Sign for Parque Arvi

Parque Arví Through the Back Door

Taking Medellin’s urban gondola, El Metrocable, up to Parque Arví is Medellín’s equivalent to going up the Eiffel Tower in Paris or visiting the Forbidden City in Beijing. Everyone who visits has to do it.

So we didn’t.

As our blog’s name implies, we tend to avoid hordes of tourists, so in the four months we’ve lived in Medellín it never once crossed our minds to go take the Metrocable to Parque Arví. We hiked other trails around the city instead.

That is… until we found a trail that took us to Parque Arví and the Metrocable by the back door.

Offering the best view there is of Medellín from Cerro Pan de Azúcar, a tour through the city’s authentic rural roots, an escape into the woods, a delicious farm-to-table meal up top, and a unique ride back down, we consider this hike to be the must-do activity for active and adventurous visitors to Medellín.


Parque Arví and Metrocable Hike Outline


Quick Facts

  • 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
  • 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)
  • What to Bring: A fully-charged phone to follow the maps; money for lunch, souvenirs, and Metrocable tickets; and a light sweatshirt or jacket for Parque Arví. If you don’t want to bother carrying snacks or water, you don’t have to. There are vendors located by the top of Pan de Azúcar, Laguna de Guarne, and many points between the laguna and the Metrocable station.
Looking down on Medellin from base of Pan de Azucar
View of downtown Medellín at the beginning of the hike to Parque Arví. It gets even better as you climb higher.

Downloadable Maps

In yellow is the conventional route to Parque Arví, which starts at Acevedo metro station then takes the Metrocable up. In blue is the backdoor route. We recommend you take the blue route up, then the yellow route back down to make a loop.

We also recommend you save this map to your phone before heading out. To do so, follow our easy instructions for using Google Maps offline.

Better yet, download Wikiloc, pay $2.99 for a three-month account, and use your phone’s GPS to follow our exact route up Pan de Azúcar, through Parque Arví and to the Metrocable station. With Wikiloc the only way you can get lost is if your phone’s battery runs out.

Wikiloc map of Pan de Azúcar, Parque Arví, Metrocable hike
Download Wikiloc and pay $2.99 to be able to use GPS to follow this and many other hikes in the Medellín area.

The Hike

1. Up, Up, and Away to the Trailhead

On the map, the trailhead looked nice and close to downtown Medellin. In reality, it was a lot farther and harder to get to. It’s way up high in the hills in Medellin’s Comuna 8—so high up that the city is constructing a new metro cable to get there!

Since we didn’t have time to wait for construction to finish, Kim and I took an Uber.

Our driver was from Cali and didn’t know how to use his phone’s map app. He got lost multiple times, so it took us twice as long as it should have. Nevertheless, it only cost 14,800 COP from El Poblado. That’s only 4,800 COP more than public transit.

(For penny-pinchers looking to take public transit: take a metro to Prado station for 2,400 COP each, then hop one of the frequent buses that say “Sol de Oriente” or “Cerro Pan de Azúcar” on the front and pay 2,100 COP each.)

The drive to the trailhead was a sightseeing experience in itself. It took us through the narrow streets of the working class neighborhood that we wouldn’t dare walk on but felt safe enough to spy on from the safety of our car’s tinted windows.

We got off at the trailhead in front of an impossible-to-miss, newly built concrete structure that says Sol de Oriente. Click here to see the street view.

Sign saying Hacia la Cima pointing to top of Pan de Azucar
Hacia la Cima = To the Top!

2. Cerro Pan de Azúcar (2.3 km far, 350m up)

Within only a couple of flights of stairs from where we got off our Uber, we’d entered a different world. It was surprisingly peaceful, green, and well-kept compared to the urban chaos we’d left behind. We felt totally safe and completely removed from the city.

It was a Saturday and the park was busy with Paisas from all walks of life. Some had on broken flip-flops and well-worn clothes, others new brightly colored Nikes with matching spandex. We were somewhere in between, but the only foreigners around. What we all had in common was our destination: the peak of Cerro Pan de Azúcar.

Downtown Medellin and sign at base of Pan de Azucar
The city has done a great job of maintaining the trails up to and around Pan de Azúcar
Kim walking up colorful stairs
Colorful stairs up to Pan de Azúcar temporarily distract you from the effort of walking up them.

The 2.3 km long, 350 m high hike to the top of Cerro Pan de Azúcar was easy and took us only thirty minutes. The entire way was cobblestone path and stairs. There were plenty of “Hacia la Cima” (“To the Peak”) signs to show us the way, and we asked the locals when in doubt. For you it’ll be even easier because you can follow the above maps.

At the peak of Cerro Pan de Azúcar, we saw why it’s so popular. We’d been to a lot of fantastic Medellín viewpoints before, but this view took the cake. Actually, not cake; it took the sugar bread, which is how “pan de azúcar” literally translates to in English.

Chris looking down at Medellin view
We’ve been to all the viewpoints and can tell you that Cerro Pan de Azúcar has the best view of downtown Medellín of all of them.

3. Stroll Through Rural Medellín (1.2 km far, 90 m up)

Turning back from the Cerro Pan de Azúcar viewpoint, we followed the sign pointing to “Parque Arví,” passed by a little refreshment hut, and continued straight along the wide hard-packed dirt road through a farming community.

The farms were surprisingly rustic and rural considering how close they were to the city. It was as if someone plucked tiny farms from the most far-flung part of Colombia and plunked them down on the mountainside with million dollar views of Medellín. Million peso views, I guess.

Our farmland tour came to an end at a big open field where it took us a moment to find the narrow path between some hedges that continued on to Parque Arví (see photo below).

Narrow path to look for that leads to Parque Arví
At the open clearing take this narrow path to continue on towards Parque Arví
Farm along way on the Parque Arvi hike
It doesn’t take long to feel like you’re far, far away from Medellín.

4. Up to the Top (1.7 km far, 340 m up)

Despite having rained a lot the past week, the next hundred meters or so of this narrow path was the only muddy and treacherously slippery part of the whole hike. At some parts, we had to grab onto the non-pointy parts of the barbed wire for balance.

After that, the trail widened into a less-slippery dirt and rock path up the mountain, with small trees and shrubs on either side. There were some forks in the road, but they all seemed to reconnect eventually. Keep an eye on the waypoints from the maps above to ensure you’re going in the general right direction.

Towards the top of the mountain, we reached a shrine and a fork in the road. Two young local guys and their dog were resting there guided us to the left. The road was fenced off, but there was an open path to its right that ran parallel to it (see photo below).

Fenced road and side path
Just past the shrine, the road is fenced. Take the path that runs alongside it on the right.

5. Laguna de Guarne and into Parque Arví (3.8 km far, flat)

After the turn-off, the young guys and their dog caught up with us. They asked where we’d hiked from and were surprised when we told them Pan de Azúcar. Even they didn’t know about this backdoor hike to Parque Arví.

We walked and chatted, with the main topic of conversation being the same as we always seem to have with curious Colombians: the weather in Canada. As per usual, they were surprised to hear it’s not always cold and that in the summer it’s sometimes hotter there than in Medellín.

Speaking of cold, the air had gotten brisk now that we were no longer hiking uphill and were over 2,500 meters above sea level, so we put on some long sleeves.

After about a kilometer along the wide, impossible-to-get-lost-on road we arrived at Laguna de Guarne. The guys told us we could swim in it and I was eager to do so, but I kiboshed that idea as soon as I saw it. The laguna was half dried up and not inviting whatsoever. Even the dog only went in up to its belly. Maybe after the wet season it fills up a bit and becomes more inviting.

Photo of dried up Laguna Guarne in Parque Arvi
Laguna de Guarne was not inviting when we went. Even the dog wouldn’t go all the way in.

At Laguna de Guarne we said hasta luego to the guys, skirted the shore past a shack selling refreshments, and continued along the wide road we’d come in on. Soon we started seeing more and more groups of people, which told us we’d officially entered Parque Arví.

The path turned into a paved road and got busier and busier all the way until we arrived at the end of the hike, the Metrocable station.

Barranquero bird in Parque Arvi trees
Keep your eyes peeled for birds like this colorful barranquero while hiking in Parque Arví.

Things to Do in Parque Arví

Once in Parque Arví’s tourism vortex, we found plenty to do. And plenty of people doing it.

Eat

The sidewalks around the Metrocable station were teeming with vendors selling street foods like obleas filled with arequipe (syrup in thin pancake-like wafers), empanadas, and alfandoque (sugar on a stick). We resisted those temptations. Instead, we followed a tip from fellow Canadian bloggers, Goats on the Road, and headed to Cable a Tierra Restaurant to refill our engines with some high-quality fuel.

The hippy, homey restaurant was surrounded by the garden that provides many of its ingredients. It was decorated like a kid’s dollhouse, with random, colorful furniture.

(Heads up: As someone helpfully pointed out in the comments, there’s another Cable a Tierra restaurant right in front of this one we recommend, so don’t get confused, eat at the wrong place, then blame us for crappy recommendations! And please do share your experience in the comments to help future readers out.)

By the kitchen, we chatted with Paula, the manager/chef while her friend worked away at grinding up a huge mound of chickpeas. She explained there is no a la carte, just a 20,000 COP daily menú del día. My eyes bulged at the price, but Kim and I forked up the dough and each got the meal anyway. (It is only $7 USD after all.)

It was worth it.

The dishes, like a cornbread, broccoli, and cheese casserole, and the three-potato quinoa soup were unlike anything we’d had down in the city. And the hot drink was the perfect pick-me-up in the chillier temperatures. The whole meal ended up being one of our favorite menu del dias in Medellin and a well-earned post-hike reward. We heartily recommend it.

Eat some of the Colombian junk food after for dessert, if you must.

Looking into Cable a Tierra restaurant in Parque Arvi
Cable a Tierra is set among the farms that provide many of its ingredients.
Server at Cable a Tierra bringing out food.
Chris: “Could we get a discount if we write nice things about Cable a Tierra?” Laura: “Let me think… No.”

Shop

Around the Metrocable station was a farmers market called Mercado Arví.

Being the weekend, it was running at full blast, with forty plus vendors from nearby Santa Elena selling their fruits, veggies, and treats. We only bought some chard and radishes and would’ve got some more interesting and souvenir-items like local honey and wine made from the Andean blueberry, mortiño if we weren’t so cheap.

Note that, according to the Parque Arví website, on weekdays there only about ten or so vendors.

Hike Some More

We weren’t interested in more hiking, but if you haven’t had enough or want to walk off your big meal from Cable a Tierra, Parque Arví offers multiple guided tours (5,000 to 7,000 COP) and un-guided trails. Find more info here on the official Parque Arví website.


Metrocable Back to Medellín

When it was time to head back down to the warmth, noise, and pollution of Medellín, Kim and I paid 5,500 COP each and rode the Metrocable fifteen minutes to Santo Domingo station. This part of the ride is mostly flat, going over Parque Arví. Get your camera ready for when the plateau ends and Medellín’s Aburrá Valley opens up below you.

At Santo Domingo, we got off and walked half a block to the adjacent station. There we paid again (2,4000 COP) to take another Metrocable down to Acevedo station.

Riding the Metrocable was a different experience. The sounds and sensations of riding in an eight-person gondola brought back flashbacks of childhood winters on Whistler Mountain. I felt naked without my ski gear and poles. And it was strange to be flying over sub-tropical forest and urban jungle instead of snow-topped trees and ski runs.

We got off at Acevedo station, transferred to the metro (free) and rode home, thereby completing the Pan de Azúcar, Parque Arví, Metrocable loop.

Kim sitting in Metrocable over Parque Arvi
The first 15 minutes of the Metrocable ride from Parque Arvi down to Medellin is mostly flat over the park.
Metrocable car with view of Medellin
Then the Metrocable dives back into the city.

More Medellín Attractions and Hikes

Once you’ve crossed Medellín’s top two tourist attractions, Parque Arví and the Metrocable, off your list, what next? Here’s what:

And if you have any questions, feel free to ask us in the comments.

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12 comments

  1. Hi guys, I did this hike yesterday with my friend. We absolutely loved it!
    I have moved to Medellin recently but my friend is born and raised here, and had no idea about this secret entrance into Parque Arvi. It was great surprising him.
    Your instructions were all very clear. I didn’t end up using any maps, just the pics and text!
    Thanks again, you gave us a fantastic day.
    Elsa

    1. Hey Elsa, You made our day with all this comment! Muchisimas gracias. If you’re looking for any other adventures in and around Medellin, don’t hesitate to reach out.

  2. Hey, thanks for the wonderful recommendation.

    Just a correction: Paula’s restuarant is not Cable a Tierra, it’s the one right next to it, to the right. It doesnt seem to have a name, but it does have a sign saying vegetarian meal on dpsbish. Hopefully you can correct the post so Paula doesn’t lose any customers 🙂

    1. Hey OO, Thanks for highlighting this. Paula’s restaurant is truly called Cable a Tierra, but there is also a non-veggie and not-as-unique restaurant in front of it and closer to the road called Cable a Tierra too. I’ll update the post to clarify. And maybe the next person who reads this comment and does the hike can ask why both restaurants took the same name!

  3. Hey guys! We’ve been using your blog as our “Google” for Medellin. Muchas gracias :). We took the “conventional” route to get to Parque Arvi because we are unconventionally traveling with a 5 and 2 year old and thought the hike would be too long. Alas we ended up walking nearly 5 miles anyway. However, your restaurant recommendation was spot on and an experience we will remember forever. Not only did Laura give us two blankets for the girls (to keep, she insisted, “Con amor”) but she gave me a mini-massage because I guess she could see into my mama soul that traveling with little people is hard. Thank you again, and if you hadnt mentioned the restaurant in front being the wrong one, we would have missed this gem. Our veggie cassoulet, patacones con aguacate y sopa de brécol we’re all truly amazing. My meat eating partner left full and happy! Muchas muchas gracias, y amor también.

    P.S. If you ever want to expand some of your posts to include tips for those of us traveling con niñas, let me know!!!

    1. Hola Theresa, Exitoooo! I’m really glad you guys managed to make it to Cable a Tierra and had the same awesome experience we did. And it’s inspiring to hear parents with young kids can take the (simplified) unconventional route too. One day that’ll be us hopefully and we’ll have to rely on YOU as our resource for tips. And on that note, I’ll email you about your interest in sharing some tips on this site.
      All the best!

  4. Hi, I have a silly question (maybe I missed it elsewhere on the blog) – is your Duration of 3-4 hours one way, or round trip? I am so interested in doing this hike but need to manage our limited time in Medellin and also the preference to be back down before the sunsets. Thank you!

    1. Hey Janette, 3-4 hours one way. We left around 7:30 a.m., got to the start of the hike around 8:30, got lost for half an hour finding the way (which hopefully you won’t with these instructions), ade it to the top of Pan de Zucar by 9:30, got to Cable a Tierra by 11:40, ate very leisurely for an hour and a half-ish, checked out the market atop Arvi until about 1:30, then took the Metrocable and metro hope by 3.

  5. Hi I love your recommendation and really want to do this hike..
    Would you say it’s safe to do on my own?
    Kind regards
    Malou

    1. Hey Malou, Good question. If I were you, I’d ask around at some hostels and find people to go with. The odds are you’ll be fine doing it on your own—the lower part to Cerro Pan de Azucar is always busy and you’ll be fine, then the latter part of the hike is so remote nobody would think of going there to rob people—but it’s certainly a better idea to go with others. Another idea would be to ask for a hiking buddy on the Medellin Hiking or Kinkaju Facebook group.

  6. BEWARE – we did this hike yesterday and halfway up we were mugged and held captive for 20 minutes by 6 guys who had machetes… we are lucky to be alive but they took everything. We begged for some of our cash back so we could take the taxi home. Lost 3 phones, our backpack, snacks, watch, hats, jewelry… pretty much everything. We were using this post as a guide and the hardcopy was in the backpack they took. So they know this route too…

    1. That’s horrifying! I’m so sorry this happened to you. Thanks for sharing with us. I’m going to email you privately for more information so I can use every connection we and our friends might have in Medellin to let to let police, parks, and tourism know these guys are out there and hopefully deter them from doing this again.

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