Best Day Trips From Medellín

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The town of San Rafael is worth seeing, but the gem of the area is the Río Guatapé.
The town of San Rafael is worth seeing, but the gem of the area is the Río Guatapé.

Not to go all Southwest Airlines on you all, but sometimes we all want to get away.

It’s not even because of an embarrassing moment, such as the funny faux pas of the commercials, but we just need a break from the congestion of the big city.

The problem is, sometimes we have only a day. That’s what this list is for, to help you figure out the best days trips from Medellín.

We hope you enjoy these places as much as we do.

1. San Rafael

I had heard of San Rafael but had never been there. The closest I had gotten was the bridge that takes you east of Guatapé (spoiler alert).

That all changed when my parents came to visit me in Colombia for the first time and my good friend Juan Carlos insisted on showing them a good time.

We did the Guatapé/El Peñol tour, albeit an abbreviated one, because Juan Carlos really wanted to show us San Rafael, specifically the river that passes the city.

I never expected I’d be making it No. 1 in a best day trips story.

There are several places you can go along the Río Guatapé that offer swimming, camping, barbecuing, zip-lining and other fun activities. We didn’t go to any of them.

Instead we went to a private property along the banks of the river, a place we had the privilege of going only because Juan Carlos is familiar with the owners.

Out of respect for them, I can’t tell you where it is. But you have other parts of the river to enjoy the amenities I told you about above, and the town — with its pretty church and old colonial architecture — is open to everyone’s enjoyment as well, all of it just a 3-hour bus ride away for 17,000 pesos (about $9).

Maybe we’ll run into each other there someday. Because it won’t be at my secret spot on the river.

I had been looking for Arenales for more than two years. I finally found it again.
I had been looking for Arenales for more than two years. I finally found it again.

2. Arenales

My first excursion here came after living in Medellín for only a couple of months and I had been looking for it ever since because I didn’t know how to get back and I lost the contact information for the people who took me there.

I found it again recently, finally.

You take the green Metro bus from the Envigado station that says Arenales, and it’ll take you up into the hills east of the growing suburb.

When you get off the bus, just walk straight ahead until you reach a fork, where you will go left on a dirt road that takes you along a creek.

You’ll criss-cross it for about 45 minutes to an hour before you finally arrive at a big waterfall and a pond where you can swim. I’d recommend going on a sunny day. The water is a little chilly.

There are two other things you can do as well.

On the side of the pond where you arrive, opposite the waterfall, there is a path, albeit a steep one, that you can climb to reach an open plain among the mountain tops. It’s a great place for a picnic.

Another option is hiring Adventure Envigado to do some rappelling.

No matter what you decide, you’ll have a great day.

A cross reminds visitors that a pueblo lies below the man-made lake
A cross reminds visitors that a pueblo lies below the man-made lake

3. Guatapé/El Peñol

This is probably the most popular day trip for foreigners.

You get on the little bus to El Peñol for about 12,000 pesos, then you climb La Piedra, the huge monolith, what was a meteorite that hit that spot millions of years ago. They say three-quarters of it are beneath the earth, amazing since the part above ground is about 10 stories high.

The view from the top will give you great pics of the turquoise waters of the inlet-fragmented reservoir below.

When you’re done you just walk down the skinny access road to the main highway where you got off the bus, and wait for the next one. Shouldn’t cost more than 2,000 pesos for the quick ride to Guatapé.

Enjoy the zócalos, the colorful art on the sides of the buildings, but don’t miss something so many people do: a boat tour of the reservoir.

Don’t mistake this for the brief booze cruise that gives you a beverage or two, but not much else.

The real tour will take you past Pablo Escobar’s old finca and nightclub, which his enemies blew up in an attempt to kill him. He escaped through an underground passage.

The finca is still a burnt shell but the nightclub is now a restaurant.

You’ll continue until you arrive at a cross protruding from the water, the site of the old El Peñol church. The town was moved to higher ground when government officials and EPM flooded the low-lying areas to create the reservoir.

You’ll hear all about it and more if you make this trip.

It's so peaceful here. But on weekends, there is more energy, more people.
It’s so peaceful here. But on weekends, there is more energy, more people.

4. Parque El Salado

Parque El Salado, my favorite park in the valley, is also a great place for a day trip if you prepare accordingly.

I won’t say much since I’ve already written so much about this place, other than a few keywords:

Barbecue. Hiking. Horseback riding. Monkeys. Zip-lining.

Now go find out what I’m talking about.

The view of the city from the Metrocable, on your way to Parque Arví, is spectacular.
The view of the city from the Metrocable, on your way to Parque Arví, is spectacular.

5. Parque Arví/Santa Elena

This would rival Guatapé/El Peñol if people would do it in its entirety, but most people take the Metrocable to Parque Arví, walk around for a bit, maybe rent a bicycle, and then head back down the hillside the same way they got there.

Big mistake.

Take the blue bus with Santa Elena in big letters on the front. You’ll want to stop by one of the fincas de silleteros to learn more about the history of the Feria De Las Flores, Medellín’s biggest festival.

That’s right, it’s more than just a 10-day party.

When you’re done, spoil yourself with a late lunch or early dinner at Uchuva Lounge. The catch is, you need to make a reservation and have at least six people in your group, so do it because it’s worth it.

The gourmet cooking is a great way to end your day.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Ryan;

    Thank you for sharing your great secrets about places to visit and things to do in Medellin. Your stories are chuck full of excellent information, which I will begin to follow to expand my own knowledge, and for my enjoyment and benefit. I discovered your blog while doing some research myself, so I was a happy to discover you. My husband and I retired two years ago and have relocated to Medellin. We live half a year there and half a year in the States but are always looking for new things to see and do in and around the city. We too have enjoyed going on our own adventures and therefore discovered many best kept secrets that could be gems for you, and if you want to know about them, I’m happy to share.

    One such “secret” relates to how easy it is to go to nearby towns by jitney buses that cost no more than a few bucks. There are two major bus terminals in Medellin. The South and the North Terminals. Both are excellent, they have the look and feel,of an airport and are fabulous for day or weekend trips. Here’s a suggestion for you. Go to the Terminal del Sur, buy a ticket to go to Santa Fe de Antioquia. Tell the driver where in SFDA you are going and he’ll drop you off at the door. Literally! The place to stay is a B&B we now love to return to as frequently as we can. It’s called Casa Tenerife. It’s a verynold colonial-style casona with a beautiful swimming pool, next to 300-year-old totumo trees and orchids everywhere. The day rate is excellent for your buck, and the best part is that it comes with three meals included. You need to give them 24-hour notice if you would like yo decline one of those meals because you want to dine out. They’ll subtract the cost of that meal from the day’s rate. They’ll help you make arrangements for tours if you so desire, or they’ll lend you bicycles for you and your party to enjoy the beautiful town at your leisure. Make a reservation by calling the owner Ana Maria Morales at 539-1965 or her cell at 300-775-1848. I cannot stress enough how important it is never to go on a weekend. It’s not recommended! It’s packed, it’s noisy and unpleasant. But, if you go during the week, chances are you’ll have the town for yourself. It’s a beautiful and historic place to visit, go to the Art Museum, there is also a fabulous hidden gem there. A Bohemian style pub where eclectic and interesting folks go and it’s right next door to an art gallery founded by a Belgian who fell in love with Colombia years ago. His gallery is a must, it’s called Casa Solariega, it’s on the street Calle de la Amargura and thisnis where Mr. Pierpoint, his name, launches artistic careers for many local native artists.

    I hope you find this interesting and useful. Keep up the good work and thank you,

    Conny

    • I forgot to tell you that when the driver drops you off at your chosen final destination in Santa Fe de Antioquia, tell him what day and what time you wish to be picked up again to return to Medellin. It’s a great service.

  2. Is La Piedra a meteorite? I can’t find that written elsewhere.. I’m finding different versions of it’s history. I’d like to know. Do you have source information on this?