See it to Believe it (…then Hike it)
This post is part of Everything to Know Before Visiting Medellin, a collection of no-B.S., unique guides to how to have an unforgettable stay in Colombia.
From the bus’ window on our way back from our getaway to Jardín, we saw the most peculiar sight: A mountain so perfectly triangular that it looked like a 3-year-old drew it.
The first thing we did when we got home was google it. We discovered the pointy peak is called Cerro Tusa and, to our great excitement, we read there’s a path going straight up to the top. Hiking Cerro Tusa immediately jumped to #1 on our list of must-dos here in Colombia.
Last week we went to check it off the list and… only one of us succeeded.
The Cerro Tusa hike turned out to be a lot harder than expected. In other ways it was also a lot easier. I’ll explain below, along with everything you need to know to get to the tip of the triangle yourself.
Cerro Tusa Hike Guide Outline
- Duration: 1.5-3 hours up and 1.5-2 hours down. Depends significantly on fitness and confidence levels
- Difficulty: Dangerously difficult
- Distance: 5 km / 3 miles
- Distance from Medellin: 1.5 hours by car or 2.5 hours by bus plus taxi
- Elevation: 500 meters / 1600 feet
- What to Bring: Sun protection, a good guide, clothes you don’t mind getting filthy, and some cojones. Gloves if you’re a wuss with soft hands and a beautiful manicure you don’t want to ruin.
Before doing the Cerro Tusa hike, follow our quick guide to using Google Maps offline to download the points on this map to your phone.
How to Get to the Cerro Tusa Hike Trailhead
The trailhead of the hike up Cerro Tusa (see Map) is 5.1 kilometers west of the town of Venecia, which itself is a 2-hour bus ride from Medellin.
You can walk from Venecia to the trailhead, but I recommend saving your energy and getting a ride on what the locals call a “moto ratón” (i.e. motor-mouse). In English they’re commonly known as “tuk-tuks,” but from now on I’m calling them motor-mice because that’s a way cooler name.
Whatever you call them, a ride in one costs 12,000 COP each way.
In Venecia you can find motor-mice the eastern side of the main square (by the supermarket). Alternatively, call our driver, Orlando at +57 314 871 4353. He was great. Either way, get your driver’s number so you can call him to pick you up after your hike.
How to Get Up and Down Cerro Tusa in One Piece
1. Holy Cow (?)
As pointed out in the Quick Facts, this hike is 2.5 km each way. Equally noteworthy is that only 1 km of that is uphill. The first kilometer and a half or so is a flat walk through cow fields.
Even though it’s flat, this part poses two challenges.
I. Finding your way. If you cheap-out on hiring a guide (see Get a Guide or Not? below), I strongly advise you at least spend $3 on the Wikiloc app so you can use your phone’s GPS to guide you to the base of the mountain. You can even follow the exact route we took.
II. The Cattle. At some points, cattle blocked our way. When they saw us approaching, they stood up and gave us sternly unwelcoming stares. It was if they could see into our souls and how many steaks and hamburgers we’d eaten. Call us city-slickers, but the glares, the bulls’ horns, and a story a friend told us of having to leap over a barbed-wire fence to escape a charge were enough to incentivize us to make a detour.
2. That Escalated Quickly…
The transition from flat to f*cking steep couldn’t be more abrupt.
One second your biggest concern is not stepping on a cow pie; the next it’s not falling to your death.
And the first part of the climb is the hardest. Kim can attest.
Within 10 seconds, Kim started doubting out loud if she could make it. Within 2 minutes, and just 100 feet up, she was in tears and frozen in fear on the side of the slope, unable to move.
It was a lot like this video (but not as hilarious):
Kim is very fit and physically would have no problem going up or down the Cerro Tusa hike, but her fear of heights overwhelmed her. It took an hour for her to calm down, gather her nerve, and very carefully slide back down to the bottom.
If you too have a real fear of heights or are insecure with your balance and coordination, you might want to reconsider doing this hike. Or at least get yourself a qualified guide (see our section on guides below.)
3. Triple Threat
Because Kim’s a great girlfriend, she offered to wait below as I hiked Cerro Tusa on my own (which, yes is a very stupid idea. Sorry Mom.)
As described in a YouTube video we watched the night before, the climb can be broken up into three roughly equidistant sections:
1. El Potrero (The Paddock)
Completely exposed with nothing to but small tufts of grass to prevent you from sliding to your demise, this is the most treacherous section of the whole hike. The first pitch is particularly difficult, requiring you to crawl up carefully for about 100 meters. The path then becomes mostly walkable, though still very steep.
2. El Bosque (The Woods)
This is the most fun part of the hike up Cerro Tusa because you can use tree stumps and roots to climb up. The presence of trees also means this section is almost entirely shaded.
3. La Peña (The Crag)
The trees disappear and once again you’re out in the open. Unlike the dirt and tufts of grass from The Paddock section, the La Peña section is mostly loose gravel and some rocks. I found it easiest, safest, and most fun to go up the little gullies created by the rain. These gullies were around waist deep so I could use my hands for balance and to swing my way up or down the slope.
Everyone had told me the Cerro Tusa hike takes 2-3 hours just to get up, so I was surprised that it only took me 39 minutes. Sure, my fitness level is above-average and I was going fast because Kim was waiting for me, but I’m not super-human. While it was even steeper and more treacherous than expected, it was also a lot shorter (and more fun.)
Adjust your expected time to hike Cerro Tusa accordingly.
4. The View
As you’d expect, the view from the top of Cerro Tusa is magnificent. Since I’m not a poet nor an expert in Antioquian geography, instead of trying to describe it I’ll simply leave you with this quick panoramic video.
Hopefully you’ll have less hazy conditions than I did. (It was probably the evaporation of all of Kim’s tears…):
5. What Goes Up Must Go Down
While going up was fun, if you’re like me you’ll be dreading having to go back down the whole time.
At one point I even heard a helicopter above me and fantasized about meeting it at the top and hitching a ride.
Alas, no helicopter was there to save the day.
On the bright side, descending Cerro Tusa isn’t nearly as hard as you might fear. Since you’ll already be filthy from dust and mud from going up, you can merrily butt-slide, bump, and swing your way down. You may have a couple of slips that make your heart skip a beat, but you’re unlikely to ever feel your life is in danger.
As with the climb up, it doesn’t take that long either. While I went a bit slower and tread more carefully than on my ascent, it only took me 47 min to get to the bottom, and 65 minutes to get back to the road.
Get a Guide or Not?
Kim certainly regrets our decision not to hire a guide.
Had we hired a guide, that person undoubtedly could have done a better job than I did of calming her down and showing her a less nerve-wracking way up and down. She would have been able to join me on the adventure.
Local private guides charge 100,000 COP ($35 USD) total for a group of any size up to ten people. Not only are they experts at getting people safely up and down, they’re well-versed in the history, culture, and mythology of Cerro Tusa.
An alternative to hiring a local guide is to join a group tour leaving from Medellin. If you’re by yourself of part of a small group, this can be cheaper (though less informative).
Here’s our recommendation:
If you have even the slightest doubt about your physical ability, fear of heights, or ability to finding the way, hire a guide. The same goes if you’re interested in getting more knowledge about the mountain’s historical and cultural significance. The cost of a guide is too small to risk your chances of having an unforgettable and safe hike up Cerro Tusa.
It’s also worth adding that Victor Restrepo, Venecia’s tourism manager, told us that just last year the city declared it mandatory to hire a guide. They were tired of dealing with lost, overwhelmed, and injured hikers (and probably wanted to boost local employment). He did concede it’s not being enforced… yet.
Additional (Optional) Highlights
The upside of being too terrified to scale Cerro Tusa was that Kim was able to check out a couple other highlights at the bottom of the mountain while she waited for me:
“La Cara de la India” Monolith
Also around the other side of the mountain is an exposed rock face that looks like the face of a woman from one side, and of a man from the other.
A rock is a rock in my opinion, but it’s as worthy of a photo op as anything else.
The Sacred Altar
Cerro Tusa was considered sacred by the Zenu tribe who inhabited the region before the Spanish arrived and wiped them out. Towards the bottom of the mountain remains a carved stone altar they once used to make offerings to the mountain.
If you’re superstitious it probably doesn’t hurt to go there before doing the hike and say a little prayer.
Note: A local guide can do a much better job than I just did describing these attractions.
Where’s the Point?
Prepare to be disappointed if you’re coming to do the Cerro Tusa hike and expecting to see the famous pyramid from the photos.
From its backside, and from Venecia, Cerro Tusa’s peak is rounder and less impressive.
Even the locals admit it.
In Valencia the evening before our hike, a local man approached me, waited until Kim was out of earshot, and joked that the underwhelming sight of Cerro Tusa from this angle is as disappointing as waking up in the morning next to a girl who looked much better the night before.
In this case, though, it is not as hard to get back the “beer goggle view” of Cerro Tusa. But you’ll need to take a car, because it’s on the Medellin-Bolombolo highway. It’s quite the detour and possibly better left for when you make a trip to Jardín or Jericó and pass right by.
Don’t Miss: Venecia Town
While you can do the Cerro Tusa hike as a day-trip from Medellin, you’d be missing out on a nearby and almost equally worthy highlight: the town of Venecia itself.
Completely off the tourist-trail, Venecia is a friendly, charming town that looks and feels like it probably did decades ago. Locals still wear cowboy gear and ride horses along the streets, the hotels don’t have websites, and there are no souvenir stores.
Kim and I explored the town thoroughly and made some local friends who helped us discover an excellent hotel, some solid places to eat, and even a café that had crazy (but delicious) concoctions. For all the info check out our extensive guide to Venecia.
More Inspiration to Hike Cerro Tusa (or Not)
If you’re still unsure about whether or not the Cerro Tusa hike is worth it, or whether you’re fit for the challenge, check out this video. It has some sweet drone shots that give a true sense of the steepness of the hill and the majesty of the view.
More Antioquia Hikes
For more hikes in Antioquia, including some that are easily accessible by Medellin public transport, check out our ever-expanding list of hikes in the Medellín area.
From waterfalls, to prisons, to caves, there’s a lot to explore.
More Colombia Adventures
And if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions to share with other readers, please share them in the comments!