The oldest town in Antioquia isn’t the city of Medellín, it’s the quiet and simple Santa Fe de Antioquia. Founded in 1541 as a gold mining town, it was once the capital of Antioquia and one of the most prosperous towns in the Spanish Empire. It’s also one of Colombia’s prestigious Pueblos de Patrimonio, with colonial architecture that has been well-preserved.
It is situated just about an hour and a half from Medellín by car and easily accessible for a day trip. When my father came to visit me in Colombia, we decided to take a tour offered by LandVenture Travel. We were picked up by our guide, Andrés, just after 9am from our hotel and driven to Santa Fe via the longest tunnel in the Americas.
When we arrived, Andrés took us to Puente de Occidente, an architectural masterpiece built by José María Villa, a local engineer who was part of the team that built the Brooklyn Bridge. The bridge spans the Río Cauca and is 291m long. It was finished in 1895 and was once the 7th longest suspension bridge in the world and the longest in South America. It is said that in the mid 1800s, a man sat at the edge of the river with his pregnant wife and said “I wonder if one day someone will be brave enough to build a bridge across this river”. It turns out the couple were Villa’s parents and the baby was Villa.
We were able to cross the bridge on a small footpath. There is also one lane for cars to pass in either direction.
At the other end of the bridge, there is a plaque honoring Villa for his great contribution. The bridge connected the once isolated Santa Fe to the rest of Antioquia and made it much easier for goods to cross the river. To get to the bridge with a local tuk-tuk taxi costs about COP$7,000 one way.
Next, we drove into historic Santa Fe. We first visited the Iglesia de Santa Bárbara, built between 1726 and 1795. It is the oldest church in Santa Fe. In front of the church is a pleasant little park.
Then, we made a quick stop at the Iglesia de Jesús Nazareno, built between 1828 and 1855.
From there we headed to Plaza Mayor. On this square sit some of the most important buildings in town. The most prominent building is the cathedral, officially named Cathedral Basílica de la Inmaculada Concepción. It was built between 1799 and 1837.
Directly opposite the cathedral is the Hotel Caserón Plaza. It was once the home of the mayor. You can ask the hotel staff to go upstairs and get an excellent view of the entire plaza from the balcony.
To the right of the hotel is the old Palacio Municipal. Finally, in the center of the plaza, you can buy sweets and other good made from the town’s specialty, tamarind.
After a delicious lunch, we started walking to another plaza. On our way, we saw a “wall of fame” with pictures of important people in the history of Santa Fe.
At Plazoleta de la Chinca, there is a statue of Jorge Robledo, the founder of the town.
There is also another church, Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Chiquinquirá, built in 1858.
Worth a visit if they let you in is the Hotel Mariscal Robledo. This five star hotel is where celebrities and special guests of Santa Fe de Antioquia’s annual film festival stay. The hotel is filled with antiques for sale and old film memorabilia.
Each of the rooms has a plaque outside honoring a famous guest who stayed in the room.
You will also get the most memorable view of Santa Fe from one of the windows on the second floor of the hotel.
The tour finished after visiting the hotel and we were returned to Medellín. Andrés was an excellent guide who answered all of our questions thoroughly. He also did a great job to make sure everyone was comfortable and enjoying themselves. I highly recommend Andrés and LandVenture Travel for a private tour when visiting Medellín.