Guest blogger Roisin gives us an update on Jericó, a pueblo with much more to offer than just religious tourism.
Editor’s note: This post was updated on August 13, 2018. The original post was published on March 12, 2015.
“Make sure you run, all the way to the edge.”
“The edge…that edge?!”
“Yes – then it’s simply a matter of jumping off.”
I stared at the precipice which was then shrouded by cloud. It was hard to imagine anything being “simple” about jumping off what felt like a 20,000 foot cliff into the unknown. I took a deep breath and tried to untie the knot of both anxiety and excitement in my stomach. Better do what the man says, I thought, as I sprinted towards the edge. The feeling of my feet slowly leaving the earth and being carried by the wind through the clouds – and the view that was slowly revealed – quickly helped to dispel any fears I had of tumbling into the abyss below.
I was paragliding in Jericó, a pueblo about three hours outside of Medellin. A month ago, if someone had asked me what was in Jericó, I would have said “too many churches.” And that isn’t entirely untrue; after all, Jericó has 14,000 inhabitants and 16 churches. But this little town has so much more to offer than just that, and is quickly overtaking places like Jardín in its reputation as the best pueblo to visit from Medellin.
History of Jericó
Jericó’s religious significance was cemented as the birthplace and home of Madre Laura, Colombia’s first patron saint. Catholicism remains a strong part of the identity of the town, with nuns and priests helping to run schools and educate the children that live there.
Jericó is also known for its colourful houses and ornate balconies. In fact, the first line of the Jericó city anthem is “grato nido de amores” – which means “cherished love nest” in English. This came from a regular pastime of young lovers, flirting with each other from balcony to balcony.
Things to Do In Jericó
Jericó is undoubtedly one of the best places in Colombia to go paragliding. The proximity of San Felix to Medellin means that many travellers passing through the region opt for this instead. But, for those willing to make the extra effort, the views around Jericó are incomparable. Here, you can soar past huge, lush mountains, through the valley and across the Piedras River. There is nothing quite like flying through the thick clouds, next to the eagles who make this beautiful region their home.
Flights can be organised through your accommodation or by contacting EcoLand, a restaurant and business located directly next to the starting point. Prices start from around 115,000 COP ($40.78).
There are a range of hiking options around Jericó, and more open up every day. One of the easiest and shortest options is to hike to the large statue of Jesus which stands upon a peak bordering the town. From this height, you can see the entire town and the scope of the nature which surrounds it.
Another option is Cerro Tuza, the biggest natural pyramid in the world. From a distance, Cerro Tuza’s shape seems too surreal to exist. However, this hike is not for the faint of heart. It takes almost three hours to reach its peak and is an almost entirely vertical walk.
My favourite hike by far was the walk up to Las Nubes. Though challenging in parts, the view from the peak is undeniably worth it. Opt for either a sunrise or sunset tour. We went at sunrise, accompanied by Jorge, the manager of Hostel Las Cometas, which has the privilege of being the only hostel in town. It takes around 40 minutes to reach the summit, depending on your physical fitness, and the walk is beautiful every inch of the way. From the top, you can see the mountains and the river as well as the peak of Cerro Tuza.
Horses are important for the town of Jericó. You get used to seeing them everywhere. On our last night, we even saw locals cantering around the town square bareback, fuelled by copious amounts of aguardiente. Whilst that might not be for everyone (a girl from our hostel tried this and got her jeans covered in horse sweat), there are more tranquil and scenic options that are available.
Hostel Las Cometas organised our horse riding trip, which started from the outskirts of the town. It is impossible not to feel like a cowboy when trotting through almost-deserted streets only dotted by men sitting on their porches, wearing traditional hats and chewing on toothpicks. This also grants another opportunity to admire the spectacular natural beauty that Jericó is blessed with.
Sample The Local Produce
Whilst in Jericó, it is important to try the local delicacies, some of which are unique to the region. Among these are Luisas, delicious cakes made with honey, panela and guava paste.
Jericó is also said to have some of the best street food in Colombia. As a vegetarian (which continues to be the bane of my life in Colombia), I couldn’t say for sure whether this was the case. But I did try one of these papas rellenas or stuffed potatoes, and wanted about three more even though I’d already had dinner.
There is also the opportunity to visit a chocolate manufacturer, who will explain the different types of chocolate to you. This was followed by a blind test in which you got to try the chocolate and guess which type it was. It was a fun game which I ended up winning, probably because it involved eating chocolate, and because the prize was chocolate.
Outside of food, Jericó is famous for a particular type of bag called a carriel. This was the bag of choice for arrieros, messengers who travelled from town to town by mule. This bag has since become an icon of Colombia, even appearing in the logo for Juan Valdez. The main selling point of the bag is the many pockets it contains within an extremely small space, and was also used as a pillow whilst the arrieros were on the road. This includes secret pockets, which were used to hide tokens from la otra – the mistress of the arriero.
Explore the Town
The town of Jericó is home to a wealth of museums and historical points of interest. The real star of the show here, though, is the town itself, which must be one of the most beautiful pueblos in Colombia. Every street and corner is worthy of a photograph. Within the town, you can spot typical architecture in the colonización antioqueña and republicana styles.
This is a town which is home to creatives. As such, here you will find Calle de los Poetas – Poets Street. You will also find the street of 80 Steps and of 100 Steps, which is lined with small tiendas where you can pick up an empanada or two. The town square represents the perfect place to sit down, relax with a coffee and people watch.
The Faces of Jericó
It is an important and rewarding experience to meet the locals in a pueblo such as Jericó. Many of the characters I met seemed to be straight out of a Márquez novel. There was the town poet, the foul-mouthed movie star, and the man who was so ticklish that even his wife was forbidden to touch him.
Where to Sleep
We stayed at Hostel Las Cometas, who helped to make the experience so magical for us. The manager, Jorge, took us around the town on hikes and helped us in every way possible at the drop of a hat. He also made a fantastic smashed avocado on toast for our breakfast. The hostel is in quite a unique setting, at the foot of a large church, with a small, cosy garden to chill out on hot days.
A private room at Las Cometas costs around 45,000 COP ($15.96), and a bed in a dorm room is available from around 23,000 COP ($8.15).
For a more upmarket option, I would recommend Hotel El Despertar. We stayed in a bedroom with a hammock, which was a nice touch, and the showers were piping hot. It also features a hot tub which overlooks the surrounding scenery. The hotel is just a couple of blocks from the main plaza and also includes traditional Colombian breakfast, which was a welcome addition after our sunrise hike to Las Nubes.
A private room at El Despertar costs around 200,000 COP a night for two people ($70.90).
Where to Eat
My favourite restaurant by far in Jericó was EcoLand, which is beside the paragliding site. The menu features traditional Colombian dishes and is complemented by its food truck, which is a bit further up the hill and sells chicharrón, burgers and french fries. At the restaurant, you can order a pork chop or chicken fillet for 21,500 COP ($7.62) or a shrimp rice for 28,500 COP ($10.09). If you call EcoLand in advance, they will even arrange a picnic for you, which is best appreciated with the amazing sunsets observable from the restaurant.
In town, the majority of the options offer traditional Colombian food. For international food, you can head to Tomatitos, just off the main square. There you can find burgers, pizzas, pastas and woks.
How To Get There
Getting to Jericó is easy, and buses depart from Medellin very regularly. To get there, head to Terminal Sur and ticket booth 18. Go with the company Transportes Jericó, which shouldn’t take more than 3 hours. Be warned, though, that much of the road is windy and bumpy, although a new and faster route will be opening up in 2020.
Getting back is similarly stress free. Simply head to the bus station in the main plaza on the right side of the church, and buy your ticket there. We got a bus back at 12pm, and they seemed to depart every couple of hours until the evening.
The bus tickets will cost around 25,000 COP ($8.85) each way.
Jericó is fast shaking off its reputation as a destination solely for religious tourism. With unlimited potential for adventure sports, places to appreciate the region’s natural beauty and some of the most interesting locals you could ever expect to meet, Jericó should be on the bucket list of anyone visiting Antioquia.
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Originally from Ireland, Roisin has been traveling since the age of 18. She has visited 45 countries and lived in 8, including China, Bolivia, Germany and the U.S. Having spent the last year and a half in Bogotá, she has optimistically left her umbrella behind and is happy to call Medellín her new home. Roisin is an avid writer, runner and ukulele player, and is always happy to meet up with those who share her interests. You can follow her blog at http://adventuresofsheen.com/ or via Instagram.