Jardín is one of Colombia’s prettiest small towns and it’s perfectly located for a weekend trip from Medellín, being about four hours south of the city. With tours of local coffee farms, hikes to waterfalls and some excellent birdwatching, there’s plenty to do in Jardín to fill a weekend. Even just relaxing on the pretty main plaza is an excellent way to enjoy the laid-back lifestyle of the Colombian Coffee Region.
San Rafael is a more off-the-beaten-track weekend escape from Medellín, but is the perfect place to visit if you’re looking for a more tropical climate: lying more than 1,000 metres (3,281 feet) lower than Medellín, San Rafael is hot and humid and surrounded by lush tropical forest and crystal-clear rivers and waterfalls. You can even see wild monkeys and scarlet macaws, or just while away the weekend relaxing by the river with a cold beer.
A trip to Guatapé is arguably the most popular weekend escape from Medellín, particularly with backpackers. Visitors to Guatapé can climb the El Penol Rock with its stunning panoramic view over the lakes and islands of the Guatapé reservoir, and then wander the colourful streets of the town, sampling fresh local trout, or even hire a boat and take a day trip out onto the lake.
This picture-perfect little historical town to the north of Medellín is easily another of Colombia’s prettiest towns and, with its year-round hot climate, it’s a great place to relax by the pool and catch some rays. The cobbled streets and historical buildings are well-preserved, and the nearby Occidente Bridge over the Cauca Valley is an engineering marvel and a must-visit for anyone with an interest in Colombian history and architecture.
This weekend trip is the most off-the-beaten-track of the lot, and also one of the best ways to get a real local experience during your time in Colombia. The people of Horizontes, a tiny little town on a mountain ridge with one street and breathtaking views, now organise homestay trips where you can spend the night with a local family; it’s a truly unique experience and a great way to learn a bit more about Colombian culture and hospitality.
Rio Claro is home to one of Colombia’s best ecolodges and is only about three hours from Medellín. The stunning marble canyon towers over the clear waters of the river, and the whole place is surrounded by dense tropical rainforest; accommodation is in gorgeous open-sided cabins overlooking the jungle and river below, and if you’re lucky you’ll wake up with toucans and monkeys feeding right in front of your bedroom. Rafting, caving and canyoning are also available, and the birdwatching is some of the best in the region.
Cocorna is a nice little riverside town on the road to Rio Claro, a couple of hours from Medellín. It’s also one of the best places to practise adventure sports in Antioquia department: you can go white-water rafting, paragliding over an actual waterfall, canyoning or caving, or just take a refreshing dip in the river instead.
Jerico is one of Colombia’s Pueblos Patrimonios, or Cultural Heritage Towns, and is famous for being the birthplace of one of Colombia’s two saints. It’s a popular place for religious tourism with Colombians, but its gorgeous traditional architecture, nearby coffee farms, local artisanal crafts and spectacular views over the Cauca River valley make Jerico an excellent weekend trip option for any type of traveller.
Tamesis is a small town on the edge of the Cartama Valley and is another excellent place to experience a range of extreme sports. Paragliding is an option, with some of the best views you can imagine, and you can also go rappelling down a huge waterfall or caving in the mountains above the town. Less extreme visitors can hike to the breathtaking Cristo Rey viewpoint overlooking the town or take a tour of the local residents’ gardens.
Sonson is an up-and-coming tourist destination which, along with Horizontes, is one of the least well-known spots on this list. However, that’s not to say that there’s nothing to do: the town has lovely architecture and is so undefiled by tourism that it feels like a relic from another time. There is also beautiful high mountain paramo ecosystem above the town that is perfect for hiking excursions.