Parque Arví Through the Back Door
This post is part of Everything to Know Before Visiting Medellin, a collection of no-B.S., unique guides to how to have an unforgettable stay in Colombia.
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.
Three readers have reported being robbed on this hike, so take extreme caution. Go in a group and avoid the twilight hours. Sadly, even then, you aren’t guaranteed safety.
Consider this from Alison, whose group of ten was robbed:
“If you still want to go, we recommend taking Metrocable to ’13 de noviembre’ and go through the parc called Jardín Circunvalar. The parc itself is great and quite safe with some police presence. Talk to the people who sell juices and fruits and ask them if there have been reports of robbers in the hills before continuing.”
Parque Arví and Metrocable Hike Outline
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
Things to Do in Parque Arví
Once in Parque Arví’s tourism vortex, we found plenty to do. And plenty of people doing it.
Oct 2019 Update: According to reader DP in the comments, and based on all other indications, Cable a Tierra has closed down. If it miraculously reopens, please let us know!
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.
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
[Note: As Nic helpfully points out in the comments, beware that the last cable car leaves at 6 p.m. If you miss it, a bus leaves from across the street and saves you money (only 3,000), but costs you a lot of time (2 hours).]
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.
More Medellín Hikes
Once you’ve crossed Medellín’s top two tourist attractions, Parque Arví and the Metrocable, off your list, what next?
Try one of these other Medellin hikes.
More Magnificent Medellín Experiences
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