Medellin (photos) is now very near the top of our list of places that we would want to return to, possibly for an extended stay. It is a beautiful and enjoyable city. Is that surprising? Before starting this trip, most people were a little surprised when we told them that we would be visiting Colombia. The notion that Colombia is a dangerous place still lingers. And, to be sure, there are remote areas that are not recommended for travelers. However, this does not extend to most of the country and certainly not to Medellin. Pablo Escobar was the man responsible for the violence that made Medellin a dangerous city in the 1980’s. But he died in 1993 and today Medellin is one of the safest cities in South America.
Medellin is a city comprised of 2.5 million people and sits at an elevation of 1500 meters (about 5,000 feet). It is a modern city with high-rise buildings that stretches out along a narrow valley running north and south. The elevation gives it a very mild year round climate. The city center is very pedestrian friendly with large open plazas and wide sidewalks. Metro Medellin is a sleek and modern elevated rail system that runs the length of the city plus a spur that runs west and a cable car that runs east high up into the hills overlooking the city. A single use ticket for $1750 Colombian Pesos or COP (just under $1 USD at current exchange rates) will allow you to ride anywhere in the city, including the cable cars. We used this system extensively and found it to be fast, efficient, smooth, clean and safe.
We stayed in a section of Medellin known as Laureles. It is a solidly upper middle class neighborhood of low and mid-rise apartment buildings. We stayed in a hostel called Urban Buddha. It is a small place occupying a 1950’s art deco home. The neighborhood is quiet, super clean and safe and is about a 15 minute walk to the nearest Metro station. On our first morning there, we found a fruit and vegetable cart in the street 1 block from the hostel. Apparently, he makes daily trips through the area. Within 2 blocks of the hostel there’s a solid selection of places to eat plus a food market called Pomona, a place with the look of a Whole Foods Market but not the organic only selection or prices. A few blocks further away, on the way to the Metro station, there’s a 6 or 8 block stretch along Carera 70 with lots and lots of restaurants, bars, snack shops and markets. At night this is a very lively scene with tables and music spilling out onto the sidewalk from pretty much every establishment on both sides of the street.
In order to explore the sights in Medellin, we used the Metro to get around. We would walk to the local station which is part of the spur the runs west from the main line. We would ride to the 3rd stop which intersects with the main line. There we would change to the other line to ride either north or south. For example, one day, mid-afternoon, we rode to the north to catch the cable cars. Near the north end of the city, the cable cars head east and rise all the way up the hillside. Generally, the hillsides are home to the poorer neighborhoods. The hills are very steep with the housing all built from the same red colored blocks, stacked up in all kinds of configurations. We rode to the top and then walked out onto a small plaza underneath the cable car towers that provides a panoramic view of the valley containing the city. We hung out there to watch while the sun fell below the hilltops on the opposite side of the valley and lights began to appear throughout the city. When we rode back down to the Metro station, there was a huge crowd waiting to board the cable cars for their ride home at the end of their workday.
Some of our others outings included a walking tour of Central Medellin, a visit to the Botanical Gardens, an exploration of the neighborhood of El Poblado which is the hot part of town for nightlife and high-end living and a trip to the small town of Sabaneta which is on the southern fringe of Medellin. Everywhere we went we felt completely safe. The streets and sidewalks are in good repair and very clean, the people were almost uniformly friendly and helpful. This appears to be a city that works well and has a solid infrastructure. We found the neighborhood of Laureles to be very comfortable and one that we could easily imagine living in. In short, a place that we would look forward to visiting again.