Medellin – A dark history but a bright future.
After difficulties getting to Jardin from the south of Colombia we chose a much easier and quicker way to our next destination: Time to go to the second largest city in the country, and famous for all the wrong reasons, Medellin.
The route was stunning, but rather vomit inducing. The roads twisted and turned like never before but the scenery the most beautiful we’d seen in all Colombia. 4 hours later, feet firmly on the ground, our Medellin adventure was about to begin with our personal tour guide Thomas!
We disembarked the bus in Poblado, a really lovely area of Medellin where Thomas and Cata live and work. After a quick detour to the their very ‘google style’ office (viajala.com) we arrived at an 18 floor residential tower. T&C were the lucky residents of the top floor with the most incredible views of the city and valley in which it lies. The apartment was LUXURY plus they have the added bonus of a cleaner twice a week, an enormous balcony, swimming pool, sauna. It was another world to us – what more could you ask for after 11 months en mode <round the world>? For me personally the crème de la crème was the beautiful washing machine calling my name! Hallelujah! For JM it was the humongous supermarket not far from the apartment full of freshly baked bread and cookies (Vive Carulla!) On top of that we had our friends around us.
We love Botero!
Later in the afternoon with Thomas and Cata at work, we decided to explore the city and visit some of the spots recommended to us. We started by visiting Plaza Botero (a square exhibiting many statues by Botero!) since we loved the Botero Museum in Bogota.
Not the best second impression
To get there we took the metro. A wonderful addition to the city. It wasn’t late or on strike like you’d expect in Europe. It worked really well and was our main mode of transport whilst in the city. As soon as we arrived at Estacion Parque Berrio we knew it wasn’t our cup of tea. It was a bit of a shock really. Smack bang in the middle of the city ‘centro’ we were faced with blaring music, zillions of people, a lot of what we would call ‘crazy’ people. Lots of homeless and just a lot of people hanging around not doing too much. There was more of a Police presence and it just wasn’t the best vibe we’ve had in Colombia. To get photos with the Botero statues took a long time and it was the first time we didn’t feel that happy with taking JMs camera out to take some photos. We decided to take a breather and grab a coffee in front of the museum giving us time to take it all in and plan the next few days. What probably didn’t help was the beautiful, quiet few days in Jardin beforehand, followed by our introduction to Medellin and stay in the calm area of Poblado. Arriving in the centre of the city = BOOM – noise, people, pollution, people and it was pretty ugly.
We decided over coffee that the plan of action would be to spend another day or two exploring the city, then visit the town of Santa Fe in the hills, come back to Medellin for a stopover and then head in the direction of Guatape for a few days.
So our first afternoon in Medellin didn’t impress us much, similar to what most other round the world bloggers had confirmed, the people who live happily in Medellin obviously don’t venture to this area often.
BBQ Colombian style!
Our first night of luxury was spent having a BBQ with friends on the balcony with a panoramic view of a Colombian lightening storm over the city, something we’ve gotten used to during our time in the country and one of our main associations with Colombia now.
After a great nights sleep in the 5* apartment on a proper mattress, we headed out to catch the telepherique (cable car) of Medellin which traverses up and over the side of the valley for about 20kms skimming the tops of an immense Colombian favela, before reaching a beautiful Regional Park (ARVI) just up and over the mountain. Once you reach the top you feel like you are a million miles away from the city.
Escape to the Regional Park
To get there is easy. You just take the metro all the way to Estacion Acevedo then take the Cable Metro to Arvi staying on at San Domingo. The views going up were incredible, the favelas were colourful with lots going on, then half an hour later you are in the calm, tree covered, empty regional park where you can walk different paths (like we did), go on a wildlife and botanical tour, swim in the streams or just have a coffee in the sunshine with no one around. It was a great way to spend the day.
The views coming back down were just as WOW. The huge city of Medellin looks pretty impressive up high! Unfortunately the incredible photo opportunities were hampered buy the cable car windows, French Alps style!
We took our favourite metro and had hoped to visit some Medellin parks dotted around the city. We bought a picnic and intended to go sit in the National Botanical Gardens. Unfortunately our luck was out and a book exhibition meant the park was closed for tourists like us. How many books does it take to fill 10 hectares?! We didn’t get the best feeling from the area when we ate on a grass verge outside the park. We did however have a fantastic day leading up to it so a small disappointment wasn’t going to ruin that.
After walking all morning in the park and the botanical garden being closed we decided to finish the day with a pamper back at the apartment. Swim session and steam room. A nice break and relax after 3 weeks of constant go go go on the road.
Mingling with the locals
That evening – Football: Colombians are crazy passionate about the sport, that and cycling. Colombia were playing in a qualifier for the next world cup and every other person in the city was wearing a bright yellow football shirt. We initially thought the match was being played in Medellin because there were so many people dressed for the match. It was actually being played 1000s of miles away in Brazil. Thomas took us to the lovely area of Zona Rosa. Somewhere we hadn’t been or heard much about but knew all the hostels were in and around that area. The place was great, the vibe really chilled and laid back. It basically consists of coffee shops, restaurants, bars, independent shops and boutiques and hostels. There were a lot of tourists but a lot of locals too.
The ambience was great, the Colombians very patriotic, all the bars and restaurants were full and when they scored the noise was immense. The fact they were playing the Brazilians made for an even better atmosphere.
Escape to the countryside
The next day we headed in the direction of Santa Fe de Antioquia, a favourite town at the weekend for the residents of Medellin, situated only 1 hour away. To get there was easy, take the metro straight to the bus terminal, jump on a bus and 1 hour later after an uncomfortable ride you’ve arrived. Since we were returning to Medellin we packed light and left the big bags at Thomas and Cata’s. It was a great feeling travelling extra light for once!
After almost 2 hours of on the bus (randomly stuck on the motorway for 20 minutes) we arrived at the town square of Santa Fe, a small colonial town with cobbled streets and a calm atmosphere. Personally we were waiting for one of the most beautiful villages in Antioquia with a very romantic feeling, something it’s famous for. We were a little disappointed. After all our travels in Colombia it definitely wasn’t as romantic as other towns and villages and compared to Jardin the village looked rather average. However….. you can see why people would prefer to spend the weekend in Santa Fe than in the city. Don’t get us wrong, it is pretty but it just didn’t match our expectations. The standard and quality of accommodation was low, and prices were ridiculously high even mid-week. The locals didn’t show the friendliness we’ve encountered elsewhere in Colombia and there wasn’t actually a lot to do. We just walked the pretty cobbled streets in the scorching heat and relaxed in some of the small plazas dotted around the village.
We eventually found a reasonably nice hostel tucked round the corner of the main plaza. It was basic with a good double bed, a well needed fan, a so called shower and it was quiet (except for our neighbours!!) It was only for 1 night then back to Medellin.
Inside our hostel
Zona Rosa – A bloggers paradise
We left Santa Fe earlier than we’d planned just because we were a little bored. We decided when back in Medellin we’d spend the rest of the afternoon in Zona Rosa in a brilliant cafe called PERGAMINO, with excellent coffee and speedy wifi. We caught up with the blog, reminisced looking at our photos, the world surfing league live streaming in the background alongside chill out music playing in the cafe. A bloggers paradise. Unfortunately for me, the change in altitude, strong coffee and computers screens all afternoon = MIGRAINE. Praying that it would soon disappear we went out with Thomas and Cata to an incredible pizzeria. Unfortunately it didn’t disappear and we ate quickly before heading home. Rubbish!
Free tour guide!
98% better and a good breakfast amongst friends the day was going to be a good one. It was Saturday morning, Thomas wasn’t working and decided to be our tourist guide for the day taking us to areas not so known with the tourists. We headed straight to Escaleras Electricas al aire libre, in COMUNA 13, a favela with large escalators running in between houses all painted multi colours. It really was one of our favourite parts of Medellin and very safe, well we thought so anyway. The views are great at the top and the locals were really friendly. The escalators are fairly recent and we expect in a few years time this place will be heaving like Disneyland. It’s one of our top things to do in the city.
Who’s up for a marathon?
Before heading back to the flat to collect our bags and move on from Medellin, we past through Plaza Cisneros, then onto the Centro Administrativo La Alpujarra, where we helped Thomas get his running shirt and goody bag for the next day’s marathon. The hype was electric, people and runners everywhere, sponsors with pop up stalls, freebies, pumping music. It almost made us feel like we wanted to run a marathon too….. Mmmm
The day was brilliant and we got to spend time with Thomas, going to places we wouldn’t normally and ended up appreciating Medellin a lot more. We spent almost 4 full days in Medellin which was plenty to visit the city but we could have stayed even longer just because our friends were there. We do however have a huge amount of Colombia still to see and we are excited for the next adventure.
Next stop the small town of Guatape