Epic Medellin Waterfall Hike – Salto de Angel
Salto De Angel – Our Epic Day Hike Outside of Medellin
Part of the fun of living in a different city is the new adventures. Medellin is a bustling city with plenty of things to do. However, it also sits near beautiful mountains filled with gorgeous hiking trails and even the occasional waterfall. Read on to discover the perfect Medellin waterfall hike, located just outside of the main city.
Last weekend, we got away from the city and dive into nature once more. So far, we haven’t found Medellin to be overly touristy, but either way, we always like to go off the beaten path for a choose your own adventure kind of day.
We read online that there was a beautiful waterfall, the Salto de Angel, which was just a small hike from the famous La Catedral, the site of Pablo Escobar’s famous prison.
La Catedral – Pablo Escobar’s Prison
Getting to La Catedral is an adventure in itself. Most taxi drivers are reluctant to drive all the way to the former prison, as it is about 40 minutes outside of the city. La Catedral sits atop a mountain overlooking Medellin. It takes about 20 minutes of hairpin turns and steep ascends to get to the top.
You can see La Catedral portrayed at the end of Season 1 of Narcos. It’s important to note, that we’ve heard some Colombians look down upon “Narcos Tourism” as they call it. The nearby waterfall was the main draw for us, but we thought that checking out the old prison could be interesting.
A group of Benedictine monks now owns and maintains the property. They continue renovating the property since 2007 when the Colombian government decided to loan them the land. When we arrived, we saw plenty of yellow warning signs, put in place by the religious organization. They read “don’t be deceived by your guide. This was not built by Pablo Escobar, we do not like Narcos Tourism.”
I decided to ask a man who worked there what those signs were all about. We wanted to respect the space and certainly didn’t want to be part of the problem. I asked the man if the monks had a problem with tourists. “Not tourists,” he said, “just lies.” He explained to me that while Pablo constructed his prison on the property, very little of the original structures remain. Groups of people destroyed the property with sledgehammers and shovels after Escobar died. They dismantled the property, brick by brick, looking for Pablo’s fortune.
Some guides will tour the property and lie about the buildings, acting like Pablo built the structures that we see today. In reality, a group of monks has renovated the property who is eager to move past the dark days of Pablo’s reign. They want people to remember how many people died during his drug empire, rather than marvel in the iconic villain portrayed on Netflix.
History of La Catedral
For those interested in the history of La Catedral, it’s truly straight out of a movie. At one point, Pablo Escobar was one of the richest men in the world, he controlled 80% of the global cocaine supply and killed countless politicians, policemen, and judges who got in his way. He was so powerful that it took a combination of the Colombian government, the CIA, the DEA, guerilla groups, and enemy cartels to take him down.
Constructed in 1991, La Catedral was part of a deal that Pablo struck with the Colombian government in order to make peace. He agreed to stay in prison as long as it was his own prison. Oh and the Colombian police couldn’t come within a 12-mile radius. Oh, AND the country had to rewrite their constitution to guarantee that the U.S. or other countries could not extradite Pablo. Damn. As you might imagine, La Catedral wasn’t much of a prison on the inside what with caviar, champagne, and expensive cigars. But on the outside, it had guard towers and barbed-wire fences. To keep the “prisoners” in? Or to keep the police out?
We toured the property and took in the gorgeous views overlooking Medellin for about 45 minutes before entering the surrounding woods. We read that there would be a path that led towards the Salto de Angel waterfall.
The Salto de Angel- Medellin Waterfall Hike
Let me begin by saying that this waterfall was 100% worth it. While there were some other people hiking to/from the waterfall, it was very peaceful and isolated. When we finally got to the waterfall, we had some time to enjoy the peace and serenity completely alone.
Getting to the waterfall involves following a path directly from La Catedral. The path is pretty obvious and there are even some signs along the way. You walk through the woods for about 5-7 minutes before arriving in a clearing. From there, you can clearly see the waterfall off in the distance.
Then there’s the hard part. It’s important to note that articles online made it seem like the hike was leisurely and totally doable. It’s in fact quite steep and challenging to get to. There’s a rope bolted into the rocks along the way and for much of the descent, we had to basically repel down the rocks. We do not advise making this journey if you’re traveling with small children or senior citizens or pets. You have to put your whole body into and be careful of slippery rocks. Make sure you wear the right shoes with traction or you’ll be slipping all over the place! The path down is quite muddy so be sure you wear some clothes you don’t mind getting dirty.
Once you’re at the waterfall, the pictures speak for themselves. It was truly marvelous and made the entire journey worth it. Climbing back up the rocks was much easier than going down, and the return journey only took us about 15 minutes.
The Return to Medellin
If there’s one thing we can recommend, it’s to make sure you have a ride out of La Catedral, or you could end up in a sticky situation. When we returned from our glorious hike, we assumed we could hail a cab or call an Uber. We were super wrong. La Catedral is super out of the way and most drivers don’t want to deal with the twists and turns just to pick somebody up.
We ran into a bus that picked people up every hour or so and brought them back down to the town below the mountain. However, by the time it arrived at La Catedral, we were unable to fit due to the large capacity of people. “Let’s just walk,” we said, following a group of other hikers who also couldn’t get on to the bus.
Note to self: don’t say “let’s just walk” without knowing what that entails. Getting down the mountain took at least an hour and a half. As we were nearing the end, a taxi drove by us and picked us up, saving us the final 30 minutes of our descent.
Whether you rent a car, hire a driver, or make sure you’re on the bus, we recommend making sure you have a way out.
Overall, this day trip was an amazing adventure. It was not super touristy and the difficulty getting to the waterfall was well worth it in the end.