The city is served by La Nubia Airport (ICAO: SKMZ, IATA: MZL) (~10 minutes from downtown in a taxi), that receives domestic flights of Avianca, Aires, ADA airlines. There are non-stop flights to Medellín and Bogotá. It features WiFi access to the Internet from almost every location. Taxis are regulated, reasonably priced and safe from the airport. A taxi ride from the airport to the center takes approximately 20 minutes, and can cost $5.00 USD.
Manizales Bus Station (Terminal de Transportes) is a modern facility located next to the lower cable car station. The cable car can take you to the city centre for 1400 pesos (great views). Shared taxis to Chinchina cost 3000 pesos per person and take about 40 mins. Buses to Pereira take about 1h15m and cost 10,000 pesos.
Service in the 'upscale' buses is very good and they are very comfortable. Pick the most expensive service (just a couple of dollars extra) as these buses tend to be newer and better mechanical condition.
Currently buses run in and out of Manizales's main station, Terminal de Transporte de Manizales. The station is clean and has standard amenities. Multiple bus companies have regular routes to destinations around the country. To get there from the airport you can take a taxi ride.
Some common bus companies in Colombia that are found in this Terminal are:
You will find many others there.
There is an extensive network of busses running around Manizales connecting most parts of the city. Minimum Cost is $1,400 pesos (approx. $1.00 USD for one way trips). 3 miles main Avenida Santander, including the numerous neighborhoods (barrios) and surrounding barrios, use caution when visiting lower-income barrios (as you should have in any other city). Types of buses (to travel in the city ranges about .900 pesos to 1,300 pesos , less than .40 cents USD) range from large buses to smaller vans, and Willys jeeps are also available for side trips to outlying areas including local mountains and valley floors, prices vary depending on destination, prices are very cheap.
Taxis are relatively cheap, make sure the meter is on. Some taxi drivers are dishonest and try to take advantage of foreigners. For example, they may use standing charges while waiting. Some don't have meters, so ask for cost in advance. If you stop along your route, the driver will reset the meter for a new fare, with you paying the sum of all the fares once you reach your final destination. It's possible to negotiate as well, but standard daytime fare is $2,200 pesos, and higher after 8 pm and weekends, holidays, when it's $2,500 pesos. As of December 2006, you could hire a taxi by the hour; the fare is $15,000, the equivalent of USD $6.50...!
There are many things to see. This is a beautiful university city, famous throughout Colombia for the numerous private and public universities. It's reported that 1/4 of city (pop. 400,000) residents here are students, females seem to outnumber males by margin of 3 to 1. So students can be seen everywhere, either walking to classes along Avenidas Santander or Parallela, or sitting in the myriad cafes along Avenida Santander after class while chatting with friends and watching others strolling along the avenue.
The city has a real European, small city feel to it, like being in Switzerland or the Alps. In winter season it rains a lot (almost every day, but not for too long), but you can find very dry days in summer season. The air is always fresh, temperature a little cool, and can be balmy depending on which part of city you're visiting.
The city is also famous for being one of only with 8 separate micro-climates in world, depending on which elevation and barrio you're in. For example, it's possible in just 10 minutes to go from a spot that's cool and foggy (for ex. the Chipre barrio that is higher up and overlooking the valley floor below) to one that is warm and balmy (like La Linda barrio).
In this city it's easy to see why the Spanish would choose locations high up for planting cities, and why the later Colonialists from Medellin and State of Antioquia who founded this city choose this relatively high location to mount a new city 150 years ago. The climate is moderate and very healthy, and nothing like the humidity and heat you'll find in valleys down below!
The city has a beautiful park called 'Los Colonializadores' on a mount overlooking the city and beautiful coffee rich valleys down below. The view is 360 degrees, and to east, north and south are views of city that's nestled up against the western side of central Cordillera (Colombia, in the western part of country, is basically divided into sections by three large, wide mountain ranges) and to west are views of the valleys, rivers and coffee plantations down below which contain the famous coffee cities of Chinchina and Palastina (where a new, modern international airport is now under construction).
The city has a large eco-park called Los Yarumos, named after a large tree specie, Yarumo. It contains beautiful views overlooking the city and affords views of mountains and a volcano encircling the city above. There are many hiking trails and nature walks, and city just completed a new indoor ice skating rink, which has a great music system! Also, there is also a large conference center and restaurants.
The city has two main plazas, Plaza Bolivar and Parque Caldas, where people can go to sit and to chat with friends, or to shop and to watch others in afternoon and evening. Plaza Bolivar contains the State Government of Caldas administration buildings, as Manizales city is also the seat of Caldas state.
On the other side of the plaza stands the impressive, beautiful Cathedral of Manizales, built by people of the city. It's massive size is impressive and famous for it's elaborate gold canopy and beautiful, large stained-glass windows.
Many people visit this plaza during trips to city center to conduct personal or municipal business, as this area contains most of important government and banking buildings, and is oldest part of city.
The city has a municipal auditorium and theatres where you can attend concerts, operas, and listen to symphonic music. There are lots of night clubs, discos, and bars that serve up lively house, trance, rock, salsa, and tango music.
The Rose Zona is where most of night clubs, discos, restaurants and coffee bars are located, and 'Luker Plaza' is city's newest, ultra modern commercial development. It is also the safest and most exclusive area of town. Next to it is 'Cable Plaza', the city's hottest new entertainment destination. It houses a 5 floor state of the art shopping and entertainment center, housing an upscale luxury supermarket, expensive fast food restaurants, and the latest Hollywood movies.
The city offers an exciting nightlife along the main avenue Santander, where you will find many of best discos and restaurants, but there is another smaller in upscale residential neighborhood located in south part of city, called Batallon and Milan. On weekends, starting on Thursday night, this is where many of younger crowd and students like to gather. There are many fast food restaurants in this area also.
The city is also home to famous football (soccer) club, 'Once Caldas', who won the South American Championship 'Copa Libertadores'. Viewing football is a very important activity here and Once fans pack the 40,000 seat stadium to cheer for their team.
If you are a football fan you will appreciate the dedication of fans and large, beautiful stadium that sits in center of Palogrande, one of best neighborhoods in Manizales, and close to many universities.
Then there is the famous mountains surrounding the city called 'El Nevado Ruiz', with it's three volcanic formations. Early in morning is best time to view it as clouds then move in a make viewing difficult, but if you get up early you won't be disappointed. The mountains contain glaciers and it snows a lot up on mountain, where the temperature can be chilly and cold, but the solitude and peace you'll experience up on mountain make all the inconvenience and difficulty in reaching it, worth it.
Another nice place, but very different one is Santagueda which its about 40 minutes from Manizales. There you will find estates of warm land, the temperature is from 23 to 28 centigrade degrees for which they are many places to enjoy the sun and swimming pool. The most popular part is "la fonda" where people of all the ages enjoy the weather while drinking a beer or any type of liquor, especially the unmatured brandy Crystal (aguardiente Cristal) or the old Rum of Caldas (Ron viejo de Caldas). To come to Santagueda you can take a jeep from terminal, this alone trip costs 7.000 pesos (3.0 dollars).
Also, the region is famous in Colombia for its hot springs and resorts such as 'Termales del Otoño' and 'Termales del Santa Rosa' and 'Termales del Nevado'. Each contains not only hot pool where the public gather to soak and relax, but many levels of hotel accommodation. Prices are approx. $16,000-$20,000 per day, and all stay open till midnight. The 'Termales del Santa Rosa' lower and upper locations, as does the hot springs at 'Termales del Nevado.' At both locales, the upper pools are closer to water source and so have hotter water, but water temperature also fluctuates depending on which season it is, winter or summer. Worth seeing is the 'Termales del Santa Rosa' Hotel, it is a four star hotel and very nice if you can afford the $150,000 peso price (per person), USD$75.00, however, included is all meals and entry fees to pools, as well as use of private, exclusive wading pools. Also, both sites at Santa Rosa have incredible, breathtaking waterfalls that are lit with multi-colored lights, visiting at night is best, or if you have time, stay all day as price of entry is for all day!
The traditional food comes from Antioquia, the region to northwest and famous for the city of Medellin. Lunch-time meals usually consist of a soup made from plantain (a variety of green bananas), followed by a plate of rice and selection of fried pork, beef, or chicken, with small cabbage salad in vinegar dressing, a natural juice drink made from mango, or if you are adventurous, try one of native fruit flavors, they are delicious but hard to pronounce, this will usually be followed by a coffee. Sometimes, you might be offered a dessert called mazamorra, which is corn and milk with local sugar, called 'panela'. They also use panella and water in making coffee, but don't recommend it, as the taste is very sweet, actually coffee served here is exceptionally sweet and unless you are a fan of sugary tasting coffee, ask for coffee made from plain water.
The water quality here is excellent (Manizales' water is on the top 10 of best quality drinking waters in the world), it is very pure also it is possible to drink straight from the tap here (but not in all parts of Colombia is this true), so no need to purchase bottled water and taste is great!
If you're visiting the 'Los Nevados' Natural Park ask for 'aguapanela con queso' while going there. It's a hot beverage made of sugar cane served with cheese. Also look for cheese icecream, chorizos from Santa Rosa and obleas.
The city center and areas around the bus terminal are NOT safe at night. Visitors should be careful during the day as in any city center; it is relatively safe then with many good sites, but avoid the area after sunset.
Also, as a general comment for those traveling by bus: The safety of bus travel in Colombia has greatly improved in recent years. However, foreigners should take precaution of not traveling to areas of unrest and travel only during the day. Do not carry large amounts of cash with you as robberies are known to occur along some routes.