Embarking on Thrills: An Exploration of Medellin’s Adventure Tourism in 2023 - Medellin Advisors

Embarking on Thrills: An Exploration of Medellin’s Adventure Tourism in 2023

Adventure tourism in Medellin 2023-2024

Medellín Offers Plenty in The Way of Adventure Activity

Medellín, nestled within the dramatic central mountain range of the Andes, is a city that plays to its strengths. With both a next-to-perfect climate and incredible landscapes, the city and its surrounding areas beckon exploration and outdoor activity.

One of the most captivating aspects of adventure tourism in Medellín is its diverse range of outdoor activities. Thrill-seekers can embark on thrilling paragliding flights, soaring over lush valleys and gaining a bird’s-eye view of the city’s captivating skyline. The surrounding mountains also provide a playground for rock climbing enthusiasts, offering a mix of beginner-friendly routes and challenging ascents for seasoned climbers.

For those who prefer to explore on two wheels, mountain biking trails wind through the scenic terrain, offering both heart-pounding descents and serene pathways through nature. Additionally, hiking enthusiasts will find themselves amidst breathtaking landscapes as they venture into the lush forests and hidden waterfalls of the Andes. The city alone (not including the surrounding municipalities) possesses 7 unique tutelery hills – all with their own character and rewarding views of the city.

adventure tourism in Medellin 2023
Medellin is an emerging adventure tourism destination

Medellín’s adventurous offerings aren’t confined to its natural surroundings; the city itself boasts opportunities for unique experiences. The iconic Medellín Metrocable system offers visitors a chance to not only navigate the city’s neighbourhoods but also to witness panoramic views of the urban sprawl against a backdrop of mountains.

Adventurous souls seeking a rush of culture can delve into the vibrant neighbourhoods of Medellín, each with its distinct charm and history. Comuna 13, for instance, is a prime example of urban transformation, showcasing vibrant street art and a fascinating narrative of resilience.

What makes adventure tourism in Medellín truly remarkable is the fusion of adrenaline-pumping activities with the warmth of Colombian hospitality. Local guides are often passionate about sharing their city and its surroundings, creating an immersive experience that goes beyond the ordinary.

However, as with any adventure tourism, safety is paramount. It’s essential to choose reputable tour operators and follow all recommended guidelines to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.

In this article we will help guide you in the right direction.

adventure tourism in Medellin 2023
ATV excursions will have you getting to know the valley's best ecological reserves

Paragliding in Medellín (2023)

Medellín has emerged as one of the best places in the world for paragliding. There are several reasons for this:

  • Affordability – The cost of paragliding in Colombia is second to none.
  • Beautiful scenery – Medellín is located in the Aburra Valley. This is a species-rich, green landscape that will blow you away when seen from above.
  • Perfect weather conditions – Nestled 1,500m above sea level within the tropics, there are no 4 seasons. The weather is reliably warm, year-round. Medellín’s climate is conducive to paragliding from January – December. The city’s relatively stable weather patterns, mild temperatures and moderate winds, make it a suitable environment for both beginners and experienced paragliders.
  • Professionality and safety record – We may be looking for thrills, but none of us want to be in danger. That’s why it’s imperative to be sure you’re flying in good hands. Medellín boasts a fantastic safety record with professional, friendly instructors.

The vast majority of paragliding in Medellín actually takes place 40 minutes north of the city in a place called San Felix. It is a separate municipality located to the west of Bello and sits between 2,500m – 2,900m above sea level, making it an ideal place for paragliding.

paragliding in Medellin (adventure tourism) 2023
Paragliding takes place north of the city in an area called San Felix.

What you Need to Know:

To partake in paragliding, you will need to book in advance. There are multiple companies; the most popular of which are easy to find on TripAdvisor

The cost of paragliding for 20 minutes can cost you as little as $45 or even less if going in a group. Once you’ve found a company you’ve vetted and like the look of, you’ll need to fill out a form detailing when you want to come, how many of you there will be, etc.

Paragliding companies encourage morning flights as the wind conditions are generally better than in the afternoon.

Most companies offer transportation.

We recommend Paragliding in Medellín. Ruben Dario Montoya Vargas – the owner and head instructor, has an incredible record. With over 9,000 flights throughout the country and not a single incident – he is the man who pioneered this adventure activity in Colombia. His name is well known and respected and his company is the go-to choice.

The cost of a 20-minute flight:

  • $220,000 COP ($53). This is the basic package and does not include transport.
  • $400,000 COP ($97) for door-to-door transportation and GoPro footage so you can share your experience.
adventure tourism medellin 2023
Pagaglidingmedellin.com is the most established paragliding company in Medellin.

ATV quad Biking in Medellín (2023)

If you are seeking adventure but don’t quite want to take to the skies – fair enough, we can definitely empathize. Instead, why not try getting your fill (or thrill) on 4-wheel quadding?

Quad biking in Medellín offers an exciting way to explore the rugged terrain, lush landscapes, and picturesque surroundings of the Aburra Valley. Riding an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) through Medellín’s countryside provides a unique adventure that combines adrenaline with the opportunity to immerse yourself in the region’s natural beauty.

ATV quad biking is offered as part of a company-led excursion. Group excursions  sizes vary betwen 10-15 people. Traditionally, ATV excursions were solely group-based but now in 2023, it is possible to go solo. We find that 90% of excursions are group based however. We highly recommend going with professionals who can guide you and uphold your safety.

So, are ATV excursions adrenaline-inducing?

Absolutely! You’ll be traversing routes too wild and challenging for traditional vehicles. We’re talking dirt paths and streams, thick mud and mountainous trails.

ATV adventure tourism in Medellin. Adrenaline.
ATV excursions will have you getting to know the valley's best ecological reserves

The Aburra Valley is as diverse as it is lush. This means you’ll encounter a range of different terrains from pastures, to rainforests, to pine forests, to mountain peaks. As you’d imagine, there will be plenty of photo opportunities that you’ll want to seize on.

As a rule, you’ll need to book with a company in advance. Tours vary in length anywhere between 1.5 hours to 4 hours. It is standard for these companies to provide different packages which may include transportation, food, a longer excursion, etc.

Unlike paragliding excursions which take you north of the valley, most ATV adventures will have you heading south to the valley’s spectacular nature reserves around Envigado.

We recommend you have a good look 0n TripAdvisor to see which company you’d like to go with.

ATV | Medellín: Quad Tour is a prominent company that offers a day out for $116 USD. This includes transport from Parque Lleras, a 550cc quad, safety gear, snacks, insurance, photos and more. The total experience from start to finish is around 5 hours.

Make sure to shop around. There are other companies that cater to different groups of travellers. Medellin VIP is a group that offers ATV tours to all, but specifically to bachelor groups coming down for a short time. Remember, each business offers its own routes, packages, vehicles etc. and what may be right for you, might not be ideal for your friends. Do your due diligence!

River Rafting

Did you know it rains more in Colombia than anywhere in the world? All around Medellín are magnificent rivers and streams because water is truly abundant. If you’re seeking adventure, why not partake in white water rafting?

 Although you won’t want to submerge in any of the city’s rivers or water systems, you can head out of the valley in a group excursion and get your fill. Again, you’ll need to organize this with an established tour group. There are multiple packages and options, with some excursions lasting multiple days. The cheapest of excursions will set you back around 195,000 COP/$47 USD. This will not include transportation.

Also, keep in mind that white water rafting can range in intensity and thrill level. There are easy options that are suitable for more senior adventurers.

Click this link to be directed to one of TripAdvisor’s most popular rafting experiences that will take you out to the Río Caldera, which is less than 2 hours away from Medellín. For $136 USD you’ll get a door-to-door service with aircon, food, and peace of mind that you’re being guided by the best.

When shopping around for an excursion you’ll find that many companies offer a mix of rafting with hiking or jungle exploration. I have personally done this in Puerto Boyaca – near the infamous Hacienda Napoles. It’s also known for its new (imported) population of hippos. I highly recommend white water rafting in Puerto Boyaca as it is an ecological hotspot and the area provides the perfect city getaway, even for an entire weekend. You may be paying for rafting, but you’ll ultimately get a lot more out of the experience.

Cinematography
White water rafting in Río Caldero, located less than 2 hours from Medellín

Into Rock Climbing? We Got you Covered

Medellín is home to a number of nearby places where you can indulge in some rock climbing activity. The first place is San Felix. Yes, this is the same place where you’ll go if you want to paraglide, making it a bit of a local mecca for adventure seekers. Why not go paragliding in the morning and then wrap up your afternoon with some rock climbing?

Rock climbing in San Felix involves a small crag in a secluded area with challenging accessibility. Cutting through the area by the crag is a river which offers a lovely ambience and cooler temperatures. The zone is also wooded making it ideal for sunny days.

For more information on this crag we will direct you to The Wandering Climber who has covered it in depth.

Of course, we recommend you partake in rock climbing activities as part of an organized excursion where you’ll be provided gear and insurance. Click here to browse your options.

adventure tourism in Medellin. Rock climbing.
Rock climbing in San Felix

Medellín is Brimming with Adventerous Hiking Trails!

In a lush valley, you’d expect to find impressive trails that show off the flora and fauna of the world’s 2nd most biodiverse country, right?

That’s exactly what you’ll find. In fact, in the city alone there are 7 tutelary hills. What does tutelary mean? It is something that ‘serves as a guardian or protector’.

The people of Medellin deeply respect these hills. This respect has been inherited from the original inhabitants of the Aburra Valley who believed these grand hills protected the lands – hence why today they are recognised as tutelary hills. They are all protected from development.

Unfortunately, we do not recommend all these hills as some of them are embedded within impoverished and potentially treacherous neighbourhoods. They have long been hotspots for theft and armed robbery and in recent years foreigners have been added to the list of victims.

So what hills do we recommend? The following are all highly popular, relatively safe and stunning:

  • El Cerro de las Tres Cruces – this hill is located in Belen, by the neighbourhood of Loma de los Bernal. It’s a popular hike that gets busy on weekends. The views of the city are epic and over 70,000 native trees have been planted on the hill. Approximately 1 hour to make it to the peak. The inclination can get steep and so we consider it an intermediate hike.
  • Cerro el Nutibara – perhaps the most known hill in the city thanks to the attraction that sits at its peak: Pueblito Paisa. This trail coils around the hill until it reaches the quaint tourist attraction of the village. This hike takes around 30 minutes to reach the top and is heavily shaded.
  • El Pan de Azúcar – the tallest hill in the city, reaching heights of 2,100m. This hill in my opinion offers the best panoramic views of the city. We recommend that you go with a local or group as you’ll be beginning your journey in an impoverished neighbourhood (Villa Hermosa).

7 tutelary hills of Medellin. Adventure tourism in Medellin.
Here you can see where the 7 tutelary hills are located.

Beyond the 7 tutelary hills of Medellín, there is so much more to see. The southern side of the Aburra Valley is where you’ll find the bulk of the territory’s ecological reserves. Head over to Envigado where 40% of the municipality’s territory is protected. There you’ll find numerous hikes that delve through species-rich wetlands and rainforests.

Quebrada la Miel is a 10km trail that will have you following a freshwater stream up to a beautiful waterfall. You’ll get hot and sticky as you traverse the rainforest but you’ll later be rewarded with the opportunity to jump into a crystal-clear lagoon at the end of the trail. 

Alternatively, the municipality of La Estrella is located on the opposite side of the valley and is also brimming with many trails that’ll bring you in proximity to fresh water and dense jungles.

We do not recommend you to do these excursions alone. Some of these trails are quite remote and do involve you traversing precarious landscapes. Instead, we recommend you go with a legitimate tour group or get involved in one of the many expat groups. There are many hiking groups that promote themselves on Facebook groups. Weekly/monthly hikes are arranged via WhatsApp.

Here is the link to one such group (with over 4k members). To find more of these groups, we recommend you go on Facebook and use the search bar. Type “Hiking Medellin” and there’ll you’ll have your pick.

Cascada silencio
Quebrada la Miel is just one of many adventurous trails that'll have you getting wet.

Medellín is Home to Many Cultural Thrills

For those who are seeking a different type of thrill or adventure, Medellín has you covered.

Let’s not forget that Medellín was not so long ago the most dangerous city on Earth. It’s not that way anymore, however, there are remnants and reminders from the past that, when explored, will provide culturally thrilling and adventurous experiences. Don’t worry, you’ll be safe.

For example, many coming to Medellín for the first will have never seen sprawling comunas (or favelas as they are more widely known). Boarding a metro cable that glides above these communities can be a very thrilling experience for European or Northern Americans who have never been exposed to such vistas. Adding to the thrill is the fact that these comunas were once warzones; total no-go areas. 

Embarking on thrills an exploration of medellins adventure tourism in
Medellin's Metrocable is not only a means of transportation, but also a great attraction for the city

La Sierra Cofee Tour (urban exploration)

A coffee tour? You may be asking yourself how this could possibly evoke thrills or adventure. Well, this isn’t just any coffee tour. La Sierra (located in Comuna 8) was once the most dangerous barrio in the city. Not even long ago; in 2005 there was still armed conflict taking place between paramilitaries.

Residents would not be able to leave the house after sunset and would be accustomed to the sight of bodies scattered all over the streets. It was a grim place. To get a better understanding of how grim things were, I highly recommend you watch this documentary below:

Anyhow, this once-troubled barrio has traded bullets for beans. The curious and adventurous can now safely visit La Sierra as part of a coffee tour.

Of course, the neighbourhood remains impoverished and as such it has its share of challenges. However, you’ll be in safe hands when coming as part of an organized tour. According to TripAdvisor, this is not only a 5* experience but was also awarded the ‘Travellers’ Choice’ for 2023.

The cost of this tour is $150,000 COP or $36 USD. For more information, click here. 

La sierra barrio tour medellin. Adventure tourism in Medellin 2023.
La Sierra is located in the fringes of the valley and in 2005 was the most dangerous part of the city.

Comuna 13 Offers a Cultural Adventure (2023)

By now you’ve likely heard a thing or two about the story of Comuna 13. Once one of the most dangerous urban territories in the world, it has transformed into one of the biggest attractions of the city, allowing visitors to peek into a world that was otherwise only safe to see behind the camera.

This remarkable turnaround is a testament to the resilience of its community and the power of urban revitalization efforts. Today, Comuna 13 stands as an excellent destination for adventure enthusiasts seeking an adrenaline-pumping experience coupled with a glimpse into the triumph of community spirit.

Comuna medellin graffiti tour como llegar a las escaleras electricas mi vida viajera
For many years, Comuna 13 was the most dangerous area of Medellín, but now it is one of the most interesting tourist spots in the city

Comuna 13’s history is one of contrasts. It was once plagued by violence, drug trafficking, and poverty, making it a no-go zone for both locals and tourists. However, beginning in the early 2000s, a series of government interventions and community-led initiatives started to transform the neighbourhood. The most remarkable change came through the implementation of the “Escalators of Medellín” project, which turned steep staircases into outdoor escalators, making the neighbourhood more accessible and safer for residents and visitors alike.

What are the adventure tourism opportunities?

Stepping foot into the once deadly neighbourhood can alone be thrilling enough. I’ve brought many friends over the years and in most cases, they began their excursion with apprehension. They would ask me questions like, “are you sure this is safe?”.

Who can blame them? It is an intimidating sight as you approach the hillside favela. Entering and traversing the tight streets, surrounded by very basic homes… it can be very thrilling.

Beyond this though, there are graffiti tours that share the story of the neighbourhood’s transformation, reflecting upon the resilience and hope of its residents. Guided graffiti tours offer visitors an opportunity to explore the intricate murals, hear the stories behind them, and engage with local artists. This is definitely a culturally adventurous experience!

Recommendation:

As you enter Comuna 13, you are highly likely to be approached by tour salesmen. They will try to sell tours to you or engage you one way or another. In most cases these tours are absolutely fine and safe but it is more wise and prudent to arrange a tour prior to your arrival. On TripAdvisor, you will be able to browse the best tour companies available. This way, you’ll be able to verify not only their legitimacy but their quality too. Do not be hassled or pushed into a tour that could end up being subpar. 

Here’s a link to TripAdvisor.

Medellín Holds Another ace in the Deck for Adventure Seekers

Medellín is only 2 hours away from the tourist destination of Guatapé. This is a place that boasts a broad series of interconnected lakes and islands. As you can imagine, it is primed for water-based adventures. Everything from jet skiing to kayaking is on offer. We have actually covered an article on adventure sports that you can partake in, so we recommend you have a read.

Bcee efeaad c
Guatapé is also a favorite place for adrenaline seekers.

Conclusion

In summary, Medellín has emerged as a captivating hub for adventure tourism, offering a diverse range of exhilarating experiences that cater to the desires of every thrill-seeker. The city’s potential for any type of tourism had long been stifled by the horrors of its recent past. It turns out though, Medellin’s ideal location within the Andes mountains and its abundance of life-giving water makes it a fantastic place for adventure tourism. Whether it involves quadding through steep terrain, hiking through rich jungles, paragliding over valleys, or rafting through rivers, you can do it all!

Believe it or not, tourism is still very much in its infancy. With each passing year, the city will continue to capitalize on its natural, ecological and cultural assets as it has done with great success so far. We expect to see this particular sector of tourism flourish as the city comes to terms with its potential.

If you have any questions, do not hesitate to get in contact.  

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