The volcano is part of Los Nevados National Natural Park, which also contains several other volcanoes. The summit of Nevado del Ruiz is covered by large glaciers
It is very special experience to go up through all the different climate and vegetations
Nevado del Ruiz has been active for about two million years, since the early Pleistocene or late Pliocene epoch, with three major eruptive periods. The current volcanic cone formed during the "present" eruptive period, which began 150 thousand years ago.
Finally we arrived at Refugio del Ruiz, the end of the road, about 10 km from La Brisas. Refugio del Ruiz is situated at 4800 metres and here there is a bathroom and opportunity to buy water and warm drinks. There is no accommodation. Our guide said we were walking up to the Colombian flag further up. I had to ask if that was at 5100 metres because that was the altitude we had been told at the hostel we were going to. He said it’s not, but if we wanted we could go to 5125 metres, which was the highest allowed altitude to go to on this kind of tour.
It was cold and very windy. We walked very slowly up stopping to take pictures and admiring the view. The last bit was very hard and you could really feel that the air had less oxygen while ascending. We were only seven who made it to 5125 metres, which is just above the snow line. Descending was very quick.
Walking the 1,2 km up, and 1,2 km back, took 2 hours and 15 minutes.
We made two more photo stops. One was at Chalet Arenales, a place about 3 km from the park entrance at La Brisas. We did not enter in the red house, but here there are accommodation with dorm beds. Chalet Arenales is situated at 4150 metres and here vegetation is very sparse, there are mostly some grass.
Our next stop was at La Brisas, which is the entrance to the national park. Here you pay the entrance fee if you come on your own. We were shown a film about national parks in Colombia and a guide talked about Los Nevados. There are bathrooms and a counter where you can buy snacks, water and warm drinks. At La Brisas there is basic accommodation and you can also camp here.
La Brisas is situated 13 km from the Manizales - Bogotá road at La Esperanza and it is situated at an altitude of 4050 metres. On the surrounding páramo (high altitude grassland) you can see frailejones growing, a typical plant at these altitudes in Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador.
The view can change rapidly here. When I took the second photo the sky was blue behind the mountain. Two minutes later you could not see the mountain at all because of the mist, but before we left you could see the contours of the mountain again.
The bus was going to take us to 4800 metres, but along the way it is necessary to make stops to acclimatize the body to the height. We made some photo stops and one was at Laguna Negra. The lake is situated at 3760 metres and has glacial origin. It is a beautiful view.
By the road a man was selling gloves, caps, scarves and warm clothes. Something you need at this elevation as it is very cold. On the opposite side of the road some soldiers were stationed.
We drove along the Manizales - Bogotá road and it was mostly going uphill. After 29km, at La Esperanza, there is a fork to the right leading to the national park. Before continuing we stopped at Restaurante Lucho for breakfast. We got a fried egg, an arepa and hot chocolate. If you haven’t brought any snacks you can buy some here. It can be good to have some nuts and chocolate later on during the day when you are walking.
After having been on higher elevation we stopped at Hotel Termales for a late lunch and to use the thermal baths. First we had lunch. We got soup and a main course and it was good and filling. Then we went to the changing room to change to swim wear. We were told not to leave anything in the changing room, but to bring everything to the pool. The air is cold so I hurried to the pool and the hot water. It was lovely hanging around in the hot water and we stayed very close to the inlet where the water was warmest. I feared it was going to be very cold getting out of the pool, but the body had been heated and stayed warm. There are three showers next to the pool so that you can rinse most of the sulphur water off the body and at least one of them have warm water (or at least not freezing cold).
Hotel Termales del Ruiz is situated just outside the National Park on the north side and it is at an elevation of 3500 metres (it is the highest situated hotel in the country). It cost 45 000 pesos (July 2008) to stay a night at the hotel and that includes breakfast and baths. If you come here on your own and just want to use the baths it is 12 000/15 000 pesos.
Los Nevados National Parque is 583 square kilometres big and stretches over four departments; Caldas, Risaralda, Tolima and Quindio. The altitude in the park range from 2600 metres to 5325 metres so there are different biotopes. You can find humid cloud forest, open highland (páramo) and at the highest altitudes snow. There are several volcanic peaks in the park and the highest one is El Ruiz, which is 5325 metres. Maybe you read in a newspaper about the eruption of El Ruiz in 1985. It was a terrible catastrophe as the heat melted large part of the snow cover and water and mud floating down the slope swept away a whole town and killed 20 000 people.
I booked a day tour to Los Nevados National Park through Mountain House in Manizales. The tour was 95 000 pesos (July 2008) and that price included transport, guide, entrance fee to the park, breakfast, lunch and thermal baths. We were six foreign tourists from Mountain House and 16 Colombian tourists on the tour. We were picked up at the hostel just after 7.00 and came back just before 18.00. The bus took us as high as 4800 metres and from there we walked up to 5125 metres, which was the highest altitude we were allowed to go to. If you want to walk to the top of El Ruiz there are other guides and you can take a two day tour.
It is very cold and windy so gloves and a cap is necessary. Dress with several layers and put on good walking shoes. You will also need sunglasses as the sun is strong and reflecting in the snow. And you will need a lot of sun block for your face.
The Cathedral in Manizales doesn’t look like other churches in Colombia. It is built in a neo-Gothic style and was constructed between 1928 - 1939. The two churches that had stood on the site before had been destroyed in an earthquake and a fire. The present church has got four towers, which are dedicated to the saints Mark, Paul. Inés and Francis. The highest tower is 106 metres and that makes it the highest church tower in Colombia. There are fine reliefs on the three front bronze doors. The reliefs shows the history of the cathedral and the city Manizales. The church have got many colourful stained glass windows.
The Gold Museum in Manizales is small, but have got a nice collection of gold and ceramic items. The artefacts are of the Quimbaya people. On the wall outside the gold room there is an interesting drawing showing the topography of Colombia, from west to east (at the latitude of Manizales I guess). There is also a library.
The museum is situated on the second floor of the Banco de la República building.
Admission is free.
It is open between 8 - 11.30 and 14 - 18 on Mondays - Fridays.
This is the main shopping street of Manizales. It makes a pleasant walk popping in and out of shops and eateries, from the Catedral to Parque Caldas, Iglesia de la Inmaculada Concepcion and Centro Comerical Parque Caldas.
In the evening, there might be street musicians at Parque Caldas.
On a little hill, in the south-west side of town, there is an interesting sculpture of Los Colonizadores with men and horses and flags and capes.
There is another intriguing and intricate sculpture with a mixture of miniature architecture and cows (or something to that effect).
This is actually my favourite site here in Manizales. It is also a thoroughly delightful walk to get to here.
The cathedral is a gigantic Gothic-style building. Its main tower, 106m high, makes it the highest church tower in Colombia.
The present building is the third church to be erected here, as the first 2 had been destroyed by earthquakes and flames. Now, this church is constructed with reinforced concrete.
In front of the church is the spacious Plaza de Bolivar. What is interesting here is the Bolivar-Condor monument. This is an interesting scultpure by Rodrigo Arenas Betancur, which was a man with a condor-style upper body with outspread wings. Then, below this condor-man, there is a face of, presumably, Simon Bolivar.
This church sits on the east side of the Caldas Park. It is a newer church, due to Manizales constantly being destoyed by earthquakes there are not many historical buildings left in the city.
Anyways, it supposedly has a nice wood carved interior, however I was not able to enter the church.
Following Manizales main street, Carrera 23, east will take you to Parque Caldas. This is a nice little park, with a church and a fountain and all the usuals.
On the north of the park is a large shopping centre called Centro Comercial Parque Caldas, there are entrances on street level, or there is also an entrance, by way of pedestrian bridge, to near the top of the mall. It is a neat mall with hundreds of shops selling most anything from clothes to electronics to haircuts. There is also a food court and children play-area at the top. The way the mall is built is quite neat, it starts on ground level and then has a gradually inclining walkway that goes up, following the outside of the building, kinda like a corkscrew, lined with shops on either side. At some points there is an open area and you can look down into the hollow centre part of the mall. There is also an elevator.
As I visited Manizales during the 'Feria', the park itself was always full of people, as well as merchants selling random party-food stuffs and big tanks selling Poker beer in 1L cups. There were also street performers and the likes.
About 1 or 2 blocks to the east of the park is a little open air theatre, called Teatro Los Fundadores that they held some of the 'Feria' events, concerts and such.