Home to 2.5 million residents, the capital of the state of Antioquia is no small country town. Medellín's climate may be famously pleasant, but it comes with a multisensory chorus of honking cars, heavy foot traffic and noisy vendors pushing vintage shopping carts through its neighborhoods loaded with carafes of tinto (coffee).
Understandably, visitors sometimes need a reprieve from the big city crush and a taste of a totally different landscape altogether. With coffee plantations, orchid farms and historic pueblos (townships) dotting the hills around Medellín, there's so much to explore. Here are the best day trips from the City of Eternal Spring.
Why go: For the small-town vibe
Often considered an outlying neighborhood of Medellín, Envigado is very much its own little city, with its own metro stop providing easy access from downtown Medellín. The population of Envigado is approximately one-tenth that of Medellín and you'll immediately appreciate its less-crowded vibe.
Highlights of the city include the Casa Museo Otraparte (a house-turned-museum dedicated to writer and philosopher Fernando González), the ritzy Viva Envigado shopping complex, and La Casa de Las Piedritas, a private home delicately crafted from a hodgepodge of colorful materials just north of the city’s main park.
If you’d like to pair your Envigado adventure with another urban stop, the small town of Sabaneta has some interesting colonial-era churches and houses. It's just southwest of Envigado and also served by the metro.
How to get to Envigado and Sabaneta: Medellín’s metro line A (Niquía–La Estrella) stops in Envigado; it's a 20-minute walk to the center of town from the station. Depending on traffic, you can also get to Envigado by taxi or Uber in about 20 minutes.
Why go: For the views
Take a stroll through the touristy El Poblado neighborhood in Medellín and you’ll be greeted with “Guatapé tour" signs galore. If you're looking for a day trip with easy access, stunning natural beauty and seamless transportation options, this is it. Situated on an emerald-fringed man-made lake, the small town of Guatapé is decorated with murals that pop with color, wrapped around an intimate town square – Plazoleta de Los Zócalos – that has equally popping buildings lined up all around it.
There are plenty of traditional and international restaurants in town, but the main draw is just outside of Guatapé. About 5 minutes south of the center, you’ll see the towering outcrop of Piedra de Peñol, an isolated granite inselberg looming over the countryside. A steep flight of 600-plus steps weaves up its side; make it to the top and you'll be rewarded with unhindered, 360-degree views of the lake and the Andes mountains beyond. You'll feel – and literally be – on top of the world.
How to get to Guatapé: Buses depart from Medellín’s north bus station (Terminal Norte) regularly and can take you to Guatapé in less than 2 hours. This is the most popular day trip from Medellín, and countless private tour companies offer Guatapé and Piedra de Peñol excursions.
Coffee culture in Jardín and Andes
Why go: For great coffee and views
In a country known for its prized coffee, the towns of Jardín and Andes are essential stops for coffee lovers. These two coffee-growing towns are close together, around 130 kilometers south of the center of Medellín, but it's a winding journey by bus or car to get to them. Andes is the first town you’ll encounter – its pretty main plaza is marked by a circular fountain, a handsome cream and yellow church, and street coffee vendors serving up fresh brews made with local beans.
More touristy Jardín is 16km southwest, a further 25 minutes along the same road. On arrival, head to its main square – Plaza del Libertador – and admire the colorful lines of colonial-era buildings over a pour-over coffee from Cafe Macanas or the De los Andes Café. From town, you can take horseback excursions to local coffee farms, go bird watching in the Gallito de la Roca bird reserve or hike to the scenic Cueva del Esplendor, a waterfall erupting inside a cave.
To take in all the Jardín and Andes action, consider an overnight trip. Casa Passiflora Hotel and Hotel Plantación in Jardín are upscale options in the heart of town, but there are plenty of unique and quiet homestays within minutes of the center.
How to get to Jardín and Andes: Direct buses to Andes and Jardín depart nearly hourly from Medellín’s south bus station (Terminal Sur), or you can arrange trips by car. Either way, count on a long day trip with 3 hours' travel in each direction.
Santa Fe de Antioquia
Why go: For the suspension bridge walk
When Medellín residents want a reprieve from major city life, Santa Fe de Antioquia is their favorite escape. Founded in 1541, this small town is renowned for its well-preserved colonial architecture. Indeed, before Medellín was named capital of Antioquia in 1888, this town was the administrative hub for the whole region.
A must-do experience in Santa Fe de Antioquia is strolling over the historic Puente de Occidente suspension bridge, constructed in 1895. Crossing the muddy Cauca River, this is one of the longest suspension bridges in the world and it was one of the first suspension bridges in the Americas. For a refreshing dip, head to the Kanaloa Water Park, loved by local families for its larger-than-life animal statues, lazy river and towering waterslides.
How to get to Santa Fe de Antioquia: Buses to Santa Fe de Antioquia depart nearly every 20 minutes from Medellín's Terminal Norte and Terminal Sur. Count on the journey taking 1 hour and 45 minutes one-way.
Why go: For the flowers
Calling all flower lovers! Medellín’s best-loved annual festival – Feria de Las Flores (the Flower Festival) – typically takes place every August. The highlight is the iconic Desfile de Silleteros (Parade of Saddlemen) which starts 18km east in the quaint pueblo of Santa Elena. Participants in the parade haul massive, artistic floats composed entirely of flowers down mountainous roads all the way to Medellín. If you can build your Medellín trip around one event, make it Feria de Las Flores.
Beyond the festival, Santa Elena offers a colorful and authentic glimpse of ordinary Colombian life. The town consists of little more than a singular looping street with restaurants and a statue honoring the Saddlemen at its southern edge. The orchid farms surrounding the town are part of what makes this region so special. Arrange an orchid tour locally to add bonus color to a Santa Elena day trip.
How to get to Santa Elena: Any taxi or Uber can take you from Medellín to Santa Elena, a journey of 35 minutes. Slower buses depart frequently from the Placita de Flores near the intersection of Calle 50 and Carrera 42 downtown.