Medellín was not long ago rated as being the most violent city in the world. Few travelers would visit Colombia as a result of the violence created by Pablo Escobar’s Medellín drug cartel, the FARC guerillas, homicides and kidnappings. Since then, there has been a ceasefire with the FARC guerillas which has held even though the most recent referendum for peace accords was voted down. Colombians seem confident and determined to seek out peace. Most recently Medellín was awarded as being the worlds most innovative city. It’s evident that the citizens take pride in being recognized for their positive accomplishments. Here’s a good article explaining this transformation.
Throughout Colombia, we felt very safe. We used common sense about where we were going and watched our belongings as the biggest risks is being robbed or pick pocketed. You can drink the water which is awesome! Also, the people are incredibly kind and helpful. This is a country you should put on your bucket list.
Day 9 – Arriving in Medellin
The airport (Jose Maria Cordova) is about an hour from the city. You’ll have to either grab a taxi (65,000 – 75, 000 COP) or bus (9,000 COP). As a side note, all cabs are metered here and they start at 3,000 COP. There is also a sophisticated Metro system.
We decided to grab a bus. The area of El Poblado is considered one of the nicest neighbourhoods in Medellín and where most tourists stay. There are many restaurants and bars to choose from, however prices aren’t cheap here, they are basically on par with Canadian prices. Casa Kiwi is a very popular hostel in this area, however they don’t take reservations online. The Happy Buddha is another popular option with a party every night if that’s your thing! We settled in at Casa Provenza for our first night, which was a quiet but great stay for $30 CAD.
Day 10 – Cable Cars and Escalators
We checked into our beautiful Air B&B where we would be staying the week. We were really lucky to have our friend Julie Prasad staying in Medellín who could help us find our way around. Julie will be staying in Colombia and learning Spanish (check out her amazing travels at www.roamingshark.com). She also volunteers to help local youth learn English. These youth are learning how to run tours through their (once, very dangerous) neighbourhoods of Santa Domingo and Comuna 13. We were able to join her on these trips and it was one of our favorite parts. They talked about how Medellín has used a system of cable cars and escalators to revitalize neighbourhoods. Now people can get to work and school more efficiently. Tourists and visitors can enter areas where before the simple geography prevented easy access. These types of architecture has literally changed this city by providing access.
Day 11 – Walking Tour
There’s no better way to explore an unfamiliar city than a free walking tour (remember to always tip your guides, ESPECIALLY for free walking tours.) Real City Tours offered a 4 hour guided tour of the Medellín city center and we recommend you do this on your first day in the city. It is an absolute must do! You have to register online prior to the tour on their website. Our guide, Hernan, was an incredibly informed and a passionate Colombian. He allowed us to ask any question we wanted (Clair: Do you watch Narcos and is it real? Hernan: It’s mostly real, but Colombians don’t like that it was filmed mostly in Bogota and the main actor is Brazilian!) This is definitely the best tour we’ve been on so far. You see the popular tourist sites, but are brought to more “local” joints. These areas can be a little riskier but the tour does a great job of letting you know. Hernan also mentioned that you shouldn’t be shouting our Escobar’s name in public spaces. Colombians really want to leave that part of their past behind them.
Day 12, 13, 14 – Being Lazy & Guatape
Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that it’s ok to be lazy. So that’s what we did for two days. Relaxed, went in the pool, and watched Narcos. Feeling refreshed we decided to explore Guatape, a small getaway about 2 hours away from the city. This little town has an amazing view from atop La Piedra Del Peñol. This 649 step masonry staircase is no easy climb but well worth it. There are several companies from Medellín who offer tours, however we recommend you do this on your own and save your money. We made our way to Terminal de Transporte Norte, a large bus stop where we were able to hop on a bus to Guatape for 12,000 COP. You can’t miss the giant rock. If you’re physically fit, skip the offered taxi rides up the hill and walk up to the entrance (12,000 COP). At it’s highest point, the views of the surrounding lakes and terrains are out of this world.
The actual town of Guatape is a taxi ride away from La Piedra Del Peñol. The town is beautiful but super touristy. Food is overpriced, the merchandise is expensive, and the tours are unnecessary. They offer boat tours to see one of Pablo Escobars houses that was used very seldom and was eventually blown up. There’s also an option to paintball there. We decided to skip the tours, walk around the town, and grab a coffee and muffin instead.
Day 15 – Swearing Off Drinking…Again
This was our night on the town with the crew from San Blas Adventures. We headed to the party district on Cartera 70. Funny story, one of the guys on the trip wore shorts so they wouldn’t let him in the bar. Luckily, Clair was wearing stretchy Lululemon pants. And with a quick switch, the night continued for everyone. A night to remember (or not).
Day 17, 18, 19 – Last Few Days
Do us a favour, avoid at all costs to fly with VivaColombia. It’s a budget airline and they do (sometimes) offer low prices but the service is beyond terrible. I can imagine their mission statement as follows,
Viva Colombia is dedicated to finding every way possible to screw you.
Remember the ticket incident during our flight from Cartagena? Well, this time we found a decent flight to get us to Lima, Peru $250 CAD. Kik was so happy after spending hours trying to find a good flight at a reasonable price. When we received the confirmation the price was in US dollars. Apparently it was a glitch on their website which displayed the wrong currency but “they can’t be responsible for that.” It was a nightmare communicating with the company to try and resolve it. To sum it up, they ripped us off and Kik was furious after all that hard work and vows to fight this to the end.
Day 20 – Bogotá
We had a lay over in the capital city of Bogotá for a few hours before our flight to Lima. Maybe it was the fact that we had to wake up at 4:30 am to catch our first flight or that we had such little time to spend in the city, but our experience wasn’t great. Our intentions were to visit Museo Botero but unfortunately it’s closed every Tuesday. We were only carrying very few Pesos, as we were leaving to Peru, so we were limited on what we could spend. We had heard that La Puerta Falsa was the best restaurant in town but unfortunately they didn’t take credit cards. So…we found ourselves a Subway instead. We laughed about it afterwards as we realized we traveled an hour into the city center from the airport to basically eat at Subway.
We safely boarded our plane and made it into Lima – for our first horrible Air B&B experience. But that’s for next time!