Manizales

On a windy June evening I walked through Manizales’s Zona Rosa past the towering Torre de Cable that in times gone by transported people and goods throughout the city on cable cars. I stopped to listen to a group of university students playing a song by Aterciopelados, a Colombian rock band. One student, interested in what I was doing in Colombia, told me that he would take me to see the “real” Manizales. But first he insisted that I climb the imposing Torre de Cable. We first scrambled up one of the four concrete pillars, about 12 feet high, that formed the base of the tower. From there I looked up the 160 foot high wooden ladder and shuddered. But it was too late to turn back now. The five of us climbed up the ladder together, and I did the best I could to not look down. At the top we tightly clung to the wooden beams, sang songs, and enjoyed the best view of the midnight sky and the entire city of Manizales.

Manizales is one of the three main cities of the Coffee Zone, along with Pereira and Armenia. It’s south of Medellin, north of Cali, and west of Bogota, and is noted for its universities. Its 400,000 inhabitants are descendants of colonizers from Medellin, who founded the city in 1849 to escape a raging civil war between the Liberal and Conservative parties. Manizales is the capital of Colombia’s tiny Caldas department, which borders Antioquia to the north, Boyaca and Cundinamarca to the east, Risaralda to the west, and Tolima to the south.

Manizales has three principal areas of interest for tourism: the Zona Rosa along Avenida Santander on the eastern side of the city, the centro (or downtown) which is located in the middle of the city, where you’ll find la Catedral de Manizales and the Plaza de Bolivar, and Chipre, Manizales’ historic neighborhood and the highest point of the city, on its western side.

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The Zona Rosa, also known as the neighborhood of Palermo, is a stretch along Carrera 23, also known as Santander, where you’ll find great restaurants, bars, nightlife, and most of the city’s hostels. There you will also find the Torre de Cable, which towers 70m over the city. Right next to the Torre de Cable is the city’s Juan Valdez, an important meeting point for business or pleasure in any Colombian city.

In the city center, head to the Plaza de Bolivar where you’ll find the most interesting depiction of Bolivar in all of Colombia. He is depicted as a soaring bird. At the Catedral de Manizales you’ll also find the third highest church in all of Latin America, and the fifth highest in the world, at 113m. Close by is the Alcaldia, or town hall, of Manizales.

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On the western side of the city you will climb up a steep hill on the way to Chipre, the city’s historic neighborhood and the highest point in the city. On the northern end of this overlook you’ll find the Monument to the Colonizers of Manizales, which depicts the arduous journeys by horse and mule made by the colonizers of the city, who founded the city in 1849.

There are two theories on the genesis of the name Manizales. One is that it is derived from the name Manuel Grisales, one of the founders of the city. The other is that it is a combination of the Spanish words “mani” or peanuts, and “sales” or salts, two items that the colonizers needed as basic foodstuffs for the journey and settlement.

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Manizales has experienced something of a surge in tourism in a way that neighbors Armenia and Pereira have not. This is evidenced by the dozen or so youth hostels you’ll find in the city. The universities, which include la Universidad de Caldas, la Universidad de Manizales and la Universidad Catolica de Manizales, ensure a steady flow of young people to the city, which explains the vibrant nightlife.

Manizales is also renowned for the powerhouse Once Caldas football team, which holds the distinction of being only the second Colombian in team to win the Copa de los Libertadores, in 2004, which is a championship tournament between all teams of Latin America. Only Atletico Nacional of Medellin has also won the cup.

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