Santa Fe de Antioquia is known for its well-preserved colonial architecture and cobbled streets. And it’s the perfect pueblo for a day trip from Medellín.
Don’t get me wrong. I love living in Medellín. The weather is perfect nearly every day. The people are friendly. The mountains are beautiful. But sometimes, you just need to escape the city. Sometimes you just want a change of scenery and some fresh air.
So, when my friends recently suggested a day trip to the neighboring pueblo of Santa Fe de Antioquia, I instantly said “I’m in!”
It wasn’t until later that my Google research revealed that there was seemingly very little to see, do or experience there. Top of the lists were to visit the six churches and a religious artifacts museum. Considering I am not particularly religious and the museum would be closed on the day we went, I didn’t have high expectations.
It certainly didn’t sound like it would have the same adventurous selection of activities that you would find in a day trip to Guatapé. Nor did it sound like it would have the charm of a weekend excursion to Jardin.
Nonetheless, I was desperate for a change of scenery. So, I still went. What I encountered surprised me.
The nationally historical pueblo of Santa Fe de Antioquia, which is only a short 50 miles from Medellín, provides the perfect ‘escape the city’ day trip from Medellín. And it turns out there is more to do there than look at churches. Although, I would highly recommend that too!
Note the above photo is the the main square in Santa Fe de Antioquia. Here’s what you can do in Santa Fe de Antioquia:
Explore One of the Oldest Colonial Cities in Latin America
Founded in 1541 by Jorge Robledo, Santa Fe de Antioquia reigns as one of the oldest settlements in the region. It is also one of the best-preserved pueblos in Colombia.
Affectionately called by some as ‘The Mother City’, Santa Fe, was originally the capital of Antioquia. However, in 1826 the Government of Antioquia moved to Medellín, taking with it all the money for investment in infrastructure. Consequently, it left Santa Fe a beautiful preserved pueblo where time has essentially stood still.
Within the historical city center, you will still find cobbled streets lined with whitewashed houses. Most are a mixture of either one or two-story constructions that are arranged around picturesque courtyards.
When you stroll through the town, you will encounter a plethora of architectural gems from historical churches to bougainvillea lined plazas. All of which have been declared a national monument.
Ride Through Scenic Landscapes
As so often is the case in traveling, it’s not always about the destination, but it’s about the journey. And the journey to Santa Fe is noteworthy in and of itself.
Located only a little over an hour by car or bus from Medellín, a road-trip to Santa Fe takes you through some spectacular landscapes.
The journey starts with snaking your way west out of Medellín past the fairly new La Aurora Western Metrocable and the neighboring barrios before entering the Fernando Gomez Martinez tunnel. More on that in a bit.
Upon exiting the other side, you’ll be surrounded in cloud-covered Andean highlands. As you descend through banana and coffee plantations, you’ll see the lush, emerald green jungle fade away. In its wake, is an arid, dusty brown landscape that is occasionally dotted with cactuses.
Nestled at 1879 feet (573 meters), Santa Fe is at a much lower altitude than Medellín, prompting the change in vegetation. The elevation change also produces a decidedly warmer temperature and higher humidity that are readily noticeable on your perspiring arms instantly on arriving.
The vast change in climate and landscape is captivating, making the 50 mile (80 km) drive almost worthy of the trip itself.
Travel Through the Longest Tunnel in Latin America (Tunel del Occidente)
The only way that you used to be able to get to the warm paradise of Santa Fe was by a very winding road that took more than two hours.
Then, in 2006, the Fernando Gomez Martinez Tunnel was opened, shaving off more than 30 minutes of travel time. Which is probably the most important fact for most visitors heading on a day trip to Santa Fe.
However, it shouldn’t be forgotten that the ‘Tunnel of the West’ is quite an engineering feat and its construction demonstrates Colombia’s rapidly progressing economy.
With a total length of 2.8 miles (4.6km) it is the longest tunnel in Colombia, and indeed it’s reportedly the longest in Latin America.
The construction took eight years, involved moving 10 million cubic meters of earth, and demanded an investment of 20 billion pesos. The result is a super modern tunnel that includes 42 television cameras, 800 lamps, and 200 miles of electrical wiring. It even broadcasts its own radio station (106.9 on the dial).
It is an excellent example of how Colombia is investing in its infrastructure and looking forward towards a more prosperous future.
Walk Across the Oldest Suspension Bridge in Colombia (Puente de Occidente)
If you head 2.2 miles (5 km) North East out of Santa Fe you’ll reach the Puente de Occidente, a narrow suspension bridge that stretches across the muddy Rio Cauca.
When the ‘Bridge of the West’ was finished in 1895, it was considered the seventh largest suspension bridge in the world. It still remains one of the longest and oldest in Latin America and has since been declared a National Monument.
It is an awe-inspiring piece of construction. At both ends are twin peaked towers which support a suspension/cable-stayed hybrid structural system. The same was used in the Brooklyn Bridge. This is no coincidence. The architect of the Puente de Occidente, José María Villa, also participated as the assistant engineer in the construction of the structure posed over the East River in New York.
The original structure was updated in 1925 with stronger and more stable steel foundation. And further significant restoration was performed in the early part of 2014. But the charm of the original construction remains. The rickety, single lane crossing is still made of wooden slats, as are the pedestrian crosswalks that flank each side.
Walking across the third longest river in Colombia was one of my highlights of going to Santa Fe. The crossing provided some magnificent views of the unspoiled Antioquian countryside.
If you travel by bus to Santa Fe, then you can hire a moto ratón (motorised tuk-tuk) to drive you out to this monument. Definitely not to be missed.
Marvel at the Colonial Churches and Architecture
I’m not a religious person and during my world travels, I’ve seen my fair share of churches. So, the thought of seeing more in Santa Fe originally held no appeal for me.
However, upon arriving I was taken aback by their simplistic beauty. The decaying Spanish designs captivated me. Maybe it was the picture perfect blue sky in the background. Maybe it was the laid-back vibe of the town. Or maybe it was just such a contrast from Medellín. Either way I fell in love with their charm.
My favorite was the imposing white facade of the Metropolitan Basilica that stood guard of the main square. Unfortunately, the Plaza Mayor was under construction – getting an entire set of new paving stones – so capturing a good photo of this 1837 masterpiece was hard.
Equally beguiling was the church of Our Lady of Chiquinquirá. Located three blocks from the main square, it’s neoclassical and baroque style was constructed between 1863 and 1868. Nearby is the House of the Two Palms which is also worth viewing. (On Plazuela de la Chincha)
The church of Santa Barbara, which the local poet Julio Vives Guerra called the ‘grandmother of churches’, is also worth a photo stop. Built in 1728, it is considered one of the most important Catholic churches in Santa Fe. It’s simple red brick facade is topped by swirling white scrolls. (Carrera 8 and Calle 11)
Indulge in a Leisurely Tipico Paisa Lunch
The main point of going to Santa Fe is to take life a little bit more slowly and there is no better way to indulge this than with a leisurely lunch.
One restaurant that caters for a relaxed meal is El Porton de Parque Restaurante and Bar (Calle 10 # 11-3). The expansive traditional interior is adorned from floor to ceiling with portraits, which makes it feel like you were dining in an art gallery and gives you something to ponder whilst your waiting for your meal to arrive.
The menu includes a wide selection of fish, chicken, beef and pasta dishes. Most served with a side salad. If you’re especially hungry try the Tipico Paisa (Bandeja Paisa). This national dish is a carnivore’s heaven loaded with chicharrón (pork rind), grilled chorizo sausage, steak, and blood sausage. It is served with boiled white rice, topped with a fried egg, stewed kidney beans, white corn arepas, plus fried plantains and avocado.
If you are feeling adventurous, the menu also offers the regional delicacy of cow’s tongue dressed either in capers, mushrooms or creole seasoning.
Watch the Silversmiths Construct Filigree Jewelry
When strolling along the streets of Santa Fe, it is impossible not to hear the tapping of hammers. Tucked away in tiny workshops are silversmiths patiently making exquisite filigree jewelry.
The centuries-old tradition of filigree jewelry making is a dying art. It is no longer taught in schools, and only four towns across Colombia – including Santa Fe – are still known to practice the craft.
Colombians were taught the artisan technique of filigree jewelry making by the Spanish. The abundance of precious metals in areas like Santa Fe inspired metalsmith and jewelry makers from Spain to move to the new colony around 1550, bringing with them their trade. Colombian filigree jewelry has evolved from these techniques and still includes many aspects of colonial Spanish design.
One notable characteristic of filigree jewelry is its intricate detail. Silversmiths first mold melted silver or gold into fine strands. Once the strands are formed, they are carefully stretched, twisted, and flattened to assemble the jewelry.
Each filigree artisan has a unique style. However, common designs include motifs inspired by nature like bouquets of leaves, flowers, fruits, plants, birds, butterflies, birds, and insects. Geometric patterns and arrangement of shapes are also popular.
The fashionable woven ball can be purchased from many filigree shops in Santa Fe. Twisting the threads of this delicate design can take up to a week to complete. A piece that requires extreme patience and dexterity by the artisan.
This little-known tradition of Santa Fe is worth appreciating. I also highly recommend purchasing a piece for your jewelry box. The Joyeria Orfoa shop (Calle 9 # 6-02), has a wide selection including a woven ball charm for a mere 15,000 COP ($5).
Sample the Pulpa de Tamarindo
Growing prolifically through the valleys around Santa Fe is the tamarind tree. It’s branches laden heavy with a pod-like fruit.
The tart and very potent pulp (pulpa de tamarindo) from the fruit is used for a variety of products in the area from chutneys to sauces. [Trivia lovers take note: Tamarind is one of the secret ingredients used in Worcestershire sauce.]
Its strong sweet and sour flavor is often mixed with sugar to form a syrup for desserts. In Santa Fe, it is molded into shapes and coated with sugar for a simple, tart, sweet candy.
There is a row of artisan stalls just off the main square and nearly every vendor has a version of the candy for sale. It isn’t to everyone’s liking, but definitely worth the purchase to experience unusual mix of local flavors first hand.
Stroll through the Museo Juan el Corral and the Museo de Arte Religioso
If you have time and energy after lunch, I’d recommend a stroll through either or both the Museo Juan El Corral and/or the Museo de Arte Religioso. Both are on Calle 11.
The Museo de Arte Religioso adjoins the Santa Barbara church and has a display of religious icons from the 18th to 20th century. It provides a unique glimpse into the Catholic devotion of the people of Antioquia. (Closed Monday – Friday).
The Museo Juan El Corral houses a 496 object collection of colonial art and ethnographic artifacts. One of the more historical pieces is a table on which the dictator Juan del Corral signed the Act of Independence of Antioquia in 1813. (Open Monday, Tuesday, Thursdays and Fridays from 9:00 to noon and 2:00 to 5:30. Saturdays, Sundays and Festivals 10:00 to 5:00. Closed Wednesdays.)
How to Get to Santa Fe de Antioquia
Drive: If you can, drive or hire a driver to take you and a few friends. The cost works out more than the bus ride, but gives you the flexibility to explore a few other noteworthy sites in and around Santa Fe.
Bus: Buses to Santa Fe depart frequently from the Northern Bus Terminal in Medellín located next to the Caribe Metro Station on Line A. Tickets should cost around 12,000 to 15,000 COP one way. Also, we have a guide to the Medellín bus terminals.
Take A Tour: If you are short on time, or just feeling a little bit lazy, then an organized tour is a great way to get to Santa Fe. Several operators in Medellín offer tours including Medellin City Tours, Land Adventure Travel and Black Diamond.
Where to Stay? If you decide to make your trip more than a day trip, Santa Fe has several lodging options. Two highly rated hotel options are Hotel Mariscal Robledo and Hotel Porton del Sol. And a hostel option is Green Nomads Hostel.
The Pueblos Near Medellín
We have been looking at the pueblos worth visiting near Medellín in a series on this website. So far, we have looked at eight pueblos near Medellín:
- Guatapé – a very popular pueblo near Medellín known for its huge rock and lake.
- Jardín – a tranquil get-away from Medellin that boosts breathtaking mountain views and less tourists than Guatapé.
- Santa Fe de Antioquia – known for its well-preserved colonial architecture and cobbled streets.
- Jericó – a picturesque pueblo known for its religious attractions, well-preserved colonial architecture and heritage, generous nature all around, hiking, paragliding, amazing landscapes and much more.
- San Carlos – a hidden gem surrounded by rivers, waterfalls and nature.
- Barbosa – an overlooked pueblo very near Medellín with streams, waterfalls, natural swimming pools, hiking, horseback riding and many other things to do.
- Abejorral – another hidden gem surrounded by waterfalls and dazzling landscapes with many opportunities for hikers and rock climbers.
- El Carmen de Viboral – the heart of Colombia’s ceramics industry.
We included Santa Fe de Antioquia in our article about the best pueblos near Medellín worth visiting. And we plan to look at several more pueblos near Medellín.
Also, we looked at Salento, which is a popular pueblo in Colombia’s coffee region that is definitely worth visiting. And we looked at San Gil, which is a pueblo known as “Colombia’s Adventure Capital” with so much to do including rafting, paragliding, caving, rappelling, hiking and much more.
The Bottom Line: Santa Fe de Antioquia
Santa Fe de Antioquia is a perfect pueblo for a day trip from Medellín and it’s worth visiting. This pueblo is popular due to its well-preserved colonial architecture, cobbled streets and many things to see and do.
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