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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Recommended attractions in Medellin Colombia
Art & Culture in Medellin
- Plaza Botero
- Palacio de la Cultura Rafael Uribe Uribe
- Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellin
- Casa Museo Pedro Nel Gomez
- Museo de Antioquia
- Basilica de la Candelaria
- Monumento a La Raza – Rodrigo Arenas Betancor’s story of Medellin in metal
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?