Medellin was definitely on my to-do list last year, but when I decided to extend I figured I could just wait until this year to really have time to see the city. Since it’s only a 6-hour bus ride (traffic willing) from Armenia, and only costs about 35,000 pesos (~$15) each way, I’ve actually had the chance to make a couple of trips.
The first trip was for the sole purpose of going to a Manu Chao concert. It was a few weeks before Semana Santa (Holy Week – which means we had the whole week off of school), and I had planned on going back for Semana Santa anyways, so I spent a really relaxing weekend just going to the concert, eating some good food, hanging out with friends, and going on a party chiva with the Medellin volunteers.
During Semana Santa, there was a pretty big group of us that decided to go back to Medallo, as they’ve nicknamed the city here. Some people told us a week would be too long to spend there, but we had plenty to see and do.
The Free Walking Tour with Real City Tours
Free Walking Tours are the first thing I look for to do in a city now. I have never been let down by them and Medellin didn’t disappoint either. The tour lasted a good 4 hours, and not only did it show us the main sights in the city, but it was all coming from a tour guide who had lived through the violence of Medellin’s recent history. For those who need to brush up on Colombian history, Medellin was the home of Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel that he ran. I’m sure even if Colombian history isn’t fresh in your mind, you know that name and all that’s associated with it. Within my lifetime, Medellin was once the murder capital of the world. But walking around the city today, at least the parts of the city that a tourist walks around in, you would never be able to tell. The city looks and feels like any other city. Probably even a little cleaner and friendlier than most. That’s why the walking tour was such an eye-opener, because the guide could take you to a beautiful park or plaza full of art and sculptures and people enjoying a sunny afternoon in the city, and tell you about how when he was a kid (and our guide was also pretty young), it used to be one of the most dangerous areas of a city that was the most dangerous city in the world. He gave us a crash course in the country’s long and complicated history, and the current situation regarding the peace talks happening between the government and the FARC in Havana, but the tour was not just about that. It was about all the things that make Colombian culture and especially Paisa culture (Paisas are from Medellin and the coffee triangle region). We saw the tourist sites of the city, and the not-so-touristy sites – like the street where they sell bootlegs of hardcore porn. It was a really great tour and I would highly recommend it if you’re in Medellin.
Guatape is a gorgeous pueblo a couple hours from Medellin in bus. We decided to spend a night there despite being told you could do it in a day. We were all glad we did. The town is so colorful and beautiful to walk around. The main plaza has a gorgeous fountain and a pretty white church that lights up different colors at night. Guatape sits on a lake so it has a cute little sidewalk running along the shore where vendors set up stands to sell everything from souvenirs to fancy shots – as in shots of liquor, from a sidewalk stand.
As if the beautiful little frescos painted on the sides of all the houses didn’t sell me on this town right away, the michelada’s available every 30 feet definitely did. Micheladas in Colombia are fresh squeezed lime juice, beer and salt on the rim and they are the best thing ever. I caught a lot of shit back home for my love of the Bud Light Cheladas, which I think taste amazing and others think taste like vomit. These micheladas don’t have the clamato and hot sauce, but they’re amazing nonetheless. What I’ve found interesting here is that micheladas are thought of as what we in the states would refer to as a “bitch drink.” So basically, here, a beer with salt and lime is equivalent to drinking a Mike’s Hard Lemonade in the states. Which makes no sense to me, and also makes me sad for all the men who are refusing themselves this delicious refreshment in order to protect their egos. But since Guatape has almost a beachy vibe, it apparently made it okay for dudes to drink their micheladas, which made me happy for them.
But let’s get back on topic. This is what Guatape looks like:
Need I say more?
Yes, actually. Guatape’s cuteness is not it’s only attraction. There is also El Peñol – basically a huge rock with stairs to the top. There’s 600 steps to get up there, but the view is more than worth it.
Maybe you’re not interested in learning about the vast and mysterious universe surrounding us. Maybe you’re too cool for earthquake simulators. Maybe you don’t like animated cinedome movies about the solar system that were originally narrated by Rupert Grint but have been dubbed in Spanish. To each his own. You should still visit the planetarium if only to take multiple pictures in the photo booth with various space-themed backgrounds that you can have sent to your email for free.
You have to take a cable car to get to Parque Arvi, and the cable car alone is worth it. Try to go early, as there is a limit to the number of people they let in, so the first day, we stood in line forever, just to be turned away because they reached capacity. We tried again the next day and we made it that time. The cable car ride was beautiful. You go up the hills surrounding Medellin, and look out the window at the houses below. As you get higher and higher you have to wonder how the houses were even built anymore. Hanging off the edge of a steep hill, with no roads in sight. The cable cars were actually not built just as a tourist draw, although they have turned into that as well. They were built as part of a hugely innovative social project so that the poor people living in the barrios (favelas, slums, pueblos jovenes, call them what you will) on the outskirts of town didn’t have to walk up endless steps to get to and from the city to work every day. In addition, there are escalators going all the way up the sides of the hills in some parts of the city to increase access to the outskirts.
Eventually, the cable car we were on stopped passing neighborhoods and came upon some open space where there were just a few farms sprinkled here and there. After that, it was pure forest, and as we continued, we wondered if it would ever end. We had no idea how far out of the city the cable car went. After a long and beautiful ride, we touched down at Parque Arvi. As you step out of the cable car station, there is a huge market on your left that sold fresh fruit, artisan crafts, coffee and snacks. I couldn’t resist a beautiful woven scarf. And of course, a giant cup of fresh berries, drizzled with sweetened condensed milk, as that is the Colombian way. We didn’t have a lot of time to explore the park, but there are walking tours you can take with guides who can point out all the flora and fauna that you see along the way. We just took a short walk and then headed back into the city, but it’s definitely somewhere I’d love to explore more.
Medellin has everything you could want. I ate sushi, Turkish doners, veggie food from a restaurant called Lentil Express (Lenteja Express in Spanish), Mexican food, and the best breakfast sandwich in the world from D’andre Gourmet.
There are also a ton of parks, plazas, museums and areas that I haven’t mentioned, so being in Medellin for a week is definitely not something that will bore you.