Medellin, and Antioquia as a whole, offers loads of opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts and adrenaline junkies to get their regular fill of fun.
Not only is cycling on the highways popular, but you can also leave the asphalt and traffic behind in favor of back roads and forest trails winding their way through the mountains.
Last month, I was invited by Felipe, one of the co-owners of Adventures Trails Medellin, to partake in some of the tours they offer out of their office in Guarne.
One Sunday morning, he picked me up in Ciudad del Rio and we made the 30-minute drive to Guarne, a small pueblo located at an altitude of about 2,300 meters.
At the office, I met Juan Pablo, the other owner of Adventure Trails. He grew up in Medellin, but traded the big city life for Guarne a half dozen years ago.
Both owners speak fluent English after having lived abroad in the US and England.
My ride was a smart-looking, full suspension Trek mountain bike, and it wasn’t even one of their newer bikes.
I’d applied copious amounts of suntan spray before leaving the apartment, since the sun is stronger at higher altitudes, even when it’s cloudy.
But, I didn’t need the hat I brought since we wore helmets, and I left my sunglasses in the office as well. Other than that, I was wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and a water-resistant windbreaker, in which I carried my camera and iPhone.
Juan Pablo and Felipe lead the way from the office, across a few streets, to a steep dirt road which seemed to go straight up.
Felipe assured me this hill would be the hardest part of the tour, but I was suddenly regretting my choice of a bunuelo and hot chocolate for breakfast.
It wasn’t until I began trying to peddle up the hill that I realized the altitude was going to kick my ass.
Throughout the morning, I would feel it on every uphill section, but the guys did a good job of reminding me that it’s OK to walk the bike if it got to be too difficult.
The point of the excursion, after all, was to have fun.
In fact, there were a few times when they both walked their bikes as well, which made me feel better.
Once we made it to the top of the first large hill, it got a bit easier. There were up’s and down’s as we made our way along back roads and forest trails, but nothing insurmountable.
The outdoor exercise was a nice change from the machines at my gym.
There was evidence of campfires in the forest, and when I asked the guys about whether they needed to get permission to use the trails, they said no.
EPM, the local utility company, owns the land, along with nearby Parque Arvi, and camping is allowed (or at least tolerated).
A few hours after we set off from Guarne, we rolled into a trout farm for lunch.
I was given the option to catch my own fish from the pond, but having done that previously in Jardin, I left it to the family who runs the place.
As we sat and waited, I chugged cold bottles of still water in an effort to rehydrate. Felipe warned me about the bugs, and offered some repellent to keep them at bay.
Note: I didn’t take his warning seriously enough, and got bitten about 20 times on both legs. These bites itched far more than regular mosquito bites. If you wear shorts, use repellent!
I opted for the medium-sized trucha, and it was as good as any I’ve had in the pueblos around Antioquia.
Felipe said that the trout farm normally has a busy lunch rush on the weekends, with people arriving by any number of means, including: bicycle, motorbike, ATV, horse, and car.
After a relaxing lunch at the farm, we mounted our bikes again, just as a few new arrivals were dismounting their horses.
The riding after lunch was much easier, as it was almost all downhill, as we first retraced our path near the farm, and then took a steep downhill road back to a paved road leading to Guarne.
The post-lunch downhill was the most fun I had of the entire bike ride. It was a dirt road, but really, it was so rocky, it demanded your attention. Even riding the brakes, I was flying.
And it was also around this time that the sun began to break through the clouds, turning the day from cool and dreary, to warm and wonderful.
Back at the office, we switched the mountain bikes for ATV’s, and I got a quick lesson on how to drive one of these things.
It wasn’t the first time I’d ridden an ATV, as that experience dates back to my days of summer camp in New Jersey, but it mine as well have been.
Twenty five years had passed, and I’d done a heck of a job avoiding individual, motorized transport in my travels. Felipe and Juan Pablo were both fully aware of my aversion to ATV’s, and to their credit, wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.
Thankfully, the ATV’s were automatic, so switching gears wasn’t something I had to think about.
The handlebars featured front and rear brakes, though they were the opposite of what we had on the mountain bikes. On the ATV, the rear hand brake was the left one. There was also one under my right foot.
Other than that, we weren’t going anywhere gnarly, so I didn’t even need to worry about switching it into 4-wheel drive.
I proceeded to follow Juan Pablo, who lead the way on his motorbike, while Felipe followed behind on an ATV as well.
I felt a little awkward trying to get comfortable on the thing as we drove through Guarne to reach a dirt road.
Between the thickly padded helmet, and sounds of the ATV engine, it was hard to hear anything else around me. There were no traffic lights, or even stop signs, so I slowed down before every intersection to look both ways.
Once we hit the dirt road, the ATV immediately felt easier to steer and handle, and by then, I was feeling more comfortable on it too.
We spent 30 minutes riding past farms and fincas, pausing briefly to take some photos, before returning to the office.
It was as easy a ride as you could ask for, but I was still proud to have overcome my fear of ATV’s. To see photos of more technical riding, where things get muddy, check out the Adventure Trails Facebook page.
Of course riding ATV’s is hugely popular with Colombians, and it was interesting to hear that they’re not just popular with the guys, but girls like them too.
After all, if you take your date for a ride, and the man is driving, that leaves the woman to wrap her arms around him and hold on for dear life. Throw in the engine vibrations, as Juan Pablo noted, and it’s like you’re dancing to reggaeton in a discoteca!
When asked, Adventure Trails can even arrange for a picnic lunch to be taken on your ATV adventure.
One, two, and three hour ATV rides are available, and the guys can cater to larger groups as well. The same goes for the mountain biking, as they were talking about a group of cyclists coming down from El Salvador to ride with them.
All the tours are half or full day trips right now, but I can see a time in the future when they’re offering multi-day trips as well, with overnight stays in local fincas. It could be a lot of fun, and allow customers to delve deeper into the countryside.
Disclosure: I was invited by the guys at Adventure Trails Medellin to experience their tours at no cost, for promotional purposes.