Indeed Medellín, the city of eternal spring, really surprised me in a positive way! What a diversity and flexible city. Every traveler I run into was enthusiastic about this city and everybody stayed longer than they intended to. For me that was not possible I booked a flight out to Santa Marta, but the five days where long enough for me as well in this amazing city! See below my tips and inspirations on Medellín; Enjoy & Disfrutar!
Medellín is a big city located in a narrow valley; you see apartments and office buildings against every hill in the city. The city has two airports one in the city center (Aeropuerto Olay Herrera) and one 35 km outside the city over the mountain range called Aeropuerto International José María Córdoba. If you booked or will book a flight, please check from which airport you depart!
Tip: You can get a shared cheap taxi (15,000 COP) to the airport at the “San Diego” taxi stop. If the taxi is full with people they go; I went directly when I arrived. Super easy, my taxi that brought me there was not happy that he could not bring me all the way to the airport; be strong and firm to say to stop here and change taxis!
The bus stop from Salento (9 hours) stoped at Terminal del Sur next to the city airport. Here depart/arrive all the busses with the destinations south of Medellín. Terminal del Norte is for the destinations to the north of the country. This is logical and is the same for all the bus transportation in South America.
The most easy and cheapest way of transportation within Medellín is Metro. The Metro is the pride of the city that has been opened since 1995; it is untouched, clean and respected by every citizen. It runs through the whole city even the three cable cars are included in the price far of 2,800 COP single ticket. The cable cars give you an amazing view over the city, an attraction by itself.
I had four full days in Medellín, so booked tours and walked around by myself. I wanted to see the Piedra de Peñol & Guatapé area and the city of Medellín tour. After some research and talking to people in the hostel (some tourist already stayed here for weeks…) if figured out what a really must do is here. They all said the Commune 13 Graffiti tour, so that was decided three Medellín tours. I organized the Guatapé tour in the middle; I was still tired of the bus ride from Salento.
Free walking tour Medellín
To get to know the cities background and history I recommend the Free Walking tour around Medellín; which is superb. You can easily book it online even one day in advance; they offer a morning and an afternoon walk. Your will receive an email where the meeting point is (Alpujarra Metro Station) pointed out. It was well organized but a big group (21 persons), luckily more solo travelers so was good fun in the end. Our tour guide was Pablo, what a coincidence right?! He learned all our names in no time; how clever!! Pablo spoke very good English and had a great history knowledge and transferred his passion for Colombia and Medellín.
He explained the situation about the left FARC & ELN, the right rich farmers, the government and the drugs-lords. Still a complicated situation which now finally resulted in an agreement with the FARC. He told us that is school the kids don’t get history here; history is something that happened in the past and is the whole “Pablo Escobar” history? ….or is it still going on? The younger generation is idealizing him; they don’t know and haven’t experienced the terrible things that he has done.
When the tour guides talk about “Pablo Escobar” they say “Don’t say his name” because most of the Colombian people don’t speak English and they don’t know what the guides are saying when they hear Pablo Escobar, to prevent any discussion they say “Don’t say his name”. Actually this says enough.
The stories of our Pablo were so impressive and touching that at some point made me drop some tears. I was moved by the pain the Colombians have gone through but happy at the same time that they are incredibly positive now and looking at a hopefully brighter future.
The buildings were not that impressive, the stories about rebuilding the neighborhoods into saver places were more touching. We passed the Square of Lights (project Medellín is Light) which resembles the positive attitude and transformation of the Colombian people.
The famous local artist Fernando Botero created 23 large sculptures that are displayed at a public place in front of the Museo de Artioquia. The sculptures have out of proportion body parts, some parts much bigger but some much smaller than normally.
In the tour we stopped for eating the best empanadas in town, visited the Saturday Market at Boliviar Park and ended at the San Antonio Park with the three Botero sculptures, including the damaged Pájaro de Paz (Bird of Pease), which was destroyed in a terrorist bomb attack that killed 30 and hurt more than 200 citizens.
Great and very impressive walking tour!! It is not free and I don’t want it to be, I gave 50,000 COP for the best tour guide Pablo!!
Commune 13 Graffiti tour
The last day of Medellín I went to the highly recommended Graffiti Commune 13 tour. I arranged it via the Top10toursinmedellín, at our front desk in the hostel Rango. We started the tour at another hostel where we were in total of 6 people. Our tour guide was the funny and big mouth Jason. Jason was a former gangster in the Commune 13 neighborhood; he changed his life after he was shot a couple of times. All in all very impressive stories, about the tough life in the ghetto of Colombia. Drugs, weapons, death, poor was the daily life for the young an vulnerable kids in Commune 13.
When the cable cars and metro were build and gave access to the poorest neighborhoods in the city the mentality changed. Commune 13 got 6 escalators, but to make space; people had to move to other parts of the city. That was all well-arranged an it all helped the community of Commune 13 to get access to the higher parts of the mountain via these escalators. Crime decreased, less unemployment and tourist start to come which generates income. Talking about transformation again!!!
The creativity in this neighborhood is enormous. You will see so many beautiful graffiti that are really a piece of art. They all have a deeper meaning about love, freedom, birth and death. With this tour you walk deep into the suburbs of Medellín, it is safe (with a former gangster you feel safe hahah) and you see the transformation with your own eyes. Indeed I liked the tour very much, with stories that really got me. I definitely recommend you to do this tour!!!
Tip: See here the inspirations for a day trip to Piedra de Peñol & Guatapé.
Restaurants & Accommodation
I booked a room in the brand new Hostel Rango. It is a boutique hostel in the touristic area of El Poblado next to the Parque Linear La Presidenta. The location is super, 15 min walk to the Metro Station of Poblado and to the other direction are the restaurants, bars, shops and other entertainment. Perfect place as a basis for all your tips in and around Medellín.
Next door to my Hostel Rango is this fashionable open-air Cafe Zorba; which serves the best Espinaca Pizza and super cocktails. The atmosphere and music made me come back two more times; or was it the great service of the good looking personnel…..
Another popular place to hang out is the Pergamino coffee shop at Carrera 37 in El Poblado. Waiting in line to get the best coffee in Medellín and it is a chill place to hang out with good Wi-Fi. The coffee bags look so nice which makes it a great souvenir!
Upper class restaurant Carmen at Carrera 36, serves sophisticates international cuisine with a Californian influence. It is popular and you need a reservation, but not for me tough, sitting at the bar being entertained by the cocktail shakers. Good, special food with a trendy interior and good service!
Go and explore more of Colombia!