As we ambled along the highway on our way out of Medellín, heading west toward the town of Santa Fe de Antioquia, my amigable guide, Camilo, asked if I’d be interested in making a coffee stop.
I’d never been on a private tour before and was feeling pretty special in that moment. “Of course, why not,” I replied. Heck, I could have requested an ice cream stop or McDonald’s if I wanted. It was my tour, after all, and I was in charge.
Medellín City Services provides a number of tours in and around Medellín that can be tailored to suit the needs of any person or group. They have more than a dozen capable guides who can lead tours in Spanish, English, French or Portuguese.
Rates vary depending on the size of the group, of course, with private tours for one or two people costing more per person than larger groups, but the trade-off is more flexibility to go at your own pace and see the sights of most interest to you.
I’d been hoping to visit Santa Fe de Antioquia, the former capital of Antioquia and a city rich in history and colonial heritage, for some time. While I could have easily arrived on my own by bus, a tour gave me a much more relaxed and informative experience.
Once back in the car after our quick stop for tinto, we headed to the first attraction of the day, a cable car near the town of Palmitas strung between two mountain peaks, dangling precariously high above a valley of coffee and banana trees.
Unfortunately, that day the cable car was undergoing maintenance right at the moment we arrived; being on such a flexible schedule, however, meant we could simply stop again on our way back.
Throughout the drive to our next stop, the town of Jerónimo, Camilo acted as a veritable fountain of information about Colombia.
He described the changing landscapes and everything I could expect to see en route and recounted details of some of Santa Fe’s most important historical figures. If he was trying to build anticipation for our arrival, it worked.
We made a quick loop through Jerónimo, though I’d long-since decided I was ready to forge on to the main attraction, Santa Fe de Antioquia, so we didn’t stay long.
The rest of the drive took us deeper into arid land; I rolled down the window briefly to snap a photo as we made our first crossing of the Cauca River only to be smacked in the face by a wall of hot air. Right back up it went.
Moments later, signs welcomed us to Santa Fe de Antioquia. The first stop would not actually be in the town itself, but a short 10-minute drive back in the direction of the Cauca River (the second largest river in Colombia).
We were heading toward El Puente de Occidente, a bridge that has earned itself notoriety as a national monument of Colombia due to the prestige earned by its chief engineer, Jose Maria Villa V (who was also something of a drunk, but the commemorative plaque conveniently left out that part of the story).
The bridge wasn’t terribly impressive, but the views were breathtaking. We even scaled the hillside up a dangling rope to get the best vantage point for photos; I snapped away as I stood next to a statue of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, known more formally as La Virgen del Puente de Occidente.
Finally, we made our way to the center of Santa Fe de Antioquia. My favorite part of the whole tour was the time spent strolling through the cobblestone streets (in the shade, when possible) taking advantage of the photogenic Spanish colonial architecture that lends the city such a charming feel.
We stopped for juice in the main plaza—I ordered guanábana—and took in the sites around us while sitting opposite the principal cathedral, La Catedral Basílica Metropolitana.
Lunch time soon rolled around, so we made our way to a restaurant specially chosen by my guide, a place by the name of Portón del Parque. We arrived just before the midday lunch rush.
The place itself, the typical choice for lunch on this tour, was beautiful–a bountiful green garden in the center, the walls covered with paintings by the owner herself. In fact, interesting decor covered just about every inch of the restaurant.
The salads and arepitas that accompanied our mains were especially tasty, and the meat portion I received was too big to finish.
Guests of this tour also visit the Museo Juan del Corral, named for the dictator and liberator of Antioquia and housed in the building where the Act of Independence was signed in 1813.
Our last activity for the day was circling the main plaza to see the various goods being sold by local vendors.
Though I typically don’t buy much from these markets, I love learning about the exotic fruits for sale or the interesting sweets I wouldn’t see anywhere else.
For me, this tour of Santa Fe gave me everything I was hoping for: A detailed account of the city’s history and a chance to go wild photographing the beautiful architecture. The guide was knowledgeable and we hit all the most significant sites. When it was time to head back to Medellín, I felt as though no cobblestone had been left unturned.
The longer I travel, the more I appreciate this type of tour, one that provides more detail than I could ever hope to learn by visiting on my own and reduces the hassle of arranging transport and activities tenfold.
Tours can easily be booked with Medellin City Services through their website for any day of the week, with the exception of their helicopter tours which only run on Saturdays and Sundays.