Medellin Colombia – Favorite Cities of the World

Christmas day 2012 I took a morning flight from Bogota to Medellin after a sleepless night due to the hostel owner’s hosting their Navidad party for their friends and turning the whole place into a nightclub until 6:00 in the morning – complete with DJ. I crashed at 3:00 AM.

As is often the case when traveling I was exhausted yet elated to be off to a new city. And not just any city, I was traveling alone to a place that had once been renowned as the most violent city of the world. Twenty years ago I would not have visited Medellin alone nor under any other circumstances.

 

View of Medellin from Pueblito Paisa - Cerro Nutibara

View of Medellin from Pueblito Paisa – Cerro Nutibara

 

Most everyone has heard of the Medellin drug cartel but Pablo Escobar is long ago dead and buried. Quality of life for the people of Medellin began to improve immediately after his death in 1993. Medellin was the murder capital of the world in the nineties but in December 2012 I was going to spend a whole week in Medellin on my own.

Medellin is a city reborn. Medellin is becoming a popular tourist attraction.

 

Plaza Botero - view from Palace of Culture - Popular Tourist Attractions in Medellin

Plaza Botero – view from Palace of Culture

 

I wasn’t nervous about traveling to Medellin alone because I had already read numerous reports from fellow travelers that it was a safe, clean, welcoming place. My previous solo trip to Cartagena, Colombia left me wanting to see more of the country due to the rich culture and especially due to the people I met in Cartagena – they welcomed me as a new friend.

Medellin is located in the Aburrá valley nestled in the Andes Mountains at an elevation of 1,500 meters (4,921 feet) and enjoys a tropical rain-forest climate year round. I had been looking forward to leaving chilly Bogota for Medellin, known as the city of eternal spring.

 

Heliconia flower - lobster claw at Jardin Botanico Medellin

Heliconia flower (lobster claw) at Jardin Botanico

 

As the taxi rounded a bend and I first set eyes on the red tile rooftops scattered throughout the valley below I was immediately in love!

My home for the week in Medellin was a private room at Yellowhouse hostel in the La Floresta neighborhood. Close to the metro, walking distance to the grocery store, ATMs, parks, shops and restaurants. Total cost for 6 nights (including breakfast) was COP$450,000 or around $250 in US dollars.

And I had Matias and Tomas to keep me company – they liked to sit out on my balcony during the day.

 

Yellowhouse Hostel dog Tomas in Medellin Colombia

Yellowhouse Hostel dog Tomas

 

From Yellowhouse it was just a short walk to the magnificent Atanasio Giradot Sports Complex which features several outdoor swimming pools including an Olympic size pool. I swam in the big diving pool during my first morning swim where a few people were practicing snorkeling and diving skills. The water was warm under a beautiful sunny sky.

 

Estadio Atanasio Girardot Estadio, Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia

One of my swimming pools in Medellin

 

The second morning when I visited the pool I was the first into the diving pool but later noticed people were also using the Olympic size pool so I asked the attendant if I could use it too and she said yes. The water was freezing cold so I swam two full lengths and returned to my warmer diving pool. I think the freezing caused me to swim faster – just trying to stay warm!

I enjoyed some fresh fruit at one of the ubiquitous fruit stands along the roadside and stopped at Empanadas Santiamen for a few tasty morsels over by the Estacion Floresta.

 

Park and walkway in Estadio sports complex - Medellin Colombia

Park and walkway in Estadio sports complex

 

Around Christmas time the Medellin River is lit up with millions of Christmas lights – Los Alumbrados. Various other Christmas light displays around the city bring a very festive and happy look to the city each night.

 

Alumbrados - Rio Medellin - la Navidad

Christmas lights along the Medellin River

 

Thousands of people visit Los Alumbrados along the Medellin River every night. There are dozens of food stalls set up along the route and various other street vendors selling their goods.

My first visit to Los Alumbrados I went by myself via the subway getting off at the Industriales station by the Medellin River. The area was crowded with people, tourists and locals alike, enjoying the Christmas light display and snapping photos of each other.

 

Guarapo - delicious mix of fresh sugar cane and limes

Guarapo – delicious mix of fresh sugar cane and limes

 

I visited Alumbrados a second time on a Saturday evening with Gyuri, a young woman from Seoul South Korea who was staying at the same hostel. That’s one of the reasons I love to stay at hostels – I pretty much always meet some cool people. We took a taxi to the top of Cerro Nutibara to Pueblito Paisa COP$4 each.

Pueblito Paisa is a mini version of a typical Antioquian town and offers an exceptional view of the city and a great vantage point for the Alumbrados. We took another taxi back down to the Medellin River to take in a closer view of the Christmas lights. The female taxi driver dropped us off right in front of the beginning of the display.

We walked around taking photos and tried some guarapo – a delicious mix of fresh sugar cane and lime which was refreshing and surprisingly not very sweet.

I visited several art museums in Medellin including and previously wrote about the incredible Casa Museo Pedro Nel Gomez as well as two of the main attractions in central Medellin for tourists: Plaza Botero, and Museo de Antioquia which are located next to the Palace of Culture Rafael Uribe Uribe building, a striking black and white structure. You can walk up to the 4th floor for a marvelous view of Plaza Botero and Hotel Nutibara.

 

Palacio de la Cultura Rafael Uribe Uribe

Palace of Culture – next to Plaza Botero

 

The Modern Art Museum is a small art gallery located near the pricey El Poblado neighborhood which is popular with gringo expats. The giant letters which spell out ‘Te Quiero Medellin’ (meaning I Love You Medellin) can be seen from several blocks away – the letters were painted yellow when I was in Medellin but they may be repainted by now. I have seen older photos of the letters in red.

 

Te Quiero Medellin - Museo de Arte Moderno Medellin

In front of Museo de Arte Moderno Medellin

 

Next door to the Museo de Arte Moderno Medellin is the fabulous restaurant Bonuar where I lunched after visiting the museum. I sat outside enjoy the beautiful weather than is common in Medellin. I tried the shrimp salad paired with a Mojito – the strongest Mojito I have ever tasted!

 

Shrimp salad at Bonuar restaurant - next to Museo de Arte Moderno Medellin

Shrimp salad at Bonuar restaurant – delicious!

 

I left room for dessert hoping for something tasty in chocolate and I was rewarded with the extraordinarily divine semi-sweet chocolate cake with strawberries and blackberries.

 

Bonuar - semisweet chocolate cake with strawberries, blackberries - next to Museo de Arte Moderno Medellin

Bonuar Restaurant – semi-sweet chocolate cake with strawberries, blackberries

 

Recommended attractions in Medellin Colombia

Art & Culture in Medellin

Parks and Other Sights in Medellin

  • Jardin Botanico
  • Cerro Nutibara – Pueblito Paisa
  • Parque Arvi – via metrocable Line L – Santa Elena 17+ km nature reserve
  • Parque Explora – Science museum, 3D cinema, aquarium

Annual Events in Medellin

  • Festival of the Flowers – August
  • Alumbrados – December Christmas light display on Medellin River

Medellin is one of my favorite cities in the world for solo travel – which city do you love?

 

About the Author

Susan Moore's first solo travel experience was traveling around SE Asia for 7 months in 1993. It was life changing and extraordinary. Currently Susan is living a nomadic life, working and roadtripping around the USA and Canada. You can reach Susan Moore at Facebook or Twitter

13 Comments

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  1. Reader Wil says:

    you are a brave lady! I often travel alone to Australia, but then there is family waiting for me. It’s true I also meet nice people on the plane, but not always.
    Thanks for your post, which is very interesting.
    Have a great week!
    Wil,ABCW Team

    • Susan Moore says:

      Thanks Wil, glad you stopped by. Everything always seems to work out just fine for me when I travel alone. There are pros and cons to solo travel as well as traveling with someone else. My worst travel experiences have always been when I travel with other people – you really get to know someone when you travel with them!

  2. Photo Cache says:

    what a wonderful experience. there is that rush of something that comes when one steps into a new land and the promise of exploration hung heavy in the air. i love that feeling.

    thanks for sharing this.

  3. Marcy says:

    What a fantastic trip and adventure! love the Heliconia flower, simply stunning!

  4. Roger Green says:

    Lovely place. Unfortunately, the US press has me associate it with drug cartels, to the exclusion of anything else…
    ROG, ABCW

    • Susan Moore says:

      I think a lot of people make the same association. I would go back in a heartbeat! I want to explore more of Colombia, it is one of the most ecologically diverse regions on the planet.

  5. Lotusleaf says:

    Such an interesting post. I too am a keen traveller, but I doubt if I’ll ever make it to South America. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Haven’t been to Medellin in almost 40 years. Based on your write-up, I can see it is time to go again.

    • Susan Moore says:

      Medellin must have changed a great deal in the nearly 40 years since you were there – it would be interesting for you to revisit. If you do go back to Medellin I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

  7. nabanita says:

    Strangely I had never heard about Medellin…Now after your post I’m going to read more about it :)

    • Susan Moore says:

      Oh I am glad you are interested in learning more about Medellin! And it’s probably good that you had never heard of it otherwise your opinion might already be formed – it’s a city that I plan to visit again. I hope you may one day visit Medellin as well.

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