If you are in Medellin or anywhere in Antioquia and are looking for a weekend escape to a quiet little country village then look no further than Urrao, a town in the Andes mountains of the Cordillera Oriental at 1,830 meters (6,000 feet). With a year round cool climate, the village is just 160 km. outside of Medellin.
The town gets busy on the weekends but during the week it is calm and quiet. One can stroll through the town’s streets, go the the nearby market, take walks in the valley along the Penderisco River or hike paths in the nearby mountains.
One easy hike is a path following the large white stations of the cross up the mountain. The path and crosses can be seen from town.
Paramo del Sol
Many hikers used to come Urrao to trek to the Paramo del Sol, a nature reserve and tropical rainforest at 2,380 meters (9,284 feet) above sea level and reaching 4,080 meters (13,385 feet) at its highest point. Chiva buses go from the town to the paramo’s trail head, a 40 minute ride costing 5,000 COP. From there it’s 14 kilometer (8.6 mile) trek that takes 7 hours from the base to the top.
Unfortunately the Paramo has been temporarily closed because visitors had been destroying plants and trees and leaving behind lots of trash. The closure has cut down on the flow of tourism to town. So if you’re coming to hike the paramo, check first to see if the reserve has reopened.
The town of Urrao is a delight. It sits on the valley floor next to the Penderisco River. Men on horseback trot down the streets. The days are warm and the nights cool with an average temperature of 60 degrees F. (15.7 C.). It’s a tranquil village of just 16,000 people with lots of coffee shops and bakeries. On the main square there is San Jose Church. Walking south on Cra. 32 there is the Plaza del Mercado where there is large coffee cooperative.
Urrao is Famous for its Coffee Production
Until recently Urrao had been overlooked as a coffee-producing region. It was thought too cold to grow good coffee despite having some of the most fertile land in Antioquia. But a number of small farmers, most with farms no larger than 1.5 hectares (3.7 acres), are growing unique varietals of coffee beans and Lulu fruits. While they produce very little coffee it is in high demand due to its characteristics and complexities.
There are several unique and internationally prized coffee varietals grown in the mountains around the village:
Valle del Penderisco, Chiroso Urrao and Heirloom Caturra are coffee varietals that have adapted very well to Urrao’s high mountain climate. They produce coffees with good acidity, hints of melon, kiwi, strawberry, stewed plums, and dark chocolate. These beans are mostly exported but they can be found in town.
A 12oz. (355 ml.) bag of roasted coffee beans from Urrao will sell for up to $23 a bag on the gourmet coffee circuit. But the coffee cooperative of Urrao only pays the farmers $1.80 (7,500 COP) per pound of coffee beans picked, hulled and dried. The biggest profits, as always, go to the exporters, importers, distributors and retailers.
The mountains surrounding the town also draw a lot of bird watchers even though a lot of tree cover has been lost to fires.
There are nice, inexpensive hotels in town. I stayed at the pleasant Hotel Colonial on the main square where a nice double room was just 85,000 COP ($20) per night. Dining options are limited but there are a few restaurants in town serving up standard Colombian fare.
How to Get There
There are two different roads to get to the village by bus or car. Unfortunately both routes are bone crushing bus trips. But on the up side, both roads go through the spectacular Colombian countryside of southwest Antioquia. The routes depart from the south bus terminal of Medellin.
A bus ticket to Urrao costs 45,000 COP per person for the 160 km. (100 miles) trek and takes 5 hours. The bus goes down the road to Bolombolo – Quibdo probably the easiest stretch, then takes the road north to Betulia and Quebradona. This road is mostly dirt.
Another route is from the town of Santa Fe, north of Medellin, to Urrao. This road is also a dusty, dirt road. It’s basically just a one way road through the mountains and every time a truck comes in the opposite direction, someone has to back up into a driveway. This trek takes 5 hours just to get to Santa Fe from Urrao and another 1.5 hours to Medellin.
I went back to Medellin this way. I spent the night in Santa Fe where it is always very hot with accommodations more expensive than in Medellin.
The bus stations are in the main square of Urrao and there are buses to Santa Fe every hour or so. But be careful if traveling back on a Sunday as the bus tickets sell out quickly. Buy your return ticket the day before if possible.
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