Medellin: A Thriving Metropolis
January 1, 1970
by Andrea Sawatzky
Medellin: I know what you’re thinking. The most dangerous city in the world? Right? Wrong. Twenty years ago, yes, Medellin was deemed the most murderous, violent and dangerous city in the world. When I first told my parents I was traveling to Colombia, they immediately said “hell no” and “don’t you dare”. I know it’s what all parents say and if they don’t say it, then their definately thinking it and probably know your not going to listen to them anyways. So why after decades does Colombia get such a bad rep? Because the stereotypes of cocaine, drug cartels and violence is all people think about when someone mentions Colombia and the only way to change the way people think, is to start with a great story!
After returning home from Colombia about a week ago, I can honestly say that Medellin is my most favourite city that I’ve ever been to and here’s why: from riding the Medellin Metro commuter rail, improved security, history, culture and amazing nightlife – this is one city you do not want to miss if your traveling to Colombia.
Must-do’s in Medellin:
Free Walking Tour:
If you are only in Medellin for 24 hours, you must do The Free Walking Tour that Real City Tours offers. Every time I arrive in a new city, the next day I always do the Free Walking Tour, it’s a great way to get to know the city. The Free Walking Tour in Medellin was the best free walking tour I’ve ever done. Our guide, Hernan, provided us with the knowledge to understand the history and transformation of the city. As well as encouraged us to ask questions, about anything – drugs, food, the future of Medellin – he gave us his honest opinion and is very proud of ‘his’ city.
Things to keep in mind for The Free Walking Tour:
- If this is something you’d like to do in Medellin, make sure you book online at www.realcitytours.com at least two days in advance – spots fill up really quickly!
- The tour is in English and approximately 4 hours – make sure to wear comfortable shoes, bring sunscreen, hat, water etc.
- The tour covers all the main sites in the city centre – depending on where you are meeting your tour guide, you will have to catch the Medellin Metro (this metro is a breeze, compared to New York City anyways). This is the only cost of the tour, a single Metro ride costs approx. 1,800 COP (about $1 USD).
- Although it is called The Free Walking Tour, it is based on tips – so if your tour guide provided you with an amazing experience then you can give them whatever you’d like based on their service (they know everyone there is on a backpacker budget and really appreciate anything).
- Go with lots & lots of questions!
Pablo Escobar & The Rock
This day tour was spectacular, you’re basically combining the two must-do’s in Antioquia. Pablo Escobar – the notorious Colombian drug lord, who wouldn’t want to see one of his homes? Start the day by learning all there is to know about Escobar while on the way to visit Escobar’s second largest house in Medellin. Take a stroll through the Pablo Escobar finca (country house) and even enjoy lunch at the Escobar residence.
After lunch, you’ll hop on a boat that’ll take you to the underwater town of old El Penol and then to The Rock. Seeing the rock from the boat doesn’t do The Rock any justice once your up close and personal. The Rock is the second largest in South America and is located in the historical village of Guatape. Once the boat docks, you’ll have a couple hours to explore Guatape – colourful and picturesque – it’s the cutest village around!
Save some energy for actually climbing The Rock, yup – that’s right, 740 steps later you’ll get to see the ultimate 360 view of the lakes and Guatape. It is absolutely breathtaking!
On the 2 hour bus ride back to Medellin, the final stop is of a viewpoint to see the beautiful city skyline of Medellin, unfortunately for myself, it was a pretty foggy day but if you’re lucky enough and weather is on your side, the view of the city will be spectacular!
Things to keep in mind for Escobar & The Rock:
- This tour is only offered on Monday’s & Thursday’s.
- This tour is in English and it is a full day tour – leaving approx. at 8am and doesn’t return until 8pm.
- There is an entrance fee to climb The Rock, approximately $10,000 COP (roughly $3 USD) that’s not included in the tour price.
Nightlife in Medellin
If you’re able to stay in Medellin over the weekend, you will not regret it. If you’re not able to be in Medellin over the weekend, options are a little limited early in the week however, if your looking for a place to party, you will definately find those Medellin party goers!
Parque Lleras in the area of El Poblado is home to restaurants, bars, discotecas and salsa. Its the party backpacker’s paradise. There are tons of hostels in the area but I recommend that if you are staying for the weekend, to book a hostel in advance because all of the hostels in the Poblado area fill up really fast.
The hub of the nightlife for backpackers begins at Happy Buddha, the largest party hostel in Medellin. The location and bar can’t be beat for meeting fellow travellers. The bar shuts down at 2am and that’s when everyone starts to head out for a night out on the town! Unfortunately, I can’t recall the bars and nightclubs that I went to however, there is an amazing app called FlipFlop – it’s an app for travelers, made by travelers. They just launched this app in Colombia and it’s amazing! You can connect with cool people and see what’s going on in the city – it’s a must download.
Medellin Football Game
So, when your super hungover on Sunday, what do you do? Go to a football match. I had the experience to go to the El Classico Paisa game and it was the scariest and funnest thing I’ve ever done in my life. El Classico Paisa is the name for the rivalry between the teams of Atletico Nacional and Independiente Medellin. The stadium holds over 40,000 crazed Colombian football fans and only a handful of gringos. This game only happens twice a year and is considered to be the most important derby in Colombia as well as the most recognized in South America.
Things to keep in mind for a Medellin Football Match:
- It is general seating, so first come first serve.
- If you’re a gringo, do not sit behind the net – you will be forced to move.
- Be prepared to be standing on your seat, the entire game.
- Be prepared to attempt singing all the chants and songs that the fans know, for the entire game.
- Be prepared to have obstructed views of the game, the entire time due to signs, umbrellas and crazed fans jumping up and down.
- Be prepared to throw confetti (small pieces of torn up paper) when your team scores and/or for distraction to the opposing team when it’s a corner kick.
- Most importantly of all, make sure you sit on the right side of the stadium, with the ATLETICO NACIONAL fans!
I hope you don’t cross Colombia off your travel list and I hope my experiences have given you even a little insight as to what Medellin has to offer and like I mentioned, the only way to break a stereotype is to tell a great story!