A homestay is an increasingly popular way for travellers to get a truly local and authentic experience during their travels – basically it involves staying at someone’s house rather than in a hotel or hostel. There are good and bad homestays (some just feel awkward: as if, understandably, your money is more welcome than you are), but homestay accommodation is lacking in Colombian tourism in general, which is surprising given the famously friendly and welcoming reputation of Colombians. Luckily the delightful and thoroughly off-the-beaten-track village of Horizontes in Antioquia has cottoned onto the concept of the homestay and is now offering just about the best homestay and community tourism experience in Colombia.
Chances are you’ve never heard of Horizontes (honestly, most paisas probably haven’t!): it’s basically 100-odd houses along a countryside road, straddling an isolated mountain ridge offering spectacular views over the canyon of the Cauca River. I’m not even sure it’s officially classed as a village – honestly, if it wasn’t for the community tourism being offered there, there’s very little chance you’d ever hear about Horizontes. But, perhaps realising this, the people of the village are pioneering something genuinely unique in Colombian tourism – a village-wide community tourism initiative (at least 10 of the families are offering homestays, with more to come). I visited as part of a press-trip to the west of Antioquia (including time in the extremely well-known Santa Fe de Antioquia) and honestly had no idea about this aspect of the trip. It ended up being my undisputed highlight. Why? Because this community tourism in Horizontes is something I have never experienced elsewhere in Colombia, and tremendous fun at the same time!
We arrived in Horizontes after a long, winding drive along the mountain-ridge road that links the village to nearby Sopetran, stopping at a finca to enjoy spectacular views over the evening lights of Santa Fe. As this was a press-trip, we were met by just about the entire village on the main square, where we enjoyed some live music and a barbecue. But this is rural Colombia: press trip or not, people are insanely friendly in these little villages, and I genuinely believe that any tourist would receive as warm a welcome as we did. I strolled along the village street (singular!) in between shots of guaro, and was delighted to see that each house was adorned with a little plaque, written upon which were the names of the people who lived there: “The home of Paulino and Anita,” “Lucio and Nubia,” and, most charmingly of all, “Carlos and his Rosa.” Horizontes is fully committed to the concept of homestay tourism: the whole town seems to be behind the idea, and these plaques were a wonderful little touch that only adds to the sense of arriving in a home you never knew you had. It was more than a bit of a ‘magical realism’ vibe. After dinner we were introduced to the owners of our homes for the night: I was staying with Libia, who lived in a little house just off the main square, perched on the edge of the mountain ridge.
Staying at Libia’s lovely little house was a truly nostalgic experience. It felt exactly like spending the night at my grandparent’s house when I was a little boy – the same lumpy bed covered in layers of thick, mismatched blankets, the same trinkets covering every available surface, even the same grandmotherly fussing over every little detail. It truly felt like home in a way I have never experienced at any hostel or hotel. In a sense, for the night I was there, it was home – Libia couldn’t have been a more generous and gracious host, and I always felt like a guest rather than a client. When I awoke to a chilly and misty dawn she was already preparing a lovely homemade breakfast of huevos pericos, arepas, hot local tinto, and some of the tastiest hogao I have ever eaten. As she fussed around the little dining room table, making sure I had (more than) enough of everything, I felt a warmth in my stomach that took my straight back to my gran’s house on Westlands Road in Shrewsbury 20 years earlier – this little house in Horizontes, a place I had never even known existed until the day before, felt about as close to ‘home’ as I have known in my 4 years in Colombia. Suffice it to say, it was an unexpected and wholly welcome sensation.
People used to luxury tourism might not love it in Horizontes – like I said, my bed was about as lumpy as you can imagine (although even that lumpiness took on a nice nostalgic tinge when combined with the Grandma’s House vibes) – but anyone who wants to enjoy a truly authentic local experience in rural Colombia will absolutely fall in love with the place as I did. As the sun rose over the mountain ridges that morning, it slowly revealed an absolutely majestic panoramic view over the mountains of the central and western Andes – clouds filled the valley below, giving the jagged mountain peaks the appearance of islands in a great white ocean. Birdsong was the only sound, and local men were already heading off on mules to the nearby coffee farms. Other tiny towns could be seen straddling distant ridges, and the air was fresh and clean. I took some photos with a shy Libia, enjoyed a final stroll along the village street (very nearly kidnapping a local puppy), and got ready to leave. It felt like I was about to jump in a portal back to ‘reality’ – spending time in Horizontes felt like being removed from the ‘real’ world for a couple of days. If you’re looking for a relaxed and simple experience when you’re travelling in Colombia, then take some time to visit.
I left Horizontes with a genuinely heavy heart: I could happily have spent several more days there, hiking in the surrounding hills, visiting the coffee farms, before returning to my paisa grandmother’s little house for dinner and bed. The very thought was idyllic. Perhaps I sound a tad hyperbolic (I can be guilty of that!), but if, like me, your idea of a magical travel experience is becoming absorbed in the local life of a place people rarely visit, in the middle of nature, then Horizontes is definitely the place for you. I think one of the reasons that I fell so head-over-heels in love with the place was that it seemed to encapsulate so much of what made me fall in love with Colombia in the first place. The people are kind and welcoming, the colours are bright and vibrant, the nature surrounds you, and the coffee is fresh and hot – what more could you ask for?
How to visit Horizontes – Horizontes might be isolated, but visiting isn’t that difficult, and it’s an adventure in itself. You can either arrive independently or arrange your visit with Posadas Turisticas Horizontes (WhatsApp: +57 313682428) – either way it’s best to contact them to reserve your accommodation beforehand. They can arrange a package-style visit, with accommodation (2 days, 1 night), meals, a tour of the town and the surrounding area for 110.000 COP per person. This isn’t a bad option to be honest, as the transport from Medellin isn’t the most convenient.
If you really want to arrive in Horizontes totally independently then that’s also possible. There are 2 buses per day from Medellin: Expreso Belmira leaves everyday at 4:30pm (12.000 COP), or you can travel with Sotrauraba, with daily departures at 11am (15.000 COP). Both depart from Medellin’s North Terminal and should take a couple of hours. Make sure to ask for Horizontes when you buy your ticket, and remind the driver. The tourism operator for the village also offers departures from Medellin on the night of the full-moon, where they host a small event in the village. With the isolation and lack of light-pollution, this would be a great time to visit Horizontes.
Independent visits to Horizontes are a good price: a night in a rural homestay costs 30.000 COP (cheaper than a dorm bed, that!), and each meal costs between 10-12.000 COP, depending on diet and requests (breakfast might be cheaper if you just fancy the coffee and bread option). Once you’re in the town you can arrange to hike around the hills and visit coffee plantations.
As I mentioned, regardless of whether you want Posadas Turisticas Horizontes to arrange your visit, it’s best to contact them anyway to book your stay. And make sure to ask for Libia…