The first time I visited Jardín, I was amazed to spot a mountain that looked unlike all the other mountains in Antioquia. While most of the Andes mountains that surround Medellín have a gentle curve to them, even at the top, in the distance on the via from Medellín towards Jardín, a mountain that is shaped like a near perfect pyramid becomes visible.
If you have driven south of the municipio of Caldas, you’ve almost certainly seen Cerro Tusa, which has a shape so distinct that the locals refer to it as the largest natural pyramid in the world. After almost four years of living here, I finally got around to climbing it. This article will provide detailed instructions on how to climb Cerro Tusa.
HOW TO GET THERE
The best way to hike Cerro Tusa is to start in the pueblo of Venecia. You can get there with your own transport, or you can take a bus from the Terminal del Sur bus station. The bus ride will take about an hour and forty-five minutes, and will drop you in Parque Venecia, in the middle of the town.
The walk from the town to the start of the trailhead is about half an hour. If you have your own transport, you could skip this part, but it’s really not necessary. It’s a relatively gentle walk and checking out the pueblo both before and after the hike is part of the fun.
From the town center, find Calle 51 on your map (it’s one of the “main” roads) and follow it to the west out of town, gradually heading down. After about ten minutes, you’ll connect to another road, right at its bend, which is very sharp. Join this road and continue west, but only for about fifty meters. There’ll be a fork (see first picture), and you need to take the road up and to the left. There’ll be a sign directing you to an EcoParque (next picture) that you can follow, as you will eventually walk right past the EcoParque.
After you’ve left the town towards the trailhead, look for this sign (above) to get you headed in the right direction along this stone road. Continue along this stone paved road for about a kilometer, until it reaches a junction that connects with a dirt road. You’ll have to make a turn, and you’ll want to turn down and to the left, to continue west. See the next picture to see what the junction looks like.
You’ll follow this new dirt road for less than a half a kilometer, until you reach the trailhead. If you have your own transport, you can probably leave your car or moto parked somewhere close to here, and skip the first bit. Look at the signs to see the trailhead.
These are the rough coordinates of the trailhead. Particularly useful if you are arriving in your own transport, and don’t want to go to Venecia.
The trailhead is well marked, as it has two large signs, one with a picture of Cerro Tusa and a bunch of warnings (see next picture), and the other simply says Sendero Hacia Cerro Tusa. The day that we hiked it was a Sunday, and there were probably a hundred other people, if not more, on the trail. I imagine if you go on a weekend, there will always be people around to guide you if you get lost. Several hundred meters beyond the start of the trailhead, the houses that mark the outskirts of civilization will stop, and you’ll fully enter la naturaleza.
From here, it should be fairly easy to see where you need to be going. Continue following the path. As you start to go down, you’ll eventually cross a stream. When you cross the stream, the path looks like it could go in either direction. Go to the left here and continue.
Eventually, you’ll come around a corner and there will be a break in the trees and you will get your first glimpse of Cerro Tusa. Our group definitely thought we were already climbing the mountain, but it becomes clear that we were merely on a path that leads towards its base. From this vantage point, you can see the whole mountain and the path that leads up to the top – try not to be intimidated.
Meander down into the valley, where you will pass a bunch of friendly cows as you try to get to the base of the mountain. The path disappears for a bit, but just keep your eye on the base of the mountain and you should be able to figure out how to get across to it. A little bit of guess and check might be necessary here. Eventually you’ll see these two signs at the base of the mountain.
Both have nice messages – vale la pena to translate them. Just a few minutes beyond these signs, there will be two successive forks in the path, and on both of these you’ll want to keep to the right (the paths to the right look more well-traversed anyway). At this point, it’s essentially impossible to get lost, as you will spend the next 60-120 minutes on a well worn, and very difficult path to the top.
This next part represents some of the toughest hiking I’ve come across anywhere in Antioquia. It is consistently very steep, and a fall backwards would be devastating. So you need to lean forwards and frequently use your hands. Experienced hikers will find this challenging and fun, while casual hikers may be a bit terrified. I definitely would not recommend this hike to someone who is new to hiking or very apprehensive about heights. Having said that, it is totally conquerable if you have a bit of experience. Of our group of 7, all 7 eventually made it to the top successfully and were very glad they persevered.
When you finally reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with a spectacular 360-degree view of Southwest Antioquia. You can see the pueblo Venecia, where you started your day, in the distance, as well as thousands of fincas. While the top is very beautiful, it is also the home to thousands of insects. If you have insect repellent, you’ll be grateful you brought it.
There was no consensus amongst our group about which was worse – the way up or down. While going up may have been more tiring, heading down had more potential for serious injury. You need to be careful with every step, as it is very, very steep. We were lucky to get amazing weather the day we went, as if it was raining, the way down would be truly treacherous. In fact, although I don’t think a rope is necessary if the weather is fine, a rope could be a day-saver if it is raining. The reason is you are going down along this mud/clay combination that gets much slicker as it gets wet.
Because it is so steep, adept hikers who are brave will be able to get back down to the base very quickly. A race is a bad idea, however; this is the time to use caution. Be careful with every step and you’ll make it off the mountain unscathed. I saw a girl slip up and it looked like she was heading towards a seriously nasty fall, but she managed to snag a tree branch at the last second and save herself.
As you descend to the bottom, be sure to retrace your steps to find the path back towards Venecia. At the bottom of the valley on the opposite side of the first stream, there is an erroneous path that leads out to the left that you don’t want to take. We would have continued this wrong way unintentionally if it hadn’t been for some friendly Colombians hollering at us that we were on a sendero equivocado.
Once you’re back on the proper route, be sure not to miss what will now be a right turn, to connect with the stone road from the dirt path that you turned left down several hours earlier. If your legs are totally dead, you can hire a tuk-tuk driver for tres mil pesos to take you back to town. But given what you’ve already been through, you can surely survive the last half hour stroll as well. Treat yourself to something extra delicious in Parque Venecia and then hop on the bus back to Medellín.
A friend of mine who climbed the same day as me, Josh (insta @box_ii_box.fitness) had a drone and took this video of our efforts to get to the top. As the drone zooms away, you get a clear picture of just how steep it is near the top.
Only the fittest of people will leave the hike thinking Cerro Tusa was a walk in the park. All in all, it is about 11km round trip from the pueblo and the elevation change is around 600m. It makes for a fantastic day hike and an overall memorable experience. I recommend it for any adventurist or hiking enthusiast.