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TLDR? Santa Elena, Antioquia is a stunning natural area just outside the city of Medellín.
Medellin is situated in the middle of a fairly incredible variety of ecosystems and geographies. It’s becoming one of the reasons that the city is becoming an international destination.
The fact that Medellin is surrounded by so much natural beauty has come to be one of its defining characteristics. Along with the nightlife and the dining scene, I might add.
Leaving the city and finding yourself in the middle of a truly astounding natural landscape is incredibly easy. The place that exemplifies this aspect of Medellin most succinctly is perhaps the bucolic town of Santa Elena. It’s located just outside of Medellin, a mere 45 minutes away.
Let’s learn more about it in this guide!
Santa Elena and its sister community Santa Helena are pure Antioquian charm and beauty. They’re places where you can go to unplug and center yourself. The great thing about them is that it’s quite effortless to make your way to them from Medellin with minimum effort.
There are several convenient ways to get to Santa Elena from Medellin. The two most common are going by bus and simply catching a ride in a cab or rideshare app. There’s also always the option of renting a car if you feel comfortable driving in Colombia.
The bus to Santa Elena from Medellin leaves from the city center throughout the day starting in the afternoon. To catch the bus, you need to make your way to Parque de Periodista, which qualifies as downtown and is quite convenient to either metro or rideshare to.
The bus is quite efficient and goes beyond the town center of Santa Elena into the surrounding hills. This is where most of the lodging and accommodations are located. There are multiple bus stations situated along most of the paved roads in the mountainous community so it’s just as easy to catch a ride down the mountain as it is up.
When I went to Santa Elena, I was a bit far from the bus station and decided to order an Uber to get to my Airbnb. This was a bit more expensive, but saved me time and was still very economical by US standards.
Before you set off for Santa Elena, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. For one thing, make to keep track of where your lodging might be because the twisting road systems in the hills can be a bit labyrinthine.
Another important thing to remember for convenience’s sake is to bring a healthy amount of cash with you. Many of the charming restaurants and bars in the area do not accept cards. There are, however, some banks located at not-too-far distances if you’re willing to call a car or take the bus to retrieve some cash.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Santa Elena is fairly high in elevation. At approximately 9,000 feet above sea level, it is wise to take precautions against altitude sickness. I found that it took me a couple of days to get fully used to the elevation.
The town itself is just a grocery store and a library, so chances are you’ll get more mileage out of exploring the surrounding areas and nature. There are many eco-lodges, glamping sites, hotels, and Airbnb options in Santa Elena so you probably won’t have any trouble finding a nice place to stay.
The landscape that encapsulates the town is quite stunning, a very unique ecosystem known as the tropical Andes.
These mountains have become quite famous. It’s primarily for the mind-blowing level of biodiversity contained within them.
There are many places to hike and explore nature in the town, and even walking around the roads is a very pleasant experience.
It can bring you into close contact with a very pleasant mix of wild land, and agricultural endeavors. You can also run into houses and villages nestled into the crevices and contours of the landscape.
I found that every time I would leave the house I would have some kind of encounter with some beautiful wild creature. Sometimes it was a dashing tropical bird, a strange and fantastical insect, or a beautiful flower. It would make each moment feel adventurous and new.
Santa Elena is close enough to Medellin that many members of the community will commute almost daily to the city. They do this to get their business done in the big city before retreating to their natural paradise.
There are even some parks, such as Parque Arvi, where you could take a hike through the forest and then hop on the cable car back down to central Medellin. This is also true vice-versa.
Another convenient aspect of the town is that it is located more or less exactly in between the city of Medellin and the airport. I feel like this would make it a very compelling place to spend the first few or last few days of a trip to the city.
Despite its proximity to both the city and the airport, when you’re in the hills of Santa Elena you feel like you’re out amid some vast wilderness. It’s a place where tranquility and peace of mind are close at hand.
The culture of Santa Elena is interesting because there seems to be a real effort by the longtime residents and newcomers to create a set of values together.
There are multiple businesses and organizations centered around local consumption, eco-friendly practices, and camaraderie with your neighbor. There’s a real sense of pride with the citizens that is quite palpable.
There’s also a vague sense of counter-culturalism that can make the place feel a bit more dynamic. I saw many hip-looking young people who reminded me almost of northern California types. I saw many when I went to a gathering at the local Feria de Los Flores.
I feel like Santa Elena’s proximity to the city somewhat enables this infusion of youth and enthusiasm. It enlivens what otherwise might be a more-sleepy mountain town.
This infectious energy is mirrored in the many restaurants, hotels, and community projects the town hosts. They all share a progressive aesthetic and mindset very in-line with 21st-century concerns.
Santa Elena is a great option if you’re looking for a retreat from the city. There’s tons to do, limitless levels of natural beauty, and a very cool small-town vibe. The whole place seems ripe for further exploration.
Santa Elena shows that you don’t have to go very far outside of Medellin to access the transcendent beauty of Antioquia. This is also true for its very quaint and charming small-town life.
I’d give it a big recommendation based on those qualities.
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