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