When we found out that our friends Alex and Ryan were going to be living in El Retiro, Colombia, for an entire year, we knew we had to go visit.

We didn’t know anything about this little Antioquian town, and we hadn’t heard of it before. Soon enough, though, we were looking up photos of its town square, seeking out visuals of its surrounding natural beauty and making a list of things to do.

El Retiro is the best (and closest) small town escape from Medellin, and it seems like the secret is out. What’s there to do in this colorful and peaceful village, which is soon going to be a hot spot for travelers, expats and visitors from around the world?

Read on, to see the best things to do and what to see and eat in this charming village that makes an excellent day trip or overnight stay from Medellin.

Visiting Colombia? Stop by our Colombia travel page to explore more destinations, including a Medellin travel guide.

Background on El Retiro, Colombia

El Retiro is an excellent destination for anyone traveling to, or living in, Medellin. It is a town surrounded by green mountains, with an enjoyable climate that is never too hot and never too cold.

The town has around 20,000 residents, yet when you walk around the main streets, it doesn’t feel this way at all. El Retiro has a relaxing vibe, a slow tempo of life, an array of local gastronomy and ways to enjoy the culture.

As for its history, El Retiro has a past of exploiting slaves for the local mines in the 1700s. However, in 1766, 140 slaves were freed by Doña Javiera (according to Wikipedia), giving El Retiro a theme of “liberation” that is still acknowledged to this day.

Where is El Retiro, Colombia?

El Retiro sits about 35-40 minutes from the massive city of Medellin, to the southeast. It’s one of the favorite destinations for people in Medellin to take a break from city life and get some fresh air.

When researching El Retiro, we found it to be only 35 minutes as well from the Medellin Jose Marie Cordova Airport (MDE). That’s because El Retiro, Ciudad de Medellin and the Medellin Airport are kind of located in a triangle from one another. So, if you wanted to fly into MDE and go right to El Retiro, you can (it’s what we did).

Given the proximity to Medellin, El Retiro is one of the best day trips from Medellin to take during your trip.

What is El Retiro like today?

Today, El Retiro is a relaxing, chilled-out and safe place to travel for both Colombians and foreigners. There is little to no crime, people are nice and the locals are friendly.

If you’ve done your reading on safety in Medellin, consider that El Retiro is worlds away from the precautions you’ll need in the big city. We recommend staying cautious and on the ball, but you don’t need to worry about much more than petty crime if at all.

Walking around reminded us a lot of our trip to Jardin, a few hours south of Medellin. In fact, the experience is quite similar: a small Colombian town with a growing level of interest from the international traveler community, and lots to do.

We absolutely loved it! Check out our El Retiro photos to see more about our trip.

How many days do you need in El Retiro?

For us, staying near El Retiro with our friends in a big house outside of town and going in for meals and walking around was plenty. If you are going on a day trip or a short trip from Medellin, two full days would be plenty, and an afternoon in El Retiro is even fine if you’d like to shop around and eat a meal.

Where to stay in El Retiro

Even though El Retiro is quite small, there is accommodation of various types and at several budget levels.

La Liebre

La Liebre was the most impressive accommodation we stepped foot on in Retiro. We spoke with the owner, and couldn’t believe that she had experience working in the Catskills and Hudson Valley of New York!

La Liebre is a guesthouse, bakery and cafe all combined into one gorgeous and leafy property at the edge of town. Every corner turned makes a perfect photo, with the calming colors, charming rooms, variety of plants and on-trend decor.

Each room has a patio and a garden view, and it is an ideal accommodation for couples seeing a romantic trip. You can book La Liebre at Booking.com.

Hotel La Posada del Zaguan

This garden inn has a traditional feel with modern updates and has a location in the center of town. It’s moderately-priced and quaint, and the location allows you to be steps away from restaurants, shopping and the town plaza. Check out the Booking.com.

Airbnbs

If you’re looking for an at-home accommodation experience, search Airbnb for listings in El Retiro, Colombia (make sure you are searching in “Antioquia,” as there are several places in the world with the name “El Retiro”).

Throughout the town and right outside, there are several listings of modern apartments, tiny houses, entire homes and even some villas. If you want to be walking distance to everything in town, make sure that your Airbnb listing falls within the pink-gray “town” zone on the map view.

Where to eat in El Retiro

El Retiro is full of food, for such a small and walkable town. In addition to local Colombian eats and traditional restaurants where locals hang out, there are some new and trendy spots worth a visit (and a photo!).

Osteria Local

This beautiful and upscale Italian restaurant features indoor-outdoor seating in a private area, and exquisite design elements. It’s located right in town and is a nice place for a romantic dinner spot or a meal with friends. Follow the Instagram to see the food.

Alebrijes

This new Mexican restaurant in El Retiro was a winner for us at lunchtime. The staff was nice, and the menu made gluten-free travel easy for me. Restaurants like this are yet another reason that Colombia is a great vegetarian travel destination, too.

The restaurant’s ambiance was casual and relaxing. You can find Alebrijes here.

Lomo Fino Parrilla Bar

For traditional Colombian food, this very popular spot has a menu that will please everyone, and even had a high chair for our toddler. We went for a lunch date with Alex and Ryan, and among us, we tried the meat, chicken, fish and some sides.

I’d say this restaurant is a sure way to be trying local cuisine.

Amar-té

If you are looking for a quick bite near the Parque Municipal (the main plaza near the white church), head to Amar-te, which is a play on words between “To love tea” and “to love you.” There’s both indoor and outdoor seating with umbrellas for some sun shade.

The menu has coffee drinks, empanadas, pastries, desserts and fresh juices. We tried the mango and passion fruit juices.

Find Amar-te here.

Best cafes and coffee shops in El Retiro

Wherever we go, we like to find the best coffee shops around. Luckily, El Retiro has a few.

Cafe Retiro

On par with the best cafes in Medellin, this cafe is coffee heaven for those who love an authentic Colombian coffee experience! The decor of this cafe is vibrant and authentic, with framed photos of coffee farmers and lots of colors. The cafe’s motto is (in Spanish), “Coffee is what we do, and El Retiro is who we are.”

For an authentic coffee experience, you can try the cafe’s specialty roasts, which are roasted in-house! At the cafe’s website, you can gain an understanding of the coffee producers with whom the cafe partners, and about their business model to elevate small coffee farmers’ work into “small companies.”

If you are traveling and working remotely, check it out for grabbing some WiFi while you try any of the delectable goods from their sweet treats menu.

Aroma a Café

This traditional coffee shop serves delicious coffees with excellent service, right in town on Carrera 21. Choose from a menu that has prepared coffees, specialty coffee drinks, beverages without caffeine and coffees with liquor (Irish coffee, and “vino de cafe caliente” or “frio”). Check out the cafe’s Instagram.

Molcajete Store

What an unassuming place to find some of Colombia’s best offerings in coffee! This coffee store has shelves and shelves of coffee for purchase, so that you can brew it in your accommodation or bring it home to enjoy. The store doesn’t have a website, but you can find it here in Google Maps.

Tanta Tinta Café

This cafe is actually both a bookstore and a cafe, so it’s a nice place to take a break and sit down with a drink and check out some books. Most books are in Spanish, so that is a great way to practice if you’re learning, but there are some in English, too.

Who would’ve known (or guessed?): the staff are serious about coffee, and you can order a Chemex brew or a cappuccino. Just remember, as the staff may make clear: it’s a bookstore, not a library. Visit the website.

Borboteo Café

This clean and simple cafe located right on the town square serves up coffee drinks and pastries, and is great for people-watching if you sit outside. Find it here.

Where to shop in El Retiro

El Retiro happens to be a town known for furniture shopping, and you can do that in the shops that have showrooms and “muebles” for purchase at the end of Carrera 20. For other kinds of shopping, as well as newer boutiques, head into town.

Pilu Joyería

Medellin brand Pilu Jewelry has a small outpost in El Retiro at Carrera 21 # 21-44, which goes to show how much attention El Retiro is getting as a destination! The timeless and unique pieces from Pilu “connect with nature” and are handmade with their own stamp of style. See more on Instagram.

Casa Ensō

This chic art gallery located near the town square features minimalist pottery, art, clothes and jewelry in a naturally-lit space and a few rooms. Whether you’re perusing or seeking to bring home nice handicrafts, it is worth a visit during your trip.

Liria Esencial

This classy women’s boutique is located right near the Parque Municipal and features modern apparel in both pastel hues and bold colors. According to the Instagram, the garments here are “versatile for every day.” If you like what you see, you can also head to their online store.

Casa de la Leona

This creative art gallery in El Retiro is worth popping into, to see the furniture, lamps, pottery, plants and art on the walls, in an engaging space with a courtyard. I like the minimalist and earthy vibe and I think it’s a well-done setup. Check out the very popular Instagram.

Muebles del Oriente

If you’re coming to El Retiro to go furniture shopping, swing by Muebles del Oriente, a leading furniture store with good designs and nice materials. There’s a website to peruse before you go.

Things to do in and outside El Retiro

There’s surely a lot that makes El Retiro interesting, both as you walk around town, and when you depart for the surroundings! When you leave the town, there are natural spaces for going to enjoy nature near El Retiro.

Hiking

The surrounding area of El Retiro has no shortage of beautiful flora and fauna. If you are up for it, there are a few hikes to try out, and some locally-renowned waterfalls.

If you check out AllTrails, you’ll see hiking trails that are rated by easy, moderate and hard levels. A moderate hike is El Retiro Loop, and a harder multi-day journey would be the Abejorral.

A highly-rated hiking area is Mirador de la Cruz, and a bit further south is Cascada Los Chorros, a protected natural area where mountain biking is popular.

Cycling

In recent years, El Retiro has become an absolute hot spot for cycling fanatics. It’s worth mentioning that the area is generally VERY hilly and mountainous, with steep ascents. That’s what makes it fun! Check out Komoot for reviews on different biking routes in the region.

Ecological Parks

For those looking for a natural escape accessible from both El Retiro and from Medellin, Los Salados Comfenalco Antioquia Ecological Park is the way to go.

Located to the north of El Retiro and La Fe, it’s a lovely place to explore the pine forest and the lake with family, friends or your dog. There is a child-friendly area, BBQ areas, boating opportunities and places for setting up a picnic.

Casa de La Cultura Roberto Escobar Isaza & Centro Cultural Javiera Londoño

At the foot of town, you’ll find these “houses of culture.” It doesn’t matter which you stumble into first; both are a great first stop for your trip in El Retiro. In both spaces, learn about the history of the town through historic artifacts, photography, art and musical instruments. Both are free.

How to get to (and how to leave) El Retiro

Like I mentioned above, El Retiro is close to Medellin. In fact, it’s so close that I’m still wondering why tourists flock to Guatape, and not to El Retiro. I think this will change soon!

By bus

Just like with how to get to Guatape from Medellin, taking a bus from Medellin to El Retiro is fairly simple (and speaking some Spanish will help).

Buses leave from Terminal del Sur OR Terminal del Norte in Medellin, with the provider Sotraretiro, and come every 15-20 minutes between 4am and 8pm.

Tickets cost around COP$9,500, which is $2.49 USD. The journey is around 14 miles and takes approximately 1 hour (this may vary depending on stops, traffic and any delays).

Note that for going back, buses from El Retiro to Medellin may drop passengers at Terminal del Norte, so it is a best practice to ask the driver or the ticket vendor.

Driving

Driving from El Retiro will take about 35-50 minutes, depending on where from within Medellin you leave. The several times that we drove with Alex or Ryan into our out of Medellin, we budgeted 40-45 minutes and it panned out to be accurate.

Driving to or from Medellin is a twisty and windy route with lots of mountain and valley views. For anyone new to driving in Colombia, be prepared to keep your eye on the road and to be driving alongside motor-bikers and large buses.

For anyone prone to car sickness, note that while Colombians typically do not drive fast, the sharp turns in the road may be nausea-inducing. Of course, this goes for any driving out of Medellin: the nature of the region is such that most roads are built into mountains, and the snakelike highways can be intense.