Sitting atop the Aburrá Valley, Santa Elena is one of the most accessible pueblos from Medellín, roughly 10 miles from the downtown area. Many visitors to Medellín take advantage of the town’s proximity and visit for the abundant nature, stunning vistas, friendly locals, and rich traditions. Because of Santa Elena’s higher elevation, the weather is also cooler, making it a firm favorite for hiking and escaping the busy congestion of the city.
Whether you want to immerse yourself in the outdoors or simply see more of Antioquia, here’s your guide to Santa Elena, including what to take, how to arrive, activities, and where to eat.
What to bring
The climate in Santa Elena is colder than in Medellín and usually experiences more wind and rain. That said, there are still plenty of warm days, and due to the town’s location, the sun rays are particularly strong – so you’ll need to bring protection for your skin. For both the day and evening, visitors should take layers and waterproofs, as well as sturdy walking shoes. The town itself is not too off the grid and is equipped with ATMs, restaurants, shops, and places to stay.
– Sun cream
– Waterproof jacket or umbrella
– Warm layers
– Sneakers or practical walking shoes (especially if you’re going to Parque Arví, do not wear sandals)
– Cash (there are ATMs but the majority of stores only accept cash, so it’s wise to arrive with some money)
– Spanish words and phrases
How to get there
Traveling between Medellín and Santa Elena is very straightforward and comes with some spectacular views. Buses run from Placita de Flores, along with the north (Terminal del Norte) and south (Terminal del Sur) bus terminals. You don’t need to book in advance, you can simply show up, ask for the next trip to Santa Elena and be on your way in a matter of minutes. The route heads east out of Medellín, costs roughly $2,000 COP, and takes 40 minutes depending on traffic.
If public transport isn’t your thing, there’s the option to take a taxi or Uber (although technically illegal in Colombia but still operates) up to Santa Elena. This will cost significantly more, around $20,000 COP, but is comfortable and fast.
Another way to reach Santa Elena is by a completely different mode of transport – the metro cable. This takes longer and is more expensive than the bus but if you want a novel way of arriving, the cable cars can’t be beat.
Linea K runs from Acevedo train metro station up to Santo Domingo and is included in the cost of one metro journey ($2,255 COP with a Cívica card and $2,550 COP without). From Santo Domingo, there’s a separate metro cable specifically to Parque Arví in Santa Elena. This line costs an extra $6,000 COP per journey and is open from 9 am to 6 pm every day except Monday when the park is closed. Once at the top, there are buses that go to the main square in Santa Elena.
Things to do
The most popular attraction in Santa Elena is Parque Arví – a 16,000-hectare nature reserve boasting forest, plants, walking trails, picnic spots, and streams. The public park is completely free to enter and has a whole host of things to do and sights to see. If you’re feeling active, there are a number of hiking routes you can explore by yourself to soak in the flora and fauna. For a more advanced trail, visitors can hire a guide to learn more about the landscape and local communities.
Alternatively, for those seeking an adrenaline fix, Parque Arví has Comfama – a place to zipline above the trees, try archery, scale a climbing wall, watch a film in 4D, and much more. Admission costs vary between $3,000 and $18,000 COP depending on your strata (if you live in Colombia) or if you’re a member of Comfama.
In the center of Santa Elena is a typical Colombian square with a church, fountain, statues, and tiendas. Spend a few hours relaxing in the sunshine on one of the benches, watching the locals pass by, and sipping on tinto (coffee). There aren’t many activities to do in the town itself but it’s ideal to simply soak up life in an Antioqueño pueblo.
Finca Museo Herencia Silletera
Santa Elena is most famous for its role in the annual flower festival, Feria de las Flores, which sees the town come to life in a flurry of parades, people and pollen. Each year, a trail of over 500 silleteros – farmers with chairs strapped to their backs displaying beautiful flower formations – walk down the mountainside into Medellín to represent freedom and Paisa identity.
In August, when the festival takes place, Santa Elena is abuzz with people from around the world. One of the best spots to discover the town’s floral past is Finca Museo Herencia Silletera (Museum of Silletero Heritage). The museum is set on a picturesque farm complete with lush plant life, lookout points, historical artifacts, and colonial-styled rooms, all offering a taste of traditional silletero culture. Additionally, there are workshops held here, teaching visitors about cultivation and the significance of agriculture in the area.
Mirador Cerro Verde
An absolute must for anyone traveling to Santa Elena is Mirador Cerro Verde. The viewpoint is perfectly situated to give sweeping views of the rolling green valley, contrasting with the low-hanging clouds. If you’re a budding photographer or nature-enthusiast, the mirador won’t disappoint. Visit during the day to feel completely submerged by the mountains or at night for the blanket of stars. For an extra romantic excursion, stay in one of the cute cabins dotted around the area, and watch the sunrise from your doorstep.
Where to eat
Barbacoa De Cheo
One for travelers hoping to sample the best of Colombian cuisine, Barbacoa De Cheo is a restaurant nestled in the green nature of Santa Elena. The food here tends to be meat-heavy (plenty of chicken, beef, and pork cooked on the grill), and comes with arepas, rice, and salad. If you’ve worked up a serious appetite and are ready for big portions, this is the place to eat.
To re-caffinate and refuel, Canela is a colorful café found a short walk from the main square in Santa Elena. The menu includes a range of delicious sweets and desserts, plus Italian dishes like pasta, bruschetta, pizza, and of course, great wine. The staff are exceptionally friendly and the interior is decorated with various arts and crafts, giving it a homely feel.