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The lush tropical landscapes that surround Medellin are the perfect environment to escape the city and explore a different part of life in Colombia. With over two million inhabitants in Medellin and 500,000 visitors every year, its popularity continues to grow. And while the City of Eternal Spring proves itself to be a great city to live or to visit, sometimes you want to get away from the hustle and bustle (and the pollution!)
There are several fabulous weekend and day trips from Medellin, any of which you can do on your own. Though if you are short on time, hiring a tour is also an option. Perhaps you know some of the most popular ones, but the whole point is to get away from it all and take the road less traveled.
Can’t decide whether you want to take a day trip to climb the large rock in Guatape or a weekend to see the traditional architecture of Jardin? Continue reading to discover what best fits your travel goals. Perhaps you’ll discover some Medellin day trips you didn’t even know about!
Perhaps the most well known Medellin day trip is to Guatape. There are two main reasons to visit Guatape – to climb El Penol de Penon for stunning views of the green rolling hills and lake below and to visit the town itself which is known for its colorful zocalos. This small town is the perfect size and distance from Medellin to explore as a day trip but it’s also interesting enough to turn it into a weekend trip.
The bus from Medellin to Guatape first stops at El Penol before continuing into town. After you climb the rock to take in the amazing views from the top, catch the next bus or a tuk-tuk into town. Sit down to a cup of tinto at one of the many cafes in the square before wandering the streets to admire the colorful zocalos for which Guatape is famous. Each zocalo depicts a different scene, usually representing the family business, a time in history, or a feeling.
How to Get There: Traveling to Guatape is easy to do on your own, whether you plan to spend the day or a full weekend. The bus departs Medellin’s North Terminal every 30 minutes and returns every 30 minutes, with the last bus departing Guatape at 7:30 pm.
If you have the time after Guatape, take a day or two and explore San Rafael, an hour further east. The drive from Guatape to San Rafael is gorgeous. The road curves through layers of vibrant green mountains with stunning vistas. San Rafael itself is a simple Colombian town that sits along the Guatape River with several nice hikes to waterfalls and places to swim.
When you travel to San Rafael, consider booking a stay at Eco Language Hostel. This rustic hostel is located on a residential street high atop a hill that overlooks the valley and town below. Open-air outdoor space and welcoming staff create a laid back, friendly vibe.
Eco Language Hostel offers Spanish classes with active immersion, believing that progress happens outside of the classroom. All Spanish language packages include Spanish lessons in the morning and an outdoor excursion in the afternoon. They also organize a weekly trip to see how a local product, such as cocoa or honey, is produced. They don’t just want you to learn Spanish, they want you to be immersed in their culture!
How to Get There: From Guatape there are regular buses that go to San Rafael for the 60 minute ride. Ask at the bus station in the town of Guatape.
It’s the picturesque homes with colorfully painted accents and balconies that draw visitors to Jardin, but it’s the abundance of nearby nature adventures that keep them engaged. Well, that and spending a leisurely afternoon sipping tinto in one of the many cafes along the square.
Located three hours south of Medellin, you can visit Jardin as a day trip but it would make for a really long day without seeing the best that the area has to offer. Highlights of a trip to Jardin include hiking to Cuerva del Esplendor, paragliding over town and the surrounding mountains, and visiting a private spot on the edge of town where you can see the magnificent Andean bird, Cock-of-the-rock.
And if adventuring in nature isn’t your thing, there’s still plenty of wandering to do in this colonial town. Stroll through the streets to Dulces del Jardin, a sweet shop known for making a variety of arequipe (a sweet dessert of milk and sugar), fruit preserves, and candies. Afterward, walk down the cobblestone path of Camino de la Herrera which takes you to Cascada del Amor, the waterfall of love.
How to Get There: Minibuses leave Medellin for Jardin every hour from the South Terminal and make a brief stop in Andes on the way. If you prefer a bigger bus, they are available with limited hours. It takes about three and a half hours to get from Medellin to Andes by bus.
Surrounded by a beautiful landscape of rolling green hills, this cowboy town is known for two things. It’s the birthplace of Colombia’s first patron saint, Madre Laura, and it’s where the iconic carriel bags are made. These handcrafted pieces are a multi-layered leather bag traditionally carried by farmers to hold their valuables. Nearly every man in Jerico has one slung across his body and there are several workshops in town where you can see the bags being made.
Jerico is more conservative than its well-known neighbor Jardin. And it’s evident in both its people and its architecture, not to mention the numerous churches in this tiny town. When you arrive, you can’t miss the statue, Cristo del Ray perched atop a cliff looking over the entire town and valley below. A short walk through the botanical gardens and up the hill to the Christ statue is something every visitor must do. The views are stunning!
And if you’re up for a little more adventure, tour a family-run coffee farm with Jorge of Cometas Hostel. He has partnered with a local family to show you the full process from bean to cup. On the return hike, he perfectly times a visit to Cascada Arcoiris, or Rainbow waterfall. In the early afternoon, as water flows down the rockface, the sun shines at just the right angle and suddenly a rainbow appears in front of you. It’s pretty spectacular!
Visitors are enamored with this nature reserve just three hours southeast of Medellin. The translucent blue-green river runs through a marble canyon surrounded by tropical rainforest. As the conservation project of a local Colombian man and now his family, this is a true eco-lodge with a vision for the future.
Camping is available at the front of the reserve, or you can rent one of several cabins on site which includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Spend a little extra money for one of the upper cabins which position your sleeping quarters into the trees. You’ll be able to see monkeys and other animals in their natural habitat from your room.
During the day, relax at marble beach, go rafting, or take a guided tour through Caverna del Guacharos, named after the nocturnal birds that inhabit the cave. All meals are included with your cabin rental. With a friendly staff and an abundance of activities, it feels a bit like going to summer camp as a kid.
You can certainly visit Rio Claro as a day trip from Medellin, but it would be a long day with three hours of travel each way. Spend at least one night for a truly memorable experience. Or make this a stop along the way from Medellin to Bogota since Rio Claro is just off the Medellin-Bogota highway. To make reservations in one of the cabins, visit the Rio Claro Nature Reserve website.
San Antonio de Pereira
If you have a sweet tooth, you’ll love this Medellin day trip. A little over an hour south of Medellin and 15 minutes past Rio Negro is San Antonio de Pereira. Visitors are lured to this town for the postres, or desserts and some stay overnight for the weekend nightlife.
When you arrive, you’ll have your choice of dessert shops just off the main square. Choose from places like the eclectic, yet traditional Postres San Antonio or the modern, Dulces y Postres. All of the shops offer samples so that you can decide on your favorite dessert before you purchase. Or better yet, go with friends and share the sweets from several different shops.
To be honest, I don’t have a sweet tooth at all. But when my friend suggested this short day trip from Medellin, I figured I should see what the dessert hype about was all about. Sure, the desserts are sweet and delicious, but my favorite was the available toppings.
There was your traditional syrupy sweet on top of sweet, but my eyes gravitated towards the preserved tropical fruits. I immediately eyed two of my favorites – tomate de arbol and uchuvas. For the non sweet lover, these sweetened preserved versions add the touch of acidity I truly desired.
San Antonio is easily a day trip from Medellin and only made into an overnight trip if you decide to party in one of the discotecas. Locals say the reputation for nightlife developed in the 1960s after young people from the city of Rio Negro started traveling to San Antonio for dancing in the square.
El Carmen de Viboral
Just an hour from Medellin, this town is famous for hand painted ceramics. After discovering the area to be rich in natural minerals needed to create the craft, Eliseo Pareja started the first ceramic workshop in El Carmen de Viboral in the late 1800s. Others followed suit and this small town in Antioquia became the center of Colombia’s ceramics industry.
The love of ceramics is evident throughout the town, starting with the centrally located Calle de la Ceramica where colorful dishes are embedded into the walls, streets, and lampposts. To learn about the history of ceramics in El Carmen de Viboral, visit the Ceramics Museum located in the Cultural Center. Then spend the afternoon exploring the many workshops, or talleres, where you can see the creation of these pieces in person and purchase directly from the artisans.
A woman at Hostel Macondo Inn introduced me to a special clay artisan in El Carmen de Viboral. Her work was more unusual than the others, influenced instead by the native indigenous groups of Colombia, specifically the Muisca people. Mostly making an array of handcrafted clay flutes, her pieces seemed out of place in this town producing molded ceramics. They had character, heart, and soul. That’s when I realized the difference between ceramics and pottery.
Santa Fe de Antioquia
Once the capital of Antioquia, this is one of the most popular day trips from Medellin. Located just an hour and a half north of the city, it’s amazing how much the weather changes from the land of eternal spring to a much more humid, tropical climate.
Founded in 1541, Santa Fe de Antioquia is one of the oldest towns in Colombia, evident by its colonial architecture and cobblestone streets. There are many beautiful churches to admire but perhaps the most iconic thing to do is to walk across Puente de Occidente, the oldest suspension bridge in Colombia.
This traditional town in Antioquia is three hours from Medellin by bus. Far off the tourist trail, Abejorral’s architecture is well preserved. Homeowners are required to ask permission to change the design of their house and most of the woodwork is still done by hand. Riding on horseback through the streets is nearly as common as by car.
The town’s historical center can be explored in an afternoon, but visitors stay overnight for the adventures surrounding the town, such as hiking and rock climbing. One of the newest accommodations, La Casa en el Aire, looks as if it were literally strapped to the side of a rock. Visitors arrive by zipline with their belongings strapped to their side. And can choose from different activities such as a pendulum swing over the forested canopy. Or nap in a hammock suspended over 100 feet above the ground with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains.
This bustling mountain town was once an important commercial hub of Antioquia and center of Colombia’s colonial expansion to the west. The cool nights and slightly warmer days make this a prosperous farming region. The town is known for Las Fiestas Del Maize in August, which celebrates everything about corn from the history, harvest, and processing.
Sonson has a surprising number of museums from the Grandparents’ House Museum to the Museum of Religious Art, and of course a Festival of the Corn museum where you can see a picture of every Queen of the Maize since the festival began over 50 years ago.
Have you discovered any of these Medellin day trips? Do you have any favorites to add? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!