These past 3 days I spent in Medellin, one of Colombia’s most popular cities due to its reputation for a violent history of cocaine trafficking. The city has gone through a lot of changes and today it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world, in my opinion :).
As you may know from my last post, I wasn’t planning on passing through Medellin, until the backpacking gods sent me here through an unexpected plane detour. I’m really grateful for this mishap, since my absolute biggest takeaway from Medellin was learning about all its amazing history and developing a deep, newfound appreciation for the Colombian people for overcoming such a tragic point in their recent history.
Day 7: Appreciating Medellin through lots of walking
For my first day in Medellin, I wanted to get a feel of the city through my own exploring. Some breakfast near my hostel in the Pablado neighborhood with a side of planning my day 😉
Then, I was off to take the subway further into town. Medellin is the only city in all of Colombia with a metro system, and it’s brilliant! So clean, fast, and above ground! The locals in Medellin are very proud of it and truly respect their metro system; you can tell by how they all work together to not litter/draw graffiti/etc.
After a few stops, I transferred to the metro-cable, a series of cable cars that are a part of their public transportation system. Medellin is built among several mountains, and the metro-cable connect those who live up in the mountains to the city center below, while offering absolutely breathtaking views. These cable cars are not a tourist attraction – they are actually what locals in Medellin take to and from work/school everyday, so unique!
I was so in awe riding up the cable cars…taking in the views and looking down at the poorest neighborhoods in the entire city. These people use to completely isolated, having limited options for jobs and resources. The introduction of this public transport system in the 70s gave these people the opportunity to be connected to more jobs, parks, public libraries, etc. in the city center. It was the Colombian people’s glimmer of hope while living through the age of Pablo Escobar’s violent drug cartel, which is why the Colombian people are so proud of it.
I just love the city planning of Medellin…it is the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen. There is so much greenery through preservation of trees and mountains, while still being very urban.
After my metro-cable adventure, I walked around the Medellin Botanical Gardens. It was raining quite hard but I still enjoyed the lush greenery in the middle of the city.
A huge plate for lunch in downtown Medellin.
In the afternoon, I took one of the popular free walking tours in Medellin since a lot of people I talked to recommended this. I’m not a big walking tour person and didn’t expect much, but wow. It was phenomenal. They took us through 12 spots in downtown Medellin to learn about its violent history of cocaine trafficking, the city’s amazing transformation afterwards, and how the people today view this topic today…it was so eye-opening. I feel like nowadays, Pablo Escobar is romanticized as a sort of “godfather” of cocaine, when in reality he terrorized and killed so many people. It’s a sensitive topic to Colombians, many of whom have actually lived through this terrible era. My tour guide wouldn’t even say his name out-loud during the tour since he didn’t want locals to get upset.
Camilo, my tour guide was an amazing story teller – there was never a dull moment. I definitely choked back some tears since the topics got very heavy at some points. This tour was definitely my “a-ha” moment in finally feeling connected with the people and culture in Colombia.
One observation I had since my first day in Colombia was that Colombian people are EXTREMELY friendly, more than any country I’ve ever been to. It all clicked for me…not too long ago, Colombia was named the most dangerous country in the world. You couldn’t pay a foreigner to come and visit. Through all its progress and change in the past few decades, tourists actually want to visit now, and the locals are proud of that and very open to this cultural exchange. If you are in Medellin, PLEASE do yourself a favor and take this tour, whether you’re a tour-person or not!
Day 8: Day trip to Guatapé + climbing the rock
After yesterday, I was pretty city-ed out. Medellin has lots of day-trip options to get out into nature, and so I decided to head to Guatapé, a popular town 2 hours from Medellin with a huge rock that people climb up. I took a van joined with others from different hostels. The ride was wind-y and scenic, driving through the beautiful Andes mountains. We picked up a live performer along the way who played traditional music from Cartagena, so good!
We stopped for breakfast along the way at an adorable little farm with killer views of the Andes Mountains. The group was full of Australians and we all got to know one-another.
For the remainder of the trip, we rode on the van’s roof! So much fun! The bumpy dirt road + fresh mountain air + wind blowing through my hair = the moments I live for while backpacking ❤
We made it to the town of El Peñol and briefly checked it out. The architecture was beautiful and it was nice to get a glimpse of Colombian life outside the big cities.
Then, we took a little break to swim in a river surrounding El Peñol. The water was crystal-clear and it felt so nice!
We finally made it to Guatapé. The whole town was straight out of a postcard. So colorful, picturesuqe, filled with cute cafes and stores. We spent some time walking around, taking pictures, and enjoying fresh coffee + cinnamon buns. 🙂
After exploring Guatapé, it was time to head to the famous big beautiful rock right outside town, with views of the entire region. There were 750 stairs to climb, and at a high elevation it was quite the workout!
Views couldn’t be beat.
Made it to the top!
Afterwards, some well-earned traditional Colombian family-style dinner with views of the river. So perfect.
After a packed day, we drove the two hours back into town. Since it was Friday night, I wanted to hit the town and experience Medellin’s night life (another reason this city is a popular stop for backpackers). My hostel had a bar crawl and so I decided to join along. Overall…the night was a sore spot for me on this trip. I don’t want to go into the details but long story short I ended up in a pretty unsafe situation. It was really stressful and scary. The whole night reminded me of why I don’t really like to party when I travel…
When I got home, I was so upset that I immediately looked up the bus schedule to get me the heck out of Medellin first thing in the morning. I was so emotionally done with this city and ready to leave.
Day 9: Stronger than that + paragliding!
The next morning, I went downstairs to book my bus and told the receptionist about my night…she pushed me to stay and keep my trip going, that I should make the most of my last day in Medellin and take the night bus instead. I also realized, personally, that if I just ran away after these unfortunate incidents, then these things “win” over me, and I was stronger than that. I didn’t want that to be my lasting memory of Medellin, since there were so many good moments that should overcome the bad. And so, I decided the trip must go on…
I’m glad I stayed because I had something super fun planned for the day…PARAGLIDING!! This has been on my bucket list for ages and the scenic paragliding route over Medellin was the perfect option. I met with some others from my hostel to drive 1 hour up the wind-y mountains to make it to the highest point in the city.
The whole experiences absolutely unforgettable. We were so high in the air and could see the entire city and beyond. My flight lasted 15 minutes and my instructor was so engaging in making it a fun experience for me. So, SO glad I decided to follow through with paragliding; I’ll never forget it ❤
My group was quite the hilarious one. We were all hungover and a hot mess. 2 people threw up in the air, 1 person landed in the city, 1 person got scared and stopped after 5 minutes, and the last one got caught in the wind and glided for 40 minutes…I’ll let you guess which one I was 😛
The rest of the day, I desperately needed some “me” time. I took a long nap, went to the bank, got a new sim card, went shopping, caught up on this blog, watched some Netflix…and before I knew it, it was time for my night bus. Next stop: Salento, the heart of Colombia’s coffee region!
If I’m honest, my experience in Medellin wasn’t quite what I anticipated. I didn’t really find a community and these actually ended up being my loneliest days yet. There were definitely some “what if” moments, imagining what it would be like if chilling on the beach in Santa Marta right now. That’s one of my biggest growing experiences with solo travel…making tough decisions, standing by them, and being my own plug out here.
Nevertheless, I’m extremely grateful my experience in Medellin. I can’t put a price on the value of learning about Colombia’s history and how it has shaped the people and culture. I never really care about history while traveling, but that’s something I will definitely emphasize moving forward because it truly made me appreciate my experience in Colombia so much more…that itself made it worth coming to Medellin.
After a hectic last few days in the city, I am SO beyond excited to spend my days in Salento (can’t believe it’s almost over!). It’s going to filled with relaxing in nature, hikes, and lots of coffee coffee coffee! I have a great feeling about this last chapter. ❤