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Renting a car (self-drive) from MDE

Renting a car (self-drive) from MDE

Old Sep 19, 15, 2:31 am
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Renting a car (self-drive) from MDE

We are considering renting a car at MDE to drive to Jardin, Manizales & Santa Rosa de Cabal, Termales San Vincente to visit various areas for birding. Is it safe?

My main concerns are scams from the rental car companies (false scratches, etc), corrupt police, highway bandits and thieves who target rental cars.

We would be visiting national parks like Pro Aves Reserve at Ventanas near Jardin, Rio Blanco & Los Nevados, probably parking the car at the entrance and walking around the park with birding guides.

I have previous experience driving in Brazil, Thailand, South Africa and of course Australia and USA.

We would probably use a major like Hertz, Avis, Thrifty, etc.
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Old Sep 20, 15, 12:57 pm
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I rented a car in Bogotá and it cost me about $50 per day, nicer people than expected to do business with and they delivered the car and picked it up again afterwards.

I don't think the same people operate in Medellín but there is one company that crops up regularly with a good presence, I will try to think of what it is

I'd have some comments about your journey though

I have driven Medellín to Jardín. It's a nice enough road, about 3-4 hours. Nicer during the day as it is a bit dark at night.

Jardín to Manizales you should not rely on a map. You cannot drive Jardín Riosucio Manizales as it would appear. You can but not in a rental car. Not unless you rent a Land Rover. You have to go back towards Medellín about 90 mins and then turn off at Bolombolo towards Jericó. Instead of going up to Jericó though you go back to the Autopista del Café.

From Manizales no problem driving down to Santa Rosa de Cabal, or onwards to the thermals. The road is paved most of the way, only about 500m of gravel right at the end

Nobody will target rental cars because they are indistinguishable from regular cars. The very few times I have driven I have had no problem with transit police, but do expect to be stopped randomly and so long as your papers are in order there will be no issues.

Main risk is that Colombian roads are full of people that don't know how to drive.

I have some bad news regarding other places you want to visit.

The Pro Aves reserve at Ventanas is Reserva Natural de las Aves Loro Orejiamarillo. I know this is on the Pro Aves website but it is closed. There is nothing to stop you going there, but there are no staff, some lonely hummingbird feeders swinging in the wind and an empty cabin. I don't know why they still have it on their website.

For birding you need to go up there (you need a 4x4) and then you descend, I did it with a birding guide and Jeep, the driver went ahead and we regularly caught up with him. You need to leave early and the road is prone to mudslides so could be cancelled all together.

Best thing to do would be to stay at Valdivia Plaza and email Flora the owner telling her you want a birding guide and Jeep for the day. The same guide will then walk you down to the river to see the Rupicola Peruvianas at the end of the day, this is a spectacular site.

Where you'd park your car in Jardín I have no idea

Rio Blanco is spectacular but almost impossible to visit. You cannot just pitch up in your rental car and expect to enter. It has to be organised in advance and requires the participation of a complicit taxi driver. The only person I know that can organise this is the owner of one of the hostels. Expect to pay about $20 for the taxi and then have to grease the palm of the guy that lives in the lodge on the top of the park. His wife will make you aguapenela and give you some home made cheese.

Parque de los Nevados is closed at the Nevado del Ruiz entrance from Manizales. you cannot go, period. Aviatur has the concession and closed it about 5 years ago due to volcanic activity, they never reopened it

Given where you are, you should also go to Cocora and walk all the way through to the hummingbirds at Acaime

Happy travels

Last edited by JohnnyColombia; Sep 20, 15 at 1:04 pm
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Old Sep 21, 15, 4:53 am
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Thank you JohnnyColombia for the fantastic and detailed information! Are you a birder by chance? Not many people who aren't birders would know about the Reserva Natural de las Aves Loro Orejiamarillo! I did email Pro Aves and they said I could go to the reserve and gave me the contact of a guide. There was another reserve I wanted to go to (Fuertes Parrots) that they said was closed but I think I have found an alternate location - the one near Santa Rosa de Cabal. Can you see Loro Orejiamarillo from the Valdivia Plaza location?

The location in PNN Nevado del Ruiz may actually be on the outskirts of the park because birders have been getting into it. It's in the Paramo area. http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S22850304

For Rio Blanco, I think I just have to contact them in advance, Trip Advisor is full of reports from people who have been there. We don't mind paying for birding guides as that benefits eco-tourism, helps the birds and helps us as these guys have way better eyesight than we do! I'll probably hire a birding guide in Manizales for this location and the Paramo one. Are you familiar with that place on the map?

About the car, the whole reason I want one is because transport between Jardin and Manizales is difficult. Otherwise we would be happy with buses. It seems simple enough to get a taxi to Medellin terminale sud and get a bus to Jardin. Then it's also easy to get buses on the Manizales - Santa Rosa de Cabal - Pereira route and then finally to Bogota by either bus or plane, probably from Pereira.

If we used buses, we would hire taxis/4WD to get to the birding hotspots, the bird guide would probably arrange this.

If we rent a car from Avis, it would be a Chevy Captiva SUV with automatic. 4 days comes to 1,337,200.000 COP or $436 USD. It probably is cheaper to use buses and then hire cars to the birding sites.

Do you know how to get from Jardin to Manizales by bus other than going all the way back to Medellin Terminal de Sur and swapping buses which would take about 8 hours?
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Old Sep 21, 15, 12:40 pm
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Hi Tiki

No I am not a birder, let's call me someone with a camera that likes to know what birds he has photographed, I have friends in the States that help me identify them. I went to Reserva Natural de las Aves Loro Orejiamarillo with birders and I went from Valdivia Plaza with a guide and Jeep organised by Flora because Pro Aves let us down. They cannot be depended upon given my limited experience but their field guide is excellent and supposing you have a Spanish speaking guide, he can just point the birds out to you in the guide. Ive been to Jardín a few times because it is bewitching. I have driven a friend's car down there, I have taken a privately contracted car (expensive) and the last time I took a public bus from Terminal Sur. Bear in mind that Terminal Sur is on the other side of the river from Poblado so you not far in a taxi. It is actually next door to EOH

I have never done it myself but last year I sent an Australian lady on the route Jardín - Riosucio - Manizales. I would not do this in a car unless it was an SUV and I think if I had a Colombian Chevrolet Captiva I would be making sure it is the 4x4 version. But the lady arrived OK making a simple change in Riosucio. So it's a buseta that rumbles up the mountain, past the reserve and then onwards to Riosucio. I don't know how long it takes but this is the most direct route. Once again, I wouldn't drive this. I have long thought about getting a car in Colombia and it would be a trail rated Jeep for the one time I want to drive this route. If you are considering buses through, then this route is possible, there are regular battered old buses going up there and I have never heard of any problems. Whilst you are walking back down from the reserve the buses are flying past you, and given we had quite a lumpy ride in a Willys, I honestly wondered how they managed it but they do.

There is a third route that goes north of Andes straight across to Manizales, I don't know if you can see this on a map but it does not go over the mountain and it is also unpaved. I'd probably chance that in my own rented Captiva if I had one.

The bus Medellín to Jardín you should have no concerns about whatsoever.

Yes I understand that it is possible to go to the sub páramo and páramo next to los Nevados but I have never been. So long as you understand that you cannot get into the park itself then we're both on the same page

Rio Blanco I went to on a whim and that same Australian lady went and I sent an email to the right hostel owner and got her in there. I will happily oblige you by PM but won't post the details on here because the poor woman will possibly get inundated.

If you want to use buses (I would largely because parking on the street is illegal everywhere in Colombia.) Then I would do Medellin to Jardin on a bus, then contract a Jeep and guide from the hotel. Then I would take that over the mountain bus to Riosucio and change for Manizales. Cab to a hostel where the owner would organise a taxi to Rio Blanco, then bus it down to Pereira for the rest of your trip.
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Old Sep 22, 15, 11:10 am
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Originally Posted by JohnnyColombia View Post
If you want to use buses (I would largely because parking on the street is illegal everywhere in Colombia.) Then I would do Medellin to Jardin on a bus, then contract a Jeep and guide from the hotel. Then I would take that over the mountain bus to Riosucio and change for Manizales. Cab to a hostel where the owner would organise a taxi to Rio Blanco, then bus it down to Pereira for the rest of your trip.
This is an interesting thread. I've lived in Colombia for years and never done anything as adventurous as you guys are discussing. I am going to make a point of doing a tour like this when the kids are a little older.

I do agree that buses are the way to go, though I would not have said that because of parking. At least in the Medellin area and the town where I live there is a fair bit of legal on street parking, though it is often occupied. However, I would rarely park on the street with any late model car. There are always inexpensive paid parking lots available.
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Old Sep 22, 15, 3:53 pm
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Interesting that there is legal street parking in Medellín. I have parked in certain places there. Anywhere around where I live, you park on the street and you get towed. Thinking of the hotel options in Jardín and Manizales, I cannot imagine where it would be possible to park.

You should definitely do some road trips coolcoil. Have you been to Jardin?
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Old Sep 23, 15, 3:47 am
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Originally Posted by JohnnyColombia Then I would do Medellin to Jardin on a bus, then contract a Jeep and guide from the hotel. Then I would take that over the mountain bus to Riosucio and change for Manizales. Cab to a hostel where the owner would organise a taxi to Rio Blanco, then bus it down to Pereira for the rest of your trip.
This seems the best way to go!

I had no idea parking would be such a hassle in small towns, I just assumed the hotels would have some kind of parking for their guests. Anyway, it seems like it would be cheaper to use buses for most of my routes, even if I have to get a taxi to Andes or get the guide to drop us in Rio Sucio if he has a 4WD. He can get either a car or 4WD at $50/75 respectively. Do they have those share taxis like collectivos? If there aren't too many seats, it can sometimes be cheaper to just buy all the unoccupied seats in those.

I'm not worried about the guide's language, if he doesn't speak English, he can write the birds down in Spanish and I will translate it later. The trip isn't until April so I haven't worried too much about booking individual guides yet, just getting ball park figures for the budget. I'm keeping an eye on eBird to see what reports come in.

LOL coolcoil, I am probably one of the very few FT'ers/bloggers who is more interested in the remote small towns - actually the national parks that are located near them. No Park Hyatts or Intercons to attract most miles/points collectors! Gotta go where the birds are!

I do have one problem in Bogota, Johnny would you know what happened here? You probably don't frequent the Club Carlson forum. I chose that property because it is closer to Chingaza NP.

The other part of this trip is Santa Marta to El Dorado, another Pro Aves lodge but at least that one has online booking. My dilemma is that we arrive around 9:45pm from Bogota on Avianca (miles of course). I would prefer to take a taxi direct to Minca so we can get an early start to El Dorado the next morning. Is this dangerous/difficult to do at night? It's easy enough to book something in Minca on Booking.com.

Last edited by Tiki; Sep 23, 15 at 3:55 am
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Old Sep 23, 15, 11:38 am
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I don't know what happened to your Park Inn sorry

I have never been to Minca, but it's only 45 mins (ish) from SMR isn't it?

I know that Pro Aves works with a hotel in the town (I think it is called Hotel Minca) and can provide the transfers to the hotel and then onwards to El Dorado the next day. So I'd be inclined to just follow their advice regarding that transfer and somewhere to stay in the town.
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Old Oct 4, 15, 6:14 am
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Originally Posted by JohnnyColombia View Post
Interesting that there is legal street parking in Medellín. I have parked in certain places there. Anywhere around where I live, you park on the street and you get towed. Thinking of the hotel options in Jardín and Manizales, I cannot imagine where it would be possible to park.

You should definitely do some road trips coolcoil. Have you been to Jardin?
Sorry it has taken so long to reply. I've been on the road a lot lately.

No, I have not been to Jardin. We started off in that direction once. We were in Medellin visiting freinds, and they suggested we all pile in the car and go there. I did not realize that they had no idea how far Jardin was from Medellin (I certainly did not). They thought it was just an hour or so away. We drove for an hour before I saw a sign that said we were 150 km from Jardin. It wasn't the first time I made the mistake of assuming my wife and her friends actually knew where we were going, but I won't make that mistake again, at least for a while.

Though I've lived in Colombia for quite a while now, I really have not seen much of the country. Other than occasional trips to Cali and Santa Marta support local sales for my company, I've not been anywhere but Medellin and Bogota. On top of that, I have to haul the brood to the USA every year or so to show them off to my family. We talk about vacationing inside the country all of the time, but with three small kids, being limited to travel during the high season because of school schedules and building a house we have just never pulled the trigger. Adventure vacations are definitely out until the kids are a bit older, as my wife will not sign up for those so it will have to be just me and one or two of the children.
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Old Oct 11, 15, 2:19 pm
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I can't imagine ever driving in Colombia. It's nuts. If you're not driving fast, hug the outside edge because people WILL pass in the middle. In the cities your head always has to be on a swivel for Motos, they are everywhere and will weave pass on both sides, zip past you at any moment on either side. Sometimes bikes will even hang off your car, this usually happens with bigger trucks mostly though. Also, busses stop EVERYWHERE, so whenever possible, don't follow one.

Originally Posted by coolcoil View Post
They thought it was just an hour or so away. We drove for an hour before I saw a sign that said we were 150 km from Jardin.
This is like when the bus companies say it'll take 6 hours, then you wake up 11 hours later and still aren't there. I know it's an estimate and anything can happen, but if the last 100 trips have taken 8 hours, don't tell me it's 6.
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Old Oct 14, 15, 8:54 pm
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Originally Posted by coolcoil View Post
Sorry it has taken so long to reply. I've been on the road a lot lately.



Though I've lived in Colombia for quite a while now, I really have not seen much of the country. Other than occasional trips to Cali and Santa Marta support local sales for my company, I've not been anywhere but Medellin and Bogota.
Do you know the road to Minca very well? We arrive in Santa Marta airport around 21:30 and I would much prefer to book a guesthouse there, then get an earlier start to El Dorado the next morning. Is it feasible to get an airport taxi to Minca that time of night?
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