Picturesque Gautapé in central Antioquia gets the bulk of attention from tourists looking to experience a typical pueblo, but intrepid tourists are tired of the crowds, looking elsewhere, and discovering Jericó as an alternative day trip from Medellín.
Located three hours southwest of the capital of Antioquia, and with 12,000 residents, Jericó is hemmed-in by verdant fields and a sun-washed palette of color that’s tough to beat when touring the Colombian countryside. It may just be the most colorful town in all the department, in all senses of the word.
Jericó’s buildings would hardly be more vibrant if you gave a class of kindergarten students a mega-pack of crayons and told them to paint the town. A visitor cannot help but explore the streets to see every last home. As it turns out, that is not that tall of a task because Jericó’s town center is only six blocks by seven.
While wandering beneath flowering balconies and sloping red tile roofs, one cannot help but wonder how this came to be. How did each homeowner decide on a color scheme? Did they consult with their neighbors to ensure each house is unique? And,is the paint shop owner the richest person in town? It’s more fun to let your imagination run wild than look for answers.
One likely explanation for the Skittles-pack-like colored houses is that Jericoanos are a colorful bunch in their own right. If you sit down for a tinto under the always-busy veranda on the northwest side of the town square, you’ll meet plenty of them, some hauling mules from farm to market, others proudly dressed in white ponchos and Agudeño hats.
Among the colorful cast of characters, you might have the pleasure of meeting is Jaime, who offers guided hikes of nearby Cerro Las Nubes. After 50-years of living in Medellín and Spain, he returned to his birthplace in Jericó “like a salmon” to spend his final years. Jaime is as fervent about protecting Jericó’s natural environment from miners, as he is about the need for regular “administrative breaks” during hikes so he can rest and eat snacks.
Then, there’s Rigo, a waiter at the highly-recommended restaurant Parrilla Isabel. He describes each item of the menu as flamboyantly as the venue’s interior is decorated, and serves dishes with the panache of an old-timey magician.
John Wilmar, the owner of La Nohelia Eco-Camp and Coffee Farm is another unforgettable character. Five years ago, he left behind a career in finance to return to his family’s 500-year-old coffee farm, and build “a treehouse for grownups.” It’s a sight to behold. His next project is to create a coffee laboratory to play mad scientist and take his farm-harvested Arabica to the four corners of the world.
And then there’s Daga, a street dog beloved by the whole town, whose true passion is hiking, and if you decide to hike up Cerro Las Nubes, don’t be surprised if she tags along to guide the way.
The postre Jericoano is an only-in-Jericó dessert that dates back more than a century. This layered fruit cake with psychedelic colors includes green papaya, arequipe, figs, biscuit, grapefruit peel, pineapple, and coconut. It takes twelve to fifteen days to assemble and probably the same to digest.
The most famous place to try postre Jericoano is Pizzeria José, whose owner claims to have single-handedly rescued his family’s traditional recipe. Now, you can find it neatly stacked in postrerías all over town.
The colorful food doesn’t stop there, however. Try the sweet wines and cookies you buy directly from the nuns at the town’s convent, Convento de Madre Laura. Sip coffee at Jericafé while enjoying the marzipan and coffee treats made by a local teacher and her daughter. Or head to José’s bright pink house and enjoy some of his famous pan de queso (cheese bread). Jericó offers a selection of artisanal foods as varied as the colors of a rainbow.
The 300 meter-high green backdrop to Jerico is called Cerro Las Nubes. If you climb above it in the late afternoon and look what’s on the other side, you’ll discover a sunset with a whole new tapestry of color.
Jorge from Las Cometas Hostel organizes sunset tours for $25,000 pesos per person, and swears he never gets tired of the view. From Cerro Las Nubes, one can appreciate natural landmarks like Cerro Tusa, Cerro Bravo, Río Cauca, and, way back, near the departmental border with Chocó, the towering mountain range of Fallarones de Citara. It takes about an hour to get from the town to the top of Cerro Las Nubes. Unfortunately, the cable car that used to cover the distance in several minutes is no longer in service, so you have no choice but to walk.
Jericó’s hills dramatically plunge into the Cauca River several kilometers from town and there, you’ll find the Arcoiris waterfall. The Spanish word for rainbow, arcoiris, is exactly what you’ll see at the base of this cascade. Count the colors while taking a refreshing shower and looking out over the valley below.
If you feel like chasing the rainbow yourself, sign up for an unforgettable scenic tour with Las Cometas Hostel. For $59,000 pesos, the tour includes transport, a stop at another lookout point, a tour of the coffee farm perched above the waterfall, and a hearty lunch with local farmers.
Then, there’s Jericó’s most famous souvenir—the leather satchel, el Carriel. Originally inspired by the side bags worn by European colonists, Antioquians added their own panache with a colorful design. The “carry-all” is now a strapping emblem of the department’s proud identity.
You won’t actually see many people donning a carriel these days, but just about every house you peer into will have one prominently displayed and wherever you walk you will likely hear someone hammering away at cowhide to create a new one.
For more travel adventure stories, read Chris’ blog: TheUnconventionalRoute.com