When you’re headed to a city once dubbed the most dangerous city in the world, you can’t help but be a little hesitant. But then you visit Medellín and you’re blown away – super friendly people, delicious food, beautiful surroundings, pleasant temps and tons to do. Medellín definitely won for our favorite big city in South America and recommend it as a must-see!
We stayed in the El Poblado neighborhood and loved it. Streets lined with boutique hostels/hotels, restaurants with bistro tables on the sidewalk and Italian wedding lights strung everywhere. Every spot had tons of personality. Sometimes I felt more like I was back on a trendy street in Capital Hill than in Colombia! We only had three days in Medellín and if we didn’t already have a departing flight booked (for San Gil) we would have extended it by a few days.
Few highlights of what we did during our time:
Paragliding – For someone who has issues with heights, I still can’t believe I did this, but I’m SO glad I did! We booked it through our hostel and while we knew the company was one of the most reputable, we weren’t told much other than pickup time (in hindsight the lack of details probably worked out for the best given my nerves!). After a 45-minute drive we got dropped off at the top the main hill paragliders depart/land from. I walked through the gate and before I know it I’m being strapped into a harness and led over closer to the edge of the cliff. The team of guys quickly strap me to the front of the pilot and go through safety checks of the gear as they talk to each other (all Spanish, no English). I’m waiting for some sort of instruction (do we run off the cliff? how the heck do we land?) when all of a sudden with a big gust of wind we’re airborne! No joke, this all happened in the span of a minute. Luckily I had the GoPro in my hand which captured the confusion/terror in my face during takeoff – the pics are HILARIOUS! (Text me if you must see). But it only took a sec for me to relax and then enjoy the beautiful views of the green mountainside and city below. Paragliding uses thermal winds which are same thing birds leverage when you see them soaring high above in circles without flapping their wings. Imagine wind moving upward and taking you up like an elevator. There were actually quite a few birds circling near us during the 20-minute ride, it was so peaceful!
Day trip to Guadapé – We went on a day-long tour a few hours outside of Medellín through the gorgeous countryside to see the areas of Marinilla and Guadapé. The town of Marinilla was so quaint with narrow streets and Spanish colonial architecture with super tall doorways, originally used when horseback was the main mode of transportation. In Guadapé we had a traditional Colombian lunch before hopping on a boat and touring the nearby (manmade) lake which is apparently a main holiday spot for wealthy Colombians. We picked up a real estate mag and learned we could sell our townhouse and buy multiple waterfront mansions…who’s in?! There is also a giant rock called La Piedra (Spanish for “The Stone”) we hiked to the top of (740 stairs up!) and were rewarded with gorgeous views of the countryside and lake below.
Historical downtown – We found a great free walking tour around the historical part of the city. It was incredible to learn more about the transformation the city has undergone since the 90s. Our guide was born and raised in Medellín and told firsthand stories about what it was like growing up there, how scary it used to be just to walk to school and the pride he feels for his city now. We visited lots of town squares bustling with kids playing, senior citizens playing chess, and people chatting over coffee (or “tinto” rather – the sugary drink made from low-grade coffee beans that’s a local favorite). One interesting part of the tour is our guide refused to mention “Pablo Escobar” throughout it. He would allude to him, but wouldn’t mention him by name. We eventually realized this was because he wanted people to see his city for what it is now and not for what it once was.
Shopping – Usually I’d rather see sights than spend time in a mall, but it’s a little different when you’re on the road long term, so this was actually pretty enjoyable. Medellín has really nice malls with stores we’re used to shopping at but everything costs half the price of back home! Win win. We both realized we may have gone a tad far on packing casual wear so we found a few nicer pieces to wear out. Trav also got new swim trunks and according to his inseam length, is now ready for Europe.
Knowing the history of Medellín, it was pretty incredible to see how far the city has come, which is evident in the big rise in tourism over the last decade. The people were so friendly and welcoming to tourists. One night as we waited for the street light on a corner a younger guy kept staring at us weirdly. Always having our guard up especially after dark, I wondered if he might try and mug us. He then stuttered in broken English – “wel-welcome to Colombia” – like he had spent the last minute figuring out how to say it. And randomly while walking down the street locals would flash big smiles and yell “welcome to our country!” (Travis with his height and blonde hair is always a dead giveaway we’re foreigners).
While we’ve been to some incredible places thus far, we rarely talk about coming back simply because the more we see, the more it fuels our desire to visit new and unknown places. But we definitely want to return to Medellín one day!