Settling In in Villavicencio

Whoa, I was pretty lost for real there for a while! I took a break from writing to focus on a few other things in my life, and since I’ve returned to Colombia it’s been a bit tough getting settled in to my new city. But things are coming together finally so I thought it’d be the perfect moment to continue adding some entries, starting with one about my new city: Villavicencio!


More fondly called “Villavo,” (‘vi-ja-vo’ for the non-Spanish speakers) by the locals, Villavicencio was a city I never thought twice about let alone a place I thought I’d be living in. But here I am! I was back in Toronto wondering what to do and where to go when I got a message saying that the Teaching English in Colombia program still needed fellows. Hmm…

I had decided not to continue back in January because there had been a major change of organizations that left the program in a bit of a mess – I didn’t know anything about the new organization running the program and didn’t know if I could trust them. But after speaking with some previous fellows who had returned who said it was all normal, I decided to go for it once again!

In With the New…

I decided to choose a new city I’d never been to with some particular assets: somewhere relatively close to Bogota, and somewhere with hot weather. That led me to choose Villavicencio! It’s just a three or four hour drive from Bogota (depending on traffic and most of that is just getting out of Bogota’s gridlocks!) but it’s nice and HOT in comparison to the capital and other cities nearby. It’s in the department of Meta, and is known as “La Puerta al Llano:” the gate to Los Llanos – the Plains of Colombia.

Overlooking the plains from a viewpoint up in the hills called “Mirador Piedra del Amor”

The city itself is nestled right at the foothills of the Andes so on one side, you can see mountains, and on the other, flatlands as far as the eye can see! The plains stretch all the way to Venezuela and are actually shared between the two countries.

“Llanero” Culture

The ‘cowboy’ culture is strong in this region of Colombia and cattle raising, horse-riding, meat-eating are all aspects of the Llanero culture. There’s also a well-known sport practiced here called “coleo” – basically a rodeo, where cowboys on horses chase cattle on a path to try and make them fall down… I personally wouldn’t want to see such a spectacle due to my love for animals and belief in animal rights but nevertheless, it’s a tradition in this region.

There’s also a famous dance here called “joropo.” This aspect of the Llanero culture is a bit more my speed! Here is a youtube video for anybody interested in seeing what it’s like:

Pretty incredible how fast the dancers can move!

I’ve yet to experience the typical Llanero culture firsthand though – I’m still pretty new here and haven’t gone out exploring too much besides roaming the streets in search of a place to live.

Home Sweet Home 

Speaking of which, I finally found one! After some shuffling around, I am finally somewhat “settled in,” living with another fellow in the teaching program, a guy from Switzerland. We found a two-bedroom apartment that is behind a family’s house and that is pretty central for both of our school placements. The family is very kind and have two daughters that are starting to feel like our little sisters! They also have the most adorable pug named Hannah who loves to snuggle.


One of their daughters also goes to the school where I teach, but is in a lower grade so I’m not her teacher. Nevertheless, the family has been super nice with us, giving us some furniture, some food, and general advice about different things in the city; it’s nice to have our own space but also to be able to count on a ‘family’ just a few metres away.

The new neighbourhood: “La Esmeralda”

The neighbourhood is beautiful too with lots of nature! The only thing – there seems to be some sort of a bird – a cockatoo? a parrot? that frequently “talks” with another cockatoo or parrot and together they sound like screaming children. Plus, it seems that the same family also has an actual screaming child! I’m already getting used to it though, luckily – all part of the morning wake-up call. 🙂

School Sweet School 

The new school I’m working at is amazing too – it feels like a natural park! It’s up in the hills so it’s nice and cool compared to other parts of the city where it feels like a furnace.

The buildings are also very colourful with lots of student art around, there’s lots of interesting trees and plants and flowers, and there are also interesting animals, namely, monkeys! I’ve seen them three times so far swinging up in the trees. There are two dogs  that live there as well and I love getting snuggles from them between classes. 🙂

Of course I miss my old school in Manizales a lot, but I’m so happy that my new placement is another beautiful place with friendly staff and students (and monkeys…and dogs…)!

Here are some photos:
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And that’s all for now – short and sweet! But keep an eye out for future posts about Villavicencio and other cities and towns in Colombia.

Thanks for reading!


Ten Things I Love About Living in Manizales


A month or two before I started my position here in Colombia, I learned from a handful of people that my new placement, Manizales, had a bit of a reputation. It could be described by what’s called the 3 F’s – frio (cold), feo (ugly), and faldudo (hilly).

Considering that I had (somewhat randomly) requested to be placed in Manizales, I was naturally a bit alarmed. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a fan of the cold. Good thing I had packed lots of sweaters I suppose. As for ugly, was it? I had heard it was pretty! I quickly re-googled images to see if it was true – but I just saw the same images of rolling green hills populated by neighbourhoods with a brilliant snow-capped mountain (well, volcano) in the distance. I’d have to see, I thought. And for ‘faldudo’, well that one I had expected. I consider it a positive though as it would make even just a casual walk outside into a bit of a workout.

One of the more gradual hills… faldudo indeed.

Well I’m now a month into my program and I’ve got to say that I do not agree with either feo or frio – while there are ugly parts, the surrounding views more than make up for it. And same for cold – while there have been cold days, it’s generally warm enough to walk around in a tshirt or with a light cardigan. And hilly, yes it is! Even my quick walk to school has me trudge up a bit of a hill so that’s always a good wake-up call at 6:50 in the morning if I haven’t managed to have a coffee yet.

Besides these things, I continue to fall in love with Manizales more and more each day – it’s a small place but it’s packed with charm and surprises. Reflecting on my past month here, I’ve come up with a list of ten things I love about Manizales (so far). Here goes!

1. Manizales is a small city but it doesn’t really feel like one.
There’s still a lot to do in and around the city, so there’s no time to get bored. I tend to be a victim of the paradox of choice– if there’s too much to do, I just won’t do anything. That’s what makes this the perfect environment for me! There’s just the right amount of choice.

2. Transportation. Leaving the house to get somewhere is always a mini-adventure.


Buses: like in most of Colombia, there are no specific set bus routes. Rather, there are a number of buses that run throughout the city that have cards saying which main areas they’re heading to on the front window. As long as you’ve made sure you’re on the right side of the road for the direction you want to go, you just look for the cards on the buses until one you need comes along. You flag it down to stop, hop on, push yourself through a turnstile, and give the driver your change. He counts out your change as he whips around curves and other cars.

The buses that go up and down the hilly neighbourhoods are the best – it’s like getting a ride on a very cheap roller coaster! And, when getting off, the doors usually open as it’s still in motion. To be safe, it’s best to wait til it stops completely, but hey, if you’re a thrill seeker or in need of some duck and roll practice, this is your chance.

Cable Car: you can take a cable car to get around! The highest station is near the downtown core, and there are two more stations that it goes down to – one being the bus station, and then there’s one more in a suburb called Villamaria that can be reached after the cable car crosses over a pretty ravine below. Views are amazing the whole time.

Walking: walking isn’t necessarily that exciting, but what is nice is that you can walk to most places if you want. Another perk of a small city!

3. Hot Springs!
Just a short bus-ride out of the city will bring you to a string of thermal baths. I initially went one day when plans for a hike outside the city were ruined by rain, and it was awesome! It’s the perfect rainy day or evening plan. Better not on a hot day, though, as the water is already pretty hot. The one we visited is called Termales del Otoño. There are two sections: one fancy and expensive one, and one that’s less fancy and cheaper. We went to the second one and had trouble picturing what the nicer one would be like because it was nice as it was!


4. FREE activities.

Just as those of you who know me well know I don’t like cold, you also know I love free things. You can therefore picture me blissfully trotting along the sidewalks of Manizales with no cash in my pockets as I head to the free events here. Last Friday night, a group of us headed to a free musical performance featuring an orchestra and a fourteen-year old American piano prodigy. Plus, apparently these shows happen about every two weeks!

Some free dance classes happen here – in the beautiful park, Bosque Popular. It’s also just nice to hang out in!

Similarly, I’ve just recently found out about free zumba/fitness classes every Tuesday and Sunday, as well as more free cultural events and movie nights at a building right by my house called Confamiliares. Check their calendar out here if you want to know more about it.

Plus, on Sunday mornings until noon there’s also a Ciclovia here just like in Bogota – the main street is closed to cars to allow for biking, jogging and walking throughout the city.

5. Hiking.
Ever since graduating, I’ve realized how much I love hiking. It was fun to do it near home in Algonquin Park, in Hawaii, in British Columbia, and in Peru, but is hiking a thing in Colombia? I wasn’t sure. Turns out, yes! There are some awesome treks throughout the country that I definitely want to do eventually, but for now, I’m excited because there’s a local Manizales hiking group that goes out every weekend to do various routes.

I’ve only gone once so far, but it was awesome. I was picturing more of a leisurely stroll throughout the countryside, but it was actually pretty physically demanding and went through some really beautiful sections. There was one part that made it feel as if we were in the middle of the jungle – so cool! If you’re interested in joining the groups, you can find a link here to their facebook page.

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6. Centro.
The centre of Manizales is an interesting place. Some may call it ugly and dangerous, but I prefer to think of it as a magical treasure trove much like Ariel’s undersea collection – “it’s got gadgets and gizmos aplenty, it’s got whoozits and whatzits galore.”

Literally every store vendor in Centro. 


There are various sections where you can find sets of stores selling roughly the same things. For example, I got my mattress in the main furniture area, and my duvet and pillow in the duvet & pillow area. Not kidding.

It also isn’t even that ugly – many of the buildings are built in an older style giving it a bit of a grungy European look. Plus the cathedral is really beautiful!


7. El Cable.
El Cable is probably my favourite area of town. It’s the main area to go out at night to bars or clubs, but also has nice cafés and restaurants and also a big mall with a movie theatre. Plus, an incredible empanada place can be found here, called San Juanitas. Find it here. The general vibe of El Cable is always fun and bustling.

8. Climbing Gym.
I was excited to learn that there was a nice bouldering gym here in Manizales. It’s not very big, but it has a lot of routes and variety so it’s an awesome place to improve on skills even for those with a low level like me. In addition to monthly memberships, they also offer a training program with cross-fit and technical practice at a reasonable price. I can’t wait to get started on it to finally see some good improvement in my climbing skills! You can find out more about the gym on their facebook page here.

9. Location, location, location.
Manizales is ideally located in the country as well for day- or weekend-trips to other towns and cities nearby. Three of the country’s main cities, Bogota, Medellin, and Cali, are all a reasonably long bus ride away, between 4 and 7 hours each. I know I’ll be heading back to Bogota soon to visit family, but I’m looking forward to escaping to Medellin and Cali soon during some long weekends. There are also smaller cities and towns that are, like Manizales, part of the coffee region. Some examples are Pereira, Armenia, Salento, and Santa Rosa de Cabal. It’s easy to just head to the bus terminal, buy a ticket, and be on your way!



Views in Manizales are incredible. On a clear, sunny day you can see the surrounding mountains and hills clearly, and sometimes even the Nevado del Ruiz and other snow-capped mountains nearby, like I wrote about in my last post. There was even one very foggy day (one of many to come, I’m sure) which led to there being no views at all, which is also kind of cool to see. My school is quite high up in the city so when sitting in the teacher’s room, looking out the window, it can sometimes feel like we’re in the middle of the sky. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of admiring the city’s views.

Just look at that view outside one of my classrooms! 🙂

So there you have it! Ten amazing things about Manizales and therefore ten good reasons you should come visit me over here, or at least visit the city if you’re in Colombia. You won’t regret it! 🙂

Will be trying to post more frequently in coming days now that I’ve gotten into more of a routine here!

Til then,