Antioquia: The Painted Town

For about an hour of grueling Lima traffic, Pulga the dog, my husband Ivo, and gringa me hunkered in a back seat and entrusted the friend driving the car with our lives. Pulga got carsick and puked. Ivo started advising me on how to stop Pulga from puking. I tried to sooth our sad, goobering dog without getting carsick myself.

Finally though, we burst clear of the city and into the mountains. After a brief pit stop and some fawning to help Pulga recover, we started the final leg of our journey to Antioquia.

In all, from Barranco, Antioquia took about 2-3 hours to reach, but mostly because of the horrible (but unavoidable) stop-and-start grind of Lima traffic. Reaching this mountain town requires the courage to drive (or be driven) up some uncomfortably slender and un-fenced dirt roads: It’s a harrowing experience, to say the least. And that’s when you’re hugging the mountainside without any oncoming cars.

After some white knuckling of the door handles though, we all stumbled out of the car into a storybook village.


In 2002, via the Colours for Antioquia project, a development group decided to make a difference in a gray, crumbling, struggling mountain town. Over 50 proposals were made on how to give Antioquia a facelift: The town residents voted on the top 5, selecting the plan of Enrique Bustamente, a Lima artist and teacher. Then graduates from Bellas Artes, a Lima university for fine arts, got painting.

Justifiably, Antioquia has become a unique tourist destination.

Whimsical, charming, and bright, Antioquia has a cheerful main square: Light posts are primary colors, and its streets are paved stone. Buildings are dominantly white, but decorated with child-friendly daisies, doves, and the occasional horse. The chapel is rimmed with a mosaic and the brightest building in town. 


We meandered through the town towards a dog-friendly restaurant, and Pulga generated a parade of suitors as we went. All the dogs were friendly and healthy, but decidedly a bit too interested in our little lady.

It was a relief to finally arrive at our restaurant destination: DJM Gourmet. Pulga’s entourage stopped well short of the restaurant, and I suspect for good reason. The experienced owner carried an empty drink platter, which she used to shoo away a small dog who tried begging for scraps as she cleared a table. Don’t feel too bad for the little guy though: I tried slipping him some carrots and potato, but he turned them down completely, clearly more interested in (and accustomed to) pork and chicken.

As we placed our orders and sipped fresh juice from locally grown fruit, Pulga happily bumbled around, sniffing at the cajas chinas and peeking into the kitchen. The view of the mountains from our table and the fresh air was so invigorating that a microwaved corndog would’ve been delicious. Naturally, we devoured the homemade huancaina sauce, slow-cooked pork, and fresh fish. 

Once we were all mobile again, we sauntered over to a little shop selling homemade ice cream out of a cooler. The friendly locals directed us towards an overlook. As we got up into town just a bit further, eating ice cream as we went, the already limited traffic dissipated entirely. To Pulga’s delight, we unclipped her leash again and let her waddle along as she pleased while we paused to take pictures.

As we went, Pulga’s fluffy charm finally attracted a suitor that she approved of: “Chato” joined us for the rest of our leisurely hike. He did attempt to hump her once, but to his credit, he took her “no” seriously and was a perfect gentleman the rest of the time.

We walked upwards until we passed under an archway that led into a humble soccer field with a stunning view. As we crossed the field, a pathway up the mountain came into view. 

After all we’d just eaten, the easy climb provided a little welcome exercise. And the reward for such an easy excursion was almost unjustifiably stunning:

The overlook offered a simple, handmade shelter. To our backs was a shrine built into the stone of the hill we stood on, and of course in front of us was Antioquia, nestled in the grassy swath of green below the mountains.

We spent a good half hour there, taking pictures and enjoying the view. Then we let Pulga and Chato finish all the water we had left before heading back down and departing. We were just in time to catch the Antioquia main square at the start of the sunset. Although driving back was a little nerve wracking (we were on the edge of the road this time, not hugging the mountainside), getting to cruise through the mountains under a setting sun took the edge off.


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