A tour of the La Sierra neighborhood in Medellín is a new tour being offered by two partners. All facets of this new tour were derived from six months of extensive research and visits to the La Sierra neighborhood multiple times per week.
There’s no shortage of tours here in Medellín. From the Comuna 13 graffiti tours, to coffee farms and walking tours, there’s plenty to keep you busy during your visits to Medellín. And each tour is unique in its own special way.
Having lived in Medellín for almost five months, I was on the hunt for a different type of experience. Something unique that I hadn’t done before. A tour that allowed me to see a different side of Medellín.
Note the above photo is a view from the La Sierra neighborhood.
Enter La Sierra Tours
If you have not heard of La Sierra, you are not alone. I had not heard of this area or neighborhood prior to my fifth month of living here.
For many years, La Sierra was not only a dangerous area for tourists, but even Colombians would not dare venture there. However, to put it in perspective, many felt the same way about Comuna 13 five years ago. And now there are popular graffiti tours in Comuna 13.
The La Sierra Documentary
La Sierra is a neighborhood, within Villa Hermosa (Comuna 8), which is hidden in the mountains on the east side of Medellín. For many years, paramilitary wars between Comuna 8 and Comuna 9 were severe. And the citizens of La Sierra felt this effect.
To truly comprehend what it was like living in Comuna 8 in the early 2000s, I recommend watching the La Sierra (English Subtitled) documentary. The documentary was made in 2005 – so let me kindly remind you that the area has changed drastically since this film was made. The storyline is emotionally volatile and heavy with violence.
Within moments of watching, the emotionally charged documentary showcases a woman screaming and crying due to the loss of her baby’s father through gunfire. It’s nothing short of heart wrenching. I couldn’t help but feel stunned at how this was the reality for so many.
Today, the neighborhood has come to a peaceful resolution. And La Sierra Tours is giving locals a platform to share these stories.
La Sierra Tours
La Sierra Tours was developed by two partners who bring complimentary experiences. Arthur, the behind the scenes maverick, has been in the tour industry for eight years and was one of the originators of the Comuna 13 tour.
Milena is the other partner and also serves as the head tour guide. A lifelong resident of Medellín, she has seen the city’s very best and worst days. The passion and love she has for her city shines through and commands respect. This passion provides an amazing foundation for her storytelling.
I respected that the originators of the La Sierra Tour developed this experience from scratch. No mimicking existing tours or copycatting ideas. All facets of the tour were derived from six months of extensive research and visits to the neighborhood multiple times per week.
In addition, local leaders, social activists and residents were asked directly about their needs, wants and desires for a potential tour.
Milena has also garnered the respect of the local priest and Italian missionaries who have volunteered in the community for years. Marching into a new comuna with a pack of tourists would have been offensive to the locals, so it made me happy that this tour had a lot of heart and grit behind it.
The Changing La Sierra Neighborhood
Like many areas of the city, the Metrocable and electric tram have changed how people access areas previously inaccessible. In December 2017, the metrocable line that takes you to La Sierra (Line H) will celebrate its one year anniversary. This new metrocable line now provides citizens and tourists the ability to easily enter and exit.
Prior to the metrocable line, there was only one windy road in and out of Comuna 8. The isolation allowed for easy control by armed groups.
Much like Comuna 13, Comuna 8 was initially founded by farmers coming to Medellín looking for work. Due to the sheer cost of the city, residents began to take over mountain sides and claimed the land. Their background in construction allowed for easy assembly of their homes and the community grew exponentially.
Investment in Villa Hermosa
I met Milena at the San Antonio metro station on Line A of the Medellín Metro at the start of the tour. In the beginning, she briefly explained the map of the metro and gave us a few insights into how public transit works in Medellín. We then took the electric tramway, east from San Antonio station to the Oriente station, which is the last stop.
Finally, we took the Line H metrocable line to its last stop, Villa Sierra. As we exited the Villa Sierra station we went to a beautiful outdoor gym with some of the most gorgeous views I’ve seen.
And next, after a short bus ride, we felt like we were on top of the city. I was amazed by the sheer number of parks and greenery.
Beautifully paved sidewalks and greenery winds around the mountaintops. Milena guided us through the numerous amounts of plants, flowers, and small streams. The layout of the park was modeled after Medellín’s indigenous ancestors.
Milena shares how this park is an example of how Medellín is giving the city and public spaces, back to its citizens.
Medellín is finally giving the city back to its people. We feel safe to be outside again. For my generation, and the one above mine, we didn’t have that. But the kids today don’t know any different, and now they can play outside safely and securely. – Milena
La Sierra Tours Give Back to the Community
Without a doubt, the most touching moment on the tour was meeting Doña Nena (as the residents affectionately call her). Doña Nena runs a local kitchen at her church. The kitchen feeds approximately 160 children and disabled locals per week – for no cost. The program runs solely on donations.
This company knew that if they were going to form a tour within Comuna 8, they had to give back to the community in some fashion. Therefore, for each person who takes a tour with La Sierra Tours – the company donates enough funds to sponsor two weeks’ worth of lunch for a child. It’s their mission to give back to a neighborhood who deserves it. Spending 15 minutes talking and interacting with the children was a personal highlight.
I must not be alone in that sentiment. Milena mentioned another guest was so touched by what he witnessed, he immediately bought an industrial sized blender and donated it to the kitchen.
These random acts of kindness are an obvious sign of how much this tour touches the heart. La Sierra Tours is also planning to paint a mural for the local children and donate much needed supplies to the kitchen. If you are interested in helping, you can donate to the project here.
La Sierra Tours Summary
The tour of La Sierra lasts approximately 4 – 5 hours. The length can vary because of the authentic experiences you will encounter along the way.
For example, along our route, we sat and practiced English with local children and met a resident who had lived in the area for 40+ years. He told us stories from the days of the guerrillas and how he refused to leave his residence unless they dragged him out (they did not and did not bother him again).
Ironically, this man had two white puppies at his side with orange painted toenails. Not one you would assume would have this type of story, but that’s the authenticity and joy you receive during the La Sierra tour.
I want my guests to have an authentic experience. If I see my guests interacting with locals, I let it play out. Each tour offers a slightly different experience, but it’s what makes our tour so different. Locals aren’t used to seeing tourists and they want to make you feel as welcome in their neighborhood. – Milena
The tour costs 70,000 pesos (approximately $23 US dollars) and the starting point is the San Antonio metro station. You can book your tour and find more information on the La Sierra Tours website.
I highly recommend taking the tour while in its infancy. Five years from now, when it may become a popular and more common experiences within Medellín, you’ll be thankful you were one of the originals.
Tours in Medellín
We have covered five different tours in Medellín:
- La Sierra Tours tours in the La Sierra barrio in Medellín – this community is being transformed with improved accessibility and investment.
- Graffiti Tour of Comuna 13 – a community that has been transformed by improved accessibility, street art and community solidarity.
- Two of the best walking tours in Medellín – walking tours are one of the best ways to explore Medellín.
- Pablo Escobar Tours – is a controversial Escobar tour worth going on?
- Urban Coffee Tour – a new coffee tour in Medellín.
We also provided a recommended tourist itinerary for a day in Medellín.
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