One of the nicest towns anywhere, Jardin, Colombia has charming squares, friendly people, and loads of attractions. We spent a few days enjoying the laid-back vibe and excellent outdoor activities and fell in love with the place! This post features our top things to do in Jardin.
About Jardin, Colombia
Legend has it that the town of Jardín got its name from the first settlers who spotted the valley which was beautiful jungle and called it “garden.” Unlike many towns in the Antioquian region, Jardin retains much of its architecture and landscape of 140 years ago. As a result, the colonial architecture predominates, attractive to the eye.
A quick trip from Medellin, Jardin is surrounded by rivers and is still known for its lush green landscapes. We rented a car in Medellin and drove the 2+ hours south from the city. A lot of visitors take the inexpensive buses which run every hour each way direct. It’s a relatively easy trip, and once you’re there, all the top sights are in walking distance. Unlike Villa de Leyva, another of our favorite Colombian towns, we didn’t need or use the car for the top things to do in Jardin.
An absolutely beautiful town, Villa de Leyva is just a couple hours from Bogota. After enjoying the best of Bogota, make the drive north and spend a few days enjoying the top sights in Villa de Leyva.
About Villa de Leyva
Villa de Leyva is a heritage town in Colombia with cobblestone streets leading to its massive square. With churches and government buildings dating back to the 17th century, the town is a National Monument of Colombia.
A popular weekend destination from Bogota, the top sights in Villa de Leyva draw tourists from outside the country too.
TIP: A top weekend getaway from Bogota, arrive in Villa de Leyva on Sunday or a weekday. You will have the place almost to yourself!
The Plaza Mayor
One of the most majestic town squares we’ve seen is in Villa de Leyva. It’s huge, especially for a small town. The buildings surrounding the square are impressive colonial style buildings dating back a few centuries. The square is a place where locals gather, children play, and everyone relaxes.
The square is home to numerous restaurants, bars, and a couple of breweries. Sometimes musicians play to the patrons of a cafe while everyone nearby can enjoy.
We returned a few times to one local brewery where they shared samples and let us wander the square with our craft beers.
Colombia is known for big cities with lots to do like Cartagena and Medellin, but most Colombians suggest leaving the big cities behind to explore the smaller towns. They say it’s where you see real Colombians living real lives. We visited several smaller towns and are so glad we took their advice. The people who live and work in these towns take pride in where they live, and demonstrate it with well-maintained buildings, immaculate public spaces, and welcoming communities. Here are the best towns in Colombia, at least the ones we’ve visited. Stay tuned for detailed posts on each of these beloved towns.
Our Time in Colombia
We’ve spent a lot of time in Colombia over two different visits. The first time was in 2016, when I started this blog. Our second visit to Colombia was on our sailboat in 2021.
When we arrived in March 2021, Covid was still causing lockdowns and more, and we hunkered down in Santa Marta. Fortunately, as vaccinations grew more available, Colombia slowly and safely opened and we ventured further to the interior. In total, we spent almost 6 months docked in Santa Marta and Cartagena, and took multiple road trips and two flights within the country.
What we found is a country of varied landscapes and lots of outdoor adventure opportunities, with beautiful views around most corners.
As Colombia’s capital city, many people fly in and fly out of Bogota to more glamorous Colombian destinations but I recommend staying for a few days. We liked Bogota so much we returned for a second visit this summer and loved it even more. Now, with two multi-day visits almost exactly five years apart, here’s what we loved and why to visit Bogota.
Many people hike up this hill with great views of the city, but we chose to ride up on our first day due to the altitude. And even then, after years living at sea level, I got dizzy and light-headed up there. Monserrate is over 3,000 meters above sea level, with great views of Bogota. It is the site of a 17th century church, and is a big tourist attraction which can be reached by cable car, funicular, or hiking. We did the cable car up and funicular down, but I’m sure the hike is good once you’re acclimated to the altitude.
The views are stunning, the church is pretty, and Monserrate has a whole section of restaurants serving Colombian food and drink. If we’d known, we would have waited to eat lunch! Even with the dizziness and general discomfort from altitude adjustment, Monserrate was a pleasure to visit and the intermittent showers made for some moody photographs.
We love Cartagena! It’s fun, scenic, and the food is delicious. While Colombians complain that Cartagena is expensive, we found the prices reasonable compared to most other parts of the world, demonstrating how affordable the rest of Colombia is! In our five months in Cartagena, with side trips here and there, we ate out a lot. Why not? Cartagena’s restaurant scene is vibrant, varied, and affordable. I did a lot of research before coming, but many acclaimed restaurants closed during the pandemic, so my list is where to eat in Cartagena now.
When we first got to Cartagena, there was a curfew in effect and the town was empty. We ate a lot of lunches rather than have to rush through dinner at 6PM. Now hours are back to normal, and tourists are back, so I recommend reservations.