Cerro Pan De Azúcar, Medellín’s Sugarloaf Mountain

The hilltop of Cerro Pan De Azúcar

photography by: Omri Westmark

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Perhaps amongst Rio de Janeiro’s most iconic landmarks, Pão de Açúcar (English-Sugarloaf Mountain) is globally famous for its ovoid shape and stunning vistas, and as such, attracts throngs of tourists each and every day. Far lesser known, though, is its Colombian counterpart in the city of Medellín. Towering over the endless urban sprawl across the Aburrá Valley, Cerro Pan De Azúcar is one of Medellín’s eight guardian mountains, as well as the place where the original settlement developed during its nascent era.

Around the world, there are dozens of geological formations entitled “Sugarloaf Mountain”, including landforms in Brazil, Germany, Ireland and the United States, to name just a few. Named after the cone-shaped heap of sugar produced and sold up until the twentieth century, all of these mountains have one thing in common, their conspicuous, gherkin-like contour.


Over the years, many of those similarly named formations gained wide popularity for their quirky features, yet in stark contrast, a sole mount in Colombia still remains largely unnoticed. Nestled in the eastern fringes of Medellín, Cerro Pan De Azúcar rises over the city’s Commune 8, aka Villa Hermosa. The verdant mountain forms the 8 tutelar hills of Medellín along with Cerro La Asomadera, Cerro El Picacho, Cerro Santo Domingo, Cerro Nutibara, Cerro El Salvador, Cerro Las Tres Cruces and Cerro El Volador.


In spite of its modern-day obscurity, the steep hill played a major role in the history of the “City of Eternal Spring”. It was here where Piedras Blancas road linked the downhill settlement (Villa de la Candelaria de Medellín) with the rest of the country as early as the 17th century. At its very beginning, the then village grew and evolved chiefly along the cross-mountain route as new neighborhoods popped out on both of its sides.


However, with the rapid development of Medellín in recent times, the road and the adjacent hilltop lost much of their citywide importance. Given the mountain’s high content of dunite, a type of igneous rock which is more prone to a weathering-induced erosion, it also turned into a barren landscape, becoming a mere shadow of its former self.


In 2012, in an attempt to regain some of its past grandeur and mitigate the encroachment of informal settlements, local authorities created a massive ecological park across the foothills of Cerro Pan De Azúcar, known locally as Jardín Circunvalar de Medellín. As part of the greenbelt project, over 40 hectares of land throughout the mountain’s western hillsides were restored. This also included the planting of a whopping 120,000 trees across 8 new Eco-gardens.


The unrivaled centerpiece of the park, though, is a pair of footpaths called Camino de la Vida and Ruta de Campeones, the former of which is a 9.5-kilometer-long hiking trail that meanders through the wooded slopes on its way to the peak. At the top, one can find a 10-meter-tall statue of Our Lady of Candelaria, the patron saint of Medellín. Whoever keeps the sculpted virgin company will also enjoy the spectacular views of downtown Medellín, the Aburrá Valley and the multiple surrounding hills.