Medellín is one of the most popular cities to visit in Colombia for tourists and natives alike.
Nestled amongst the Andes Mountains in the Antioquia region, this cultural hub is truly the stuff of postcards. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring”, the weather here is as lovely as the scenery – and you’ll find the mild temperatures are much the same no matter what time of year you are visiting.
Medellín has become a relatively relaxed metropolis bedecked in colorful murals and bronze Botero statues. Although calm and collected, Medellín is one of the 10 most beautiful cities in South America, and when the sun goes down you’d be hard-pressed to find a better nightlife anywhere else in the country.
Although this vibrant city is big and bustling, the surrounding nature provides a lush backdrop and plenty of fun day trips for those looking to get off the grid for a while.
Whether you’re interested in charming colonial towns, national parks, iconic natural monuments, or authentic Paisa countryside, you’ll find something that’ll take your breath away among these 12 best day trips from Medellín.
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The little village of Guatapé is one of the most popular day trips from Medellín, and once you catch sight of the massive Piedra del Peñol you’ll understand why. At over 2,000 meters high, it’s hard to miss this colossal monolith. Those who aren’t scared of heights (or of breaking a sweat) can venture up the 740 stairs to the top.
Those who make it all the way up the long, narrow, and, at some points, vertical steps will be rewarded with epic panorama views of the Antioquian countryside and jade lake below. After you take in the incredible (yet a bit nerve-wracking) views, you can head back down the same staircase you worked so hard to get up.
Once back on solid ground, don’t hesitate to reward yourself with a refreshing mango michelada – one of Colombia’s best remedies for thirst.
You could also opt to keep the heart rate up with a trip out onto the lake where paddle boarding, jet skiing, and zip-lining are sure to keep you entertained for hours on end.
As if all of this weren’t enough to convince you that Guatapé is one of the best day trips from Medellín, the pueblo itself offers up tons of small-town charm. Walk along the cobblestone streets and marvel at the colorful homes that line them, stop to admire the paintings of llamas and Campesinos, or grab some traditional Colombian grub from one of the many restaurants (we recommend trying at least one plateful of Bandeja Paisa while you’re in this region).
If you’d like to experience Guatapé and the surrounding area for more than just a few hours, book a bed at one of the hostels in town, or rent one of the lovely waterfront fincas (farmhouses that are great for groups) that this district is famous for.
2. San Rafael
To skip the crowds that you might find in Gautapé, keep heading north for about another hour and visit the hidden gem of San Rafael. You won’t stumble across many tourists here (if any at all), mainly because the town itself doesn’t have much to offer – but if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find some of the most breathtaking natural landscapes in the country.
Thanks to its lower altitude, San Rafael and the surrounding area is a tropical paradise complete with verdant jungles, mountainside waterfalls, and rushing rivers. This is one of the best day trips from Medellín for adventurous souls or couples looking for a romantic getaway, as the options for exploring this unspoiled oasis are infinite.
Swim in the crystal clear waters, hike through the jungle as you listen to the monkeys calling, or book an unforgettable canyoning excursion.
Although the bustling town of San Rafael isn’t the main attraction, it’s still worth a visit. You’ll find a lively central square, a lovely church, and plenty of terraced restaurants where you can grab a bite to eat after a day of exploring the surrounding area.
If you’re too exhausted to travel all the way back to Medellín, book a night or two in a riverside eco-lodge, a scenic guesthouse next to a natural pool, or a hostel that offers language lessons. Your options are endless!
3. Parque Arví
Those looking for a nearby day trip from Medellín that won’t break the bank should head straight for Parque Arví, located on the outskirts of Santa Elena. Situated on the eastern slopes of the verdant Aburrá Valley, this stunning slice of nature is just a cable car ride away from Medellín’s city center. Aside from the transportation costs, this day trip will cost you absolutely nothing!
Parque Arví is an ecological nature reserve that boasts numerous trails and endless vistas. You could easily spend the whole day hiking along the forested pathways, taking in the beautiful flora and fauna, and breathing in the clean mountain air that can only be found outside of the city center.
You’ll come across highland streams, archeological sites, and plenty of places to lay down a blanket for a scenic picnic. There’s even an adventure playground located inside of the park, complete with zip lines, wooden platforms, and ropeways.
If you didn’t pack a picnic, you’ll find a few places inside the park to grab some food and refreshments – but if nothing catches your eye, you can head into the nearby town of Santa Elena for more options.
4. Santa Elena
On par with the verdant scenery of Parque Arví, the small town of Santa Elena is one of the best and closest day trips from Medellín.
Although just 10 miles from downtown Medellín, Santa Elena’s location on the top of the Aburrá Valley means that the weather is a bit more temperamental than its moderate neighbor. When the skies are overcast, you’ll likely need a sweater and a rain jacket – and when the sun is shining you won’t want to be without some sunscreen and a full water bottle. Keep the weather in mind before making your way to Santa Elena.
Life moves a bit slower here than it does in Medellín, so you can take your time making your way through this charming town. Its typical Colombian square is a great place for people-watching with a cup of Tinto (coffee) in hand – and the lovely church and sculptures add to the scenic surroundings.
One of the best things to do in Santa Elena is to visit the Finca Museo Herencia Silletera, where you can learn all about the famous Feria de Flores, the annual event where hundreds of farmers make their way down the mountainside from Santa Elena into Medellín with large bundles of flowers strapped to their backs.
The parade is a representation of the freedom and longevity of the Paisa identity, and if you’re lucky enough to be in town during this famous celebration, it’s not something you should miss.
The museum will also give you a look inside the region’s rich history, a hefty dose of the local culture, and of course, plenty of views of the colorful flowers that they harvest for the Feria. If you’re really interested in local horticulture, you can plan your trip around one of the museum’s workshops to learn more about the agriculture of this area.
5. Santa Fe de Antioquia
Situated in the Cauca River Valley about an hour and a half north of Medellín is the charming town of Santa Fe de Antioquia. This is one of Colombia’s Heritage Towns, and it’s the closest one you’ll find to Medellín.
Rife with beautiful colonial architecture and more sunlight than anywhere else in the region, Santa Fe de Antioquia is just as popular with Paisas as it is with tourists. To get the most out of your time here we recommend leaving Medellín early to avoid wasting time in traffic, especially if you’re planning to visit on a weekend.
The town was founded back in 1541, so after you spend some time in the Plaza Mayor, you can wander the idyllic cobbled streets and take in the colonial grandeur that has earned Santa Fe de Antioquia its designation as a national monument.
Your first stop in town should be to the historic Catedral Basílica de la Inmaculada Concepción, a beautiful old church at the center stage of one of the most beautiful plazas in the region.
Another point of interest in this historic gem may seem a bit out of place amongst all the old architecture, but the iconic Puente del Occidente, a modern suspension bridge that crosses the Cauca River, should not be missed.
If you’re trying to beat the heat while in town, spend the day at the waterpark or pop into one of the many mouthwatering restaurants for a delicious meal and refreshing juice to wash it down.
You could also decide to stay for a night or two and soak up the sun from one of the Finca hotels located in the surrounding area – most of which, feature pools!
Another one of Colombia’s Heritage Towns can be found about 3 hours south of Medellín – and the idyllic village of Jardín is well worth the long drive.
Take a bus or drive yourself, and you’ll pass through some of the steepest Andes peaks in the country along the way. The hairpin turns may be a bit daunting at certain points, but the views alone along this route are well worth the hair-raising ride.
The spectacular views continue in Jardín, which is surrounded by verdant banana trees, passion fruit crops, and coffee plantations. Life moves a bit slower here, and the quiet calm will have you forgetting the hustle and bustle of Medellín in no time.
Jardín is a town rife with coffee, cowboys, and confections – and you should get at least a small dose of each while in town.
- A great cup of Joe can be found virtually anywhere in this tiny town, but one of the local favorites is Cafe Macanas.
- For sweets, make a beeline to Dulces de Jardín, where you can try an assortment of jams and other delicious treats.
- For the best cowboy viewing, visit Jardín on a weekend evening, where you’ll find equestrians riding around and performing stunts in the main plaza. Consider staying the night just so you can see one of these performances!
If you do decide to turn your day trip into a weekend getaway, you’ll find plenty to keep you busy. Those who have the guts can take a trip up the rickety cable car (which is really more like a shed on a cord!) to get the best views across the area.
If you prefer to keep your feet on solid ground, a stroll along the lovely cobbled streets will still give you astounding views of the mountains. Be sure to stop by the plaza to see the stunning Templo Parroquial de la Inmaculada Concepción.
If you loved the tranquil mountain vibes of Jardín, Jericó is another great destination to check out on a day trip from Medellín.
Although relatively close in proximity to Medellín, you’ll have to take winding mountain roads to reach Jericó. During the 3-hour trip, you’ll be treated to absolutely stunning views – though it may come at the price of a little car sickness if you take the bus.
Those who make the journey to Jericó will be rewarded with one of Colombia’s best hidden gems, and this tiny town will likely be void of other tourists. This colonial mountain village is full of churches, and these holy buildings combined with the quiet ambiance make it feel truly sacred.
Although relatively relaxed, Jericó offers up some blood-pumping activities as well. Paragliding is extremely popular here, and seeing the town from above will make you appreciate just how beautiful this area truly is. You could also take a hike up to Morro El Salvador for incredible views of the town, or head to Mirador Parque Natural Las Nubes to take in a breathtaking sunset or enjoy a picnic.
You could also hang around the town itself – wander through some of the free museums and galleries, or simply roam the streets and admire the lovely old architecture.
8. Reserva Natural Cañon Río Claro
For a truly off-the-grid experience, head to the Reserva Natural Cañon Río Claro for the day. Located about 3 hours southeast of Medellín, this pristine natural area is a privately owned oasis that is all about reconnecting with nature.
The beautiful Río Claro really is shockingly clear, and although making the long journey here just to marvel at it would be worth it there’s so much more to do.
Go tubing along the stream with a beer in hand, or take a white water rafting trip down the gentle waves. You’ll be surrounded by verdant jungle on all sides, and you might even spot a few howler monkeys and other local wildlife along the way.
You could also stick to land and go for a hiking and spelunking tour of the Parque Nacional Cueva de Los Guácharos and swim between the underground pools of the caves. You’ll likely spot some nesting Guácharo birds here as well, in addition to some breathtaking scenery and biodiversity unlike anywhere else in the world.
There’s a lot to do in this area, and if you find yourself wanting to spend more than a few hours being one with nature, there’s a family-friendly hotel, an eco-lodge, and other, more primitive accommodations nearby.
9. Hacienda Napoles
Whether you decide to stay overnight in the area or not, the nearby Hacienda Napoles is a must-see. Located just a few miles away from the Reserva Natural Cañon Río Claro, this stunning estate once belonged to the infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar.
Today, the property is anything but sinister – and what was once a party palace and clandestine business bungalow is now a part theme park and zoo. Escobar had an impressive collection of exotic animals, and once the property was raided, many escaped into the wild and even began breeding naturally.
African hippos are now thriving along the Magdalena River, and some are part of the park’s zoo. You’ll also find giraffes, rhinos, Bengal tigers, lions, elephants, and zebras along with a fun interactive dinosaur exhibit.
Once you’re ready to cool off, the water park is full of fun rides – including a lazy river and a large swimming area. Although Escobar is anything but glorified in Colombia, you can also tour the old estate and learn a bit more about Pablo if you’re interested in this country’s astounding history.
One of the closest day trips from Medellín is the beautiful town of Cocorná. The town is located just an hour and a half to the southeast, and you’ll be able to enjoy scenic mountain views the whole way. Although relatively unknown amongst tourists, Cocorná is definitely a favorite with adventure seekers and adrenaline junkies.
The village is small, and the area surrounding it is really what draws people here from Medellín. Encompassed by forested mountains and winding rivers, getting outside is the best way to explore Cocorná.
Paragliding is one of the most popular activities, and you’ll take off from a stunning vista point high above the town. This is just the start of the breathtaking views you’ll experience while up high, and you likely won’t find a better spot for paragliding in the whole country.
Other popular outdoor activities in Cocorná include horseback riding, canyoning, white water rafting, and hiking. No matter how you choose to spend your time, you’ll leave with clean air in your lungs and memories that are sure to last a lifetime.
This area has been a popular adventure tourism destination since the 1980s, so if you find yourself wanting to stay for a night or two, there are plenty of hotels in and around Cocorná.
11. El Carmen de Viboral
World-famous for its beautiful handcrafted ceramics, El Carmen de Viboral is one of the best day trips from Medellín. Situated in the eastern highlands of Antioquia, this small village produces one of Colombia’s most prized artisanal creations.
The pottery tradition here dates back to the 19th century, and no two pieces are the same. Every single piece is hand-painted with the utmost care, and the beautiful designs are as unique as the ceramics themselves. If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind souvenir from your time in Colombia, look no further.
Head to the pottery museum after a bit of shopping and learn all about this ancient craft, or plan your visit around one of the pottery workshops held throughout the year and make your own unique creation.
For a truly immersive experience, you can meet with the family who runs the pottery factory and get a first-hand account of the importance of the industry to this region.
One of the best things about El Carmen de Viboral is that it’s just an hour outside of Medellín, so you’ll have no trouble being back in town for dinner. It’s also a relatively flat journey compared to some of the other mountainous towns on our list, making it a safe choice for those who tend to get car sick.
12. San Carlos
Relatively unknown amongst tourists, San Carlos is one of the best day trips from Medellín. Although it’s a 3-hour journey through the mountains to get there, this little pueblo is well worth the trip.
San Carlos is all about water activities and hiking, so those looking to spend some time outdoors will love this small town. Hunt for waterfalls on one of the many trails outside of the city, spread out at the quiet La Planta Beach on the shores of Rio San Carlos, or stroll around the Parque Principal and take in the incredible views and the lovely architecture of the Iglesia San Carlos de Borromeo.
Although San Carlos is now a thriving town with happy locals, it has a bloody history – one that’s not so far in the past. In the 1990s, as many as 80 percent of the town’s residents fled the violence of the FARC (a guerilla group), who were taking over the region. Today, many of the original residents have returned now that the FARC has been pushed out – and this bustling pueblo is one of the best examples of revival in the country.
You’ll likely see a large military and police presence here because of the violent history, but fear not – they’re only there to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself in this beautiful little town.