Every evening, if you look towards the sky, you’ll see the thousands of little lights that illuminate the mountains of Medellin.
These hills are not only home to the millions of people living on the fringes of the city but also some incredible nature trails.
Although the Cerro Pan de Azucar mountain and its surrounding community may be lesser known than other parts of the city, its landscape is just as energizing!
Here you can experience the best of both worlds. Wander through one of Medellin’s most significant barrios and enjoy a nature trek into the nearby mountains.
The Metropolitan Greenbelt Project
Firstly, the Cerro Pan de Azucar hike is a part of a much larger government-initiated project. The Metropolitan Greenbelt plan is to expand the amount of green recreational park spaces within the city.
The Camino De La Vida (Path of Life) is a fantastic addition to the project. The paved pathway leads to the top of Cerro Pan de Azucar and makes for an easy walking route accessible to just about anyone!
The comuna 8 neighborhood sits just below the mountain and has a space where residents can grow their own crops. Organic food growth is another part of the initiative encouraged by the government.
However, the main parts of this exciting project are to:
Increase job opportunities due to construction
Minimizing the number of landslides by adding more flat areas and trees
Supporting sustainable food growth
New homes for any families displaced by the project
El Camino De La Vida Walking Trail
The 7-mile path that leads to the top of the Cerro Pan de Azucar mountain offers some spectacular views of the city.
The path is fully paved, making it perfect for anyone to hike, including children and dogs. With staircases and railing, you don’t need to be a particularly experienced hiker to participate.
The trail cuts through gorgeous gardens and patches of crops, the agriculture being a mix of tropical plants, flowers, and green forest trees.
The group specializes in community-led eco-tourism and encourages responsible travel and the preservation of the nature and the local cultures that make the area so special.
The knowledgeable and bilingual locals will meet you at the 13 de Noviembre cable car station and lead you through different locations. You’ll start with the hike to Cerro Pan de Azucar and its various lookout points.
However, the great thing about the tour is it doesn’t just include the Cerro Pan de Azucar but also a comuna 8 tour!
You’ll need to walk through comuna 8 to get to and leave The Camino De La Vida trail. The guided walk through this adjacent neighborhood will happen after the hike, so I’ll drop all the comuna 8 details a bit later.
But first, here’s how to get to the trail and what to expect on the trek.
How to Get to Cerro Pan de Azucar
The access point to the trail is high in the Medellin mountains, the nearest public transport stop being ‘13 de noviembre’.
This station is located on the Miraflores cable car line. So, the journey will involve an exciting aerial ride.
My route from Laureles involved three of the four major modes of Medellin transport. The metro, tram, and lastly, a cable car!
Travel from most places in Medellin will likely involve a similar journey, as the closest metro stop is San Antonio. Here, you’ll need to ride the tram five stops to Miraflores. Once you exit the tram, you will see the cable car station on your right.
There is a constant rotating selection of cable carriages, so you won’t have to wait long.
But be warned, the ride isn’t for the faint of heart, especially if you’re new to cable cars or don’t like heights.
However, the journey is more exciting than scary; you get a full sky-high view of Medellin!
Upon exiting the 13 de noviembre station, I was met by tour leader Jose. He led me along Calle 56h to the beginning of the trail.
What is the Trail like?
The hike will start on a dirt path which can get pretty slipping when it rains. However, the trail quickly turns into a paved walkaway with what seems like an endless amount of stairs.
As soon as you exit the station, you’ll have stunning views of the city, as you’re already starting from a high elevation. However, there are many great lookout points along the way. You’ll be sure to get some great photos.
Although navigating the path is quite straightforward, you should also look out for the signs; they will guide you in the right direction.
After around 30 minutes of walking, you’ll see the ‘Jardin’ sign. You can follow a short dirt path to reach the viewpoint here. Once you have enjoyed the incredible scenery, you should walk back down to the paved pathway.
The last 15 minutes of the trail take place on a less comfortable, cobbled walkway. This is the most difficult part of the hike. It is a lot steeper, and the large stones that form the path can be a little more tricky to walk, especially with shaky legs.
However, once you reach the top, you get a stunning 360-degree view of Medellin. The scenery is truly breathtaking and worth the hike.
Walking Through Comuna 8
The journey back down the mountain and through comuna 8 is just as beautiful! This specific route is a part of the tour and lasts for around an hour.
The guide will take you on a steep downhill stroll through winding alleys and residential streets.
See, Cerro Pan de Azucar borders the ‘La Sierra’ region and the local comuna 8 neighborhood. Although this barrio is much less known than the popular comuna 13, it’s just as interesting.
You can stop and take pictures of the graffiti murals and buy snacks at the local businesses. However, the comuna 13 similarities don’t just stop at the graffiti. The neighborhood also has a past tainted with violence.
Like many communities living in the hills of Medellin, comuna 8 was originally formed by people fleeing from guerrilla warfare in other Antioquian towns.
However, paramilitary violence between comuna 8 and the neighboring comuna 9 shook the barrio, and it became one of the most dangerous areas in the city.
If you haven’t heard of La Sierra, you’re not alone. I was completely clueless before the tour. But if you want to catch up on the past social issues of the area, I recommend watching the La Sierra documentary.
Today the area is a lot more peaceful and safer. The tour also provides an outlet for residents to share their stories. It’s incredible to hear their first-hand accounts of life amidst the violence.
Memory House Museum (Museo Casa de la Memoria)
If you decide to take the tour, you have the option of finishing at the nearby Memory House Museum. It is a fitting end, as it illustrates the history of comuna 8 in incredible detail.
The museum documents Medellin’s troubled past and explains how it was able to transform into a more peaceful city. The stories are told by its residents, many of those being from the comuna 8 neighborhood.
It’s quite a solemn place. The scale of the violence and the true extent of the atrocities really hit home.
A silver sculpture that stands just outside of the museum commemorates how far the city has come. The artwork is made of the knives given up by cartel members.
Entry is free, and you can make your way around the museum in 30 minutes. Exhibitions include videos and photo presentations. The free audio guide comes in different languages, and the videos have English subtitles.
If you have the time and aren’t too tired from the hike, I would definitely recommend the last leg of the tour and the visit to Museo Casa de la Memoria.
Although I had a wonderful time hiking Cerro Pan de Azucar, it’s better to be safe than sorry and take the proper precautions:
Leave any cash at home
Be cautious with taking your phone on the hike
Take frequent breaks along the trail
Do the hike with at least one other person, and always stick with your group.
Try to wear proper hiking boots or athletic sneakers
Stay on the trail and the pathway
If you take a wrong turn, be willing to turn back
Enjoy a Day in Nature and Hike Cerro Pan de Azucar
The combined Cerro Pan de Azucar hike and comuna 8 tour are great ways to experience nature and better understand the local society.
So, throw on your hiking shoes and hop in a cable car for an exciting day in the city!
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