Medellín (pronounced either Medeyeen or Medejeen depending on your accent, but definitely not with an L sound) is a large city, and I really liked the vibe of the city! Everyone was friendly and in a good mood. Also, the weather was a much needed break from the extreme heat in Cartagena. It’s much less humid and cooler in Medellín, although still warm.
I did get chilly in the shade or at night sometimes. The entire city is green and orange/red from the brick buildings. Almost all the buildings are a brick color, but some are made of what looked like brick-colored concrete blocks. The brick expands for as far as you can see in every direction, but there are lots of trees as well giving the orange/red a nice green contrast. Unfortunately, we did not explore it all nor did we see everything there was to see in our short 5 days there.
We were able to schedule our trip to Medellín during part of the 2017 Flower Festival (Feria De Las Flores). The Flower Festival in Medellín started with a five-day celebration in May 1957 as a tribute to Colombia’s thriving flower industry. The next year, the festival was moved to August, but the tradition has continued, and the festival happens every year. It’s now somewhere around ten days long (this year it was July 28 – August 6), and according to Wikipedia, it’s the most important social event of the year for Medellín.
I have to say that as cool as it was to attend some of the events of the Feria De Las Flores, it was less spectacular than I thought it was going to be. We weren’t there for the finale, so maybe that is when things get crazy? The events we went to were fairly tame (okay, maybe my expectations of a Colombian party are too high?), but they were still fun. We went to a few concerts and one of the smaller parades (see pictures of the parade on the pics page – the buses they decorated are really fun!). There were at least 100 police at one of the concerts held at the University. I can understand that though since walking down the street as a tourist in Medellín, you get offered drugs all the time. When Colin and I were together, it happened once or twice a day, but if he was walking by himself in a touristy area, it happened every 15 minutes. They aren’t usually pushy or anything though, so you just say, “no, gracias” and they go away. It’s not as sketchy as it seems.
We stayed at Arcadia Hostel in El Poblado which was about a 10-minute walk from the main nightlife area (Parque Lleras / Lleras Park). This is where a lot of tourists tend to stay, so I did read some blogs that said you may not want to stay there if you want to see more of the real Medellín. I liked it though. There are lots of hostels that are in or much closer to Parque Lleras, but I liked being a little out of the way. It did mean that we had to walk to and from the bars each night instead of just walking downstairs.
I went out one night to one of the “party hostels” in the area, Happy Buddha . It was really crowded and popping one moment, and then everyone was gone (out to the other bars maybe?) the next. The drinks were pricey (at least compared to normal Colombian prices… not that pricey compared to US prices), but it was also a good way to meet other random travelers which was fun.
My thoughts on Arcadia Hostel: our room was fine (we stayed in a private double – the Pegasus room), but I liked it because it was just social enough without being a party hostel. Our room was really hot because it was on the 3rd floor and only had a tiny window to get circulation going. The shower head faced the shower curtain that didn’t reach the floor, so our bathroom was always wet. The sink didn’t have a real faucet – it had a shower head extension that you had to hold up yourself (although I managed to finagle a way to tie it up to the wall). The bed wasn’t comfortable, and my neck still really hurts from it. They have beer and mixed drinks for sale at the bar, so people tended to drink there before going out for the night. We met some cool people just hanging at the picnic benches on the patio.
However, just to show the risk you take by staying at a hostel… there was a group of guys (soccer players I think or some kind of team) that was also staying at Arcadia. Colin and I walked downstairs from our room into the main area one afternoon, and there were 2 policemen yelling at the group of guys. What surprised me was that the guys were yelling back! I had no idea what was going on, but Colin and I left that place super quickly so that we weren’t a part of it. I later found out from one of the guys who worked the front desk that the group of guys had fake Colombian money (either they bought something with it and were getting yelled at by the cops or they exchanged other money and got the fake money and were yelling at the cops to do something… my Spanish isn’t good enough to figure out which was the story).
The next night, I’m sitting outside on the patio and I hear this loud noise. I can’t really describe it except to say that it’s the sound of flesh and bone hitting flesh and bone. One of the guys in the group had punched another in the face, and there was a lot of blood. Not sure what happened there.
In talking to another girl at the hostel about the guys in the group, she was warned by a girl at the front desk to stay away from them a few nights before because they had come back late and were all sorts of messed up on crazy drugs. The front desk girl said she was watching all the security cameras, but to try to stay away from them just in case.
I don’t blame Arcadia for any of this, and they handled it all well, but it’s just a risk you take in staying at a hostel vs. a hotel or something nicer.
Medellín has a metro system that runs north / south in the valley, and it also has gondolas (cable cars, chair lifts, whatever you want to call them) that shoot out to the east and west up the hills in a few places. It’s pretty crazy how much of an impact building these gondolas has had on the economy (and homicide rate) in Medellín. Medellín was once known as one of the most dangerous cities in the world, and many of the homicides recorded in the city actually occurred in the slums that were once disconnected from the city center. Before the gondolas were built to connect these outer areas (typically less affluent than in the city center) with the rest of the city, people had to walk sometimes hours down the hills to get into the city for their jobs. The gondolas have done an amazing job at reducing the travel burden for those that live outside of the city center.
You can find a map of the metro system here. There is a park at the top of one of the hills that you can get to with the gondolas, but make sure you don’t get stuck at the top. You take the regular metro to Acevedo (for 2,000 Colombian pesos… about $0.67 US), and then as part of the same ticket, you can get on the gondolas headed to Santo Domingo. If you want, you can exit the metro station and explore some of this little area (we stopped to have a beer and watch the gondolas moving up and down the hill), or you can continue on to the park. Before we could get back on the gondolas to get to the park though, they had shut it down for the night (around 5:30 PM – it probably isn’t safe to be up there at night or something?), so we never actually made it to the top. I think it costs something extra to go to the park (I’ve heard around 4,000 Colombian pesos), but we just headed back to town for the night.
The gondolas were a little shaky, and they can be crowded during rush hour. If you get claustrophobic, make sure that you go at an off time. These gondolas are actually used as public transportation, so we were on them with people just going home for the night. I felt a little awkward taking a bunch of photos, and it was hard to get any nice shots without the other people in them anyway. I was also a little nervous because of how shaky they were, so I was mainly concentrating on the houses below us that we would crush if we fell to our deaths (but we didn’t).
We spent one of our days on a Pablo Escobar and Guatapé combined tour. We used Escobar Paintball, and although I thought it was overpriced for what it was, I’d still suggest it. You can only book by going to La Playa Hostel (although there is a number on the website that you can text using WhatsApp, but you still need to go in person to book and pay). It’s 160,000 Colombian pesos ($53 US) if you play paintball in the middle of the tour, or it’s 120,000 Colombian pesos ($40 US) if you do not play paintball.
There were about 80 people on the tour with us (which means I met lots of new friends while Colin followed me around and said a few words to people), and I really didn’t learn much about Pablo Escobar (which is why I thought it was overpriced). The guide did talk for 5-10 minutes at one point about him, but I think it was mostly centered around playing paintball (which we didn’t do since it was more expensive; plus, I didn’t want to get sweaty and covered in welts). You meet the tour bus at La Playa Hostel at 7:30 AM, and you leave after you’ve had a (very) small breakfast (which was really greasy – I suggest getting something on your own beforehand). You drive about 2 hours to a little shopping area with pretty views, and then you take jeeps for another 20 minutes to Pablo Escobar’s now dilapidated mansion. You can either ride in the back or on top of the jeeps, and either way you will be covered in dust by the end.
The mansion was built with beautiful views (I’d expect nothing less from a man making US $60 million each day from his drug trade), but it was a little small for my liking. You get the chance to walk around the mansion, drink beer, have lunch (included in the tour – they even have a pretty yummy veggie option), and play paintball if you paid for that. After everyone is done here, it’s a 20-30 minute boat ride to Guatapé (which is a must see if you go to Medellín).
Guatapé has a very colorful front of the town made for tourists. Each building has art on its walls, and people are buzzing around. However, when you look behind the color, you see rundown buildings that are brick colored like the rest of the area. You should still have a look around the town though because the color is beautiful. The real attraction of the area though is a huge rock. It’s about a 10 minute ride from the town, and it’s 700 steps to the top of the rock for gorgeous 360 degree views of the lakes and islands surrounding Guatapé.
I’d also suggest walking up to the top of a hill in the center of the city, Pueblito Paisa. You can get some beautiful views of the city, and there are lots of people at the top flying kites and running around. We were lazy and took a taxi to the top (and back down), so I don’t know what the walk is like. Taxis are so cheap though…
Hi, I'm Sara Monica Patton. I love animals, traveling, and eating. Read more about me in my first blog post here.