Recinto del Pensamiento is a great place to visit

I have mentioned the city of Manizales several times on this blog. The capital of Caldas is one of the best places to live in Colombia, and I really enjoyed my two years there. Even if you are a tourist, it’s worth spending some time in the city because there are plenty of things to do there. I highly recommend visiting the centre and going to the top of the cathedral via the Polish corridor. This activity is not for the fainthearted since it’s amazing and scary in equal measure.

Manizales is a great starting point for various trips because it is located close to Los Nevados national park with its impressive volcano Nevado del Ruiz. You can also stay at Hostal La Laguna and hike to a huge waterfall. Rio Blanco natural reserve is famous among birdwatchers. There are some amazing places within the city limits as well: I enjoyed visiting Ecoparque Los Alcázares, which is close to the city centre, and I was lucky to have a nice view of Los Yarumos from my apartment.  

Recinto del Pensamiento, Manizales, Colombia

Living in a Colombian city is usually a noisy experience, so it’s nice to have the option of going somewhere to unwind. As its name suggests, Recinto del Pensamiento is a place that is supposed to make you think. It sounds like a remote retreat, but it is in fact easily accessible and there are numerous facilities that include even a hotel. Recinto del Pensamiento’s allure lies in its beautiful natural setting.

Even though it is located just over ten kilometres from the city centre, Recinto del Pensamiento offers amazing sights that you would expect to see somewhere far away. You can go on a two-hour hike that will show you the beauty of Colombian nature. It is mandatory to go with a guide and an adult ticket costs 30,000 pesos (or 25,000 if you are a Colombian citizen). You can pay extra money more for a chairlift, which is very slow and looks rather creaky, so walking represents a better option. The first part of the hike is a little steep, but it isn’t really challenging.

Recinto del Pensamiento, Manizales, Colombia

The first stop takes place at a house where you can relax and watch birds. There are countless hummingbirds flying around and making brief stops to drink sugary liquid from plastic water feeders. In the meantime, your guide will tell you mind-blowing facts about this species. Hummingbirds are incredible animals, and the way they move their little bodies will never cease to amaze me. While hummingbirds attract everybody’s attention, there are in fact more than 150 species of birds in the area. If you want to spend more time observing them, you can also book a birdwatching tour.

Recinto del Pensamiento, Manizales, Colombia

The hike continues past a fish-filled pond, and then you walk up a path lined with bonsai trees until you reach another highlight of the trip. You will enter a large glasshouse which is a home to beautiful butterflies. Seeing various colourful species of these insects is an amazing experience. There are plenty of plants too, and if you get lucky, you can spot some of the butterflies in their chrysalis stage. After exiting the glasshouse, you will descend back to the main area through a forest in which beautiful orchids grow. The guides are knowledgeable and they are always happy to provide relevant information and answer your questions. You can find photos from the hike on Recinto del Pensamiento’s Facebook page.

Recinto del Pensamiento, Manizales, Colombia

As you can see, Recinto del Pensamiento is a great place to visit and you definitely won’t get bored there. I recommend going there in the morning because that’s when the weather is usually quite nice. Fortunately, going to Recinto del Pensamiento from Manizales is pretty easy; you can check this map for its exact location. Taxis are affordable and reliable, and you can also get there by bus from El Cable area. Look for a bus going to Maltería and make sure to ask the driver if you are going the direction. You will get to the main entrance after a short ride. Enjoy your trip!

How to rent an apartment in Colombia

Even though the cost of living in Colombia is lower than in most of Europe or the US, you need to be careful with your expenses. I always keep reminding prospective teachers that you can’t expect to earn a lot of money here unless you have advanced qualifications and several years of experience. Your rent is going to represent your highest monthly expense, so it makes sense to check out various places before committing to a contract.

First of all, you need to understand the concept of estratos. Every Colombian neighbourhood is assigned a number that represents how ‘good’ the place is. The scale goes from number 1, a low-income area where you probably don’t want to live, to number 6, which is a prime location. The funny thing is that if you live in one of the higher estratos, you have to pay more money for the same service (internet, water, etc.) than those from worse neighbourhoods. It leads to some strange situations, but that’s the way it is.

How to rent an apartment Colombia

You should definitely explore the area in which you plan to live to get an idea what the neighbourhood looks like. You can walk around the place, or simply use Google Street View in order to save time. Remember to look at the surrounding areas because Colombia is a land of contrasts. A luxurious neighbourhood can be just a few blocks away from a dodgy area, so it’s important to use common sense and be aware of your surroundings. For the past year or so, I’ve been living in estrato 3 without any issues. The building has a 24-hour reception service and my apartment is in a better state than the one in estrato 5 where I had lived before.

If you are like me and feel that you are too old for flat sharing, you will probably consider renting a furnished apartment. The former option is definitely more economical, but I didn’t even consider it after arriving to Colombia. Teaching involves talking to people all day, so I just prefer to have some peace and quiet when I come home. That said, if you don’t mind living with strangers, you can check out CompartoApto.

If you are moving to a new city, it’s a good idea to book a hotel or Airbnb room for a week or two and give yourself time to find something more permanent. You can start by asking your employer or other teachers for recommendations because they might know of an available place. You can also search for apartments online; there are numerous real estate agencies and Facebook groups dedicated renting flats in every city.

Going through a real estate agency is always going to be more expensive than renting a place directly from its owner. Another point to consider is that you will most likely be asked to sign the contract together with a fiador – someone who has to pay the rent in case you disappear. Obviously, if you travel alone to a new country, you will find it difficult to find someone who would be willing to do that for you. The fiador requirement can be overcome by paying a few months of rent in advance, but it’s still a pain in the backside. Try to avoid real estate agencies if you can.

You should aim to get in touch directly with owners. If you speak Spanish, the easiest thing is to walk around the area you’d like to live in. There are always signs advertising rooms or apartments for rent. You can also talk to porteros and ask them if they know of any available apartments. It takes quite a lot of effort, but you can find a pretty good deal that way by cutting out the middleman and avoiding unnecessary paperwork. There are also websites like OLX, which are quite popular in Colombia, but it’s not always clear if the ad was posted directly by the owner or a real estate agency.

I also think it’s worth checking out apartments on Airbnb. Obviously, booking the place directly through the platform isn’t always the best option because the prices are usually exorbitant. What I suggest is taking advantage of the fact that Airbnb has become extremely popular in the country. As a consequence, some apartments lie empty for long periods of time. If you get customers only at weekends, it’s not ideal in terms of cleaning and security, and some owners may get tired of that.

Fortunately, Airbnb allows you to contact the owner directly before you make a booking, so you can tell them that you would be interested in a long-term rental agreement. It’s quite possible to negotiate a pretty good discount. I’d just recommend that you not use English to communicate with the owners because they may ask for more money. If your Spanish is basic, use a translation app or ask someone to help you out. You also have to make sure you understand how much you are expected to pay in total because there are more fees involved than just the monthly rent. You also need to pay utility bills and in some cases even the building administration fee. Take your time and read the contract carefully.

Renting a furnished apartment on your own is always the most expensive choice. However, if you want to avoid dealing with a lot of hassle, you simply need to bite the bullet and pay extra money for a place that you can move into immediately. Unfurnished apartments are cheaper, but they may not represent the best option when you don’t know how long you are going to stay in the city.