The hardest part of writing about Medellín is finding something to say about this city that has not been said or written before. It is also quite hard for me to write about big cities because honestly, I just don’t like big cities.
And Medellín is a big city. I got lost as soon as I got out of the bus…in the bus terminal. You don’t understand, the terminal is just as big as a small airport.
Why I Don’t Like Big Cities
Big cities are often fast-paced, they’re busy and noisy. Also, concrete structures are not my thing, no matter how tall they are (I’m looking at you NYC).
Pick-pocketing and theft are also more present in big cities than small ones, which makes me a bit more hesitant to trust others and therefore limits my interaction with others.
Bigger cities also tend to be more expensive, especially for the touristy stuff. Tours, transportation, even the occasional beer will most often cost more in a big city.
But I had some very good references about Medellín. Everyone who I met who had travelled to Medellín had absolutely loved it! So I decided to give Medellín a chance.
The City of Eternal Rain
Known as the “city of eternal spring”, Medellín apparently has pretty good weather to travel year-round.
“Apparently”, because it rained almost all the time when I was there. I mean, ALL THE TIME! 5 days out of 7…goddamn rainy spring.
So what did I do?
I went out and explored anyways. I wasn’t about to spend the next week of my trip enclosed in a hostel looking for indoor things to do, and not do them anyways. And even though exploring under the rain did suck big time (I even think my camera is now damaged beyond repair) seeing Medellín and around was quite gratifying.
You know how I said that everything is more expensive in big cities? Well this is a perfect example…
A guided tour to Comuna 13 costs about 70000 COP. I decided to go on my own, and my day cost me less than 10000 COP, including food.
Reminiscent of the favelas in Rio, Comuna 13 used to be the most dangerous barrio of Colombia during the drug cartel era. Its proximity to highways made it an ideal point of entry for much of the drugs in Medellín. That is until a May 2002 paramilitary operation, with the hopes of “clearing” the neighborhood, brought 900 riot gear cops and military into the neighborhood. Many people died, including children.
The paramilitary occupied Comuna 13, no one was allowed to go in or out. Violence and death was a thing of everyday, and it was not strange to find bodies laying around in the streets of the comuna.
Until residents of different comunas took to the streets in protests. Much happened in between, but the residents of Comuna 13 found a way to uplift their neighborhood through art.
Many murals and paintings started appearing on the walls of the comuna, many highlighting the struggle of its people.
Years later through this art, the comuna has found the strength and the pride to keep going.
Today the neighborhood is no longer a haven for crime, but rather of residents proud of what their neighborhood has become.
Day tour to Guatapé
On the rainiest day of them all we gathered a small crew of people to go to Guatapé. A colorful small town with amazing viewpoints about 2 hours from Medellín.
We headed to Terminal Norte by metro and took a bus to Guatapé for 13500 COP.
We had hoped that, Guatapé being 2 hours away from Medellín, that it wasn’t raining over there.
We were wrong. It was pouring…so we waited at a coffee place. 15 minutes…30 minutes….1 hour….it just wouldn’t stop. So we decided to get out and just face it.
We walked around through Guatapé’s colorful streets, thinking how nice these would look on a sunny day. We walked under balconies to avoid the rain as much as possible, but we got drenched anyways.
Then we headed by mototaxi to Guatapé’s crème-de-la-crème, the Peñón de Guatapé. A 360-degrees viewpoint situated on top of a huge rock, 745 painful steps high.
Luckily it stopped raining when we got to the top, and we got to enjoy a semi-clear view of the islands 🙂
Pablo Escobar’s Grave
Everyone knows some of the rough history of Medellín, from the violence brought by the drug cartels in the 80s and the 90s, and the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar, the leader of the Cartel de Medellín.
Pablo Escobar’s infamous legacy has only been made bigger by series like Narcos and Colombia’s own El Patrón del Mal
Through Medellín there are many companies offering “Pablo Escobar” tours, many of which cost about 100000 COP. Even though the tour itself picked my curiosity, it was reviews such as “the tour consists of driving in a van for 3 hours from building to building” that threw me off of it.
So instead, I went to Pablo Escobar’s grave site located in Jardines Montesacro cemetary, a few blocks away from Sabaneta metro station.
Although not a sight in itself, it is still interesting to see the graveyard of one of history’s biggest crime lords. Even more interesting was the fact that, at the site, fresh flowers seemed to have just been recently placed. To be honest, I was surprised that the city of Medellín maintains a grave site for him…I guess money does buy everything.
The center of Medellín is not one I became a fan of. Crowded and filled with some sketchy people, it is the only place I’d say I did not feel safe in Medellín (and Medellín IS A SAFE CITY).
Plaza Bolivar was somewhat empty, with no tourists in sight. The plaza in front of the Museo de Antioquia and the area surrounding it were a bit more lively, however there were cops everywhere which did not give the place a good feeling of safety.
I Didn’t See Everything But…
Even though I got to spend a full week in Medellín, I feel I could’ve stayed much more in order to get to know the city better.
However, Medellín did change my perceptions of big cities…here people were as friendly as in smaller cities. It was also good to get to experience some of Medellín’s nightlife in El Poblado, something which I had yet to do since I had come into Colombia.
Have you been to Medellín? How was your experience and which sights did you visit?