An Out of this World Hike…so Close to Medellin!
One-way hikes are the best. Jungle waterfalls are awesome too. So are magnificent views. And this hike, which goes from Pablo Escobar’s old “prison,” La Catedral, down through pine forest, jungle, two waterfalls, and ending with an amazing view, has it all. It’s fantastic.
Even better? It’s just minutes away from the city of Envigado (and Medellin).
Here’s everything you need to know.
- Difficulty level: The distance is not far and it’s almost all downhill, with an elevation loss of about 300 meters. The challenge is climbing down a few very steep slopes, walking through rivers, and jumping from rock to rock.
- Signage: Not great. Expect to get lost. But don’t expect to not find your way eventually. Follow the instructions and maps below along with your long-lost ancestral, hunter/gatherer intuition.
- Distance: Approximately 4 km / 2.5 miles
- Elevation: Descent of about 300 m / 1,000 ft total.
- Duration: 1.5 to 5 hours. We took two hours with quite a bit of lollygagging to get from la Catedral down to the Arenales viewpoint and bus stop. If you go fast you could do it in an hour and a half. You may also need much more—Heather shared in the comments that her group took five hours, in part because the descent to Salto del Angel was tricky.
- What to Bring: Water shoes or a bag to hold your shoes while walking along the river barefoot. Bathing suit. Warm layer. Snacks, water, and the usual hiking gear.
Download this map to your phone (here are quick instructions for using Google Maps offline), and use these waypoints to guide you if (when) you get lost walking through woods, jungle, and rivers.
Better yet, here’s the route on Wikiloc. (Note that the person who mapped the route did it in the opposite direction that we recommend.) To follow this route on your phone and be certain not to get as lost as we did, download the Wikiloc app, and pay just $2.99 USD for a 3-month subscription.
Getting to the Hike
Take the metro to Envigado station (or the bus along avenida El Poblado if coming from Poblado). From there, the only buses that go all the way to La Catedral leave at 5:45 a.m. and 3 p.m. so take a taxi.
Don’t be off-put when taxi drivers tell you it’s a fixed rate. It’s true. Most Envigado taxis even have the fixed fare posted on the passenger side sun visor, right next to the fixed rate for the airport. It should cost either 25,000 or 35,000 COP (we’ve seen both) for the 20-30 minute ride up the mountain.
The ride itself is quite the experience. Your taxi will put its engine to the test to carry you way up out of city and into the lush farms and hillside.
1. La Catedral
As any viewer of Narcos will know, La Catedral was an extravagant prison Pablo Escobar agreed to incarcerate himself in with all his buddies, while still running his business and having big parties.
Now it’s an old-folks home.
Most of La Catedral has been destroyed and, frankly, it’s not particularly interesting, though there are some guard towers still standing that comically have mannequins dressed as prison guards inside them.
That’s not to say it’s not worth checking out. I was surprised by just how close La Catedral was to the city, and I could still sense the aura of what it must have been like in the early 1990’s when the world’s most notorious criminal was running his cartel from the very ground I was standing on.
And while there is a decent view of the city, don’t waste all your megabytes on it. An even nicer view of Medellin awaits at the end of this hike.
2. La Catedral to Salto del Angel Waterfall
Time to start hiking!
Look around La Catedral and you will find signs guiding you towards the path to the Salto del Angel. This first part is well-marked.
Starting off in a pine forest, you will descend down some steep hills, often needing ropes to help you down, as in the picture shown here. Keep an eye out for flora and fauna, like this patch of edible hedgehog mushrooms we found.
In a blink of an eye, the pine forest transforms into tropical jungle and things get tricky. So tricky indeed that we missed the Salto del Angel when we went! That’s why I highly, highly recommend you avoid our same mistake and save the above map and waypoints to your phone.
3. Salto del Angel to Chorro de las Campanas Waterfall
From the Salto del Angel, the trail heads down alongside the stream, and sometimes across it. It’s quite well established, but if in doubt, stick to the stream. As long as you do so, you can’t get lost.
After about thirty minutes you’ll arrive at the top of Chorro de las Campanas. Those who aren’t afraid of heights and have steady feet can tiptoe down to peer over the edge down to the swimming hole below.
Unfortunately, the waterfall is much too high, and the pool too shallow, to jump. You will have to take the trail down. It is quite challenging. Our friend Paul, who joined us, slipped and got some nasty scratches on his back. Take your time and play it safe.
Once at the bottom, absorb its beauty, rest up, and go for a dip. The water is very fresh (a.k.a cold).
4. Chorro de las Campanas to Arenales Viewpoint
If you took your shoes off to take a dip below Chorro de las Campanas, keep them off! Either that or be prepared to get them completely soaked.
For the next 30-45 minutes, you’ll be walking downstream, mostly in the stream. Even a ninja couldn’t make it without getting their feet wet, so don’t bother trying. It’s faster and more back-to-nature in bare feet anyways.
When we last did this hike in late-January 2018, someone had recently spray-painted arrows to guide the way. Follow them, but note that the arrows are pointing towards Chorro de las Campanas waterfalls, so go in the opposite direction.
Your stream-walking adventure will be over once you reach a cement bridge. There you should put your shoes on and look out for kaleidoscopes of butterflies (who knew a group of butterflies is called a kaleidoscope?!). They congregate there for some reason.
From this point on the trail is uphill and easy to follow all the way back to the road. The intersection where you end up at, where there’s a little shelter and a map of Arenales, is where the bus from Envigado comes and turns around. One comes every thirty minutes and costs 2,100 COP.
But before hopping on the bus, walk one hundred meters up to the impressive sports complex. There you will find the absolute best view of the entire city of Medellin.
It’s also home to the most scenic workout area I’ve ever come across, so if you’re feeling chipper why not do a couple pull-ups or squats?
5. Descend upon Your Next Adventure
If you’ve still got energy after the hike, consider paying a visit to the Finca La Leona Coffee Farm. It’s half-way down the hill, right on the bus route. Kim and her family did the tour when I was out of town and quite enjoyed it. And as an added bonus source of interest, the owner, who you’ll meet, is a French-Colombian who competed in the Olympics in speed walking!
For those who are hungry, and I mean REALLY HUNGRY, you have to stop at La Gloria de Gloria— “Gloria’s Glory” in English.
This restaurant is famous in Envigado and throughout Medellin and Antioquia for its forearm-sized portions of ribs and chicharron. Share one platter (bandeja) between 2 or 3 people. It’s so impressive that it’s both in our top 20 restaurants and top 10 things to do in Medellin.
Want More Medellin Adventures?
For more hikes like this in the Medellin area, our list of hike guides is your ultimate resource.
And if you want to do other things than hike (like eat, go to secluded beaches, and visit charming towns), you won’t want to miss our guide to Envigado (a.k.a. the Colombian pre-hipster Brooklyn) and our comprehensive, unconventional Medellin travel guide.