia. It is, however, the birthplace of Colombia’s first saint and home to the most renowned makers of a traditional Colombian bag called a carriel. Tranquil and picturesque, the saints and satchels of this Pueblo Patrimonio should be part of your Colombian travels.

Jerico, Colombia

It’s not the most famous colonial town in Colombia, but Jericó certainly has its charms.

Sainthood in Jericó

Sister Laura Montoya, was born in Jericó in 1874. She made a name for herself by devoting her time and religious energy to indigenous people whose souls were pretty much ignored at the time. Her work continues to this day through the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of Mary Immaculate and St. Catherine of Siena organizations which she founded. Sister Laura, sometimes referred to as Laura of Saint Catherine of Siena, was canonized by Pope Francis in 2013, creating Colombia’s first saint.

Saint Laura Jerico, Colombia

A procession of religious dignitaries passes by a wall celebrating Colombia’s first saint, Sister Laura Montoya, who was born in Jericó.

There are a number of churches in Jericó including the Catedral Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes on the main square. It’s huge beyond proportion and of modern design incorporating lots of brick. Honestly, it’s somewhat soulless but local believers and those who pilgrimage to Jericó don’t seem to mind.

There are also a lot of shops in Jericó selling religious paraphernalia, including many items with sister Montoya’s image on them. There’s also a huge “Christ the Redeemer” style statue on a hill above town.

Cathedral Jerico Colombia

The cathedral in Jericó dwarfs all other buildings.

We were in Jericó during celebrations marking 100 years of the diocese in Jericó and town was full of religious big wigs from around the world. As we sat in the main plaza watching religious leaders take part in a procession and move in and out of the cathedral a local television station interviewed us even though, as we explained, we are not Catholic.

Antioquia architecture, Jerico, Colombia

Restored architecture like this is part of the reason why Jericó is one the list of Colombia’s Pueblos Patrimonio.

Shopping in Jericó 

People don’t travel to Jericó just to pay their respects to sister Montoya. Town is also known as the place to buy the best traditional carriel bags. Dating back hundreds of years, the carriel is a traditional Antioquian bag which was used primarily by men to carry a long list of items during long journeys. Many paisas (people how live in the Antioquia region) still use the bag daily.

carriel bag - Antioquia, Colombia

The beloved carriel bag.

It is a flamboyant thing made of rawhide or fur and black patent leather with red piping and other elaborate decoration plus a gusseted bottom that allows the bag to expand. It’s basically a fancy saddlebag for people to carry. We first saw carriel bags during the annual Flower Fair in Medellin during which they’re carried by men of all ages and backgrounds as they celebrate paisa heritage.

making Carriel bag Jerico bag

A craftsman in Jericó working on a traditional carriel bag.

At the time of writing this post there was a vintage carriel for sale on e-Bay for US$265 and a handful of fashion blogs and designers had picked up on the style of the carriel, including Tory Burch who made one that looks nearly identical to the original, but with a US$995 price tag.

making carriel bag Jerico, Colombia

A craftsman working on a traditional carriel bag in Jericó.

In Jericó you can get the real thing from more than 10 stores selling carriels. Many also offer more fashionable versions of the bags, like clutches and wallets, and you can often watch the hand-work being made in small workshops at the back of the shop.

Jerico Carriel bags

Jericó has many shops selling hand-crafted carriel bags.

Hotels in Jericó

We’d hoped to stay at a small and economical hotel called Las Cometas, but the driveway was too steep for our truck. Instead, we ended up at Hotel Porton Plaza, an atmospheric traditional building a few blocks from the plaza where 60,000 COP (about US$20) got us an enormous room with a private bathroom and breakfast. Hotel Rio Piedras, just a few stops off the square, looked like the most sophisticated stay in town.

plaza Jerico, Colombia

The festive plaza in Jericó, Colombia.

Jericó’s relaxing main plaza has many cafes and bars selling coffee and beer at affordable prices.

Jerico, Colombia

Jericó, Colombia is full of cobblestone streets and restored colonial architecture.

 

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¿Si o No? – El Jardin, Colombia

Paisas, people who live in the Antioquia area of Colombia, are known for their pride. The paisas who live in the picture perfect coffee country town of El Jardin take things to a whole new level.

Jardin Colombia street scene

Traditional architecture thrives in Jardin, and not just around the town’s main plaza.

Taking pride in Jardin, Colombia

In order to become part of Colombia’s elite group of Pueblos Patrimonio a town must have preserved colonial architecture and living traditional culture. The quaint, quiet, colonial town of El Jardin (simply called Jardin) has all of that plus a sense of pride that even casual visitors can feel.

Cathedral Jardin Colombia

The cathedral in Jardin.

Traditional white-washed Colonial buildings are maintained proudly, their vibrant trim gleaming. The streets are clean. The locals, called Jardineros, are friendly with a charming unconscious habit of ending every statement with a rhetorical “¿Si o no?”.

Chiva Jardin Colombia

Chivas, elaborately decorated buses, are an Antioquia tradition.

It’s pleasingly chilly in Jardin and many people bundle up in traditional ponchos. You’re likely to see someone’s fancy prancing horse “parked” at the main plaza while its owner dismounts for a coffee and a bit of showing off. There’s so little motorized traffic in Jardin that we quickly stopped looking both ways before crossing the street. All in all, the place looks and feels largely unchanged for the past 150 years because it is largely unchanged.

Plaza Jardin Colombia

Locals and visitors take full advantage of the picturesque main plaza in Jardin.

What to do in Jardin

We got our first taste of Jardin pride from Roberto who stayed late at the Casa Cultura in order to show us around. As we wandered past antiques, museum-quality pottery, a modern art installation, and more Roberto explained Jardin’s proud past as an agricultural area producing coffee, plantains, sugarcane, and beans. Those crops still exist, however, today Jardin is absolutely a tourist town but it hasn’t sold its soul.

Cascada de Cueva del Esplendador

Visiting Cascada de Cueva del Esplendador is a popular day trip from Jardin.

In addition to the Casa Cultural, there are plenty of outdoorsy things to do in Jardin including visiting one of the nearby trout farms for a bit of fishing (albeit in a modern-day barrel). Too tame for you? There’s also paintball, paragliding, rappelling, and a zipline. You can also take a jeep (30 minutes), horse (1 hour), and hike (30 minutes) to reach Cascada de Cueava del Esplendador where a waterfall tumbles into a cave (around 45,000 COP or about US$15 per person including a big homemade lunch).

Cascada de Cueva del Esplendador

Cascada de Cueva del Esplendador.

You’ll notice two illuminated crosses on hillsides facing each other above Jardin. A cable car, built to make it easier for people living in mountain villages to travel to and from town, goes up to each cross and it’s a popular trip at sunset. There are also some surprisingly chic clothing and accessories shops in Jardin.

View of Jardin Colombia from above

Jardin, nestled in the Colombian Andes.

In a town as well-kept and well-loved as Jardin, our favorite activity was simply hanging out in the town’s main square listening to church bells at the Basilica de la Immaculada Concepcion (Basilica of the Immaculate Conception) or the occasional music school group practicing al fresco. There are plenty of places to sit in the leafy La Libertad Plaza, which was declared a national monument in 1985, or claim a traditional wooden chair with a rawhide seat and back hand painted with scenes of country life at one of the many coffee shops and bars that surround the plaza.

bar chairs plaza Jardin Colombia

Chairs with hand painted leather panels are a Jardin tradition.

Jardin hotels

Jardin has more than its share of hotels. We checked out many of the economical hotels before choosing to stay at Hotel La Casona located just a half block from the main square. The economical hotel options in Jardin are all fairly similar, but we were sold by the cleanliness and peacefulness of the La Casona (around 20,000 COP or about US$6.50 per person in a private room with private bathroom including breakfast).

Hotel Jardin Colombia

Hotel Jardin.

The most polished place to stay in Jardin is the Hotel Jardin. Located on the main plaza, the building has been meticulously restored even by Jardin standards. Its 11 rooms are atmospheric, spotless, and elegant (around 40,000 COP or about US$13 per person for private rooms with private bathrooms including breakfast). This hotel also has the best mattresses in town.

Note that Jardin gets packed and prices go up on weekends, so try to visit during the week. Also, we found the hardest mattresses in all of Colombia in Jardin. Test the bed before you commit to a room.

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Top Hotels in the Coffee Triangle – Colombia

South of Medellin farmers found the perfect conditions for growing some of the world’s best coffee. Colombian coffee from this area is so good and the coffee culture so intact that UNESCO inscribed the region as the Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia. More commonly called the Coffee Triangle, this area has become popular with travelers because of the laid back people, beautiful landscapes and (of course) the coffee. Here are our top hotels in the Coffee Triangle of Colombia including hotels in Manizales, Pereira and Quimbabya.

Top Hotels in the Coffee Triangle of Colombia

Hacienda Buenavista near Quimbaya

When this five room boutique hotel opened in 2014 it ushered in a whole new level of accommodation in the coffee triangle: exclusive, romantic, stylish, modern, gourmet, adults-only. Find out more in our complete review of Hacienda Buenavista.

Hacienda Buenavista - Coffee triangle, Colombia

 

Sazagua Hotel & Spa near Pereira

The small city of Pereira isn’t a tourist destination in and of itself (it’s more of a business hub), but Pereira is on the way from Medellin to the heart of the coffee region. The Sazagua, named after a chief of the Quimbaya people who used to live here, is on the outskirts of town where things are still rural and peaceful. The stately elegant hotel, which also offers a pool and a spa, makes a great break in your journey. Brass bathroom fixtures and original tile floors give the rooms a homey feel. Book room number one (pictured below) for even more space and an indoor hammock. The hotel restaurant is so good that people stop by just to eat or to have business meetings over a good meal. Bilingual waiters, a peaceful garden setting and a wide-ranging menu including homemade soups and salads (the Cesar salad was excellent with home-made dressing), pork, fish and lots of beef (the steak au poivre was succulent with a truly peppery sauce) keep everyone happy.

Sazagua Hotel & Spa near Pereira

 

Hacienda Venecia near Manizales

This working coffee farm offers a range of rooms including shared dorms with the use of a kitchen and private rooms in a restored traditional building called the Main House which dates back more than 100 years. Antique furniture, creaking original wood floors and breezy patios make it easy to relax and live like a coffee baron for a few days. There are no keys and no TVs. A good guided coffee tour, which explains coffee growing and processing, is offered and the owners also have a stable of paso fino horses and rides around the plantation can be arranged for experienced riders. Hiking and bird watching are also offered and there’s a pool. Guests returning from activities are greeted with fresh juice and the kitchen turns out delicious traditional meals. An innovative bamboo gazebo, designed by a local architect, is a great place to relax as the resident peacocks stroll the grounds.

Hacienda Venecia near Manizales

 

Finca Villa Nora near Quimbaya

This family run country hotel dovetails perfectly with the culture of Colombia’s coffee country. The two story house was built more than 120 years ago and it retains its traditional paint job, wide wrap around veranda and original wood and tile floors. It was loving restored and modernized as a seven room hotel a couple of decades ago and all rooms have private bathrooms and antiques from the original house. The place is perfectly built to catch the breezes and make the most of the bucolic agricultural land and Andes views that surround it. There’s a pool and a sprawling garden favored by all sorts of bird, a free coffee plantation tour is offered and excellent estate-grown coffee and gourmet traditional meals are served.

Finca Villa Nora near Quimbaya

 

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Back to the Past – Santa Fe de Antioquia, Colombia

Santa Fe de Antioquia is a popular weekend getaway for paisas (people from the department of Antioquia) who are living in Medellin. They make the 50 mile (80 km) drive from the busy city to go back to the past and enjoy all of the things that have earned this town, founded in 1541, a place Colombia’s elite Pueblos Patrimonio network: colonial architecture and churches, cobblestone streets and a pleasing sense that there’s nothing much to do but grab a beer and soak it all in. You could travel there as a day trip, but we found reasons to stay.

Parque Principal Santa Fe de Antioquia Colombia

Parque Principal in Santa Fe de Antioquia, Colombia.

Getting to Santa Fe de Antioquia

On our way from  Medellin to Santa Fe de Antioquia, which was the first capital of Antioquia province before Medellin took over, we made a quick stop at the picturesque Puente de Occidente (Bridge of the West). When the bridge was finished in 1894, the 950 foot (290 meter) span which crosses the Cauca River, was the longest suspension bridge in South America and the 7th longest in the world. These days the bridge, which is a National Monument, has been restored but only light traffic (motos, small vehicles and foot traffic) is allowed to use it.

Puente de Occident Santa Fe de Antioquia Colombia

Puente de Occidente (Bridge of the West) was the longest suspension bridge in South America when it was completed in 1894.

Exploring Santa Fe de Antioquia

As we mentioned, the main reason to visit Santa Fe de Antioquia is to grab a beer and soak in the Colonial atmosphere. However, we do have a couple of recommendations about two specific things to do and see in town.

Plaza Santa Fe de Antioquia

One of many picturesque plazas in Santa Fe de Antioquia.

 

colonial architecture Santa Fe de Antioquia Colombia

Restored and preserved Colonial architecture like this is one reason that Santa Fe de Antioquia is part of Colombia’s Pueblos Patrimonio group of historic towns.

Jorge Robledo Ortiz is a lauded Colombian poet and the founder of Santa Fe de Antioquia. Not surprisingly, there’s a charming little museum dedicated to his life,  accomplishments and local legacy. For a glimpse or artists shaping modern Santa Fe de Antioquia, head for La Comedia. This bar and restaurant is a magnet for creative types and doubles as a movie theater. It’s a relaxed place to eat, drink, people watch, enjoy the excellent soundtrack and appreciate the rotating art shows.

Santa Barbara church Santa Fe de Antioquia Colombia

Santa Barbara church in Santa Fe de Antioquia.

colonial architecture Santa Fe de Antioquia Colombia

Colonial architecture, lovingly preserved, in Santa Fe de Antioquia.

In Santa Fe de Antioquia we stayed at the Hotel Mariscal Robledo which is located on a small plaza.It’s been in business since 1946 which explains why the place is filled to the rafters with antiques (or old dusty junk, depending on your POV). They offer a wide range of rooms, a big, inviting pool, and a tranquil atmosphere. But don’t take it from us. Actors Tara Reid and John Leguizamo are up on the celebrity guest wall, so there’s that.

view-sf-antioquia-colombia-hotel-mariscal-robledo

A church view from one of the patios at the Hotel Mariscal Robledo in Santa Fe de Antioquia.

pool Hotel Mariscal Robledo Santa Fe de Antioquia Colombia

The pool at the Hotel Mariscal Robledo in Santa Fe de Antioquia.

Piasas Santa Fe de Antioquia Colombia

Local paisas hanging out in Santa Fe de Antioquia.

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Hot, Hot, Hot – Honda, Colombia

It wasn’t immediately apparent why Honda, Colombia is part of the country’s elite Pueblos Patrimonio program. Sure, we got a few fleeting glimpses of Colonial architecture as we drove around to get our bearings and find someplace to stay, but the town’s beauty was not overwhelming. Still, we kept driving. Frankly, we didn’t want to get out of the air-conditioned truck. At 750 feet (230 meters) on the Magdalena River, Honda is a hot, hot, hot place.

Alley Honda, Colombia

A Colonial street in Honda, Colombia.

Honda, Colombia

A Colonial church seen beyond traditional red roof tiles in Honda, Colombia.

Sweating it out in Honda, Colombia

We spent our first night in the Hotel Honda where 50,000 COP (about US$17.50) got us a double room with a fan and a private bathroom that lacked both a toilet seat and a shower curtain. Dinner that night was a lousy plate of chicken and rice for the exorbitant price of 15,000 COP (about US$7) eaten on a noisy highway choked with trucks and blanketed with exhaust fumes. So far, Honda was not impressing.

Ruins Honda, Colombia

Not all of the Colonial architecture in Honda has been restored.

Colonial buildings Honda, Colombia

Colonial buildings in Honda.

Things improved substantially the next day. In an attempt to beat the heat, we got up early to stroll around the heart of Honda where we found a few blocks of Colonial homes including some still awaiting rejuvenation. It was pleasant, but hardly the best example of a Colonial town in Colombia (that would be Barichara).

Cathedral Nuestra Senora Rosario Honda, Colombia

The Cathedral Nuestra Senora Rosario in Honda, Colombia.

Honda, Colombia colonial buildings

Cobblestones and color in Honda.

We spent a few minutes looking at the exhibits in the Casa Museo Alfonso Lopez Pumarejo (free) which details the life of the Honda’s most famous native son who was governor of Tolima province, President of Colombia twice, head of Colombia’s delegation to the UN and Colombia’s ambassador to the UK. It’s a surprisingly modest place for such an illustrious Colombian figure. The Museo del Rio Magdalena was closed for refurbishment when we were in Honda. That’s about it for attractions in town, but we were getting into the steamy, sleep pace of the place.

Posada de las Trampas Honda, Colombia

The entrance to Posada de las Trampas Boutique Hotel in Honda.

Posada de las Trampas room Honda, Colombia

A room in the beautifully restored Posada de las Trampas Boutique Hotel.

We also moved into the Posada de las Trampas Boutique Hotel. Opened in 2011, the 14 room hotel is in a building which was built in the 1700s as the home of wealthy merchants. There are original thick walls, high ceilings with exposed beams, stone details and antiques everywhere. Modern touches include a pool, spa, air conditioning, great bed, WiFi and a nice big parking area. It’s atmospheric, elegant and historic and a top place to stay in Honda.

Posada de las Trampas pool Honda, Colombia

The much-needed pool at Posada de las Trampas Boutique Hotel.

street Honda, Colombia

Another Colonial street in Honda.

The hotel is on Calle de las Trampas. The word trampa means trap in Spanish and the area is so-called because pirates on the Rio Magdalena would come ashore and find themselves trapped in the area’s maze of narrow, winding streets. Either that, or they died of heat stroke.

Honda, Colombia house

Another explosion of street color in Honda.

Puente Navarro Magdelena Rive Honda,Colombia

The Puente Navarro crosses the mighty Magdalena River near Honda.

 

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Caribbean and Colonial – Girón, Colombia

Though totally landlocked and located at just over 2,000 feet (700 meters), San Juan Girón (which everyone simply calls Girón) has a surprisingly sultry, Caribbean climate which washes over the town’s famous Colonial architecture.

Colonial Giron Colombia

A typical street in the Colonial heart of Girón, Colombia.

Travel highlights of Girón, Colombia

Modern Girón is hardly worth a second look. The small, tidy Colonial heart of town, however, is a different story. It consists of less than 50 blocks but the center is an atmospheric charmer with cobblestone streets (they look fantastic but they’re a pain to drive or walk on) and well-preserved and methodically white-washed Colonial buildings which have earned Girón a place on the very short list of Pueblos Patrimonios iin Colombia and the nickname “The White City.”

Plaza Giron Colombia

Plaza Girón.

Giron Colombia Pueblo Patrimonial

Colonial architecture and cobblestone streets in the historic heart of Girón.

A Caribbean game called bolo, which is like bowling but is played with a stone ball and just three pins, suddenly popped up around Girón as did tobacco fields which added to the Caribbean feeling of the place.

Giron Colombia colonial buildings

You’re beginning to see why they call Girón the “White City”.

Head for the promenade along the Rio de Oro to find makeshift fritanga restaurants where around US$10 will get you a plate piled high with fried pork, chorizo, blood sausage, potatoes and more. It’s big enough to share. Morsels are pickup up with toothpicks and Colombians like to wash it all down with a mixture of beer and a local bright pink soda called Primero. We stuck to plain beer.

Fritanga Giron Colombia

All the fixin’s for a proper fritanga at one of the outdoor stalls on the river in Girón.

Ironically, a top attraction is sweaty Girón is a small church with a revered image of the Virgin of the Snows inside. You’ll also want to find a shady bench in tranquil Parque Peralta, also known as Lovers Park.

Church parque Peralta Giron Colombia

In sweaty Girón, the Virgin of the Snows lives in this church.

For a town this size, and one that’s usually visited as a day trip from nearby Bucamaranga (just a few miles away), we were pleased to find the six room Girón Chill Out Hostal Boutique which was offered more style and comfort than we’d expected. Rooms (from 210,000 COP or about US$70) include air conditioning and a full breakfast.

Giron Chill Out Hostal

Our room at the Girón Chill Out Hostal had charm to spare and air conditioning.

Basilica Menor Giron Colombia

The Basilica Menor in Girón, Colombia gets the full light show treatment at night.

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