No longer the most dangerous city in the world – unless you are a unicyclist on a tightrope at a set of traffic lights!
1. Take the Cable Car into Hills of Medellin
Medellin’s violent narco-history is the stuff of legend. We prepared for our visit to the city by watching the Netflix series “Narcos” a great insight into the most famous of all the drug barons, Pablo Escobar. When you visit the city, push that aside and realise that Colombia today is a world away from those dark, dark days.
As our cable car floats over the rickety rooftops and the warren of streets below we can really only begin to appreciate the giant strides this amazing country has taken towards a peaceful future. An example to the world as to what can be done with some positive thinking, leadership an inspired civic and urban regeneration.
We alight at the cable car at the station in the barrio that was built by, and once named after the most dangerous and infamous of drug barons, Pablo Escobar. Now optimistically renamed Santo Domingo, after the patron saint of hopeful mothers!!
Carrying on upwards awhile from the station and we find ourselves in Parque Arvi with a wealth of hiking trails in the forests in the mountains high above the city. I only wished we had planned a little better and spent more time here exploring these trails.
2. A Walking Tour
We do not often take guided tours as we prefer to find our own way around a new city, but in Medellin taking a one of the many “free” city tours on offer is a terrific way of getting your bearings in the city and gaining an insight into the Medellin of the past, present and future.
Lasting around three hours we met up with our guide “Miguel” for our tour. Tips are optional but expected and at outset it is explained to all how much is expected but never is there any pressure to pay. Envelopes were offered to all to ensure discretion. Can’t remember what the suggested amount was but, whatever it was,we paid it and it was worth every cent!
Miguel was a great guide with an tremendous pride in his country. He took us around the major sights in the centre of the city pointing out the key places of interest, explaining how to get around the city, where to eat, the politics and recent history and, most interestingly of all, providing a first hand insight into what it was like to live under the shadow of the the most powerful and violent drug cartel the world has ever seen.
He grew up in what was is now Santo Domingo and was and active member of the drug gangs until seeing the light and changing his life at the age of fifteen. He had put his past behind him and had a refreshingly positive attitude for the future. No mean achievement in what was once “the worlds most dangerous city”.
The city is awash with sculptures by the city’s favourite son the world renowned Fernando Botero, whose signature style depicts people in large exaggerated volume.
3. Museo de Art Moderno
A really interesting and well laid out gallery close to our hotel in the business district. Some strange and through provoking exhibits. Even if not staying in the area it is worth a visit both for the museum and the food trucks that congregate in ten nearby street.
4. Eat like a local
Colombians are passionate about their food and Nowhere is this more evident than in Medellin. If there are three dishes the locals love and visitors must try then these are, in no particular order:
Bandeja Paisa – the Colombian equivalent of a mixed grill – but with corn and fried banana???
Mondongo (tripe) – people queue for ages at the best Mondongo restaurants
Empanadas – the ubiquitous South American pastie equivalent.
Make sure to diet for a week afterwards. Colombian food is not light on calories!
To eat with the locals, try seeking out the food truck convoys for a social evening in a local barrio. We found a great one close to the Ibis Hotel where we stayed – an amazing stroke of luck!
On a Sunday head to the hills for a meal with a view – big and busy roadside Parillas are where the residents of Medellin can be found feasting on huge quantities of meat!
For more on Medellin food