Sometimes place names fit perfectly. Such is the case in the picture-perfect Antioquian town of Jardín. The main park gushes year-round with trees and flowers always in bloom, and the streets are corridors of color as well, with brightly painted houses one after another.
For many years this town has been a favorite country getaway for Paisas from Medellín. It’s becoming popular with international travelers, too, but still, if you arrive during the week, you’ll feel like you’ve stumbled upon something special. On weekends, and especially on holidays, a festive atmosphere fills the air, and the Plaza Principal buzzes with activity.
While the main selling points of Jardín are its good looks, nearby tropical forests and cloud forests–home to natural attractions such as the Caverna El Esplendor and the ProAves bird-watching reserve–provide good excuses for lacing up those hiking boots.
Walking around Jardín is a pleasant way to get to know the town and surrounding mountains. Setting out for a walk towards the surrounding western mountains, to the Alto de las Flores or Salto del Ángel, makes for a great morning. If you lose your way, ask for directions. On the east side of town, there is a charming path, the Camino Herrera, which leads to the Casa de los Fundadores. In that area are several coffee plantations.
Jardín has not one, but two mini chairlifts in town. The Cable Aereo (8am-6pm daily, COP$5,000 round-trip) goes up to the Cristo Rey hill. The other, more rustic La Garrucha (8am-6pm daily, COP$4,000), goes across town. Although these are popular with tourists, they were built with a purpose in mind: so that rural farmers would have an easier way to bring their coffee and other crops to market.
Condor de los Andes (tel. 4/845-5374, cell tel. 311/746-1985) is a tourism operator that organizes walks, paragliding, and waterfall rappelling. Their most popular activity is a day-long rappelling adventure to the Caverna El Esplendor. This cavern in the jungle outside of town is reached on foot (about a 1.5-hour walk). Once there you rappel down a 50-meter-high (164-foot-high) waterfall into the cavern. Transportation and lunch are included in the price (COP$95,000 pp), and they usually depart Jardín at around 8am, returning by 4pm. The group also offers paragliding (COP$75,000, 25 mins.) and rappelling at the 53-meter-high (174-foot-high) Cascada Escalera (COP$55,000). Condor de los Andes has a small hostel (COP$35,000 pp) five blocks from the Parque Principal.
Those with an inner cowboy may want to take a horseback tour to the Salto del Ángel waterfall. Contact John Jairo (cell tel. 312/825-4524) to reserve your spot.
The mountains that envelop most of Jardín are protected lands encompassing some 28,000 hectares (69,000 acres). This area is called the Reserva Cuchilla Jardín Tamesis. Within the reserve are caverns, waterfalls, caves, and nature paths. The park office (Alcaldía building, 2nd floor, Cra. 3 No. 10-10, tel. 4/845-5668, cell tel. 321/758-7534) offers free guided walks to these natural attractions.
Colombia’s premier bird-watching and conservation group, ProAves, operates a bird-watching park, the Reserva Natural de las Loro Orejiamarillo, within Reserva Cuchilla Jardín Tamesis. This is where the yellow ear parrot (Ognorhynchus icterotis) can be seen, an endangered species in Colombia. They make their nests in the majestic palma de cera (wax palm) trees. Another exotic bird to look for is the colibrí de frontino (Coeligena orina), a species of hummingbird. In addition to birdlife, there have been spottings of pumas, the oso de anteojos (an Andean bear), and deer.
It is ideal to get an early start to view the parrots—as early as 5am. As the elevation is fairly high, the temperatures dip as low as 4°C (39°F). Rubber boots and warm clothing are essential.
To coordinate a visit to the bird-watching park, contact EcoTurs (Cra. 20 No. 36-61, Bogotá, tel. 1/287-6592) in advance as staff are not always at the site. This tour agency manages visits to this and all of the other ProAves reserves across the country. In Jardín, contact Joana Villa (cell tel. 312/867-1740), or contact Angela Gómez in Bogotá (cell tel. 313/852-9158) for more information about this park in Antioquia. There is a COP$15,000 entrance fee per person for Reserva Natural de las Loro Orejiamarillo; a guide service costs COP$50,000 per group; and round-trip jeep transportation along rugged mountain roads to the reserve is a whopping COP$240,000.
La Esperanza (cell tel. 312/837-0782, COP$180,000 pp all meals incl.) is a private nature reserve run by an American, Doug Knapp, set on a mountain ridge 15 minutes from town. Sunrises, with a view to Jardín, and sunsets, looking out towards the mountains of Los Farallones del Citaró, can’t be beat. A Jack of many trades, birder Knapp built three comfortable cabins complete with siesta-friendly decks and natural light pouring through the windows. He’s also carved out some forest paths that meander through the property. Oh, and he cooks, too.
At La Esperanza, you don’t have to go far to catch a glimpse of some spectacular birds. Knapp’s colleagues have documented the presence of eight endemic birds, including the Parker’s antbird, the whiskered wren, the Colombian chacalaca, and the yellow-headed manakin. More than 365 species are estimated to live in the Jardín area.