The beautiful colonial town of Santa Fe de Antioquia has been on our radar for a long time. An easy and scenic drive from Medellin, Santa Fe is one of 17 Pueblos Patrimonios, towns honored by the Colombian government for their pivotal role in history, beautifully preserved architecture, and/or unique cultural heritage. And Santa Fe de Antioquia has all three, in spades.
Situated on the mighty Cauca, one of Colombia’s longest rivers, Santa Fe is the oldest town in Antioquia department and was once its capital. The town was founded in 1541 as a gold-mining center and was once one of the most prosperous towns in the Spanish empire.
We spent four nights in Santa Fe de Antioquia in July. Here are our highlights.
As usual, some photos are in galleries – just click the first one to view each in sequence.
A Deep Sense of History
Stroll through town to marvel at the old colonial houses and churches, some of which date back to the 16th century, and you’ll understand why Santa Fe has also been designated a Colombian National Monument (in addition to its Pueblo Patrimonio status).
The Puente Colgante de Occidente (Hanging Bridge of the West)
When Santa Fe’s famous Puente Colgante de Occidente was finished in 1895, it was the 7th largest suspension bridge in the world and the longest in South America. Spanning almost 300 meters across the Rio Cauca, the bridge was designed and built by Jose Maria Villa, a local engineer who was part of the team that built the Brooklyn Bridge. It seems Villa was pre-destined to build this bridge; according to legend, his parents – the wife pregnant with Jose – sat on the river’s shore and wondered whether “one day someone will be brave enough to build a bridge across this river.” The rest is history!
As our readers know, we love cemeteries. We make a point to find the cemetery in every town we visit and uncover the stories it has to tell. The Santa Fe cemetery spoke of neglect and forgotten promises, with many empty or abandoned grave spaces and the occasional bright splash of color honoring a newer burial.
Hotel Mariscal Robledo
We spent our first four nights at the Hotel Mariscal Robledo, which opened its doors in 1946. Young by Santa Fe standards, the hotel nonetheless harkens back to another more elegant and slower-paced era. The hotel is ideally situated on pretty Parque Robledo, just a couple of blocks from the Plaza Mayor Bolivar. And the beautiful pool was just what we needed after walking around all day in Santa Fe’s hot and humid climate.
Tip: Even if you don’t stay there, the Mariscal Robledo is worth a visit and has an excellent restaurant. Just ask the nice ladies at the front desk if you can take a look around and see a room. Sadly, the hotel doesn’t allow pets.
We love following our noses and capturing little moments that get at the essence of a town. Santa Fe de Antioquia was no exception.
The Pueblos Patrimonios: 10 Down, 7 to Go
In addition to Santa Fe, here are the 16 other Pueblos Patrimonios (including blog links to the ones we’ve visited so far): Aguadas, Barichara, Ciénaga, Jardín, Guadalajara de Buga, Jericó, Monguí, Honda, Playa de Belén, Salamina, San Juan Girón, Villa de Guaduas, Santa Cruz de Lorica, Santa Cruz de Mompox, Villa de Leyva, Socorro
Our Tips for Visiting Santa Fe de Antioquia
Santa Fe de Antioquia is a very scenic one-hour drive from Medellín by car or a 3-hour bus ride from Medellín’s Terminal Norte. The route takes you through the some gorgeous mountain scenery and over a brand-new highway, complete with tunnel and some pretty impressive high-altitude bridges. On the way, two small towns are worth a stop: San Jeronimo and Sopetrán.
We recommend that you stay in or near the central historic district. Avoid weekends; the town fills up with folks from Medellín. If you’re coming by bus, the city center is just a few blocks away and everything is within walking distance, EXCEPT the Puente Colgante de Occidente. It’s easy to hire a tuk-tuk (small three-wheeled taxi) to take you there.
There are restaurants galore to choose from in Santa Fe. Our favorites were two Spanish restaurants – Sabor Español and La Tasquería (nice paella!). We also had a nice lunch at Restaurante Comedia, right on Parque Santa Barbara.
In addition to the Mariscal Robledo, we spent one night at Casa Bixa Boutique Hotel. This beautiful hotel is shiny, new, and spotless, with another inviting pool and an ideal central location. It’s adults only and no pets are allowed.
Yet another adorable town in Colombia! I can’t believe the library in your hotel, impressive. Maggie
I could have spent hours in that library! So many very old books and also objects of curiosity. It was like a movie set! Thanks, Maggie.
Looks and sounds another beautiful Colombian city, guys. It’s always so relaxing to be in a town or city where you have views of the surrounding scenery, be it mountains towering above you or looking down from an elevated town. You’ve certainly visited some fabulous places in your adopted country.
So true – the hills around Santa Fe really are breathtaking! Colombia is the gift that keeps on giving for travelers 🙂
Very charming place, both hotels where you stayed sound very comfortable and welcoming. I also find visiting a local cemetery fascinating and a great way to find out more about the local history.
Beautiful photos and you have described it all so well I feel like I was there with you.
Thanks so much, Gilda! We are suckers for an interesting cemetery – we could spend hours there.
What a beautiful town. Your photos really capture how special it is. And that bridge is amazing!
The bridge IS amazing! Thanks, Alison.
The colonial influence seems to breathe life, even centuries later! There’s so much to Colombia that I haven’t seen yet, and Santa Fe de Antioquia is no exception!
Thanks, Rebecca! Santa Fe is just one of so many pretty and beautifully preserved colonial towns in Colombia. They are real treasures.
I echo what Maggie said. It’s incredible that Colombia has so many beautiful towns like this, and the fact that there is an impressive-looking library in a hotel in Santa Fe de Antioquia is just mind-boggling. I always love an accommodation with a good selection of books.
Any place with a library is heaven for us, Bama! This one is so interesting – some of the books look like they’re a couple of hundred years old. It made me think of Hogwarts 🙂
Oh it’s absolutely beautiful 🙂
Thanks, Hannah! It’s even prettier in person.
Such a beautiful place. Thank you for sharing the lovely photos.
Once again, thank you for letting me tag along with you. As a history buff, I was delighted to see Balivar remembered. I, too, love cemeteries. We can learn so much from them. Keep travelling. Cheers, Muriel
You are so welcome, Muriel – and thanks for being such an avid reader 🙂 You would love Bogota, Colombia’s capital. We just got back from a trip there, and Simon Bolivar’s footprints are everywhere. We got to tour his country home, which was fascinating. Film at 11!
Have a lovely day,
An awesome post! I have never had the desire to see this part of the world, but your pictures show a lovely mix of history and culture that bears seeing, for sure. Thanks for the details (sewing machines, pretty buildings) that make this a very special post.
Thanks so much for reading! Hope you can visit Colombia someday – it really is a spectacular country.
Interesting story about the suspension bridge but no way, now how for me and my fear of heights. What is the significance of the sewing machines at the hotel?
Hi Patti! I hear you – I couldn’t look down the whole time we were crossing the bridge. Every time a motorcycle would drive across, the whole thing shook! The hotel had lots of displays of antique items from every day (in fact, this is pretty common in lots of places in Colombia). Old stereo systems, radios, TVs, etc. The wall of sewing machines is just one of many such displays.
Santa Fe de Antioquia looks like a charming town. Love the historic architecture and those green mountains surrounding it are beautiful!