Travel guide: Antioquia’s beauties

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How to enjoy Antioquia

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This guide is for you to discover the Antioquia department, located between Colombia’s central and western cordilleras. Known for Medellín and Guatapé, travelers miss out on great places to visit.

It won’t be your case.

I’ve been exploring Colombia since 2015, and I spent many months exploring the Antioquia department.

Thanks to this guide, you’ll be able to decide which cities to visit in Antioquia and add unique experiences to your Colombia itinerary.

Read on to discover why I fell in love with this region

👉 Pssst, if you are a bit worried about planning a few days in this part of Colombia or if you are afraid not to make the right choice you can also ask Bruce to organize it for you. It’s our Colombia Travel expert. Ask him to send you a free quote. 

Our map of Antioquia

There are many hidden treasures among the mountainous landscapes of Antioquia. We have written travel guides on our favorite destinations. Don’t hesitate to use them to plan a trip that suits you.

On our map, you’ll also find out our favorite hikes and natural reserves 👉

Best cities in the Antioquia department, Colombia

From big cities to lovely colonial towns, you will find here the best places to stay in the Antioquia department.

 

1# Santa Fe de Antioquia, gold seekers, and pool session

Credit: Cathy

Recently regenerated, Santa Fe is a favorite day trip from Medellín. This historic colonial town is home to 26 thousand friendly antioqueños, though it seems smaller. Temperatures tend to be on the hot side, so choose a hotel with a pool; you’re in the interior of Colombia.

It’s pretty common to have to move out of the way for vaqueros coming down the street on mules and horses, making the visiting experience more authentic.

One of the feature attractions is the Puente de Occidente, which once was in the top three longest suspension bridges. Finally, eat one of those balls ‘Buñuelos’ you see the locals eat.

The first Spaniards founded Santa Fe de Antioquia in 1541 and became the first capital of the Antioquia region.

Why include Santa Fé when visiting the Antioquia department:

  • Panning for gold with a local
  • People watching & enjoying a ‘typico’ lunch at the plaza
  • Exploring coffee culture at Cafe Canolo & a lesson in harvesting and roasting
  • Sauntering through quaint streets and enjoying the sun

My favorite accommodations:

 

2# Medellín, a modern and friendly city

Medellín, no matter how you pronounce it, chances are you’re saying it wrong. It’s true, Medellín has a past, but it’s transformed itself into the most innovative city in Colombia. Nestled within a ring of mountains, Medellín benefits from perpetually perfect spring weather.

Medellín, the second largest city in Colombia, has a fantastic metro, bus, and cable car transport that allows you to explore every niche suburb and city center. Digital nomads rave about the affordability of this city, and it’s a favorite destination with many travelers.

The international airport is a good thirty minutes away, and air pollution from thousands of motorcyclists can get thick — especially in El Poblado.

Medellín is the most important city in the department of Antioquia, and half of its inhabitants live in the metropolitan area. Others live in the municipalities nearby.

Why include Medellín when visiting the Antioquia department:

  • Entrench yourself in Medellín’s history with a guided walking tour.
  • Photo ops with Botero statues in the town center.
  • Eating at delicious restaurant in El Poblado or Laureles.
  • Have fun on the weekend.
  • Work online and set up a pleasant daily routine.

My favorite accommodations:

Find out how to get there and more in our City travel guide: Medellín.

 

3# Santa Elena, fresh air and flowers

Santa Elena Silleteros
Credit: Ivan Erre Jota

Santa Elena is a great way to escape the heat and experience the place where Mother Nature stole the idea for greenery. Bring a sweater as the climate fluctuates and it rains sporadically.

Parque Arví (same as in Medellín) is a lush 16,000 hectare tropical park. You can take the cable car from Medellín to the top.

For extended stays, rent a cabin. If your visit is during the first two weeks in August, you’re in time for the Feria de las Flores. As many as 500 local flower farmers parade ‘silleteros’ or flower arrangements on their backs.

Why include Santa Elena when visiting the Antioquia department:

  • Exploring native flora and fauna in Arvi on a stroll or a guided hike
  • A zipline adventure, and to testing our lacking archery skills
  • Meet the Silleteros and flower farmers
  • Taking photos of colonial architecture and landscape

My favorite accommodations:

 

4# Jericó, a colonial town with great views on the Cauca river

Kaanas Travel hike Jerico (1)
Credit: Cathy

Jericó is a quaint Colombian town nestled among the hills and the clouds. Perhaps most famous as Santa Laura’s birthplace, it’s still an undiscovered gem reachable by bus from Medellín.

Check the weather app; chances are you’ll encounter some rain.

The village is a favorite with Colombians who visit on weekends. Go during the week and see the Bomarzo vibrant art scene, art residency, and iconic churches.

This colorful colonial town is famous for the carriel bag that carries the precious belongings of the muleteers. Experienced artisans can furbish a custom bag with 12 pockets and secret compartments in a couple of days.

👉 Cathy offers incredible experiences in Jericó

Why include Jericó when visiting the Antioquia department:

  • Staying overnight and experiencing an organic way of Colombian life
  • Never outnumbered by foreigners
  • Hiking in the clouds
  • Ambling in Jardin Botanico toward Cristo Salvador statue and stunning vistas

My favorite accommodations:

Find out how to get there and more in our City travel guide: Jericó.

 

5# Jardín, beautiful waterfalls and hikes

Salto del Angel
Salto del Angel

Jardín is a beautiful and peaceful colonial town with a lot to offer.

The first destination to visit in Jardín is the Cueva del Esplendor waterfall. The tour takes you to the waterfall cave located on private property, and for roughly fifteen dollars, an unforgettable experience.

Visiting Gallito de Roca Preserve is also a must-do. This unique bird, Cock of the Rock, has stunning red plumage. One of the best experiences in Jardín is a horse riding adventure to Chorro Blanco.

Jardín is slowly waking to an influx of tourism. Try Bella Italia (maybe the best pizza in the country) to appease your stomach, or Óleo Bistró, a favorite international and Colombian hotspot.

👉 Claudia offers amazing outdoor experiences in Jardín.

Why include Jardín when visiting the Antioquia department:

  • Ideal for hikers and birders
  • Picturesque heritage village
  • Colombian coffee district
  • Riding on a Colombian Paso horse

My favorite accommodations:

Find out how to get there and more in our City travel guide: Jardín.

 

6# Támesis, magnificent view of the Antioquia lands

view of the valley Tamesis
El Santo

Támesis is another reminder to forget everything you thought you knew about Colombia. Few tourists make the three and half hour bus drive where you can ‘literally’ reach for the sky in this mountain top village.

The River Cauca makes an appearance, and the view from Támesis into the broad river valley is stunning from the town’s natural balcony geography.

Other fantastic outdoor adventures worth exploring are paragliding, sportfishing, and visiting an indigenous reservation.

Why include Támesis when visiting the Antioquia department:

  • Hire a guide and explore the petroglyphs
  • Hike to the highest peak and appreciate the view
  • Crawl into the San Antonio River caverns
  • Bird watching & inner tube cruising

My favorite accommodation:

  • Original hotel: Monte Mágico
  • Hotel: Acantos

Find out how to get there and more in our City travel guide: Támesis.

 

7# Guatapé and its famous La Piedra del Peñol 

Guatape landscape

Guatapé and La Piedra del Peñol are another short adventure trip away from Medellín. Colombians and foreigners flock in droves. Hard to say if this colonial village painted in vibrant colors or the Rock are the attraction, but the waterways surrounding the town are just as fun.

El Peñon is a 656-foot granite monolith that rises amidst the waters of a hydroelectric dam. Geologists claim the unique granite formation is roughly 65 million years old.

The art scene is as vibrant as the homes; there are many quaint shops and local eateries.

Why include Guatapé when visiting the Antioquia department:

  • Taking the 659 steps up the El Peñol
  • Appreciating the view from 7000 plus feet above sea level
  • Walking Calle del Recuerdo in Guatapé (replica of street flooded by dam)
  • Snapping pictures of zocalos on colonial homes while riding the zipline

My favorite accommodation:

Find out how to get there and more in our City travel guide: Guatapé.

 

8# San Carlos, Canyoning and waterfalls

La Viejita San Carlos
La Viejita

San Carlos is experiencing a homecoming after two government factions fighting to control politics and drugs ended.

Locals embraced this opportunity and again welcomed visitors in this beautiful natural habitat, often nicknamed the town of a hundred waterfalls. Visit San Carlos before the news gets out.

Explore the La Viejita, a 15-minute walk from Parque Principal, and discover a string of approachable waterfalls.

Why include San Carlos when visiting the Antioquia department:

  • La Cascada waterfall on the nature trail
  • La Planta for some river tubing
  • Cascada La Chorrera; biggest waterfall in the area (guided hike)
  • Take some Spanish lessons

My favorite accommodation: La Cascada

Find out how to get there and more in our City travel guide: San Carlos.

 

9# San Rafael, beautiful crystal clear rivers

River San Rafael

San Rafael is an hour by bus from Guatapé. The arm of Rio Guatapé cradles San Rafael as it meanders and splits into two into several perfect swimming holes.

San Rafael is ideal for relaxing. While a church anchors the typical Colombian marketplace, you get an authentic culture vibe and hinterland experience.

Why include San Rafael when visiting the Antioquia department:

  • Splurging on a tuk-tuk and seeing the town
  • Lounging in a swimming hole at La Cristalina
  • Experiencing Colombian culture
  • Hostel in the jungle

Favorite accommodation: Ritmo del Rio

Find out how to get there and more in our City travel guide: San Rafael.

 

10# El Carmen de Viboral, best ceramics in the region

El Carmen de Viboral is another quintessential Antioquia Colombia village that manages to surprise.

El Carmen is an agricultural dynamo with a passion for ceramics. Known as the ceramics capital of Colombia, though some may argue, El Carmen is only 34 miles from Medellín.

If name-dropping impresses you, the Queen, Barack Obama, and the Pope who visited in 2015 possess a piece of El Carmen de Viboral pottery.

Watching these artists paint and sculpt is a lesson in appreciating craftsmanship.

Why include El Carmen de Viboral when visiting the Antioquia department:

  • Touring the Museum of Ceramics
  • Seeing how they make pottery
  • Walking along “ceramic street”
  • Buying a ceramic trinket

Favorite accommodation: Casa Rosé Hotel

 

11# Cocorná, fantastic rivers, and waterfalls

Cocorna
Credit: Juan Camilo Trujillo

As you travel through Antioquia, you’ve undoubtedly noticed the endless verdant landscape that meanders through valleys, river beds, and mountains. Surrounding Cocorná has enviable spring weather all year round and virgin river waters to soak in. Cocorná has a long history as a spa destination.

Fed by the beautiful Melcocho River, the Cocorná River, and the nearby Santo Domingo River, Cocorná is a nature and eco-tourism haven.

In Cocorná, you’ll experience endless waterfalls. La Chorrera and Hair of Venus, The Pearls, The Sandy, El Sinai, Trinity, and The Sandy.

Why include Cocorná when visiting the Antioquia department:

  • Paragliding like a Harpy eagle
  • Enjoying the pleasure of stunning waterfalls and pools
  • Hiking hard to reach waterfalls
  • Experiencing nature & rappelling

My favorite accommodation: Ecohotel Soplo del Tambo

 

12# Doradal, the new Colombia’s Santorini

La Aldea Doradal is carved into the Colombian hillside and mistakenly transports many visitors to believe they’ve arrived in the Greek Islands. Hence the nickname Colombia’s Santorini.

Many places in Colombia share a connection to Escobar, but that connection doesn’t define Colombians. Before Escobar tainted the village, many prominent families from Medellín and Bogotá owned weekend retreats here.

Why include Doradal when visiting the Antioquia department:

  • Caving to escape the heat
  • Visiting Escobar former Hacienda Nápoles fun park
  • Rio Claro Natural Reserve

My favorite accommodation: Rio Claro

 

13# Abejorral, an excellent spot for climbers

Credit: Eugenio Prieto Soto

Abejorral is a good-sized town similar to San Carlos with notable differences. Many of the colonial homes in this old municipality are documented with the Historic National Registry and worth visiting.

The topography surrounding Abejorral makes it a favorite destination for outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy cycling, hiking, and breathtaking panoramic views of the river valley.

Although the historic homes and churches keep with tradition, you travel to Abejorral for rock climbing. To climb La Peña, you don’t need to go to Abejorral— There is a great hostel at the mountain base. To do so, alight from the bus at Tienda La 80.

Why include Abejorral when visiting the Antioquia department:

  • Camping along the Arama and Aures River
  • La Casa en el Aire (hostel hanging from a cliff)
  • Aures River waterfall
  • Rock climbing in La Peña

 

14# Other cities in the Antioquia Department

  • Puerto berrío is a city located on the Magdalena River and is considered the most important river port of Antioquia.
  • La Ceja is a small town that paisas (nicknamed of the inhabitants of Antioquia) like to discover during the weekend. There are some hiking trails and the possibility of spending the day at the Ecoparque Los Saltos.

 

Best things to do in the department of Antioquia

Did you find cities you like?

Perfect.

In this section, you’ll find the best Antioquia experiences. I’m sure it will help you to decide where to stop.

Vamos.

 

1# A cultural city tour to better understand the country

Medellin Plaza Botero

A sightseeing city tour of Medellín is a great starting place. By hiring a local guide, you’ll leave your preconceived notions behind and glimpse what lies beneath this complicated yet vibrant and resourceful city. A 3-4 hour walking tour will introduce you to El Centro, the historic district, parks, squares, streets, as you trespass on the city’s turbulent past and bright future.

Although Pablo is a shadowy figure of their past, Colombians don’t need tourists to remind them. The people of Medellín are a testament to what a city can achieve to rise above the ashes.

See availability on GetYourGuide (free cancelation)

 

2# Graffiti tour in La Comuna 13

Comuna 13 Medellin

Comuna 13 was once a dangerous place, but street art (graffiti) replaced the violence and public transportation, making Comuna 13 a highlight of any trip to Medellín. When you visit this area of Medellín with a tour guide, you’ll understand this miraculous transformation. You’ll be in awe forever.

See availability on GetYourGuide (free cancelation)

 

3# Paramó del Sol, the highest mountains in Antioquia

Páramo del Sol Eduardo (1)
Credit: Eduardo

Paramó del Sol or Paramó de Frontino is the highest mountain range in Antioquia and so worth investing in a 3-day trek. Book your trip to arrive in Urrao (town) and ascend the cloud forest on a guided mule tour. Home to endemic flora and fauna, the Alto Campanas ecosystem is spellbinding. This trek is challenging, but the vistas are worth the effort.

 

4# Paramó de Belmira, an “accessible” hike

Frailejones – Credit: Eduardo

Paramó de Belmira is a convenient day trip for Medellín, but it’s wise to get an early start. This intermediate high-altitude hike takes five to six hours and brings you face to face with one of Colombia’s most rare ecosystems and the Andean mountain range. You’ll lunch by a small lake, scramble over a mystical ridge, and descend on the opposite side.

 

5# Linger in lovely colonial towns

Colorul street Jerico
Credit. Cathy

Enjoy peaceful colonial towns like my two favorites: Jardín & Jericó. Colombia is like a breath of fresh air, and there’s a feeling of tranquility as you watch the locals, imagine their lives, and drink exceptional coffee. You get a real sense of coming home.

 

6# Climb at the top of Piedra del Peñol

Piedra del Peñol in Guatapé looks entirely out of place in its surrounding environment. It’s a massive rock protrusion that is easy to climb (with stairs), and the view doesn’t disappoint. It’s definitely on the list of Colombian must-dos.

See availability on GetYourGuide (free cancelation)

 

7# Spend the night in outstanding glamping

Credit: Bosko

Glamping is a fantastic alternative to sleeping on the ground in an uncomfortable sleeping bag, and there simply isn’t a better way to enjoy the beautiful mountains of Antioquia.

Bosko near Guatapé is an adult-only glamping experience in a rustic-chic, 5-star pod. Views include artificial lakes and the famous monolith. Don’t forget to take a few moments to enjoy the sunset.

Domus Glamping defines luxury camping. Their six stunning pods are perched on the water’s edge, laced with tranquility, and offer dramatic views of the water and the magnificent El Peñol. Treat yourself.

👉 Find out the best glamping near Medellín.

 

8# Become a coffee expert

Coffee tours will change your mindset. For anyone who has traveled, a stand-out in Colombia is their high-quality, full-bodied coffee that makes any barista tremble with envy. Excellent tours are available in Medellín, Jericó, Jardín.

Understanding the intricacies of coffee harvesting, often on very steep hills inaccessible to machinery, processing, and roasting, is one of the most remarkable experiences you can ever enjoy. It has the potential to turn you into a connoisseur.

 

9# Cerro Tusa, the highest natural pyramid in the world

Cerro Tusa is the highest natural pyramid in the world. Don’t tell the Australian’s who believe their Walsh pyramid at 3025 feet is taller. However, Tusa is twice as tall. It’s a strenuous hike, but the views are rewarding. The departure is from Venecia.

 

10# Tan on a rocky beach 

Visit the rocky shores of the spectacular rivers and dams crisscrossing this beautiful province.

Paisas also love to regroup in Arboletes.

 

11# Swim in the most beautiful rivers of the Antioquia Department

Credit: Expedition Colombia

Rio Melcocho is a breathtaking river gurgling with pristine water and dotted with many swimming holes as it winds its way through jungle canopies. Yes, the water is emerald green. A guided day trip is the best option. Departures are from Cocorná.

 

12# 1 or 2-day rafting adventures

Rafting Rio Verde (1)
Rafting Rio Verde

Rafting adventures on the Rio Verde and Rio Samana will have you talking for a lifetime. Arriving on pack mules on the river shore, the Class IV rapids will appease any thrill seeker’s appetite and the cinematographer’s penchant to snap just one more shot.

 

13# Fly above Medellín

paragliding Tour Medellin (1)

Paragliding near San Felix is a great way to view Medellín and the surrounding beauty of Antioquia. For this flying thrill, rated as safe as driving, you can soar among the clouds and get a true perspective. Several great paragliding outfits operate within one hour’s drive of Medellín.

You can also enjoy this experience in Cocorna or Jericó

See availability on GetYourGuide (free cancelation)

 

14# Rock climbing in Antioquia

Climbing suesca

Climbing enthusiasts will love the Casa en el Aire, and that’s no joke. Suspended on the side of the mountain, this unique hostel located near the town of Abejorral is not for those with vertigo. La Peña is a stunning climb spot, suitable for intermediate and experienced climbers.

Another option is to tackle the steep wall of the piedra del Peñol.

 

15# Spend a couple of days in a beautiful nature reserve

Rio Claro is a pristine nature reserve and a biological and geological heritage designation. Explore the caverns filled with stalactites and stalagmites, which have taken more than a million years to form. Or immerse yourself in the tropical fauna and flora and hike along the rivers for a chance encounter with barranquero, hummingbirds, parrots, parakeets, toucans, and macaws.

 

16# Stand in front of the beautiful waterfalls

Cueva del Esplandor Jardín
Cueva del Esplandor

Impressive waterfalls pour from hundreds of mountainsides and rivers in Colombia. Breathtakingly beautiful, Cueva del Esplendor near Jardín, Salto del Buey in Los Saltos Ecoparque, and La Cascada Cabellera de Venus by Cocorná are inexpensive excursions that will not disappoint.

 

17# The thrill of canyoning

Canyoning Cali
Canyoning

Canyoning is my favorite sport in San Carlos’s at La Chorrera Cascada. This outdoor adventure is for those with ample strength and endurance to walk, hike, swim, scramble, and abseil (rappel) all in one day. Hire this guide for the optimum experience.

 

18# Visit Hacienda Nápoles with your kids

Credit: Jess Kraft

Hacienda Nápoles Park  is an amusement park on Pablo Escobar’s private hacienda. Although most of the animals kept in the original zoo have been relocated, the hippos remained and multiplied. It’s a fun diversion and home to many new exhibitions.

See availability on GetYourGuide (free cancelation)

 

19# Explore the area on horseback

Horseback riding Jardín

Horseback riding near Jericó or Jardín and experiencing the Colombian Cowboy culture is a beautiful opportunity to see the stunning landscapes. Like family, horses are an essential component of the paisa culture. You won’t visit too many small towns and villages without seeing a cowboy on a dainty Paso Fino with their famous ambling gait.

👉 In Jericó, ask Cathy

👉 In Jardín, ask Claudia

👉 In Medellin, you can easily book it through Viator (free cancelation)

 

20# Check out the salsa bars in Medellín

Dance Salsa in Medellín or anywhere the rhythm catches you. Latinos are smooth dancers, and there are plenty of free schools. Laureles, my favorite district, is an excellent place to test your skills. Try Son Havana & El Tibiri clubs.

Social Club academia (south of Poblado) is also an excellent option.

Tip: In El Poblado, you’ll feel like a tourist. In Laureles, you’ll blend with the locals.

 

21# Learn Spanish and travel better

Learn Spanish in one of several cool Spanish schools in Medellín. If you can stay longer, rent in Laureles or Envigado, both have convenient bus and metro links. If you want a more intimate experience away from the city hustle, try the schools in Jardín (hablea) or San Carlos (Spanish Adventure). Learning a few key phrases will stretch a long way.

 

22# Look for gold 

Santa Fe de Antioquia Orpailleurs Cathy
Credit: Cathy

Gold panning in Santa Fe de Antioquia is worthy of a side trip. With your local guide, sluice the water and sift for gold dust or nuggets. Afterward, learn how it is processed to create beautiful jewelry.

 

Bottom line: Antioquia in Colombia

Antioquia is one of my favorite departments to visit in the country. Instead of rushing through (Medellín & Guatapé), take the time to read our guide to discover some incredible experiences. The vast majority of these lesser-known places are easily accessible and safe. You will notice that the department of Antioquia is well worth a week or two.

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