I’ve written before about the most fun you can have for USD $0.50. I’ve since discovered something slightly more expensive, at $5.00, but I’d say it’s worth the 900% increase. This time, we’re exchanging ten-cent Uber-moto rides in Vietnam, for five-dollar metrocable (ski-style gondola) rides in Medellín, Colombia.
At five bucks, the metrocable ride is another sweet deal in a country bursting with bargains. For that money you’ll be ascending the lift for approximately 35 minutes up to an elevation of some 8,500 feet (2,600 meters) before reaching Parque Arví.
This may actually be a better deal than our $0.50 motorbike rides.
Transportation with a view
The introduction of the Medellín Metro system in 1995 brought efficient transport to over two-million residents of the city. It’s a real show of the progressive projects happening around the city, as it remains the only metro system in the country.
The problem, however, is that the system originally was not able to serve thousands of people, living in the comunas in the poorer areas of the city. These neighborhoods sit high up in the mountains and are impossible to (efficiently) reach with any basic mode of transportation.
The residents here are at the mercy of the mountainous topography and are essentially cut off from the valley below, where the majority of residents live and business gets done. Before the introduction of the metrocable system, the residents often spent more than two hours commuting into the valley.
Inauguration of metrocable
In 2004, the first metrocable line (Line K) opened and became integrated into the existing Medellín Metro. Line K connects with Line A at the Acevedo station. It runs for three stops, ending at Santo Domingo station. For practical purposes, this stop is where the communities end as well.
Improvements to communities
The introduction of the cable system brought about a reduction in violence in the areas which it served.
A 2012 studied noted a 66% greater reduction in homicide rates in neighborhoods that had the new metrocable, compared to neighborhoods without (their control neighborhoods).1
Formerly, the Santo Domingo barrio was one of the most dangerous in the city. It suffered from frequent gunfights between the local militias and cartel members. As recently as 2004, residents were to be inside their houses after 5:00pm for fear of violence.
Now, tourists can carefully walk parts of the barrio before the sun goes down. The area is still violent, however, and has its share of problems. But, these are not as frequent as they once were.
A visit just outside the Santo Domingo station provides spectacular views of the city and is a great spot to take pictures of the metrocable. Just be mindful of your personal stuff.
How to reach the metrocables
The metrocables are easily accessible from the Acevedo station on Line A. Make your way here and follow the signs for Line K.
Line K is the first metrocable and connects to three stations serving residents on the east side of the Medellín River. Once you make it to the Santo Domingo station, you can either exit to explore the neighborhood, or climb the station stairs and head straight for Parque Arví via Line L and its connecting bridge.
Let’s pretend that you get out and explore the barrio Santo Domingo first.
Once you reach Santo Domingo, my advice would be to head over in the direction of the Spanish library, Biblioteca España. It’s hard to miss the massive black structure of Biblioteca España and you’ll definitely see when ascending the metrocable.
But first, a bit about the bib’
Part of the library was funded by the Spanish government, and on its opening in March of 2007, the king and queen of Spain visited for its inauguration.
The library features tiny windows, which were supposed to limit the views while inside. The intention was to provide residents of the area an escape from the run-down neighborhood surrounding it.
The library remains a source of pride for many in the community.
The 7-minute walk that many miss
You don’t actually have to make it to the library to see the awesome views, however.
Once you arrive at the Santo Domingo station, exit the station to the left. About 50 feet ahead on your left, you’ll see a set of stairs going down, with blue-painted railings. Take those down and continue straight.
Cross Carrera 32 and you’ll be following almost directly under the metrocable.
You’ll pass a school on your right. You might even see a game of soccer on the hard-court, just behind the wired fence.
Follow the street until you reach the lookout point. Here you’ll be rewarded with one of the best views of the city and the metrocable.
Alternatively, you can just search the coordinates, 6°17’37.3″N 75°32’36.8″W, with Google or Google Maps and navigate there.
After you take in the view, turn to the right. There’s a crisscrossing set of stairs that opens up into a huge courtyard. This is another super photo opportunity, as you’ll have the graffiti and the houses buried into the mountainside all in one shot.
Reaching Parque Arví
Once you’ve explored around Santo Domingo a bit, you can head back towards its station and continue the metrocable up to Parque Arví.
If you leave the Santo Domingo station to explore, don’t go back through it. You’ll end up paying twice—once to enter the station and then once again for the metrocable to the park.
Instead, head south and walk past the station to access the same queue.
If you don’t leave the station, you can just hop off the metro at Santo Domingo and take the set of stairs (inside) up to the bridge that connects to the queue for Parque Arví.
If you’re not sure, just ask the dude standing on the inside of the turnstiles.
The rate is just over twice the standard metro price, at COP 5,500, and is a straight shot to the park.
Avoid the crowds for the best experience
If you go on a weekday and go early enough, you can avoid the crowds and get a whole cabin to yourself—because nobody wants to awkwardly wrestle for prime photo-taking space.
Also, if you’re lucky and can wait a bit, try to get one with clean windows.
Parque Arví is a greenspace dedicated to providing access to nature outside of the city. The park saw over 66,000 visitors in 2017, from local Paisas to faraway Parisians.
- Ecotourism park, located in the village of Santa Elena
- Promotes conservation and sustainable nature tourism
- Built as a green space for locals, nationals and international tourists
- Approximately 4,350 acres (1,761 hectacres)
- 15 miles (25 km) from Medellín’s center
- Altitude range between 7,200-8,500 ft above sea level (2,200-2,600 m)
- Average temperature between 54-63° F (12-17° C)
- 69 species of birds
- 540 species of flora
- Numerous trails offer hikes with birds, insects, flowers, fungi, native forests, water and archaeological ruins
Bonus not included in the original COP 15,000: food in the park
The food in the park isn’t like the kind you might come to expect. Maybe I got lucky, but I found an awesome vegetarian restaurant a few minutes’ walk from the entrance. I’m not a veggie-head by nature and sure do love a nice steak, but the food was super delicious and filling.
The name is Cable a Tierra Vegetariano and it sits a bit back from Calle 86, which runs alongside Parque Arví. It definitely has a bohemian vibe to it. There’s tons of artwork, funky furniture, lots of color and it sits under a canopy of tin and tarp.
The food was excellent. The menu varies daily, but it’s limited to a set offering and costs COP 20,000.
We started with a squash soup with cream and cilantro. Super good. We also sipped on some piping hot ginger tea while we waited for the rest of the food.
The main dish had three different things.
The first was a salad with strawberries, sunflower seeds and a creamy dressing. Alongside the salad was two fried plantains, shaped like muffins with an avocado spread on top. Probably my favorite thing. The other cup was filled with mixed vegetables (zucchini, mushrooms, broccoli) and yet another delicious creamy sauce. A fried, cheesy breading on top served as the lid to all the veggie goodness.
Here’s a picture, because I’m a much better eater than I am at describing plates.
Parque Arví also has local vendors set up around the entrance. They sell everything from coffee and scarves to bracelets with South American gems, to natural pain medicines containing marijuana. Good stuff, I’m sure.
I preferred to just grab a small black coffee (tinto), chat with a few of the vendors and head back down the metrocable.
The market was my last stop at Parque Arví. From here I got back onto the metrocable and road it down to Santo Domingo before transferring back to Acevdeo.
If you explore Santo Domingo, tour Parque Arví without a guide, stop for lunch and explore the market, you’ll probably spend between 5-7 hours. It’s a nice half day excursion to get away from the city and find out what’s lurking just over the hills of Medellín.
There are a few more metrocable lines that run south of Parque Arví (lines H and M) and another that runs west of the Medellín River (line J). I plan on updating this later with my experience using these newer lines.
- See this study, Reducing Violence by Transforming Neighborhoods: A Natural Experiment in Medellín, Colombia, by Magdalena Cerdá, Jeffrey D. Morenoff, Ben B. Hansen, Kimberly J. Tessari Hicks, Luis F. Duque, Alexandra Restrepo, Ana V. Diez-Roux Am J Epidemiol. 2012 May 15; 175(10): 1045–1053.
In 2012 researchers compared data from before 2003 (pre-metrocable) to data after 2008 (completion of two metrocables). The study looked at intervention groups—the neighborhoods with the new cables—and control groups—communities with no access to cables. The results showed that the decline in homicide rate was 66% greater in intervention neighborhoods, compared to the non-intervention (non-metrocable) ones.