I took a direct bus from Salento to Medellin at 16h (49,000 COP). As everywhere in Colombia the announced travel time of 7h was way underestimated and we reached Medellin’s Terminal Sur at 1am.
I shared a taxi with two Canadians to get my hostel (Arcadia Hostel) in El Pablado. I was glad to see in the taxi since it was raining cats and dogs upon my arrival.
The next morning I got up early as I had reserved a free walking tour in the city center starting at 10:30am. I had a nice coffee and a serano avocado sandwich at cafe run by a Kiwi. Thanks to the efficient metro system I made it on time to the meeting point at Alpujarra station.
The tour company is called Real City Tours and my female guide was Medellin born Monsa. We were around 15 people in my group, mostly Europeans. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t initially on our side: It started pouring as soon as the tour started. Luckily, I brought my rain jacket and rain poncho 😉
First, we visited the Palacio de la Justicia and the old railway station. Monsa bridged the time of the rain with interesting stories about the city’s past. She talked about the four main groups who shaped Medellin during the last century: The FARC, the government, the drug cartels and the Paramilitarios.
She talked a lot about the violence which was prevailing in the city in the 80s and 90s and made Medellin the most dangerous city in the world in that period.
We continued to the Square of Lights, a garden of white pillars equipped with lamps. Also we could observe that there’s a library in front of the square. Monsa explained to us that this was part of the social urbanization strategy of Medellin’s former mayor (a math teacher 🙂 ). Once an unsafe place dominated by criminals it is now a spot where families visit every day!
Afterwards we continued to the former Palacio Nacional building which houses nowadays a mall and Medellin’s second oldest church: Iglesa de Veracruz. The next stop was very interesting: In front of a church-like building designed by a Belgium architect a couple of statues with disproportional body parts can be found. The square is named of the Colombian artist Botero who donated these sculptures and lives nowadays in Italy.
Later we passed by the shopping arcades and the tallest building of Medellin: The Coltejer Building. We finished the tour in San Antonio Park where two bird statues stand. One is nearly completely destroyed and the other one is untouched. In the beginning of the 90s someone placed a bomb during a music festival here and over twenty killed got killed and hundreds injured. It is not clear up-to-date who was responsible for this attack. The destroyed represents the past, the new one the future.
The tour lasted in total 4h and is highly recommendable. It was tip-based and I gave 30,000 COP which seemed to be adequate.
Afterwards I took the metro and cable car to climb up to Parque Arvi on the northern side of Medellin. It was a gorgeous ride (6000 COP each way) and gave fantastic views over the valley Medellin is located in. The gondola led me over green lush forest and finally ended in Parque Arvi.
Unfortunately, the walking trails had closed at 4pm such that I could just wander around and look at the beautiful nature from distance. There was also a small exhibition of relics of the first known Americo-Indian tribes. Before leaving I tasted a good papa rellena.
I returned to El Poblado where coincidentally ran into the two German guys, Benny and Cem, who I had met earlier that day on the walking tour. Hence, I found companions for the night to drink and dance 😉 Before we had fantastic Asian fusion dishes at Bao Bei – super-recommended!
The next day I slept in after a long night dancing 😉 I started the day with a super-hearty meal called Bandejo Paisa and watched the Wimbledon Final between Federer and Djokovic. The later one defended his title in the longest Wimbledon Final ever – the Joker won the last set with 13:12!
After this heavy lunch I headed straight to the San Javier metro station where I participated in another free walking tour, this time about Comuna 13. I made a reservation the day before with Zippy Free Walking Tours. Our guide was Stiven, who lived over two decades in Comuna 13 and still lives nowadays.
Comuna 13 was considered to be the most dangerous neighborhood in the world during the 90s and the beginning of the 2000s. This was mainly due to the fact that FARC, different drug cartels and Paramilitarios settled down in this neighborhood at the same time. There were multiple (over 20) unsuccessful military operation to “clean up” the barrio. At it’s peak time over 2000 people were killed within 10 months – just in Comuna 13.
True change came through peace negotiations with FARC and Paramilitarios in the beginning of the 2000s and the ultimate breakthrough has been accomplished by Medellin’s former mayor (yes the math teacher again!) by agreeing to pay the drug cartels money for their promise to stop killing people. Believe it or not but up to today they are holding their promise.
One important trait of Comuna 13 are graffitis. They are legal here (one artist won the legal fight against the municipality) and speak a lot about the barrio’s history and Colombia’s current problems. It is apparently the only neighborhood in entire South America which has electric stairs. Guess whose idea that was?
Today Comuna 13 is super-safe and has already a kind of hipster vibe! I even found craft beer there and there a lot of shops who sell clothes with prints saying “Comuna 13”. We finished the tour with a break dance show of a local youth dancing group. Also this tour is very interesting and I recommend it as well.
I finished the day with a nice barbecue at the hostel and went to bed early since I had to catch an early flight to Cartegena. Fortunately, I realized in the morning that the relevant airport was not as I initially though the one in town but rather 45km outside of Medellin. I immediately called an Uber and made it luckily 10min before check-in closure to the check-in counter, Puuuhh! That was worth the 80,000 COP!
I wish I had had more time in Medellin. I think the city is epic and after Buenos Aires my second favorite city on this journey. A visit is a must when in Colombia!
Since the picture storage is completely full pictures can be found here temporarily: