Barrio La Sierra was once one of the most dangerous places in Medellin, caught in a spiral of violence that gripped Colombia for more than five decades. Over the years, the conflict between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government moved from the jungles to cities – where urban gangs took the side of left-wing Marxist guerrillas or right-wing paramilitary groups. These rival factions fought for control of the neighborhoods of Medellin, with La Sierra being one of the worst affected.
Due to the gang wars that took place here, La Sierra was considered a no-go zone for many years. However, in 2016 a peace accord between the two parties put the country on a much brighter path. As soon as the ceasefires were initiated, investment began to pour into the poor hillside area of Barrio La Sierra. The roads got paved, a tram and cable car system was set up for greater access in and out of the neighborhood, and companies started running tours there (something that was previously unthinkable).
One small business that thrives in the neighborhood today is Urban Coffee Tour. From their very inception, they have been dedicated to changing the violent image of La Sierra through tourism. Arturo, the founder, believes his tour is the most unique coffee farm experience in all of Colombia because it’s located “right in the heart of Medellin”. With this in mind, you don’t need to travel all the way to Salento and the Cocora Valley to find the perfect café or tinto since the City of Eternal Spring offers that in spades!
Details of Urban Coffee Tour, La Sierra, Medellin
Urban Coffee Tour is a community walking experience that takes guests off-the-beaten-track in Barrio La Sierra. The tour involves climbing 577 steps to the top of the neighborhood where panoramic views of the city await, hearing stories about its troubled past and tasting some of the best coffee that Medellin has to offer. Not only will you be sampling world-class brews at the farm but also learning about the entire production process – how the beans are planted, picked, roasted and grinded in an artisanal fashion.
Arturo leads the journey through this hidden gem. He has formed close bonds with the community of La Sierra and is continuously engaged in local initiatives. His passion for coffee and the barrio is infectious. There is a real sense of pride at what has been accomplished here in just a few short years, and the violence which plagued the past is but a distant memory for most residents. Arturo introduces you to some of the friendly faces that call La Sierra home, which for many is the highlight of the tour!
It’s important to note that this is much more than just a coffee tour – seeing the barrio transformation (from violence and poverty, to peace and growth) is what sets it apart. While there are other places to witness this change in Medellin, like at the popular Comuna 13, the La Sierra coffee farm tour shows you a different set of encouraging developments that have been taking place in the city during the past decade. The Comuna 13 tours tend to be quite touristy as well, while this one has kept its original charm.
For those interested in booking or getting more info, you can email Arturo on [email protected]. The tours run everyday from Monday to Sunday and reservations are required in advance. Arturo can cater to both Spanish and English speakers, as he is fluent in both languages. The price of the tour is $150,000 Colombian pesos per person – which equates to about $34 USD. It’s recommended that you wear comfortable walking shoes to take on the 577 steps, and bring your own water and snacks.
What People are Saying About Urban Coffee Tour
Don’t just take our word for it when we say this is one of the best community tours in Medellin, if not the whole of Colombia. Urban Coffee Tour has received 140 5-star ratings on Tripadvisor with people constantly raving about the experience. Some of the key customer feedback is that the tour is unique, the family who runs the coffee farm are delightful, the history of the neighborhood is incredible and the tour guide is friendly. Check out some of the reviews below to see what all the fuss is about:
“Amazing tour. This was one of the best things we did while in Colombia. The tour was really informative and interesting. It’s an amazing coffee tour where you learn the end-to-end coffee process of a small farm and get to taste some delicious coffee. But it’s also so much more than that, and gives great insight into the recent history and social context of Medellin today. Responsible tourism is a key consideration for the guide (Arturo) and therefore the tour is respectful to the local community.” – Christopher.
“I can’t recommend this tour enough. It’s a hike but a great experience. Our guide did a fantastic job explaining the history of the community and introducing us to friendly locals who came out to greet us. Once at the farm, the family took us through every stage of the coffee process including sending us out to pick coffee berries. It was a unique experience with only six of us and no other tourists. There were no hard sells from the locals, just a lot of fun and insight into a completely different way of life.” – Mark.
How Coffee Tourism is Changing Medellin
You only have to watch this incredible documentary (YouTube link here) to realize how perilous the situation was for people living in Barrio La Sierra just two decades ago. This documentary film is something Arturo suggests watching beforehand, as it will put all the facts and stories shared on the tour into a wider context. Although some of the scenes are heartbreaking to sit through, it makes for an even more inspiring visit to the barrio when you see the locals now living relatively free and prosperous lives.
During the conflict, when the economy was stunted by the ongoing violence, La Sierra basically had one entry and exit point. This isolation made it easy for the gangs to control. But today a series of walkways, roads, cable cars and trams have joined together to open up the community. For example: Comuna 8 now offers access to La Sierra, which has led to an increased visitorship. Granted that it still has a long way to go in terms of safety and opportunity, the barrio is certainly heading in the right direction.
Supporting the amazing locals through tourism ventures like Urban Coffee Tour is a great way to give back. Tourism has the potential to heal the traumas of the past and create jobs for people who are struggling. Seeing young kids run around with smiles on their faces as they play in the streets and engage happily with tourists is always a good sign. La Sierra is quickly becoming a tranquil hillside community with so much to offer travelers – an authentic vibe and not to forget, the best coffee in Medellin!