discovering the history of Santa Elena

After a delicious breakfast, it was time to explore Arví Park. Get ready to meet Santa Elena.

Once I visited the park in 2010 through the metrocable with an appointment. But without a tour guide, we were just wandering on our own.

This time, we were in the good hands of Gus. He is one of the park's bilingual guides, as well as another Colombian guide.

Arrival in Santa Elena

Our first stop was the future location of the local market. Now it is outside the Parque Arví metrocable station. The market is a meeting place for local artisans and food vendors. In front of the square there is a church of 100 years.

Our second stop was an observation tower three or four stories high. Upon climbing, we had 360 degree views of the park, Santa Elena and the surrounding countryside.

I was surprised to learn that Santa Elena covers a region almost equal to that of Medellin. The difference is that Medellín settled in the valley (elev: 1,500 meters), while Santa Elena is located on a plateau above and to the east (elev: 2,200 to 2,600 meters).

Once the sun sets, temperatures drop, so it is important to wear warm clothes if you spend the night. Otherwise, you can feel the effects of altitude if you get a lot of physical activity, especially walking or cycling uphill.

Arrival at Arví Park

Back on the ground, we begin our walk through the park, following a pre-Hispanic road from 1,500 to 2,000 years old.

Ancient stone walls, mostly covered with dirt and plants, extend to both sides of the road. According to Gus, archaeologists are not sure why these walls were built.

Little is known about the people who built the road in this section of Colombia, but we know it connected to other roads that lead from Central America, through Panama, Colombia, and to Chile.

I found it fascinating that an archeologically significant road is so close to Medellin, however, it took me four years to discover that I was there. I felt like I was exploring my own backyard for the first time.

Diversity of fauna and flora in Arví Park

During the walk, we saw small creatures, including a lizard, a bright green caterpillar and colorful butterflies. I was enjoying the tranquility of all this.

Arví Park is a biologically diverse area, as is all of Colombia. In this unique park, there are more than 72 species of butterflies, 69 species of birds and 19 species of mammals.

One of those bird species has its home on the ground. Gus pointed holes dug several meters deep into the dirt walls that run along a section of the road. Birds, whose name I have forgotten, live in these burrows, unlike trees.

Listen carefully, and you may be able to hear the little birds in their nest.

You will not find large mammals in the park, such as jaguars and bears, and due to the altitude, neither poisonous snakes nor spiders to worry about.

Floral richness of Antioquia

Colombia supplies more than 90% of the flowers to the United States and is a seedbed of orchids.

During our walk, the guides pointed out different varieties.

Every year, as part of the Flower Fair in Medellin, there is an orchid competition, with the winners on display at the Botanical Garden.

Gus even said that on his days off, he likes to go to Arví Park with friends in search of orchids.

One of the orchids he showed us was so small that my camera could barely capture its flowering.

According to Gus, this was the smallest orchid in the world. He had searched online in an effort to find a smaller one, but it was in vain.

This is exactly the kind of detail that you can learn and appreciate with a knowledgeable guide, while if you were walking alone, you would never have seen it.

They showed us other types of flowers too, some of which were edible (and yes, we ate the petals to confirm).

Despite the fog that morning, we had a good view of the north (foreground) and west (bottom) parts of the city.

For those who are familiar with Medellin, this view allows you to see things like the botanical garden, the aquarium, the University of Antioquia, the subway line and the football stadium.

Riches of the Arví Park

The Santa Elena region, which includes the Arví Park, was (and still is) rich in two very important things: salt and gold.

In previous centuries, the Spanish sacked the region for gold. Salt was used for commerce, as well as for food preservation.

Where you have a main road, you have a commercial route, and therefore people who live and work very close.

The Sabanas school was once used in the early 20th century as a place for teaching 3rd grade students. There are older residents of Medellin who still remember attending this school.

Before it was a school, the buildings were used as a place of military recruitment, if I remember correctly (but don't quote me about that)

Our walk through nature finally led us to an asphalt road, where we got on the blue bicycles for the 10-minute trip to the Parque Arví metrocable station.

The bicycles, which have a basket for their belongings, and come with helmets, are free for visitors. All that is required is a form of identification, such as a passport, driver's license or ID card.

This particular program is associated with EAFIT University. Similar ones have been established in Medellín to help provide students with free and ecological transportation between metro stations and universities.

We left the bicycles and took a walk through the metrocable station and the market (which, as I mentioned earlier, will move to a new home in the future).

The market near the metrocable

I took the opportunity to try some new Colombian sweets, including the single ones, which are like an orange ice cream.

9 out of 10 countries agree, these delicacies are a piece of heaven.

You can also find fresh locally grown fruits such as blackberries, blueberries, strawberries and cape gooseberry, as well as handmade jewelry for sale.

Feel free to haggle for memories, but prices are already cheap.

Lunch was in a vegetarian restaurant, Cable a Tierra, a few minutes walk from the subway station. Just look for the "organic coffee" banner and walk the road.

Menu items include soup of the day, veggie burger ($ 3.83, recommended), quesadilla, bean casserole and lasagna.

Try a glass of hot ginger tea and passion fruit for only 2,000 pesos ($ 1.09).

The Arví Park is easily accessible from Medellín through the metro line.

Take line A north to the Acevedo stop, and change to the metrocable (line K) towards Santo Domingo. In Santo Domingo, you must disembark and pay separately for the metrocable to the Arví Park (Line L).

To make the most of your visit to Arví Park, leave Medellín at mid-morning. This allows transit time, as well as time to explore the park.

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