El Retiro, a quaint 200-year-old town, is less than an hour from Medellin. It offers the charm of an old pueblo. This town of about 500 people sits in the middle of an area that is surrounded by vacation houses of wealthy people from the city.
It also offers the fresh air that more people from the city are seeking—work is a short drive away. El Retiro’s downtown features 150 colonial-era structures that are protected by the city hall to preserve the town’s architectural heritage. New apartments are on the outskirts of town, so there is a blend of old and new. Right now, El Retiro is prepping for a big celebration.
In 2014, El Retiro will celebrate its bicentennial and the town is planning festive events every month, according to a city tourism official. Many from Medellin already visit El Retiro on weekends, so he expects the town to become more of a destination with the added events.
But the pueblo doesn’t need a 200-year-anniversary to host a party. Since 1866, El Retiro has had an annual celebration, marking the freeing of the slaves. Fiestas de Los Negritos has become a huge event with five days (Thursday to Monday) of music, food and the traditional horse parade on Saturday afternoon, known as a cabalgata.
Hundreds of riders passed through town as onlookers waved and snapped photos. The parade lasted for more than a couple of hours, as the horsemen (and women) followed a designated route through the tight streets of the pueblo. Many riders passed around almost empty bottles of aguardiente and demonstrated that they were equally adept in the drinking department as in their horsemanship abilities.
Music played a huge role at the event. After the cabalgata on Saturday, Dec. 28, tens of thousands jammed the small central plaza to hear top name salsa acts like Fruko and Mauro Castillo. The five-day event began Thursday, Dec. 26.
El Retiro sits in a valley and offers a more moderate temperature than Medellin. Nights are cooler than in the city. The town has been described as Switzerland in Colombia. One town official said many of the vacation houses are owned by Europeans.
The town also includes a park that traverses along a running brook. This park features walking paths that are used by joggers and people walking their dogs. On the morning of the cabalgata, horses were getting a good cleaning in the brook before the pageantry began, while only a few yards away, locals were fishing for natural trout.
Little farming is done in the immediate area—those farms are now vacation houses. Many of the locals work on them. But there has always been a large segment of El Retiro’s citizenry who are craftsmen. They work almost entirely with wood, largely pine, which is in abundance in this area. The balance of people work in the services area, like in restaurants and stores.
A visit to El Retiro is time well spent. The people are friendly and open to visitors. It’s the type of friendliness that you’d expect to find in a small town in Colombia.