If you like nature and adventure sports, Jardin is definitely the place to visit in Colombia! One of the best trails and easiest ones to access from town is the one that takes you to the Cross on top of the Salada Hill (Vereda La Salada) just to the north of the town center. This is a rocky and often times muddy trail due to the frequent rains. The trail makes its way through lush wet forest, hence the name given by the locals- “El Camino de La Selva” or The Jungle Path.
The entire trek takes anywhere from three to four hours, depending on how many brakes you take and/or how muddy the trail is. I would classify this hike as “moderately strenuous” due to the high probability of accidents- it’s easy to slip and fall as there are many big and small rocks all throughout the trail. The trail is best known to visitors as “El Camino de La Cruz” as the path follows exactly fourteen crosses, the same number as in The Way of the Cross or a “Viacrucis” all the way to the top to reach one last giant cross. This giant cross lights up at night and can easily be seen anywhere from town making it an icon of Jardin. A lot of devout Catholics in the region come together on the 3rd of May to do the trek to the top, as a sort of pilgrimage, to repent for their sins.
Whether you wish to do this hike to get a nice perspective of the town and surrounding mountains OR to do your own pilgrimage, here are some directions to help you get on your way:
Find the stone path or camino de piedra; which begins at the end of “Calle 13” just northeast of town. Follow it all the way up the mountain. About twenty minutes after the start, you will come to a place where the road splits into two. The left goes towards a place known as “La Argelia”, don’t go there, stay on the path to continue straight. Eventually on the road you will spot some “fincas” or local mountain houses on the side of the road that offer some traditional snacks for sale like papas rellenas (stuffed potatoes), and empanadas, good to buy for when you need energy on the trail. About twenty minutes later you will come to a fork where you can go right towards the “Cascada La Escalera” which is a waterfall, or left. Take the left to continue going up the mountain. Approximately 15 minutes later you will reach another finca with the name of “El Paraiso” on the right side, with the mountain that you need to climb just behind it. The entrance to begin The Way of the Cross trail is just to the left of El Paraiso. You will see Cross # 1 and the sign that marks the beginning of the trail.
You immediately begin the climb but it won’t get very steep until you have reached Cross #5. The crosses will be about 5 to 7 minutes apart from one another. Sometimes they are easy to spot, and other times they will be almost hidden by the lush forest around them, like the one in the photo below:
You will go through a couple of small waterfall crossings shortly after. And at Cross #8 you will begin to get amazing views of the surrounding “veredas” or hills with Jardin in the valley below.
After Cross #11, you will come to a gate. Just push it open, they keep them closed to prevent cattle from escaping. Here you will find a nice running creek and some rocks where you can sit and take a well-deserved break and eat your local snacks! You may be tempted to fill up your water bottle here as the water looks so inviting but be sure to treat it as there are plenty of cows living up the mountain just above the creek.
At the creek, you will find that there are more trails heading in different directions. Take the one farthest to the left. If you were to take the path to the right you would end up heading towards La Cueva del Esplendor, another popular trek in Jardin approximately two additional hours from the creek. A local guide is highly recommended to go to the Cave to avoid getting lost.
The trail will get tricky from this point onward so you’ll have to be on the lookout for the three remaining crosses. After going up the hill, you will see green pastures all around and hardly any trail left as it has been covered by the ever-growing grass. From here look up ahead and you should be able to spot Cross #12 towards the right. If you can’t see it then stay to the left and walk along the fence.
You will begin to see a group of cows to your left on the other side of the fence. Keep hiking along the fence until you reach a gate. Cross the gate and continue to walk in a straight line alongside a row of tall trees from where you will eventually be able to spot Cross #13.
While standing by Cross #13, look up ahead to spot another fence with a gate. If you see it, walk towards it. If you don’t see it, follow the row of trees until it ends, then go to the fence in front of you and walk alongside it towards the right, going up hill. You will eventually reach the yellow gate.
Look to the left past the yellow gate and you will spot Cross #14 at a distance. Cross the yellow gate and continue to head up the hill towards the last cross of the “viacrucis”.
At this point in your trek, you are well into cattle territory and you will see a few cows (some with horns) standing around that may have been startled by your presence. Be sure to steer clear of them as you continue to head up towards Cross #14.
Once you reach Cross #14, stay on the trail to the left of it and continue to go up hill. At this point you may be able to spot parts of the dirt trail that have been uncovered by other trekkers or cows.
You will see a pond to your left (previous photo) and a few minutes later a pond to your right (photo below). The cows are usually around these two ponds. From here you have expansive and beautiful views of the Veredas (hills) to your left.
Continue the trail up the hill past the second pond and begin to veer towards the left (not towards the forested hill top that you see to the right). At this point you should be able to see Jardin down below to your left. Remember to stay to the left of the mountain to find the last part of the trail if it’s not easy to spot.
The trail will finally come to an end where you will see the wooden markers signaling the entrance to the stone path. These series of stone steps will lead you up to the final giant cross- “La Cruz”.
After completing the stone steps, you will see the giant cross to the left standing in a groomed flat area. This place is considered sacred by devout Catholics and should be treated with respect. Pay your respects to the cross, read the prayer posted on the cross, and/or enjoy the views of Jardin from up here… although obstructed by the surrounding vegetation, they are still nice!
Once you are done admiring the giant cross, go up a small trail just behind it to the left and find a wooden structure. This is a nice little place that can serve as refuge from the rain (if needed) and a nice place to meditate or pray.
Once done, head back down the mountain, the same way that you came up. When you reach the Finca El Paraiso back at the first cross, take a right on the dirt road. Continue for about half a mile to find “Cafe Jardin”, a nice coffee house serving pastries, coffee from the region, and milkshakes amongst other yummy treats and the best views of Jardin from above!
You can take a “moto-raton” or tuk tuk from here to get back to Jardin for around COP$15,000 (approx. US$5). Or if you prefer to hike back, take the same dirt road back down. To take a different way back, head towards the other viewpoint known as “Mirador Cristo Rey” for more stunning views of Jardin. Any person at Cafe Jardin will be able to point you in the right direction if you are not able to spot the statue of the “Cristo Rey” or Christ the King from there. From Cristo Rey, you can take the jungle path to the left going through a big banana plantation; which will eventually take you to a bridge. Cross the bridge and go up the hill again to get back into the center of town. This trail can be steep and slippery going down but it also affords some fantastic views of Jardin all along the way.
Here is a photo of the “Farallones de Citara” from Cafe Jardin. Farallon translates into cliff. These are some of the highest peaks in this region of the Andes, standing tall and majestic just west of Jardin.
For information on other hikes, read my post- Exploring the Natural Wonders of Jardín.