I’ve fallen in love with Medellín, just as I had heard so many other travellers do. The walks through Comuna 13, the bars in Provenza, the museums, well-functioning infrastructure, stunning views and relaxed and helpful people. How could you not love it?
1. The view of Medellín
Whether it’s from an expensive apartment in one of the many skyscrapers or from the more humble homes along an unpaved streets of Comuna 1, there’s almost always a stunning view of the city and the mountains surrounding Medellín.
2. Museo de Antioquia and Plaza Botero
It’s often called Museo Botero, as this is where you’ll find Fernando Botero’s paintings in Medellín. Medellín is the hometown of the most famous Colombian painter, and he has donated hundreds of art pieces to the museum.
The excellent guided visit of the Botero collection is free (once you’ve paid the entrance, which is voluntary if you’re a student, free if you’re from a poor area in Medellín). The painting of Botero’s deceased son Pedrito is claimed by the author himself to be his best painting. According to our museum guide, one of the main characteristics of Botero’s paintings is that they represent things that are “unlikely but not unreal”. It is very unlikely that a woman with banana plantations in the background wears a fox around her neck, gloves and a water melon dress, but it could happen. Hence, it is not surrealistic, only a playing with the unlikely.
The Botero plaza with 23 sculptures by Botero is located just outside the museum.
3. Comuna 13
Yes, it is possible to visit notorious Comuna 13 on your own. Take the metro to San Javier and from there it’s possible to either walk or maybe even easier to take a bus to the Escaleras eléctricas, the escalators. The colourful area with its many graffitis around the escalators is considered safe for tourists to visit. Just be streetsmart and be respectful when taking photos. And don’t forget to look for the pink sign “Cremas caseras Consuelo” halfway up the escalators and you’re likely to get the best mango sorbet of your life.
I realised that Comuna 13 is so much more than what it’s portrayed to be. In large parts, it continues to be a marginalised area marked by drug traffic and social exclusion. In parts, it continues to be a very dangerous area to live in. But there are also lots of green areas, beautiful houses, paved avenues and amazing people. It’s enormous and just not as one-dimensioned as I had been made believe by media and people’s prejudices.
4. Medellín Graffiti and HipHop Tour
An even better way to experience Comuna 13 is to call Ciro from Kolacho Hiphop Collective and walk through the comuna with him for three hours stuffed with information about the modern history and political situation of Comuna 13. I cried when whe stopped by the San Javier Library and Ciro pointed at the hill on the other side of the valley. La Escombrera. Under 100.000 m3 of rubbish lies what is expected to be the biggest urban mass grave in the world.
Recently activists and relatives to the persons who were murdered or made disappear by the extreme right paramilitary groups and the military operations carried out in 2002-2003, dug themselves into the yellow soil in front of the library. They stayed for six hours with their bodies half-buried, to throw light on the fact that their family members still are left in the mass grave without neither truth nor justice. Then, 350 plants were planted, representing each one of the disappeared persons. Today it is a beautiful garden. Read more about la Escombrera in Spanish.
You can read more about it the Graffiti and Hiphop tour and book it on this website, or contact them directly on Facebook. (The latter option is less expensive and you might get a walk with just you and the guide, instead of a big group.)
Does your guidebook say that you should go visit the Parque Lleras in Poblado? Don’t. It’s just tacky and full of too big commercial restaurants. Head a few blocks further up the hill and you’re in the lovely neighbourhood Provenza.
It’s green, modern, alternative, full of innovation, design and beautiful little details like the leaves in the pavement. Have a beer at El Social, coffee at Pergamino and a blue cheese and ruccola pizza at Una Pizzería Más.
With its chilled village-like atmosphere and great restaurants, Sabaneta is the perfect place to try all the traditional dishes of the region, like the Bandeja Paisa, Chorizo and Buñuelos. This area in the south of Medelín is technically another town but it has grown together with Medellín and is easy to reach by metro.
The decoration of the restaurants is often traditional with a religious touch. The best Bandeja Paisa (an insanely protein-rich dish with sausage, blood sausage, minced meet, chicharrones, beans, a fried egg, avocado, banana and rice) is served at El Viejo John and the best Chorizo and Buñuelos at El Peregrino.
7. Metrocable to Biblioteca España
Take the Metrocable (gondola) from Acevedo to Santo Domingo and have a look at Medellín from above and (when they finish renovating it) visit the biblioteca España, one of the libraries that Medellín is so proud over, (but that sadly is falling into pieces.) Medellín was the first city in the world to use gondola for urban public transportation.
8. The public transport system
This might sound crazy if you’re from a city with metro yourself. But when you live in Bogotá, believe me, Medellín’s public transport is heaven. Metro, metrocable, tram, integrated bus system, even electric stairs as part of the public infrastructure. Head over to Bogotá and you’ll see what I mean.
9. The Botanical Garden of Medellín
An oasis with free entrance, turtles, birds, a variety of orchids and plenty of space for picnics.
10. The amazing people that I met
Such a cliché… I’ve always shaken my head when backpackers I’ve met talk for half an hour about how kind Colombians are. Seriously? In Bogotá, I’ve found the least expressions of kindness in the world. But Medellín just stole my heart and showed me where the visitors get their impressions of Colombians from. In Medellín, people generally give up their chair in the metro to someone who needs it more and don’t only give you a helpful answer when you ask for directions but might even walk you to the place you’re asking for. Thank you John, Claudia, Diana, Marcela, Ciro, Joaquín and everybody who made this visit in Medellín unforgettable.