Tag Archives: Zona Cafetera

Staycation in Manizales

Things weren’t going great for us when we first got to Manizales.  We had a growing list of niggling issues on the van so we asked around and visited a few mechanics.  This in itself was quite a process, because each time we asked someone for a VW specialist they would tell us to follow them on their scooter and we would have to chase them all over town.

We did eventually find a VW mechanic, and he was useless. He recommended that we drive back to Bogota where more parts were available. We weren’t excited by the prospect of a long drive back to a city we’d just left, but we decided it was probably for the best. So that was our plan.

Our luck soon changed when we stopped in the little town of Chinchina to stock up on groceries.  Bec went into the shops and I was underneath the van checking something out, when I heard a voice calling out to me.  I went over to speak with the ladies who had stopped their car in the middle of the street to chat to me. Just so happens that they had taken it upon themselves to be the ambassadors of all that is good and right in Colombia. Not only did they invite us home to meet the family, to park the van and stay at their house for the night, give us a tour of the town and feed us dinner and breakfast, they also made a few calls to track down their friend who also owns a vintage VW and recommended a good mechanic back in Manizales. On top of that, they put in a good word with the mechanic and made sure that he knew we had people watching out for us. Oh yeah, and they tracked down a sweet hotel that had a cheap space for camping. Amazing.

To Liliana, Pilar and the rest of the family… we can’t thank you enough. Manizales new2OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAManizales03

Next we met Alvaro. A wonderfully generous guy who has one of the most pristine single cab split-window VW’s I’ve ever seen. Also, fittingly for this region, he is a coffee exporter and was more than happy to show us around his warehouse.

After we had offloaded all of our gear at our hotel and taken the car to the mechanic we got in touch with Alvaro again. He had the day off and ad made some plans with a few other VW fans to go for a cruise and sample some of the best typical foods of the region.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABeat it

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Colombian pay phone



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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Agua panela, arepa y queso. So simple, but so good.

And so began our staycation in Manizales.  Although we slept in our tent, we actually had the place mostly to ourselves.  Every night we slept through heavy rain and intense thunderstorms, but during the days it cleared up. Luckily our tent was under another shelter. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The view from our porch was beautiful. There’s something really relaxing about the mist rolling through green valleys.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The property is set up high on a hill surrounded by lush gardens and tropical forest teeming with edible goodies and birdlife.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA                        Steps… so many steps




OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Night blooming jasmine. These flowers open at night and fill the air with a strong perfume. 

The garage and function room had a kitchen and bathrooms, so this is where we stored all of our gear and spent most of our time.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


We loved this pooch. But she’s also a bit cheeky, so we’ve learnt a lot of dog commands in Spanish this week. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANo! (That’s Spanish for no!)

In between hill sprints, workout routines and regular visits to the mechanic, we’ve had plenty of time for movies and cooking. We’ve really enjoyed getting back into exercising again and cooking some good wholesome meals, all with a bit of Colombian flair. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMaracuya (giant Colombian passionfruit). And a cuppa tea.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA                        Fried plantain soup

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Yummy pesto. Don’t know why we didn’t bring a food processor with us… we have one now.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPesto scrambled eggs, corn arepa, grilled plantains with cheese. And really good Colombian coffee. 

That about wraps it up. It’s been a nice little vacation from our normal routine, but we are really keen to get back to van life. Our next post should include some photos of Oscar looking sharp.

A Close Call : The Road to Manizales

It felt good to be out of the city and on the road again.  Waking up to a fresh and foggy morning in the hills and enjoying the view while I make coffee and eggs outside is one of the simple pleasures of van life.

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The drive across Colombia from east to west moves through some amazing mountainous countryside.  The hills are so steep that you can hardly ever see the valley bottoms, and I couldn’t tell you how many times we oohed and ahhed over the scenery as we rounded another bend.


The roads are in good condition, but they are narrow and winding with very few places to pull off, so Bec was limited to snapping pics out of the window when something caught her eye.  Like dizzyingly steep green hills and a farmhouse perched atop a ridge,  a roadside haircut session or a fully loaded motorbike hugging the road verge.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATo Manizales03To Manizales02 To Manizales05

It was a beautiful drive, but also long and challenging.  The single lanes meant that we were often stuck behind slower traffic either struggling to climb a steep grade or slowly descending in a low gear.  After many hours of this, we had our first road mishap of the trip.

After many months of driving in Latin America I had adjusted to their driving style. The truck in front flashed his turn signal, indicating that it was a good time to pass, and I had a look before overtaking on a downhill run as we’ve done many times before. There was another car coming the other way, but a fair way off, this was nothing new either. But, he was coming a little faster than usual and I didn’t have a lot of time to get back onto my side of the road, so the back of the van clipped the truck as I swung back into my lane.

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Thankfully, no serious harm was done, just a bit of a dent and a scrape on both vehicles, and some bruised pride.  It was definitely a reminder to be more cautious and patient, and I won’t be making the same mistake again. This delayed us a few hours as we had to follow the truck driver into the next town and find an ATM to pay him for the damage (about $150), then we had to return back along the same road to find the fuel cap which had come off.

A little shaken by the days events and delayed by the mishap, we didn’t make it to Manizales that day. After a few more hours of driving, it was getting dark, cold and rainy as we turned onto a side road heading towards the Los Nevados National Park to find a spot to camp for the night.

Once again, in the light of morning, things didn’t seem so bad.  It had been a really chilly night, the best weather for a good sleep in a cozy sleeping bag.  We woke to find ourselves in a really beautiful spot and started the day with a good hot cuppa and snow on the surrounding mountain peaks.


Posted from Manizales, Colombia