Ibagué is the capital city of the Tolima department, and is located on the eastern slopes of the Cordillera Central. It is known as the musical city of Colombia, due to its famous conservatory. At 1250m above sea-level, it has a spring-like climate. Ibagué is a starting point for travellers who wish to do the Nevado del Tolima trek. Apart from that, it's a small, safe friendly city, with a special charm, although there's not an awful lot to do here.
Aeropuerto Perales in Ibagué is located about 40 minutes outside the city, and has flights from Bogotá and various other cities in Colombia.
Ibagué is a 4 hour bus journey from Bogotá, a 3 hour bus journey from Armenia, and a 2 hour bus journey from Honda. Numerous companies serve these routes. The journey to Armenia involves going over the la linea and is nortorious for accidents, landslides and occasional guerrilla activity. Avoid doing this part of the journey at night or in a small minibus.
The Conservatorio del Tolima (Calle 9 No. 1-18) founded in 1906. It comprises an old, crumbling building and modern one (ask the guard to show you the views from the top. It's just round the corner from Plaza Bolívar. While the building itself is not that impressive, it's an important part of the city's heritage.
The Jardín Botanico San Jorge (Cra 8 No. 19-120 Barrio Interlaken. Tel: (098) 2638354) is a botanical garden located at the edge of Ibagué. It boasts over 500 species of plants, and has 7 Km of nature trails (visitors can choose between a short, flat walk, or a longer, more challenging one). You'll have the chance to see a coca plant, if you've never seen one before.
The Fundación Orquidea del Tolima (Cra 30 No. 13-35. Tel: (098) 2605995) is a nature reserve with an impressive selection of orchids, including the national flower of Colombia, the endangered Cattleya trianae. There is a nature trail leading to a mirador, where you can see a large part of Ibagué.
If you want a good panoramic view of the whole city of Ibagué and the surrounding area, climb up to the top of La Martinica, a nature reserve along the Armenia bypass. It is the hill with several telecommunications masts on top of it. Start early, as it can get quite hot. It will take you 2-3 hours to reach the top (1530 metres).
Hang around Plaza Bolívar watching people.
Shalom serves good quality, inexpensive set meals (Cra 3 between Calle 8 and Calle 9).
Try the cakes and avena drink at Yel Coctel delicatessen (Calle 10 between Cra 4 and Cra5).
Try the delicious freshly baked bread from Mateus (Calle 10 between Cra 3 and Cra4).
Tertulia is a good indoor venue to enjoy a beer while listening to rock music (Cra 5 between Calle 10 and Calle 11).
Libro y Son has a nice setting to listen to salsa and enjoy a few beers, it's near the Universidad del Tolima away from the City centre.
If you are just staying in Ibagué overnight, there are many cheap hotels around the terminal.Other options are in the center of the city. The two places below (in the centre) are a better ptions if you plan to stay for a longer time:
Hotel Luisa (Calle 13 No. 4-17, Tel. (098) 263 7952/ 263 9268) has double ensuite rooms, with tv, for 20,000 COP. There is no hot water in this hotel, but the water in Ibagué isn't that cold anyway IMHO.
Hotel Center (Cra 4 No. 12-52, Tel. (098) 263 7311/ 263 7322, www.hotelcenteribague.com) has double ensuite rooms for 41,600 COP. They have hot water. Mid-range
Hotel Acandi (Cra 3 No 11-60, Tel. (098) 2610010 / 2610244 / 2611803/ 2614068, email: firstname.lastname@example.org) is close to the city centre, and an ensuite double room is 88,600 COP. Top End
Casa Morales (Cra 3a No. 3-47 Barrio La Pola, Tel. (098) 261 9404, www.hotelcasamorales.com) is located close to the centre of the city, and has fine views. A double room is 179,500 COP including breakfast.
The Sofitel Ibagué Altamira (Cra 1 45-50, (098) 2666111, email@example.com, http://www.sofitel.com/sofitel/fichehotel/gb/sof/resort/2156/fiche_hotel.shtml) is located in the outskirts of the city, close to the bypass (variante) to Armenia. A double ensuite room is 220,000 COP including breakfast. It is currently the only hotel in Ibagué with wireless internet access (25,000 COP/24 hours).
Juntas is a nearby village, especially popular at weekends and holidays, where people go and eat almojabanas, bunuelos, sancocho soup and river trout in a peaceful mountain setting. There is also a mirador from which, if you are lucky and there are no clouds, can see the Nevado del Tolima (early morning is best). You can get to Juntas by taking a bus in Cra 1/Calle 14 from "La Ibaguerena" bus company.
From Juntas, you can walk up to El Rancho, some thermal springs in the cloud-forest at 2600 metres above sea-level; it's about a 4 hour leisurely walk uphill alongside the impressive canyon of the Combeima river, or you can take the morning lechero. El Rancho is the starting point for the trek up El Nevado del Tolima (5215 m). This is the mountain in Colombia wher most mountaineers have lost their lives, and to reach the summit a guide is essential. See the Latas route in this Summitpost entry for more details.
From el Rancho, you can walk also walk via the Filtros route to Laguna del Encanto and Salento.
From Juntas, you can also walk to El Derrumbe de las Perlas: when you cross over the river, turn right immediately instead on continuing towards the mirador. After a couple of hours of leisurely walking you'll reach an open valley with a river, an ideal picnic spot. If you continue along this route you can also reach the summit of the Nevado, but this is a quite a long way round. The route is known as Las Nieves', and is via some thermal springs at 3900m where a hermit known as Don Canon lives.