Some 80km (50 miles) north of Medellín, the erstwhile gold-mining town of Santa Fe de Antioquia was founded in 1541 by Jorge Robledo, a conquistador notorious for his unquenchable thirst for blood and gold. Situated on the western banks of the Rio Cauca, at an altitude of 1,000 meters (3,300 ft.), it’s much lower in elevation than Medellín; temperatures here can sizzle, and high humidity adds to the city’s soporific aura. With the 2006 construction of El Túnel del Occidente—the largest tunnel in South America (through the Andes’ central cordillera)—the travel time from Medellín to Santa Fe was reduced by virtually an hour.

From 1584, Santa Fe was the region’s capital before Medellín stole its glory in 1826. With its cobbled streets, charming colonial homes, baroque churches, and 400-year-old fountains, the town feels removed from space and time. There’s a soul-stirring authenticity and a self-possessed grace to Santa Fe that is palpable, and a fiercely independent spirit still prevails among the city’s proud denizens. It was here in Santa Fe de Antioquia in 1813 that Juan del Corral proclaimed Antioquia’s independence from Spain.

Santa Fe’s central axis is Plaza Mayor, one of South America’s most evocative and endearing squares. On the square’s northwestern flank, Santa Fe’s white Catedral Metropolitan presides over a cinematic ensemble of single-story colonial buildings with ornately carved lintels, decorative stonework, wooden verandas draped with exotic flowers, and lush courtyards where cats snooze in the midday heat and the steady creak of a rocking chair marks the passing of each hour. The cathedral was built in classic calicanto (the city’s signature brick-and-stone style) in 1837 by Fray Domingo Petrés (it’s the third iteration since the late 16th century). It’s worth a peek inside for the ornate high altar with a centerpiece Christ figure, as well as an interesting 18th-century Last Supper sculpture. The centerpiece of Plaza Mayor is a bronze statue of Juan del Corral, the President of Antioquia during its few years of independence (1813–1826).

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Set in an emblematic 19th-century mansion, the Museo Juan del Corral (Calle 11 no. 9–77; tel. 4/853-4605; free; Mon, Tues, Thurs, Fri 9am–noon, 2–5:30pm, Sat and Sun 10am–5pm) features a small but engaging collection of historical and archaeological artifacts, gold, and silver, which elucidate the history of Santa Fe de Antioquia and the region, with more than a few nods to the city’s Independence movement. Atmospherically set within an 18th-century Jesuit College, the Museo de Arte Religioso (Calle 11 no. 8–12; www.santafedeantioquia.net; tel. 4/853-2345; Sat and Sun 10am–1pm, 2–5pm) features a surprisingly lively collection of religious art including seminal works by Colombian artist Gregorio Vázquez de Arce, the leading proponent of 17th- and 18th-century Latin American baroque.

Built in 1721, the baroque Iglesia de Santa Bárbara (Calle 11/Carrera 8, mass at 6am and 7am), features a broad calicanto-style facade, a rococo font, and Santa Fe’s oldest altar. Framed with palm trees, and with whimsical turrets and restrained decorative embellishments, it’s Santa Fe’s most aesthetically pleasing religious structure.

Some 7km from town, the one-lane Puente de Occidente—originally built from wood and steel imported from the U.K.—was completed in 1895. Designed by José Maria Villa (who honed his skills on NYC’s Brooklyn Bridge), and just shy of 300 meters, it is hailed as one of the most important civil engineering structures of its time; upon completion it became the longest bridge in South America and third-longest bridge in the world.

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Hourly buses (2 hr.; COP$12,000) and colectivos (90 min.; COP$15,000, every 20–30 min.) leave from Medellín’s Terminal Norte (from 6am–6:30pm) to Santa Fe’s bus terminal (Calle 13/Carrera 10), a short (uphill) walk to the Plaza Mayor. The last bus back to Medellín is at 7:30pm; always reserve your seat well ahead of time on the weekend or holidays.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.