Medellín is a place which brings up images of violent crime and the drug trade. This is because many years ago, It was home to the Medellín Cartel led by the evil Escobar. This man caused a number of atrocities during Colombia’s darkest period in modern history.
The Netflix series was not made by Colombians, what you need to understand is that Narcos focuses merely on a dark aspect of Colombia 40 years ago. Furthermore, the positive side of Medellín is almost never known. The city has moved on from when it was ravaged by cartels and homicide. It’s the first every city to use cable cars as a form of public transport and in 2013, it beat NYC to gain the title as the most innovative city.
Flying in From Cartagena
I highly recommend flying into Medellín whether it’s domestic or international, it took an hour to fly in from Cartagena on Viva Colombia. The airport in Cartagena is a little disorganised as the terminal is too small. Once I arrived in Medellín, I found out that the airport is actually an hour from the centre. However, a shared taxi only cost £8 to get to my hostel.
Where did I Stay?
I stayed at a hostel called The Wandering Paisa, I was unlucky as I got top bunk in the worst spot in the worst room. It was a room of 6 bunk beds in such a small space and me being next to the window, it meant that I had to put up with trying to sleep with all the cumbia music blasting outside on the streets. Despite this, the staff were completely fine, it was very clean and it was good place to talk to other travellers.
Things to do – Cerro Nutibara
This place is a massive park right in the centre of the city and in the middle of the park is a place called Pueblito Paisa. To get there, you must walk up the steep path and you will find quaint buildings which emulate those of the countryside of Antioquia. Although this place was quite crowded, I felt like I was the only foreign tourist there which made it more interesting. There was also a staircase which took me to a viewpoint to admire the vistas of Medellín. From these views, you can see that the city is characterised by loads of modern high rise buildings as Medellín is a city which has developed in more recent years.
On my walk back from here to the hostel, I was pleasantly surprised that Medellín is actually a city with affluent areas and even came across a decent outdoor gym.
Visiting Comuna 13 Solo
This was the experience which made me fall in love with Colombia, Comuna 13 was once a barrio which was territory of cartels and paramilitary groups. These days, this place has completely turned itself around as it has become a tourist attraction. Giving tourists the rare opportunity to get a glimpse of life in a barrio without worrying about crime.
Getting there seemed a little bit daunting at first as it can be hard to find where Comuna 13 starts. I took the metro which is the nicest I’ve seen in Latin America a few stops to San Javier and thought I had to take the cable car. The cable car will give you amazing views of some barrios, however once you get to the station, I didn’t think I had any business walking around these areas. It turns out that the start of Comuna 13 was a 10 minute walk from San Javier station. Once I had found the place, I was reassured that this wasn’t such a dangerous place.
To make it easier to get around the place, there’s a few escalators to get to the upper areas. This place has an incredibly lively atmosphere with it being very crowded and there are loads of places selling souvenirs. Furthermore, the power of community has really brought this place alive. You can expect to see street art, people performing rap battles with enthusiastic crowds and people performing impressive breakdancing. This is a place in Medellín that you simply cannot miss, it has an incredibly enchanting vibe and you can feel the energetic spirit that this place has.
Everyone and Their Gran was out for the Game
I just happened to be in Medellín on the night of the final of Colombia’s football competition, Medellín’s Atletico Nacional was to play Tolima to become national champions. That day I had seen almost everyone wearing green and white shirts and once the game had kicked off, I got myself to a crowded pub pretty much on the street to experience the atmosphere.
Atletico Nacional came out victorious in a game that had everything, it was a heated and end-to-end game which ended with Atletico Nacional scoring in injury time. When that goal went in, the crowd erupted, there was foam and beer everywhere. People jumped up in extreme elation and the celebrations were absolutely insane. I swear, there were crowds of people in the streets cladded in green and white making celebrating and making lots of noise.
Normally, when a team wins something in Scotland, it tends to just be the same type of people out celebrating and they go overboard with it sometimes even descending into violence. However, I saw people from all walks of life celebrating this victory and despite copious amounts of alcohol being drunk, there was no violence to be seen.
Taking a Tour to Guatapé
I heard a lot of talk about Guatapé which is a small town with a lake and the massive rock known as El Peñon. I decided to book a tour on Tripadvisor and I have to say the tour was absolutely brilliant. The English-speaking guide was a guy called Sandy who was the same age as me. He learned English through listening to rap music and while speaking in the mic, he moved his hands like a rapper. What we had in common is that we both had an interest in learning languages, he was fluent in 4 languages and could even speak a bit of Jamaican Patois and Bosnian.
The tour cost about £20 and that even included lunch which is a very good price. Furthermore, we first went to El Peñon which is one of the most famous sites in Antioquia. The entrance costs about £4 and when you’re walking up the stairs you will have to wait behind someone else for a bit. Once I got to the top of the rock, the views were very impressive of the lake and the green scenery. What can be said about El Peñon is that it is very crowded and getting down can be tough on the legs.
After that, we went on a boat around the lake and on the top of the boat, you can get a good view of El Peñon and the surrounding nature. The incredible scenery of this place will make you want to see much more of Antioquia, even though it was a very cloudy day.
Before heading on to the town of Guatapé, we stopped for lunch and I had bandeja Paisa for the first time. Sandy explained that bandeja Paisa had been made to provide sufficient energy for agricultural workers. It is a plate with a bit of everything on it. A bit of beef, advocado, sausage, beans and egg.
Sandy gave us a tour of the town of Guatapé and explained that this place decided to make money off of tourism after losing their main industries. They went about this by putting illustrations on the front of every building and these are called Zocalos. In order to attract tourists, they’ve made the streets look colourful and there is a fountain with a statue of a fish representing Antioquia’s fishing industry. We were given some time to explore the town, however it started to rain, so I decided to buy a bottle of Colombiana and wait it out in some shelter.
As it takes an hour and a half to get from Medellín to Guatapé, I recommend going with Tours Guatapé as they make it easier and more time efficient for you.
Indulging in Empanadas
I couldn’t come to Colombia without talking about the tasty fried empanadas that you can find everywhere. Once I got back from Guatapé I found a place called La Catedral which sold an empanada for about 40p. As you can see, you don’t need to worry about spending too much on good food in Colombia.
My Opinion on Medellín
What can I say about Medellín apart from it being nothing short of a fantastic city. Even though it’s unfortunately associated with crime, it does not feel like it is rife with crime at all. I steered clear of anything to do with narcotourism after seeing reviews on Google saying that the Pablo Escobar museum was a massive tourist trap. It’s got a really good metro system which would put the London tube to shame.