In July 2015 I took a two month sabbatical from work to explore deepest darkest Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. Yes, that’s a Paddington Bear reference and thanks for noticing. As I aim to cover as many destinations as possible it’s good to note that after visiting these three countries something shifted within which has ultimately changed my life for the better. Anyway, let’s get into this!
Medellin, pronounced (Mede-jin) is situated 400kms north west of Bogota, surrounded by lusciously green fields and made up of a thriving gastronomy scene. Arriving into Medellin I suddenly felt very self-conscious as a backpacker. It’s not the first time I’ve felt under dressed and definitely won’t be the last. But! It certainly was a pleasant surprise to see such style and suaveness in little old Colombia.
Before we begin, can I just say how incredible Colombia is! Like, actually incredible! And I’d like to set the record straight here and now. Colombia for me was no more dangerous than visiting any other country I’ve visited before. The desire to learn more about the culture completely outweighed the fear of maybe something happening whilst travelling solo across the country. And I’m happy to put your mind at ease (mum) that literally nothing even remotely dangerous happened along my travels. Righto, I’ve said enough! Check out my top 5 tips for Medellin below…
Gastronomy in El Pablado District
Imagine, some 30 of the best (and hippest) cafes in the Surry Hills, Darlinghurst and Bondi all combined. They’re quirky, fresh, diverse, healthy and bustling; now imagine they’re all positioned in one suburb. And then halve the price it costs to pay for food. The streets are winding and tree lined so rarely do you feel like you’re in a major city. Perfect for a late afternoon aperitivo, perfect for people watching and perfect for good quality food. Be warned though, El Pablado is Medellin’s wealthiest neighbourhood offering all of the creature comforts money can buy. If you’re after a contrast to Medellin’s other districts with authentic colours, smells and characters this is the place to indulge.
2 hours east from Medellin sits Guatape’s most popular attraction: A 200m high granite monolith with a total of 659 steps to reach the top. Imagine, a large rock with steps built into the façade, the crisscross of the stairwell creates an almost patchwork like image. I’m not going to lie to you, this will get your heart racing!! Once you reach the top, you’re rewarded with a 360 degree view of the valley (featured in the blog’s header image.) Spare a thought for the café up the top though, someone has had to carry all that produce up all those stairs. Yikes! While you’re here, don’t give the town a miss either! A short tuk tuk ride away you’ll find the tiny town. It’s a little gimmicky but hey, it’s a sight for sore eyes after living in the city for a few days.
This is the only free walking tour I’ve attended where you need to register in advance, it’s that popular and believe me, it’s that worth it. They ensure the groups are small enough to weave you through the bustling metro area. Yet large enough to cater to those who are deftly keen to attend. Pablo who owns the company and still runs the tours introduces himself and remembers every single person’s name on the list (20 of us!) I’m impressed.I could have listened to him all day learning about the enthralling and recent history of Medellin.
Especially regarding Pablo Escobar, which as you might recall is a big reason why people will tell you it’s too dangerous to travel to. Medellin’s wealth comes from gold mining, coffee exportation and the infamous railway system. Oh! And a booming cocaine industry. Even up until 2012 Medellin was rated as the most dangerous place to visit in the world. No topic is off the table to discuss for Pablo, so we learnt about all the juicy details.
Paisa is the name for the local people here in Medellin. They’re a proud bunch who pride themselves on their tidy town, their efficient and speedy metro train and how far they’ve come to change their image to the outside world.
Give it a go! It’s a fun and a (super) cheap way to see the city from above. It’s actually not intended for tourism purposes! Moreso an incentive for the people who live in poorer outer regions to travel into the city for their daily commute. But really, tourists will have a great time too! As the cable cay raises you up higher and higher you see the ever expanding city sprawl below as far as the eye can see. Even though the houses are painted in different bright colours, all we see are the orange terracotta roofs. It looks like an optional illusion and my mind drifts off thinking about a terracotta tile sale that must have happened 20 or 30 years ago.
Watch a Futboll Game
I guess it would be the same to visit any soccer game in any country who adores the sport. But this was a pretty unreal experience! I had the opportunity to see a game between Medellin and a local Venezuelan team. The atmosphere was beyond exhilarating, I’ve never seen anything like it. 25,000 people all crammed into one stadium, half of which are standing the other half on the edge of their seat. The standing side jump, chant, sing their lungs out and are generally as raucous as can be. It’s infectious.
I’m surprised to hear that the opposition’s fans aren’t allowed to attend – for fears of any violence. Thankfully Medellin win 4-1 and the chanting continues well into the night. If only Australian sporting supporters were this passionate or are they? Maybe I need to visit some games in my own backyard!!
There you have it, enjoy Medellin and mostly enjoy Guatape!