Sitting in a valley in the midst of the Andes, Medellin has an allure that, in recent years especially, pulls travelers in droves. For some time, mention of its name brought memories of cartel-inflicted terror but today, the vibe is serene and friendly, but these days, this South American spot deemed “the city of eternal spring” is one of Colombia’s biggest bragging points.
On a sunny day, Paisas mingle in public squares and the voices of fruit vendors mix with salsa music flooding from open doors. After heavy rain, clouds roll in level with windows of hillside homes. The city is, after all, perched nearly 5,000 feet in the sky.
That point alone should interest explorers with an affinity for hiking. Medellin is many things but for outdoorsy mountain types, it’s undoubtedly a bucket-list destination. In addition to the nightlife of El Poblado, the artwork of Botero, and the funicular, many hostels and guidebooks will recommend heading to Guatapé to climb the steps of the 650-foot El Peñol, but the trails that snake through the mountains that surround Medellin are an underrated treasure and a richer experience.
Luckily, there's a suitable hike whatever the fitness level may be. The state of Antioquia, with its lush foliage, challenging terrain, and picturesque views won’t disappoint and to top it off, the traditional hearty food will be just the thing to tuck into after trying any of these below hikes.
The rocky trailhead starts just past the tourist park and straight past the trout restaurant with a steep, uphill climb but don’t be thrown: the El Salado hike is relatively easy with safe footing the whole way. Those traveling solo can feel safe to go at it alone or, if hiking with a beginner, this trail gets the green light. This picturesque hike brings visitors on a winding route past farmland and quaint fincas before gradually climbing up towards the top. About an hour and a half in, the trees open up affording sightseers an incredible view of the Medellin valley. This spot is easily a trail highlight and likely the best place to stop for photos and snacks. After making it back down on this out-and-back route, be sure to keep an eye out for the restaurant beside the stream. Hikers who have worked up an appetite will be rewarded with trout caught fresh from these very waters. If lucky, a group might even spot restaurant staff fishing as they have lunch. As for timing, this one is what you make it. Since the best view comes ninety minutes in, a three-hour round trip will do just fine.
Feats like El Morran, should not be taken lightly. Make no mistake: this one’s for hikers of at least intermediate-level ability. And those who are squeamish with heights may be better suited to a different route. To get to the trail, hikers need to take the metro to Niquía station (the northernmost stop) which happens to be in the small town of Copacabana. The route starts at the base of the mountain on a paved zig-zag walkway towards Santurio De Laz Cruz but don’t let that fool you: this hike is a killer. Though it’s approximately eight miles, the battle is in the 3,200 feet of elevation gain in the first half. If steep climbs are your thing, El Morran is the gift that just keeps giving as new peaks seem to appear just when hikers may have thought they’d reached the top. Treading along the spines of mountains en route to Santa Elena, active travelers need to pay careful attention to their footing as it can be quite tricky, especially after a rainfall. With the climb, hikers will surely notice a shift in climate and environment with the forest at the top being much cooler. Actually, it’s during these times that single-track trail can be hard to follow so going with a guide would be smart for the first time attempting this one. Yes, El Morran is brutal at times but it’s in those tough sections where the scenery is most spectacular. High in the clouds, sights like these are usually seen from airplane windows only. The six-hour route finishes in Parque Arví which is a popular tourist spot above the city, though most won’t have trekked through the mountains to get there. After a tough hike, sore hikers will also be grateful for the cable car ride down.
Hiking in Arenales will easily be a trip highlight and may just convince a hiker to stay in Colombia. It’s hard to believe a place can actually be this stunning with a trail that zig-zags back and forth over clear creek waters, through thick foliage, past two waterfalls, up a rock wall and eventually along the spongy grounds of a pine forest. This route is located in the hills of Envigado and eventually finishes at La Catedral—the luxury prison which drug lord Pablo Escobar built for himself. It comes in at just under four miles which isn’t lengthy but because of the technical terrain and 1,100-foot elevation gain, it should take about three hours give or take. Arenales certainly packs in a lot but the most memorable parts will surely be taking a dip in the pools below the rushing waterfalls: Chorro Campanas and Salto del Angel. If going alone, simply head to the Envigado metro station and take the bus marked “Arenales” which will head up the mountain to the final stop by the same name. Since the trail itself can be difficult to follow though, hiring and going with a guide may be wisest.
La Romera is a protected zone in the mountains of Sabaneta and a magnet for bird watchers, hikers, cyclists and runners. The greenspace is a sprawling 230 hectares in Medellin’s south that features wildlife, natural springs and lookout points from more than 6,500 feet up. La Romera has been nicknamed the lungs of Medellin because of its diverse oxygen-producing plant life. Needless to say, it’s a tranquil environment to wander through on a Saturday afternoon with outdoorsy friends. This hike also happens to be a top bird watching destination—one won’t even have to look that hard to spot neon wings flapping, hanging nests swaying overhead, or a tiny hummingbird zipping by. To get there, locate the start of Calle 65 Sur in Sabaneta and follow it straight until the road turns into a pathway. The La Romera sign will be difficult to miss. Hikers looking to for a shorter route can cut out this section and take a taxi as it’s not yet technically part of La Romera however those who don’t mind the extra mileage will love the cheery fincas and flower gardens. Timewise, this is again what you make it: those who wish to go the distance can easily make a full afternoon of it (with stops) however two or three hours of exploration here should suffice. The views here are impeccable and visitors will definitely be able to appreciate the lush vegetation that Colombia is so famous for. Working up an appetite will be no problem here which is why, upon making it back to the bottom, ravenous hikers will appreciate the selection of traditional Paisa (read: local to Antioquia) restaurants in the vicinity. Tip for the hungriest of the bunch: keep an eye out for Bandeja Paisa—Medellin’s renowned dish which is a meat-heavy platter of ground beef, chorizo, chicharrón, rice, beans, arepa, egg and avocado.
CERRO DE LAS TRES CRUCES
Cerro de las Tres Cruces is a route enjoyed by beginners and longtime hikers alike. From start to finish, it should take about an hour meaning there will be plenty of time to knock another activity off the list later. It starts and finishes in the neighbourhood of Belen and since it’s quite a popular out-and-back trail for tourists, just ask any local to point you in the right direction in case you get lost. Cerro de las Tres Cruces is popular among tourists (thanks to it being a trail anyone can handle) and so it’s possible hikers will bump into like-minded folks along the way. Hiking above Medellin, visitors are afforded a sweeping view of the city and at the top, fresh-squeezed juices are available to quench the thirst. Sampling Colombia’s many delicious fruits is an absolute must and after hiking in the mountains, there’s no better way to rehydrate. The feature of this hike that especially sets it apart from the rest is the outdoor gym at the top for those who desire to sweat just a little bit more. These outdoor spaces are quite a common sight in Medellin and for a true fitness fanatic, what could be better than enjoying a quick workout while looking down on the entire city?