An Uphill Hike in Hot Weather from Santa Fe de Antioquia to Cativo


Recently it has, at times, been unbearably hot in the Aburra valley where Medellin and the other towns that make up the metropolitan area nestle between the towering peaks of the Andes Mountains. It is not so bad if you work all day in an air-conditioned office; however, if you spend a lot of time in the street as I do, the heat can be very tiring. It is possible though, that those who spend the entire day in the relative cool environment of an air-conditioned office complain of being too cold!

It has also been difficult to sleep well at night, in part due to the high temperatures, though also because of the annoying appearance in the middle of the night of the occasional mosquito, and the lack of sleep adds to the feeling of tiredness. There is a saying made famous by the current Dalai Lama, though I believe it may originally come from Africa, that says, “If you believe you are too small to make a difference, you have never slept in a room with a mosquito.”

I remember when I worked in the deserts of Iraq it used to get much hotter than in Colombia, but I don’t remember it being so debilitating as it seems here. However, I do recall when I worked in Basra on the Persian Gulf that we had to finish work at around eleven in the morning as after that it was too hot, not only for us, but also for the instruments we used. But there the temperatures soared above 40 degrees centigrade; here it has been hovering around thirty or a touch higher. Perhaps it’s old age. I was but a lad when I worked in Iraq.

A few weeks ago I went on a hike with the club I belong to, from the beautiful, colonial town of Santa Fe de Antioquia to a hamlet up in the mountains called Cativo, which most people here have never heard of. In the past Santa Fe was the capital of the department of Antioquia, though these days the capital is Medellin. We set off walking through the town just after eight having had breakfast in one of the small cafes surrounding the main square, and at that time the temperature was bearable. However, Santa Fe is only 500 metres above sea level and it gets extremely hot later in the day. You can see photographs from a previous hike in the Santa Fe region here.

As I mention in my book, “Hiking in Colombia,” the altitude has an impact on temperatures here. It was very pleasant walking along the cobblestone streets of Santa Fe at that time in the morning and as it was early there were few people about, which made taking pictures easier. The town is a favourite weekend destination for people from Medellin and many have holiday homes or fincas in the surrounding countryside so it can get busy later in the day.

The hike to Cativo was uphill all the way as the hamlet is at an altitude of 1,700 metres, so we had a 1,200 metre climb ahead of us. By about ten o´clock the heat was starting to become unbearable for me, and to make matters worse there was very little available shade to offer some respite as we trudged up the slopes of the mountain. My legs felt like lead and I could feel the searing heat stinging my face as I dug deep to find the strength to continue upward.
Certainly this was a day for copious amounts of sun block to be thickly applied to all areas of exposed skin.

A while later we came into some shade where there was a small stream hurtling over some stones as the water sped down the mountain towards Santa Fe. We stopped by the side of the brook for a rest and most of us took the opportunity to cool down by chucking as much water as possible over our heads and upper body. The water was not cold, as it would have been in Wales, but it was delightfully refreshing and I immediately felt its healing powers reinvigorate my ailing body.

After ten minutes we continued our upward journey and it wasn’t long before once again the heat was having an adverse effect on my body and I felt my strength sapping away. More climbing and sometime after we reached a small peasant’s house made of mud and wattle that I had stopped at on a previous hike, having done a large section of this route previously, thought in the opposite direction, which though equally hot was not so demanding as we were descending rather than ascending. We stopped at the house for about twenty minutes and were offered a typical drink here called, agua panela con limon, Panela is unrefined sugar made from sugar cane and sold in blocks. It is common in Latin America and I think in India where it is known as jaggery.

In this refreshing drink panela is dissolved in hot water with the addition of fresh lemon juice and then cooled and served chilled. It was delicious and very thirst quenching, but sadly left me with a stomach ache about half an hour later. Maybe the contrast of cold liquid and a hot body was the cause or maybe the water hadn’t been boiled sufficiently. In the city the water is safe to drink straight from the tap, but this is not the case up in the mountains. Luckily a couple of my fellow hikers had some pain killers and though the pain didn’t cease completely it did diminish sufficiently for me to continue the arduous climb without too much discomfort.
After leaving the house we continued to climb for what seemed like an eternity though it was probably about two hours and finally we came out onto the paved road which stretches from Santa Fe to Uraba in the North. It was here that the previous hike I did in the opposite direction had started and here we stopped for lunch, though I really didn’t want to eat, partly due to the heat and partly because of the intermittent pains in my stomach. Usually when it is hot my body craves copious amounts of liquid and very little food.

A group of about six hikers decided to call it a day and stopped the hike here, preferring to take the bus to where we were going to finish. I continued with the main group, and after a steep climb of about half an hour we came to a little shade where there was a water tank with a hose pipe connected to a tap, and so a few of us stopped here and doused ourselves in the deliciously refreshing, though tepid water. From there it was about another hour to Cativo and the chance to finally rest and look back on a grueling hike that wasn’t as enjoyable as most of them are, but which probably helped to strengthen my character somewhat.

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