Marvellous Medellin

After not really liking Bogota, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Medellin, Colombia’s second city. I needn’t have worried – from the moment I arrived in the bus station I had a feeling I was going to love it.

Considering the city was notorious in the 80s and 90s as the home of Pablo Escobar, the country’s biggest Cocaine baron, the place has made a fantastic turnaround and has to be cleanest and most prosperous feeling city I’ve encountered so far on my Latin American travels. Admittedly, compared to some of the places I’ve been to so far, it doesn’t have a huge list of obvious attractions for tourists, rather it’s the kind of place where you instantly feel at home, and is one of the first places I’ve been to that I could actually imagine living in.

Medellin from above

Medellin from above

That’s not to say it’s devoid of sights. One of the most interesting are the cable cars. As part of the transformation of the city, the authorities built a cable car up the steep sides of the valley to connect what had been the city’s most dangerous slum to the metro system (and the cost of the cable car is included in the price of a metro ticket, to make it affordable). It’s been a huge success, the area is much safer now, and it makes a great introduction to the city, offering great views across the valley.

Another highlight is the Museo de Antoquia, which has a huge collection of paintings by Ferdinand Botero, Colombia’s greatest artist, as well as a big collection of sculptures by him in the square outside. I’d first been introduced to his work in the Botero museum in Bogota, and I can’t believe I hadn;t heard of him before. He is equally at home with portrait, still life and sculpture, and the one thing that links everything together is that they are all fat. There’s a real cheekiness and humour in his pictures, it’s very much the kind of modern art that’s accessible and fun – which is probably why he’d never have got very far in the UK.

A typical Botero

A typical Botero

The surrounding area offers some great (and some not so great) day trips. The first one we tried was the water park. After months of seeing lots of museums and churches and doing lots of strenuous outdoor activities, it was fun to just spend a day messing about and having fun, with barely another gringo in sight. Highlight was probably floating around a circular ‘river’ on inner tubes, as early on my friend Matt & I foud our rings hijacked by a rather bositerous group of middle aged Colombian women attaching their rings to ours, and then surrounded by a group of teenagers who found the two gringos and the four ladies a hilarious combination. There was much splashing, much bad Spanish and much bad English, after which I could only come to the conclusion that all Colombians are mad. I told them this and they all seemed to heartily agree.

La Piedra

La Piedra

I liked Medellin so much I actually went back for a second time after leaving for Salento, and on my second weekend there I took a trip out to nearby Guatepe, famous for the huge, almost vertically-sided granite monolith that rises out of the gently rolling hills of the area, and very imaginitively named ‘La Piedra’ – the rock. You can reach the top by climbing a set of very steep stairs. It’s all worth it when you make it to the top though, as the view over the surrounding landscape, a man-made lake dotted about with islands, is stunning.

View from La Piedra

View from La Piedra

You can see more of my photos of Medellin and the surrounding area here


18 responses to “Marvellous Medellin

  1. Great place! I wish I could have seen more than just Parque Lleras but that will have to wait until next time around. I landed on a Thursday night on a long layover in Rio Negro and descended down the hill into Parque Lleras where I got a hostel with my brother and we just partied the night away (considering Thursday is the best night to go out there). At 6AM we hit the hay and at 630AM, we caught the taxi back to Rio Negro airport and headed back to the States.

    Paisas are said to be the most beautiful of Colombian women. Judging by what I saw there, it’s true!

    • Still, if you’ve only got one night in Medellin, a night out in Parque Lleras is a pretty great way to spend it, the nightlife there is amazing!

      • Maria-Eugenia

        What a wonderful surprise!!! I’m from Medellin but live in France since 1992. Since then, I’ve been only once back to Colombia.
        What a nice feeling hearing from someone talking in a positive and natural way of this country.
        You seem to be very openminded and that’s great for the humanity wellbeing.
        Now that I live in Europe, I do agree with you :
        Colombian people are very KIND AND NICE, we pay a price for that but I think it’s worth it!!
        Thankx a lot for your post, the pictures are great.
        Hope you’ll go back one day.

      • Cheers Maria-Eugenia – and I definitely want to go back, still so much more to see!

  2. doctorinfierno

    Hey! Nice post, I’ve lived in Medellin almost all my life and its nice to read some good stuff about the city. I hope you had a chance to experience the night life which is very interesting. It’s too bad that the cultural scene in Medellin is a bit bleak, but still there are some theaters, concerts, ferias, etc. which are also notable. All in all, I’m glad you enjoyed my city. Cheers!

  3. So glad to read about someone from outside the country enjoying Colombia. I used to go to Cartagena every April on business. I loved it. I have very fond memories of my Colombian friends. Would love to go back and explore some more, but I don’t have any money for travel these days.

  4. So…you didn’t like Bogota but you loved Medellin…jmm…hahaha that’s kindda funny, why the hell a big numer of bogotans hate the ones who born in Medellin, I’m part of them and I must say that I feel kindda pride, well, before I did, ‘cuz right now I’ve left the regionalism behind, I don’t really like it…anyway, great post.

    If there is something bad written in my comment, please understand that I am not an excelent english speaker.

    • I think it’s true of most countries to have a bit of a rivalry between the big cities – certainly in the UK most people from the other big cities like Manchester all hate London and Londoners! (They are wrong, obviously).

      Actually, as it turned out, after Medellin I returned to Bogota for a second visit and liked it lots more than the first time (but still not as much as Medellin, I’ll admit).

      Oh, and you’re English is great (y mucho mejor que mi español!)

  5. this is a very good description of my beautiful city and you would know to san cristobal is a part of medellin, besides its comunity is agreeable.
    Enjoy of the life.
    see you late…

  6. I love Medellin – thx 4 the great post.

  7. As a Paisa girl, I can tell you that Medellin is loads better than Bogota, lol! I’m glad you liked your visit to my country. I’m currently in the states, and dying to visit your country. Love seeing people appreciating Colombia.

    PS Climbing La Piedra is definitel worth it!

  8. Ah, the post I’ve been waiting for. I’m glad you liked Medellin. I really miss the mountains that surround the city – there’s something boring about being in the DC suburbs and looking up to only see sky. It’s rather flat by comparison!

    • I reckon it’d be pretty hard not to like Medellin – I can quite see how it ended up being the place you ended up settling in for a while. I can quite see myself ending up back there myself in fact!

  9. Thank you Geoff.

    But I think that when we’re out of our country, both bogotans and paisas feel like COLOMBIANS, it doesn’t matter the region in what we born. And the same thing happens with the people from the UK, and from the USA, and from China and from Russia and from…well, you got me.

  10. I’m happy to read you enjoyed your trip. I’m a Colombian born in Bogota who was raised in Canada. I do have to tell you that my first experience when I went back home after many years was the shocked of seeing so many homeless drug addict children not only in Bogota, but also in Medellin and pretty much all over the country as I had the opportunity to travel a great part of it. I have great memories of these years but these social problems really have stuck in my mind. Yes, I agree with the Colombians hospitality is undeniable and I too am turned off by the deep frying although I enjoy the occasional empanada!

    • The social problems are very sad to see, and it’s the same in all Latin American countries. Ans yes, despite the deep frying an empanada from time to time can be great!

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