I’m freshly returned from visiting a friend who also works as a language assistant in Manizales. Situated in the middle of the Eje Cafetero (literally: the Axis of Coffee-Growers), its main drag is perched on a narrow ridge high above the hot, humid plantations that grow one of Colombia‘s more famous exports.

Once clear of the congestion of the capital, the road linking Bogotá to Manizales descends a vertiginous 2,400m from the high plateau of the Cordillera Oriental on a winding mountain highway. It then crosses the steamy floor of the Valle del Río Magdaleno at just 200-300m above sea level before threading its way back to the more temperate heights of Caldas province in the Cordillera Occidental.

No-one I spoke with before making the journey had much good to say of it, and having traversed the route to and fro now, I can see why. Apart from the brief respite of the valley floor, the rocking motion of the intercity bus is akin to a boat listing at sea, albeit without the lulling consistency of ocean waves.

It’d be a guaranteed recipe for a colourful expression of travel sickness if you were prone to it. Fortunately I’m not a sickly traveller, but I still had to contend with the contents of the bus being flung from side to side all the live-long night. I’m happy that I slept fitfully through most of the journey in both directions, although not without my fair share of impact bruises from airborne luggage and/or passengers.

First stop of the weekend post-breakfast was the tranquilly named Recinto del Pensamiento (‘The Grounds of Thought’ or similar), a few kms outside of Manizales by taxi. The Recinto has ambitious goals to chart the development of the region and beyond, and some great grounds just to stroll through if you’re passing by and don’t have time to save the world. Of special note were the colibri (hummingbird) observation post, which made me curse my light-packing ethos and hence lack of zoom lens, and the butterfly house. Some photos below.

We spent the rest of the day back in the city: eating heartily, shopping half-heartedly, and enjoying a few sundowners at the mirador in Chipre, looking west to the valleys thousands of feet below. Common sense dictated an early night so as to make our 7am tour to the catchily named Parque Nacional Natural de los Nevados, of which more in a later blog…