Just beyond the city, but still within reach of the metro, there’s a nature reserve where you can learn about the unique ecology of Colombia. Parque Arví and the Ecological Park inside are a great way to escape the rush of Medellín and to learn something new.
Take the metro to Acevedo and transfer to the gondola that will take you to Santo Domingo. Santo Domingo is a very poor part of town, you’ll get an interesting perspective on the lives of people who live there- quite literally as you’ll be about 50 feet off the ground. The people of Medellín are enormously proud of their metro system, it’s one of the cleanest you’ll see anywhere.
At Santo Domingo, transfer to another gondola to go up to Parque Arví. This leg of the metro system is not included with the rest. Between Acevedo and Santo Domingo you do not need to pay for another ticket, but the cost to ascend to Arví is an additional $4,600 COP. The ride to the park is about 15 minutes up the remaining slope of the mountain and over a canopy of trees. Not quite tropical as you’ll now be at an elevation of about 2,300 meters.
When you step off the metro you’ll see a few things: a small information desk, a dome-shaped hut selling stuffed mushrooms, and a white tent where artists sell their jewelry, hand crafts, clothing, and food. Head to the right and up the hill, curving around a hill until you get to a road. Along the road there are more vendors with jewelry and snacks, this would be a good place to grab a water bottle if you’ve forgotten one.
You can either walk down the hill or wait at the road for the bus to come along. And it’s no ordinary bus- it’s a chiva! A multi-colored open sided party bus that you have to hoist yourself up into. They only come around every 15-20 minutes, so be patient.
The chiva ride will take about 10 minutes or so. Unfortunately walking really isn’t an option to get to the ecological park, it takes about an hour to get there and there is no scenic walking path, only the asphalt road. Alternatively, you can ride a horse to get the park. Walk down the hill from the metro until you reach a crossroads with a few restaurants and shops. You’ll see the horses lined up there and you can ask for prices.
The cost to enter the park for an adult is $5,400 COP, but you’ll want to buy tickets to the two other main attractions as well. Cost of entrance for the insect museum and the butterfly garden are $6,300 COP each. With tax, my entrance fee for all three came to $20,400 COP (about $7 USD).
The Ecological Park
The park itself is beautifully cared for with stone paths and well maintained gardens. It’s a lovely stroll through the trees and flowers. If you arrange it in advance, there is also a zip line course, boats, and guided hikes.
The insect museum is located on an island not far from the shore of the lake. Walk across the bridge to the stylish little museum and look for the helpful biologists who will be happy to give you a tour.
My tour guide was a very kind young man who was patient with my Spanish skills. He gave me a detailed explanation about each of the live bugs on display, and even let me hold a few of them. He seemed to speak a bit of English but I’m not sure how fluently. I definitely learned a lot, and it was cool to know that each of the live insects had been captured in the park. Each of the dead insects in the glass display cases was found in Colombia. There is an incredible diversity of species in this country.
A lovely five minute walk away from the insect museum is the main attraction, (at least for me, I know some people that would prefer the insect museum) the butterfly garden!
Across another small bridge is the double door entry to El Mariposario. The second door opens with a loud whooshing sound as the ventilation changes to prevent the butterflies from escaping.
Inside it’s an ellipse-shaped path with plants growing in the center and along the edges. The structure is made of mesh and quite tall at its highest point, probably 15 feet.
I walked around taking photos with my delightful new iPhone 7 plus camera. I had a lot of fun with the depth-effect portrait mode.
I was alone taking photos for about 5 minutes until a butterfly keeper came and asked to see my entry ticket and tell me about el mariposario. He showed the the eggs that were lain on different types of leaves around the garden, each species of butterflies likes a different type of plant to lay its eggs on. Then he showed me some caterpillars and cocoons that were tacked up in the glass-enclosed office at the back of the garden. He explained the life cycle of the butterflies and the dangers for each species in the wild. The garden cares for the butterflies in their first days of life and then releases them back into the wild, but butterflies only live about a month.
One of my favorites was the “mariposa cristal” or “crystal butterfly”, which like the name suggests is a butterfly with transparent wings. I had never seen a butterfly like that and they were fascinating.
I stayed in the butterfly garden for about 20 minutes, completely content watching the butterflies and trying to take beautiful photos with my new phone. It was very relaxing. I then walked up a path and back to the entrance of the park.
While I sat and waited for the chiva to come pick me up I eavesdropped on the other tourists, mostly Americans, who hadn’t seemed to enjoy the park as much as I had. Mainly these comments came from a trio of girls who had come into both the butterfly garden and insect museum just after me. They were gossiping loudly about other backpackers they had met in Lleras most of the time and they never talked to the guides to learn about what they were seeing. Perhaps they didn’t speak Spanish, or perhaps they just weren’t interested. But I think it’s good to note that learning about what you’re looking at generally makes it more interesting and the visit more valuable. I was lucky to have lots of one-on-one attention from the biologists and that definitely improved my impression of the Ecological Park.
To get back to Medellín I simply reversed my trip to the park, chiva to metro, metro cable to train. On the way back I was definitely feeling tired and low on energy. I ate the salad and mixed nuts I packed and snapped more photos for my instagram story while listening to a new audiobook.
Time spent in transit (from Acevedo station): 45 minutes each way
Time spent in park: 2.5 hours
Money spent on transit: $16,000 COP
Money spent on entrance fees: $20,400 COP (plus $700 to use the bathroom)