Medellin, once dubbed the most dangerous city in the world, often conjures up images of drug cartels, senseless violence, assassinations, kidnappings, and right-wing paramilitary takeovers that marked the last part of the 20th century. Today Medellin is known as ‘the city of eternal spring’ thanks to its beautiful weather and was recently awarded the title of ‘Most Innovative City of the Year’, beating out cities like New York and Tel Aviv. It is an expansive metropolis filled with five star hotels, high-rise condos, chic restaurants, quaint sidewalk cafes, a thriving nightlife, and a rich history. It is an impressive turnaround, but when you look around at this beautiful city, it is not surprising that it is quickly becoming a tourist hotspot.
Exhausted from the heat and looking to do some exploring, I headed to Medellin for a quick four day trip with three other volunteers. After a quick 45 minute flight from Santa Marta to the airport just outside Medellin, we headed into the city to find our hostel. We stayed in El Poblado at the Tiger Paw Hostel which was clean, safe, and had a fun bar…everything you need in a hostel!
We spent our first full day exploring the city. Fernando Botero is Colombia’s most popular artist, known for his unique style of painting and sculpting voluptuous men, women, and animals. We visited Botero Plaza which is an outdoor display of many of his statues. Next we visited the Museo de Antioquia which showcases more of Botero’s works as well as works by other Latin artists. The majority of these works were donated by Botero in an attempt to continue the revitalization of Medellin.
Afterwards we walked across town (literally) to the Jardín Botánico. This well known botanical garden is always filled with beautiful plants and exotic birds, but as we were visiting Medellin during the Feria de las Flores (Festival of the Flowers) the garden was decked out with hundreds of flower displays!
The following day we headed up in the Metrocable. This urban gondola, one of two initially built to provide easier city access to the poorer neighborhoods higher up the mountainsides, has become a symbol of the city’s urban renewal. After enjoying stunning views of Medellin as we headed up the mountainside, we got off at the very top where you can visit Parque Arvi. This park is a natural reserve with acres of wildlife, full of paths where you can explore on your own or with a guide. We wandered through the craft market and purchased handmade souvenirs, explored around the park enjoying the chilly weather, and sampled some of the fresh fruits that were brought straight from the fincas (I had big red STRAWBERRIES after 11 months on the strawberry-less coast!). Mid-afternoon we noticed that there were some storm clouds rolling in and decided we better head down. Next thing we knew people were running for cover and we were in the middle of the biggest thunderstorm I have ever seen! The metrocable was shut down and we were trapped on top of the mounting with a few hundred people waiting out the storm for a little over two hours. Spirits were remarkably high as people huddled for warmth, shared umbrellas, bought ponchos from the very timely poncho vendors, and watched as the rain turned to hail before the storm finally let up.
In the evenings we enjoyed the delicious restaurant scene and vivid nightlife, for which Medellin has recently become very well known. We were excited to find the extensive international food offerings and enjoyed real Mexican food, sushi, and hamburgers! After dinner we would head back to the hostel for happy hour which included DRAFT beers (a rarity here on the coast) and then head out to check out some of the bars and clubs in the famous Parque Lleras, which is Medellin’s ‘zona rosa’ or main nightlife scene. It is about 4 square blocks of restaurants, bars, clubs, and discotecas where you can enjoy 3×1 drink specials on Colombia’s favorite Aguardiente or a cold cerveza while listening to the mix of salsa, vallenato, and reggaeton music.
Although it was a quick trip, we had a fantastic time exploring all this wonderful city has to offer. Did I see any drugs? Yes. Were there parts of town I wouldn’t want to go alone? Definitely. Was I cautious when I was out at night? Of course. Could I say these things about any large city in any country in the world? Absolutely. Medellin was a beautiful, modern, and culturally rich city where I felt just as safe as I would in any other urban center in the world. It is full of warm and welcoming people eager to show the rest of the world the wonders of their city. So shake the stereotypes, and start planning your next vacation to the city of eternal spring!
Until next time…paz y amor.