April 21, 2014 – April 24, 2014
In the 1980’s and 1990’s at the height of the drug cartels power, Medellin was one of, if not the, most dangerous city in the world, with the highest murder rate anywhere. Even locals were not safe on the streets, no one wanted to travel there, not even Colombians. However with the rise of Colombia’s new stronger government and major crackdowns and the virtual elimination of the drug cartels, the city has been transformed into a new modern metropolis and recently named The Worlds Most Innovative City.
Our first impressions were much different than Bogota, the city seems to be a cleaner, more modern, more organized city. It has Colombia’s only Metro and it is very easy to get nearly anywhere in the city for COP $1,900 or a little less than US $1.00. Colombians are very proud of their Metro and though it was installed 20 years ago it is spotlessly clean, unlike much of the surrounding city, and looks like it was built less than a year ago. We were told that if anyone sees you drinking or eating on the Metro 20 people will yell at you.
Included in your less than US $1.00 ticket is the entire Metro network, and since Medellin is built in a river valley and on the hills to either side of the river, you can also ride the cable cars that go up the hill.
We stayed at the Gran Hostel, in the El Poblado Neighborhood on the south end of town. The owner Luz is friendly and helpful and we enjoyed our stay. After relaxing for a bit we explored El Poblado, and then took a taxi to the top of Cerro Nutibara, a small round hill at the center of Medellin, offering great views in every direction.
As we took in the great views a storm moved in, we tried to make it back, and almost did when it really started pouring rain and thundering. We took shelter under a building overhang for 20 minutes.
A two hour bus ride north of Medellin is the town of Guatape and La Piedra (The Rock), a massive ancient central core of a long since eroded volcano. Stairs have been built onto the side to give tourists access to the top.
After our tiring climb we had amazing views of the man made reservoir surrounding La Piedra.
Back at the bottom we hopped in a collectivo for the short trip to Guatape, a very colorful and traditional town within site of the top of the rock.
The town is known for its bright decorations especially the colorful and unique adornments molded and painted onto the bottom of every building, called zocalos.
Real City Tour – Medellin
Back in Medellin, we took the “Real City Tour”. A tour that promised, and delivered, a real view of the city and its history, including things many local residents don’t want tourists to see. A lot has changed since the drug cartels and Pablo Escobar ran the city, but many reminders still remain. Our tour guide, also named Pablo, explained that Colombians are aware of what the world thinks of them. They are aware that the first thought foreigners have when they hear “Colombia” is a dangerous crime and drug filled nation. He is also reminded of it every time he travels internationally and is asked to step out of the line at airport security as soon as his passport is seen. Colombians have worked had to change this reputation and are proud of their new prosperous country, which now has millions of tourists each year when in the past there was none.
With Pablo we toured the historical downtown, an area that in the not so distant past was notoriously dangerous and has now been transformed into a prosperous and growing commercial and financial district.