I arrived here knowing very little about the best day trips in Colombia. In fact, I’d never heard of any of these small towns before I arrived and didn’t even know exactly how I was going to spend my time in Colombia. I hadn’t bothered to read about day trips in my Lonely Planet Colombia guide and I hadn’t read anything about them on any blogs. When I got to Colombia, different people I met while traveling here mentioned these towns to me and suggested I go see them. So I did. They were just a bus ride away from where I stayed in Medellin and Pereira. While I don’t recommend staying in Pereira, each of these was easy to get to by bus. The first three I visited while staying in Medellin and the last three I visited from Pereira.
Who knew Colombia has so many great day trips within such easy reach? These were all just a bus ticket away. I traveled to each one of these charming towns as a day trip, but had I known more about them, I would have spent at least one night in some of them. They all have the potential to be a great backpacker, mid-range, or luxury getaway. If you’re looking for a place for a couple days of romance while traveling in Colombia, then I can highly recommend these lovely towns, especially the last one, Filandia.
Keep reading to find out if the best day trips in Colombia sound like they need to be on your travel-to list for this amazing country.
I’m not starting with Guatape because it was the best of the best, but it was definitely a favorite. It was just the first day trip I took from Medellin. This lively, and somewhat touristy, town sits at the edge of a man-made lake that is rather stunning. The lake is best viewed from nearby La Piedra, a huge hunk of granite adorned with 658 steps to get you to the 360 degree views at the top for 18000 CP. The town of Guatape is about 4km from La Piedra and there are plenty of tuktuks to take you there for 10000 CP.
Guatape is famous for its original and colorful plaster decorations on the lower half of most of the buildings and houses. This town went relatively untouched during Colombia’s years of civil war, and the adornments on the homes survived. Locals take great care to keep them painted and damage-free. Much of the town is very photogenic. I recommend getting away from the square and nearby streets and wandering around where the locals actually live to see some of the best plaster work.
There are restaurants, cafes, bars and discos here. Something for everyone. Along the waterfront diners can have a view of the lake and watch adventurous types zipline over the water. The main attraction, of course, is the lively town square, which is a great place to have a coffee or an ice cream and people watch.
How to get here: From Medellin, Guatape is a two hour bus ride from Terminal del Norte, which is connected via pedestrian walk to Caribe on the A line metro. If you prefer to book a tour that includes La Piedra, Guatape, and some other sights as well, you can check out what Viator has on offer. I’ve included a link to tour options at the bottom of this post.
I read about Santa Fe in my Lonely Planet and thought it sounded unique because buildings in the historic center are all white, the opposite of most other small towns in Colombia. White sounds boring? Oh no, these historic homes have beautiful wooden shutters and spindles over the windows, which are sometimes painted bright colors. I thought the most beautiful ones were actually stained wood rather than paint. The windows and doors give each of these homes unique characteristics. Santa Fe has some fine gardeners as well, with brightly colored flowers decorating many of the homes.
This region of Colombia is known for its use of tamarind in cooking and to make candy. I didn’t try the candy, but my lunch at Restaurante Porton del Parque was a delicious chicken dish smothered in a tart and sweet tamarind sauce. This restaurant is in Lonely Planet, but I didn’t know that at the time. I wandered in because of the beautiful entry and interesting artwork hanging on every available inch of wall space. Interesting artwork. Not necessarily good artwork.
Santa Fe’s large square has many cafes and restaurants, and the church is just as picturesque as the gardens. There’s not a lot to do here besides eat, drink, and wander the beautiful historic center. Outside the center of town there wasn’t much that appealed to me, but there are nightclubs and plenty of local restaurants.
How to get here: It’s a two hour bus ride direct from Terminal del Norte in Medellin. Viator also has tour options for Santa Fe that include a guide and walking tour of the city.
One of my instagram followers suggested I go to Jardin after she saw photos of Guatape on my feed. Jardin’s town square is probably one of the most photographed in Colombia because of its beautiful gardens and colorful wooden chairs and tables that are everywhere. The tables are there to encourage locals to sit together and chat. Jardin is the self-proclaimed most beautiful town in Antioguia, with its colorful houses and lush coffee farms surrounding it.
Cerro Cristal Rey is a lookout point with a statue of Christ at the top, but the cable car ride up here is the real attraction. The cable car wasn’t running the day I was there, but I got a good look at the modern and vintage cable cars. The vintage one is especially cool. The neo-Gothic church is the centerpiece of the square, with a beautiful blue interior with gold-plated arches.
Jardin is indeed a beautiful small town, with a vibrant atmosphere and colorful locals. I didn’t have time to check out the nearby Cueva del Esplendor (Splendid Cave) and waterfall, but two hours on horseback or three hours trekking on a sometimes muddy, mountain path will get you there. There’s a hole in the top of the cave where a waterfall pours through. Info on guides to get you there is in Lonely Planet Colombia.
Jardin is a three hour bus ride from Medellin, departing from Terminal Sur, which is about 1km from Pablado station on Line A. The ride was 26000 CP one way, which I thought seemed a bit steep compared to the two hour rides I’d taken for about 7000 CP. From Pablado station, exit to the pedestrian walkway to the LEFT. Google maps will send you to the right, but I don’t know why. Go down the stairs, look right and you’ll see a busy street, which is Calle 10. Don’t cross it. Turn left and in 1 km Terminal Sur will be on your left as you turn to go through a roundabout. If the terminal looks like a shopping mall, that’s because it is. Tour options for Jardin vary widely and some include a visit to a coffee plantation, which I wish I had taken advantage of.
Day Trips from Pereira (or Armenia)
These next three day trips in Colombia are closer to Pereira and Armenia than to Manizales, but I was told Manizales is quite nice. I must admit, I cannot say the same about Pereira where I stayed. Lonely Planet really missed the mark with their account of Pereira, in my opinion, but it was convenient for visiting these three colorful towns. Traveling to these wonderful small towns was easy and with the exception of Pijao, only an hour bus ride from Pereira. Pijao took two hours with a change of buses in Armenia.
What can I say about Pijao? I have a mad crush on this little town surrounded by coffee and even some cacao farms, although I didn’t visit those. I came to Pijao specifically for the WakeCup coffee tour from Experiencia Cafetera. I had read about this tour on Colombia Travel Blog and knew I wanted to experience it for myself. I arrived in the quaint little square in Pijao at 10:00AM and Juan, the founder and owner of Experiencia Cafetera, came to pick me up and took me back to his office where I joined another couple for the tour.
Our guides were Hugo and Capitan, although Capitan was sent back home after we departed from the square to go to the farm. Capitan is still in training and easily distracted. But as for the lovely little town of Pijao, our tour began there in the pretty town square where Hugo explained how Pijao (pee-how) got its name. Then we tasted some truly excellent coffee at Cafe La Floresta with Carlos, who educated us about the different ways to process and brew coffee. He has a coffee farm and serves his special coffee at his cafe.
One of the oldest cafes on the square has an ancient coffee machine from Italy that has been in that same cafe for 80 years. It was carried on horseback from Argentina, and assembled in that cafe, and is still in use today. It even has a milk frother. I didn’t get a chance to walk around Pijao on my own, but I suspect I will be back someday. I will write about the full tour and visit to Don Leo’s coffee farm in a different post. This tour was truly the highlight of my time in Colombia, and a must for coffee lovers.
How to get here: To get to Pijao from Pereira, get a bus to Armenia (1 hour), and at the station in Armenia, just look for a bus company that goes to Pijao (about 50 minutes). Juan told me about the buses from Armenia. I couldn’t find any accurate info about buses from Armenia to Pijao (1 hour).
I heard a lot about Salento while in Medellin and from the other couple on my coffee tour in Pijao, so it seemed I was destined to go here. I’m glad I did. I visited Salento on a weekday when it is considerably quieter than on a weekend. The bus dropped us right in the center of town, after stopping at the terminal just at the edge of town so people could buy a return ticket to Pereira (6500 CP) and then get back on the bus to go to the center. This is completely unnecessary. The center was about .5 km away and I could’ve just walked, but I didn’t know that.
The square is lovely and colorful, and on this day it was fairly quiet. I arrived around noon and several places were closed for siesta. I had no idea what awaited me later in the day. Salento is very photogenic, so I walked around and took lots of photos. I stopped at Restaurante del Patio, just off the square, for lunch and the view. Get a mixto burrito and you won’t be sorry. Afterwards I walked up the steep stairs for the view of the town, and on the way down I stopped in Camino Real Cafe because a nice young man working there asked me to. In English. I loved the view, the service, and the beer. They serve specialty roast coffee as well.
I left Camino Real after about 2 hours, only to find the shops had opened and the streets were quite busy. There are lots of local artisans selling their beautifully made products, and lots of cafes selling specialty coffees and homemade treats.
Horseback riding is popular here, as well as getting a ride in a Willy to Cocora to walk through the Valle de Cocora, which sports some of the best scenery in Colombia. The day I went, there were no Willy jeeps in the square! Cocora is a beautiful village 12km away, and the Willys depart from the square at certain times of day to take people there to begin their treks. But on the day I visited, by the time the Willys arrived, I didn’t have time left to go walking. I was so bummed. I advise taking an earlier bus from Pereira, before 9AM, or taking a tour which eliminates the need to plan and organize everything yourself.
How to get here: From Pereira, buses leave every hour to go direct to Salento and the ride is about 1.5 hours, although I think it was actually just over an hour when I went.
I’m not going to lie. Filandia was my favorite of all the day trips in Colombia that I took. It was also the last one I took, so I guess I saved the best for last. Once again, I was dropped off in the square which was the liveliest I’d seen so far, but not crowded. The specialty cafes and restaurants on the square, and throughout Filandia, just seemed like the owners had taken more care to create a great atmosphere. These places are not only for tourists. The square was full of locals enjoying great Colombian coffee and treats.
The shops and storefronts here are colorful and make for great photos, but unfortunately street parking means there will likely be cars in most pictures. The cafes on this square are the best I’ve seen anywhere I’ve been in Colombia, even Medellin, and they were so cheap. So was my lunch at Canela Que Que. This spacious restaurant off the square has a view and a great atmosphere. I was stuffed when I left, and I only spent 21000 CP. It’s on Calle 7, not far off the square.
On the hill outside of town, just an 800 meter walk away, is a giant wooden structure for climbing to see the 360 views. I was reluctant, but I went and paid the 8000 CP to climb the stairs and see the stunning views. It was worth it. You can see the tower from the town and just head in that direction, continue past the service station, and you’ll see local artisans selling beautiful baskets and then the entrance will be on the right.
I spent the day in the town, but there are lots of options for touring coffee farms, horseback riding, and birdwatching.
How to get here: From Pereira, Filandia is just a one hour bus ride and buses depart every hour. You’ll be dropped off near the square and can return to the same place to depart.
For tour options to Colombia, just click here to see what Viator has to offer. You’ll have to enter either Medellin or Pereira in the search box to find out about these six best day trips in Colombia. If you choose to purchase through this link, I will make a small commission to help keep this site running. Your purchase and support are much appreciated!