Hiking in Medellin: Always Off the Beaten Path
Medellin is a low-key awesome place for hiking because it’s cradled in the Aburrá Valley and surrounded by mountains on all sides. Those mountains are full of lush forest and jungle that’s teeming with waterfalls and colorful flowers, butterflies, mushrooms, and birds. And on just about every Medellin hiking trail you’ll be rewarded up with incredible views of the city.
There’s only one problem:
The trails are not well-known, well-marked, or well-covered online.
Whether it’s because of security issues in the past, a lack of a hiking culture, or too many other things to do in Medellin, very few Paisas go hiking.
The good news?
If you go, you can expect to be sharing the trail with very few others.
But where to go?
These are our favorite Medellin hiking trails Kim and I explored during our six months living there.
General Tips for Hiking in Medellin
Three important tips before we get into the individual Medellin hikes:
Don’t Get Lost
Believe us when we say that finding and following Medellin hiking trails is never as straightforward as you’d hope. We got hopelessly lost—in a bad way, not a “this is adventure” way—on more than one occasion. Then we found Wikiloc.
We strongly advise you download the Wikiloc app too. Wikiloc is what everyone here uses for recording and mapping hikes. With it, you can use your phone’s GPS to ensure you’re on the right track. At only $2.99 for 3 months, it’s a no-brainer.
And, in case you’re wondering, we don’t get any commission for recommending it.
When you go hiking in Medellin you’re not likely to come across anyone, let alone someone who wants to rob you. But it does happen from time to time. Be particularly careful of Cerro de las Tres Cruces at night.
And by “careful” we mean don’t go by yourself, keep your phone concealed as much as possible, and only bring stuff you can afford to have taken from you.
Join a Hiking Group
If you’re a novice hiker and/or concerned about venturing into the Colombian wilderness by yourself, join a hiking group. Not only will they show you the way, but it’s also a great way to meet people.
We recommend Kinkaju Hikes and Adventures and joining the Medellin Hiking Group on Facebook. In both cases, the groups are a mix of Colombians and expats, so you don’t have to know Spanish to go and in fact you might learn a phrase or two (or help someone with their English).
Follow our simple instructions to download these points to your Google Maps.
Medellin Hiking Trails
Two Waterfalls, One Viewpoint, and One Prison
This is probably the best known of all Medellin hiking trails (particularly the bottom half).
Starting up in the mountains at what remains of Pablo Escobar’s infamous “prison,” La Catedral, this one-way hike takes you down first through steep pine forest, then into dense jungle, and on to two different waterfalls, Salto del Angel and Chorro de la Campana. At the end of the hike, you emerge from the forest at Arenales, where you can enjoy a fantastic north-facing view of the entire city of Medellin while you wait for a bus back to town.
Warning: Be prepared to get your feet wet, because a good chunk of this hike goes not along, but on, a stream.
- Getting There: 25,000 COP taxi from the city (25 minutes from Envigado). 2,100 COP bus back down
- Duration: 1.5-2 hours. We took two hours with quite a bit of lallygagging. If you go fast you could do it in an hour and a half.
- Difficulty: Medium hard. The distance is not difficult, and it’s almost all downhill. The challenge is climbing down a few very steep slopes, walking through rivers, and jumping from rock to rock.
- Elevation: 300 meters downhill. This is a one-way hike.
- Rewards: A couple beautiful waterfalls, an amazing view, and perspective on a bit of Medellin’s Pablo Escobar history.
From Metro Station to Mountaintop
Starting right from the northernmost Medellin metro station, this hike goes up, up, and up. Straight up! It’s a strenuous climb, but worth it for the crazy views from the top and the sense of accomplishment of having climbed a mountain.
Better yet, the way down isn’t so steep, is mostly shaded from the sun, and has a refreshing swimming hole. And the neighborhood nearby the metro station is a great place for a celebratory beer or meal.
- Getting There: Hike starts and ends at Medellín’s Niquía metro station.
- Duration: From the metro station and back again, including breaks to swim and get refreshments at the bottom, it took us 7 hours. A hard-core friend who hustled up and down, jogging at times, did it in 5 hours.
- Difficulty: High. The trail is steep and unrelenting. If you’re not in the greatest shape, it’s still worth it to do even just half the hike. Many groups we passed by did so.
- Distance: 11 km, but count on more for getting “lost” from time to time and taking not the most direct route
- Elevation: Up and down. Approx 1200 meters total elevation gain.
- Rewards: Amazing views all the way up, interesting pre-Hispanic path and ruins on the way down, and refreshing swimming area towards bottom of return. Oh, and good exercise and a tan.
A “Cave” and Waterfall Hike by Parque El Salado
With caves, a waterfall, an ancient trail, and easy access from Medellin (even by public transit), the Cuevas del Higueron hike would seem like a can’t miss.
Well it’s not.
It’s worth doing… but it has its ups and downs, literally and figuratively. The “caves” and the beginning of the hike are a letdown, but the waterfall and restaurant at the end are worth it. Read our complete guide for all the information.
- Getting There: 10,000 COP taxi ride (10-15 mins) or a 2,100 COP bus ride from Envigado.
- Duration: 3-4 hours to go up to the Cuevas del Higueron and the waterfalls and back down again
- Difficulty: Moderate. There is no technically challenging trail. It’s just up and down hill.
- Distance: Approximately 7 km / 4.5 miles
- Elevation: Approx 500 meters / 1600 feet gain from trailhead to waterfalls.
- Rewards: A nice waterfall, definitely NOT the “caves,” and a cool spot for having fresh-caught trout at the end.
The World’s Largest Natural Pyramid
Cerro Tusa doesn’t look like it’s real. It looks like a 3-year-old drew it.
But there’s no way a 3-year-old could hike it.
The Cerro Tusa hike is not really a hike. It’s a crawl-your-way-up-and-don’t-look-down. It’s super steep, but it’s also short. And, depending on who you ask, it’s fun.
Most people do the hike as a day trip from Medellín because it’s only a couple of hours away, but if you have time we’d recommend spending some time in the old-school, friendly town of Venecia.
- Getting There: 1.5 hours by car or 2.5 hours by bus plus taxi. 15 minutes from Venecia.
- Duration: 1.5-3 hours up and 1.5-2 hours down. Depends significantly on fitness and confidence levels
- Difficulty: Dangerously difficult
- Distance: 5 km / 3 miles
- Elevation: 500 meters / 1600 feet
- Rewards: Views and satisfaction of climbing the world’s tallest pyramid. Plus a very dirty body and scratched bum from sliding back down.
Medellín’s Top Outdoor Fitness Destination (Literally)
The short-but intense Cerro de las Tres Cruces hike is a must-do for any fitness-minded person in Medellin. With great views, interesting people watching, convenient juice and fruit vendors, and an awesome mountaintop outdoor gym, the only wonder is why more foreigners don’t join the legions of Paisas who do it.
- Getting There: Best by taxi unless you live in Belén. It’s about 12,000 COP from El Poblado.
- Duration: 20-40 minutes up
- Difficulty: Moderate. Hikers of all levels will be able to manage.
- Distance: 1.2 kilometers each way
- Elevation Gain: 320 meters / 1000 feet
- Rewards: Views, fresh(-er) air, a unique workout spot, and exposure to Medellín workout culture.
A Backdoor to Two of Medellin’s Top Tourist Attractions
We recommend this hike to all of our friends, and friends’ friends, who visit Medellin.
It’s an unforgettable, but virtually unknown, alternative route to Medellín’s top tourist attractions, Parque Arví and the Metrocable. You’ll enjoy the best views of the city from Cerro Pan de Azucar, a glimpse of Medellin’s rural roots, and great food at the end.
- Getting There: Best by taxi or Uber. There are also regular public buses leaving from Prado metro station.
- Duration: 3-4 hours plus whatever time you spend eating and hanging out in Parque Arví.
- Difficulty: Moderate. The only challenge for some may be the overall distance and elevation gain.
- Distance: 9 km / 5.6 mi (It’s a one-way hike.)
- Distance from Medellin: The trailhead is a 30 min taxi or 50 min bus from the center of Medellín.
- Elevation: 675 m / 2,200 ft net (800 m / 2600 ft up, 124 m / 400 ft down)
- Rewards: The best of all views of Medellin from Cerro Pan de Azucar. Un-touristy way to get to a top Medellin attraction. Excellent belly and body-warming menu del dia up top. Memorable Metrocable gondola ride back down.
Hike Up, Fly Down
If you’ve ever hiked to the top of a mountain and wished you could fly down instead of hike, this is a dream come true. Starting from Medellin’s Bello neighborhood, you hike up past Chorro El Hato waterfalls until getting to San Felix and the paragliding launch point. Then you descend like a superhero.
- Getting There: Metro to Bello station, from where you can either walk or take a bus to the trailhead
- Duration: 2.5 hours to San Felix from the trailhead, plus time for stops at the waterfall. Add an extra hour if you hike from the Bello metro station.
- Difficulty: Moderately difficult. It’s steep. And it’s slippery when wet.
- Distance: 4.9 km from the trailhead to the paragliding area. An extra 4 km to walk from Bello metro station to the trailhead.
- Distance from Medellin: Bello metro station is about 20 minutes from central Medellin.
- Elevation: 662 m net (880 m climbing, 188 m descent)
- Rewards: Being able to say you hiked up a mountain and jumped down in Medellin. If you’ve never paraglided before, it’s better than you think. The hike up itself isn’t fantastic, but the waterfalls are beautiful and impressive.
The Unbelievable, Otherworldly Trek
We saved the best for last.
The only thing is this hike is not in Medellin. It’s four to five hours from Medellin near a town called Urrao. But if you’re looking for an unforgettable and one-of-a-kind outdoor adventure, it’s worth taking the time to go to.
It’s called the Paramo del Sol. It’s a two- or three-day trek that includes drop-your-jaw-and-forget-to-take-pictures-while-reconsidering-your-place-in-this-world sunsets and moonrises, a hummingbird beehive, a fairy-tale-worthy moss jungle, hundreds of unique orchids, views of seemingly all of Colombia, and high-on-mushrooms-like paramo scenery. We can’t recommend trekking in the Paramo more highly.
- Getting There: Bus or drive to Urrao, then chiva or taxi to the trailhead.
- Duration: Minimum 7 hours from the base to the top. 11 hours or more if you take the less-direct route up and stop along the way, which we recommend.
- Difficulty: Medium-difficult. While our group moaned and groaned about sore legs the day after the trek, we made it up and down with minimal complaint.
- Distance: 14 kilometers on the direct route. But if you take the less direct route and make many swamp-avoiding detours like us, then expect to cover about 42 kilometers (a marathon!) over two days.
- Distance from Medellin: 4 hours by car. 5 hours by bus.
- Elevation: 1,700 m net gain from 2,380 m above sea level at the base to 4,080 m at the top of Alto Campanas.
- Rewards: Experience multiple landscapes, sunsets, sun- and moonrises, and natural environments you’ll never find anywhere else in the world.
And When You’re Tired of Hiking
Don’t miss out on our Medelllin adventure travel guide, where you’ll find exclusive tips on everything from where to indulge in the best menu del dias, how to pick the perfect place to stay, where to go to escape the city and experience traditional Antioquia, and mucho mas.
If you found this post useful, share it with others by clicking the pin below. And please share your comments and questions with us. Think of how much you’d appreciate sharing and comments if you had a blog!