Day 3 – Cartagena to Medellin
After completing two very full days in Cartagena, we were pretty excited to be flying to a new city. With the two other friends of ours flying back home early in the day, it was my friend Kevin and I that were left to continue on with the journey to Medellin.
Most of you probably know the city of Medellin from the very popular Netflix show called Narcos. The show portrays, in great detail, the life and death of the world-famous ultra drug lord Pablo Escobar. Pablo was born, raised, and did his drug deals in Medellin. The show gave Medellin a bad reputation and thus had us wondering if the city has changed much at all. However, after doing some heavy research, we came to the conclusion that Medellin has really cleaned itself up, and there is no trace of any of the bad drug-related stuff (at least visible to tourists). But, we were looking forward to finding out for ourselves how much of this research was actually true.
Getting to Medellin
We took a quick taxi ride to the Cartagena airport to catch our afternoon flight. The short flight on Latam Airlines was only about 45 minutes and filled with amazing scenery. Towards the latter half of the flight, the breathtaking beauty of the Andes mountains became visible. The views of lush green mountains with small cities in the valleys kept me glued to the airplane window.
From Heat to Paradise
After landing and getting off the airplane, we had huge smiles on our faces. Why? Because the weather was a glorious 72F with crisp coolness in the air and crystal clear blue skies. After suffering through the miserable 90% humidity and 95F degree weather of Cartagena, it was an understatement of how happy we were with the much-needed change.
We took a taxi ride costing 65000 COP (22 USD) to get to the city of Medellin. The 45 minute downhill car ride went on some very windy roads but gave us great views of the mountains.
Neighborhood of El Poblado
After checking into Casa Kiwi located in the most popular neighborhood of El Poblado, we started exploring the city. It was great having the hostel located on a quaint shaded street. We certainly weren’t missing the taxis constantly honking at us like in Cartagena. The feel of the city was a stark contrast to that of Cartagena because all the streets were trash free, people were well-dressed, the shops were westernized, and the air just had a fresh smell. I’m not trying to be negative in any way about Cartagena as I had a blast there, but it was nice to see something completely different.
Eating Bandeja Paisa
Since we were famished at this point, we checked out a local favorite for Medellin food called Mondongo’s. We both ordered Bandeja Paisa (Típico). Bandeja means platter and Paisa refers to a person from the Medellin region. And, hence the name, the dish had everything typically eaten in Medellin. It consisted of beans, ground beef, crispy fat, egg, plantain, steamed potato, and rice. The sides were avocado, banana, lemon, coriander, sweet & hot sauce, and corn cakes. Pure deliciousness!! You definitely want to come hungry, and trust me, you’ll be so full that you will skip dinner. Since we were feeling adventurous, we also got a half portion of Mondongo which is a soup made from diced tripe slow-cooked with vegetables such as onions, celery, bell peppers, carrots, cabbage, cilantro, tomatoes, and garlic. To top it all off, we also got some freshly squeezed mango juice. Such a great meal.
After our huge lunch, we continued our walk towards the El Poblado train station. The city of Medellin is the only city in all of Colombia with a metro. We quickly realized that the trains are clean, reliable, and a great way to get around.
Parque Berrío of Medellin
The clock said 5 pm and our goal was to make it to the Metrocable to see the whole city from high above the mountains. But, we just couldn’t resist getting off at Parque Berrío to feel the pulse of the city. Right after getting off the train, you could hear the buzzing sound of people hanging out at the Botero Square. Standing in front of us was the architectural marvel known as Rafael Uribe Uribe Palace of Culture.Belgian architect Agustín Goovaert constructed this gothic style national monument in 1925. There’s really nothing interesting to see inside and the outside is the most fascinating part of this building.
Next, we walked the promenade of Botero Plaza. This popular tourist attraction with its giant bronze sculptures is dedicated to the internationally renowned and locally raised artist Fernando Botero. After talking a few pictures and knowing that we would be back the next day, we got back on the blue line A train to the Acevedo stop.
Riding the Metrocable
After getting off on the Acevedo stop, there are clear signs leading you to the Metrocable. Since going into service in 2004, Metrocable carries almost 30,000 people every day and it’s a must do for every tourist in Medellin. The Metrocable was born out of a need to help the poor citizens living on mountain tops find jobs and work in the city. In Medellin, it is said that the higher you live, the poorer you are. Therefore, there is no charge to ride the Metrocable!
Just walk up to the sign that says Line K and wait till one of the employees directs you to hop on inside the glass cabin. One cabin can fit about 6 people and the best time to go is about 30 minutes before the sunset. The last stop on the ride, Santo Domingo, takes around 15 minutes of ride time. All thru the ride, you’ll be glued to the window while the maze of streets and houses go right beneath you. You’ll see rusted-out tin roof shacks, kids playing in the streets, vendors selling food, people on balconies, and motorcycles whizzing by. Every minute or so, the sounds will get distant and restart all over again when going over a different neighborhood.
Santo Domingo – The most violent neighborhood in Latin America
The last stop on Linke K is the neighborhood of Santo Domingo. In the 1990s, this place was THE hotbed for cocaine-related violence. One wouldn’t even dream of walking here in the evening unless they had a deathwish. Today, it is one of the greatest examples of neighborhood rejuvenation. I recommend taking a left after getting off the Metrocable and heading downhill towards the public library. It was evening time on Saturday and the streets were alive with live music. It’s just something you want to walk slowly thru and take it all in. Feel free to stop and enjoy a couple of hot empanadas with a glass of fresh mango juice.
After reaching the library, we were awestruck with what we were seeing. A sea of lights as far as the eye could see. It was surreal to see all the lights illuminating all those narrow streets in all those little neighborhoods.
Medellin Street Performers
After spending about an hour watching the twinkling lights on the hills, we took the Metro back to Medellin. After getting off the El Poblado Metro stop, we came across a street performance that I had never seen before. This girl with a full Olympics style rhythmic gym costume was doing a ribbon dance right on a crosswalk! She even had a little boombox playing music while twirling her ribbon. We were mesmerized watching her dance in the middle of a road with total confidence. She had perfected her routine so well that she would finish her act exactly 15 seconds before the traffic light would change thus giving her ample time to collect tips from the cars. If you ever come across the street performers in Medellin, make sure to STOP…and enjoy the show!!
Party in Parque Lleras
We were told that Medellin people really like to party hard and the district of Parque Lleras is probably Medellin’s #1 nightlife district. Well, it was a good thing that our hostel was right next to Parque Lleras so we could just walk right to the party. We arrived at Parque Lleras around 10pm and the streets were buzzing with loud music, street food vendors, people drinking, and lots of bright lights. All kinds of beautiful music was spilling out onto the streets. The 60 or so bars were playing Reggaeton, traditional Spanish, Electronic, and American music. If you get lucky and are here on a weekend, make sure you go out at night to see how the locals party.