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TLDR? There are tons of amazing pueblos around Medellin, so if you rent a car, you can plan a pretty incredible road trip!
If you’ve spent much time in Medellín, you’ve inevitably heard about the magic of the nearby pueblos antioqueños. Maybe you’ve even visited Pueblito Paisa and now want to see the real thing.
Visiting the villages around Medellín like Jardín, Jericó, and Guatapé is a great way to experience authentic Antiouquian culture. You can make these day or weekend trips with a driver or public transportation, but if you’re a little more ambitious, you can rent a car and take a road trip.
Before you gas up, though, there are a few things you should know.
Yes, you can rent a car in Colombia using your US, Canadian, or EU license as long as you’re visiting Colombia as a tourist. During the length of your 90-day tourist visa, you can legally drive with your home license.
However, if you have an extended visa or are a Colombian resident, you have to get a Colombian license after three months.
Renting a car in Colombia is fairly easy and straightforward, but you do need to be at least 21 years old. The rental car company may sometimes charge an extra fee if you’re under 25.
Additionally, you’ll have to present the following documentation:
I specifically recommend providing a credit card that includes a primary insurance policy for rental cars. Driving in and around Medellín can be a little chaotic, to say the least, and you definitely want to be covered. But more on that later.
Okay, so now you know how to rent a car in Colombia. But, where do you do it?
Here are a couple of convenient places to pick up a car rental in Medellin.
Of course, there are a ton of rental agencies at the international airport in Rionegro, including:
There are several local and discount agencies at or near the airport as well.
While the airport is a natural place to look for a rental car, it’s not the best option for your road trip because you have to get to the airport from Medellín and back again when you drop the car off. Luckily, there are in-town options.
Enterprise is what I used for my Medellín road trip and what I would recommend. Since they’re an American company, using their online booking system is simple, especially if you already have an account with them. The staff was friendly and informative, and pickup and drop-off went smoothly.
Located on the north side of Poblado across from the Premium Plaza shopping mall, the office is inside a Volkswagen service center. But, you should be able to see the sign for Enterprise, Alamo, and National from Avenida Pintuco.
Address: Cl. 29 #43A-29, El Poblado, Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia
A quick Google search reveals more than a dozen lesser-known rental car agencies around the city. While aggregate car rental search engines may show these offering cars at a much lower price, I don’t recommend using them.
For one thing, they’re often local, and as a foreigner, you may not be as adept at navigating the intricacies of their rental contracts.
Additionally, budget rental agencies are more likely to include hidden fees, and you’re apt to show up at the office to pick up your car and find out you owe more than you thought. Even worse, they may be more aggressive trying to charge you for scratches or damage.
Warning: DON’T TAKE MY ROUTE. While this is indeed the route I took on my road trip around Antioquia, it should only serve educational purposes, partly for what you shouldn’t do.
That said, you can see how a lot of villages are accessible from Medellín. I took a week to visit all these towns, but you can do single towns as day or weekend getaways.
Ultimately, my route was not especially efficient because the highways outside of Medellín aren’t of the highest quality. The result is that you often have to return all the way to Medellín in order to travel to a different village, even if they appear close on the map. Visiting multiple villages at once is a lot easier if you stick to these regions (as defined by yours truly):
If you want to visit more than one pueblo in a single trip, I highly recommend sticking to just one of these regions.
Now that you know what not to do in terms of driving routes let’s take a second to talk about a couple of other tips to keep in mind.
Here are a few of my top suggestions for a successful road trip around Antioquia.
Aside from the inefficiency of the route I posted above, you shouldn’t take it because stretches of it were not what most people would consider “driveable.” After leaving Támesis for La Ceja, we encountered a bridge that was out due to heavy rains the night before (a common problem with Antioquian highways, especially during the rainy season).
As you can see from the map, Google’s alternative route sent us along the Cauca River before directing us onto a dirt road up the mountain to Abejorral via Pantanillo.
However, Google did not mention that this highway was all but impassable. The rain had completely washed it out, and in some places, it only consisted of large rocks with a rivet in the center like a dried-out creek bed.
In other places, the tire tracks in the mud were too deep for the car. Still, we couldn’t turn around because the road was too narrow, and to the side, the mountain dropped away.
Luckily, our rental car had a raised suspension, but it was a close call nonetheless. I recommend only staying on paved roads and asking locals for the route. They tend to be well-apprised of the highway conditions.
Speed limits around Medellín are a lot lower than you’d expect in the US. For example, most interurban highways have a posted speed limit of 30 kilometers per hour.
Yeah, that’s like 20 miles per hour. Even the few limited-access highways don’t have speed limits over 80 km/h or about 50 mph.
I would suggest you respect these speed limits. Consider going even slower. Antioquian roads are especially windy as they pass through the mountains, and the jungle seems to be angry about their very existence.
It tries to reclaim them at every opportunity with landslides covering full lanes and rushing water taking out stretches of bridges and pavement. You don’t want to come around a curve too fast only to find a big chunk of the mountain in your lane.
Plus, highways outside of Medellín and major towns like La Ceja, Rionegro, and Guatapé are filled with potholes. If you go too fast, you won’t be able to avoid them, leading to discomfort for you and potential damage to the car.
In addition to the physical problems with the highways discussed above, the Antioquian roads face frequent closures and traffic jams. Google told us the trip to Jericó would take three hours, but it ended up taking over six because we spent most of it stopped in traffic.
Be patient, and don’t schedule your road trip too tightly.
You’ve probably heard people talk about the main tourist towns of Jardín, Jericó and Guatapé. These pueblos are gorgeous and certainly worth your time, but there are some hidden gems that you rarely hear mentioned.
These small towns don’t necessarily have enough to spend a whole day or weekend in them, but you can definitely drive through the town squares and snap some photos.
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