Chestnut Crowned Antpitta/”Tennis Ball On Sticks” @ Río Blanco, Manizales

Green Violet-Ear Humming Bird In Flight @ Río Blanco, Manizales

We arrived at Manizales bus terminal which was on top of a hill overlooking the city. The bus of course took far longer than the five hours it had stayed but we had come to expect this. We jumped in a taxi and followed the road down the hill and into town to our hostel the Golden Frog. As we pulled out of the bus terminal we saw a cable car that literally went from the terminal to the centre of town, gutted we missed it!

The Curious Pup @ Río Blanco, Manizales

Our hostel was amazing, the rooms were enormous, the kitchen was probably the best hostel kitchen we had ever seen, not only was it sparkling clean it had two of everything- two sets of four burners, two big sinks and it was so well stocked! We were in backpacker heaven! The only slight downside of this hostel is that it was practically empty. The owner was a young Colombian guy who was also a paragliding instructor and keen traveller. He actually spent a few years in the only place I have ever paraglided- Lake Annecy, France, what a coincidence.

We settled into our snazzy hostel before heading out to explore. Manizales the town is a bit boring but has some pretty buildings. It is said to be the safest city in Colombia, surrounded by mountains and the famous Nevado del Ruiz, it’s a university town in the famous coffee region.

Masked Trogon Grabbing Lunch @ Río Blanco, Manizales

We saw the cathedral and walked around the central square which has a huge and a bit weird half man half condor sculpture honoring Simón Bolívar. We looked around for a camera repair shop as my wide lens had broken again. It’s so hard to get camera stuff here or get to get anything repaired. We walked into so many camera shops that couldn’t help us until we finally found an actual shop called camera repair. Chuffed, we walked in to find the walls covered in those terrible Quinceañera photos of over dressed children covered in pink make up, some horrendous engagement and wedding photos all blown up and in dodgy frames. A woman dressed in high boots, brightly coloured satin flares and a floaty patterned blouse (that did not go together at all) appeared from another room. She was doing a “photo shoot” of a baby. How do these people get these jobs? Who buys these terrible photos? She kind of blagged her way through a diagnosis but I didn’t feel comfortable leaving my lens there so we gave up and decided we were going to have to hold on to it until Quito as there was no Canon or proper camera place until then. This is one of the only downsides of travelling.

Early Bird Gets The Worm(s) @ Río Blanco, Manizales

Masked Flowerpiercer @ Río Blanco, Manizales

Long-Tailed Sylph @ Río Blanco, Manizales

The next morning we met up with Sigrid and Juan our lovely Belgian-Colombian friends we met in Mexico and then again in Guatemala. Juan is from the coffee region and grew up around Manizales. His dad owns and runs a coffee farm. Juan and Sigrid were taking a break from their travels to start up CulTOURa, a tour company showing people around Manizales and they had invited us to try it! We were really excited to see them again and to try out their new tour. They met us outside of the cathedral with Sigrid’s friend from school, Pablo. They were wearing branded t-shirts and looked very professional! After a quick catch up, Juan started the tour with some information about Manizales the city and the surrounding buildings. We walked around the most famous buildings and then down to the market to try all the local fruits and juices, it was delicious and we learnt a lot. To top off our tour we headed to a local outdoor Tejo “game hall”. Tejo is a local game that seems to usually be played by old blokes accompanied by a lot of beer. The “board” is a large clay platform with a round metal ring in the middle. On the ring, four small triangular pouches full of gunpowder are placed in a cross shape. The aim of the game is to throw your “tejo” (which is a palm sized chunk of metal) at the ring and the highest points are if you land it in the ring and lower points if you get the pouches to explode. It’s kind of like boules with explosives and just much more fun! It was amazing, so funny but I was terrible. I did hit the ring a lot but nothing ever exploded. Jess however literally got an explosion on every throw. This was her game!

Juan and Sigrid- CulTOURa @ Manizales

Tejo Champs @ Manizales

After our Tejo excitement we wandered back into the centre for a menu del día which had some very strange soup options- basically all the body parts of an animal you don’t want to eat in a miscellaneous soup.

That night we walked up to the hill at Chipre and watched a beautiful sunset with loads of pot head young locals.

Sun Setting @ Chipre, Manizales

The next day we had a relaxing day and got a bus to some thermal pools set in beautiful countryside, we accidentally ordered a hundred empanadas (lucky Jess ate them all!) and went back to the snazzy hostel to prepare for an early morning of intense bird watching before heading off to Salento.

The next day we got a taxi very early to Río Blanco Reserve. Now although Jess is not the biggest fan of bird watching this was really up her alley. Basically every hour on the hour we moved spots with our guide Luz to see a different ant pitta which are endemic to this region. Now ant pittas are possibly not the most exciting or beautiful birds as they are pretty shy and can’t fly, and as Jess says look like “tennis balls on sticks” BUT there was very minimal walking involved, there were humming bird feeders at the house which was awesome and there was a very cute dog that Jess loved.

Blue Bug @ Río Blanco, Manizales

Fly Away Home @ Río Blanco, Manizales

Collared Inca @ Río Blanco, Manizales

Straight after the thrilling bird Watching we grabbed our stuff and were on a bus to one of the most famous places in the coffee zone, Salento.

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