After a brief flight we traded the crystal clear waters, quiet beaches, and endless sunshine of the Colombian coast for the cooler climate and majestic mountains of Medellin. Like many foreigners we knew little about the city and its history except that of drugs and violence in their recent past. We were immediately awed by the sheer size of the city, sprawling through a valley and up the sides of the surrounding mountains. We were also excited to get to know more about Colombia’s second largest city with over 2.5 million people.
Our first full day in Medellin we started out visiting one of the city’s telefericos (gondola) referred to as the Metrocable. Medellin has built two gondola lines (two more are underconstruction) and 1 escalator (ascending a height of 1260 feet) on the hills of the city to help those living in poorer areas on the steep hillsides to get to and from their houses. The city has also built a metro system in recent years which is the cleanest we have been on anywhere in the world. These are just a couple of reasons why Medellin was named The Urban Land Institute’s most innovative city in 2013.
After enjoying the view from above the city we headed back down the Metrocable for a 4 hour walking tour of the city where we learned about the history, pride of the paisas (what people from Medellin are called), cuisine, art, architecture, and a little bit of politics. Walking tours are always a great way to get a feel for a city and learn about the locals. The tour highlighted many works of Fernando Botero, one of the most notable living artists from South America. Botero is from Medellin and has created his own signature style, known as “Boterismo”, which depicts people and figures in large, exaggerated proportions, often including political criticism and humor.
The next day we went on the Pablo Escobar tour to learn more about the infamous drug lord and the suffering that the cartels inflicted upon Medellin and Colombia in general during the 1970s and 80s. The tour was very informative and also helped to remind us how incredibly lucky we are to have grown up in the United States, sheltered from many of the struggles faced by those growing up in other places. It also provided a stark contrast to the amazing and resilient city we were experiencing 20 years later.
Our last full day in Medellin we spent taking a day trip to Guatapé, to a tourist attraction called: La Piedra (the rock). La piedra is a small isolated mountain surrounded on all sides by lakes of various sizes and shapes. The rock is 657 feet tall with 675 steps to walk from the base to the summit. The staircase was built along one side of the mountain from cement and was quite impressive to look at. The hike to the top was tiring, but the 360 degree view at the top was one of the most beautiful scenes we have ever seen and well worth the effort of the hike.
Medellin was a spectacular city rich with history, natural beauty, and charm. We are excited to visit Bogota next but are sad to be leaving Medellin.