Just 10 minutes outside the town of Armenia, the well-run Jardín Botánico del Quindío (Km. 3 Vía al Valle, tel. 6/742-7254, cell tel. 310/835-0236, 9am-4pm daily, English tour COP$30,000) is home to hundreds of tree and plant species, many of which are threatened.

Knowledgeable volunteer guides, who are usually college students, lead visitors on a mandatory 2.5-hour tour along jungle paths, stopping every so often to point out flora that you would have overlooked had you walked through on your own. That might strike you as a major time commitment, but it really doesn’t seem like it. In addition to palms (which aren’t technically trees) and guadua (which is actually related to grass), look out for matapalos, a tree that wraps itself around other trees, strangling them as they fight for sunlight. It’s been lovingly nicknamed the abrazo de la suegra (mother-in-law’s hug).

The mariposario (enclosed butterfly garden) at the Jardín Botánico del Quindío. Photo © Andrew Dier.

The mariposario (enclosed butterfly garden) at the Jardín Botánico del Quindío. Photo © Andrew Dier.

Look out for matapalos, a tree that wraps itself around other trees, strangling them as they fight for sunlight.In Colombia where there is tropical forest, there will be birds. The gardens are no exception, and they are home to at least 119 species. The birds are at their most active early in the morning. Some of the commonly seen species include tanagers, toucans, owls, woodpeckers, the multi-colored torito cabecirrojo (red-headed barbet), and iconic barranqueros or barranquillos (blue-crowned motmots). These birds make their nests in the earth.

Rodent residents who frequently make cameo appearances are ardillas (squirrels) and cute guatines (Central American agoutis). By far the most photographed sector of the park is the mariposario (enclosed butterfly garden) in the shape of a giant butterfly, home to thousands. This is an interactive experience, in which visitors are encouraged to coax the insects to light on their fingers, arms, and shoulders. Butterflies are livelier when the sun is out.

Guides are volunteers, and although the entry price is steep, it’s good form to tip the guides after the tour. Call in advance to inquire about English-speaking tours.

It’s easy to get to the park using public transportation from Armenia. Just look for a bus from the Plaza de Bolívar or along Avenida Bolívar that says “Jardín Botánico.”


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Colombia.