Medellin - Colombia
This city is a lot larger and more sprawled than I ever could have imagined before arriving. Medellin is split into many districts and its main attractions are spread all over the city which prompted the construction of Colombia's only Metro System.
There are two main areas to stay which are notoriously safe and have plenty of things for tourists to do - Poblado and Floresta, we stayed in the latter and it worked out perfectly for us. It's a very quiet and predominantly residential neighbourhood with great metro links to town. Poblado on the other hand is very lively and full of restaurants and bars but slightly further away from the metro links and can also be very noisy.
We stayed in Hostel Ondas which is our favourite hostel to date. It's got loads of communal spaces, a fantastic cafe downstairs which is reasonably priced and uses fresh, organic and local ingredients. The kitchen is spacious and well equipped with loads of herbs and spices for your use. There are plenty of showers so waiting isn't a problem and the dorms are comfy and big enough for everyone and their bags!
The centre of town is San Antonia (just three metro stops from Floresta) where there's the Fernando Botero Plaza, the Palace of Culture, some Churches, Markets and Museums. It's also where two of the main metro lines meet!
There's a lot to see and do in Medellin however we found that getting between the places was somewhat time consuming and you have to use the metro. It's not what I would call a "walkable" city which is generally what I prefer. However there aren't many lines and it is easy (and very cheap) to use the metro so you can't complain too much. There are also a lot of things you can do here for free which is always a bonus when travelling, no matter what your budget is - who doesn't love a freebie?!
Our highlights include:
- The Botanical Gardens - lovely green gardens separated into sections for Desert Plants, Orchids, a Butterfly House, Medicinal Herbs etc. There's also a lake with loads more wildlife; ducks, turtles, iguanas and parakeets. It's free to enter and there are a few options for cafes/restaurants. I can highly recommend "In Situ" it looks very fancy but the food is great and it's very reasonably priced.
- Botero Plaza - where you can find the famous Fernando Botero's statues. Typically overweight men, women and animals which are cast in bronze. It's a busy square and very well known to tourists.
- Walking around the arty streets of Poblado, a very trendy part of the city and the main hub at night for food and drinks. We found some cool painted walls, colourful zebra crossings and a local handicraft market. There are many places to eat and drink but unfortunately we had just eaten elsewhere so didn't try any of the cool hipster hangouts in this neighbourhood.
- The free Metrocable Cable Car in San Javier. This is part of a city initiative to allow people from the poorer parts of town to easily commute to the city for free. Once you've arrived at San Javier by Metro you simply follow the signs to the yellow line and walk straight on for the price of the metro ticket that took you to a San Javier! You pass through the outskirts and favelas which is interesting in itself as well as the incredible views over the city and the Cablecar is impressive and an innovative idea to link up the infrastructure system here in Medellin.
We also opted to do a Pablo Escobar Tour - which is quite a controversial topic in this city. Most residents don't like the association with such a prolific drug trafficker and many would like to forget this awful period of time. We did our tour through Paisa Road - http://www.paisaroad.com/tour-pablo-escobar and we can highly recommend it!!
It's very informative and interesting, visiting places that are emblematic in the story of Pablo Escobar throughout his time as the most famous figure in the Medellin Cartel right through to his death.
It's important to note that although this is "history" and a huge part of Colombia which is known to people all over the world - it is still very recent (in the last 20-30 years) and everyone in Medellin was affected somehow. He is not a well-liked man so be prepared to hear some dark and horrific stories on the tour and also it's not common to hear or see much about Pablo around Medellin in general.
Medellin is great place to stop off for a few days whilst travelling around Colombia to explore this sprawling city and all that it has to offer!