After our few nights in Cartagena, we took a flight to spend 3 nights discovering Medellin, Colombia. I wasn’t sure what to expect as I was tired of the big city scene. Before we even arrived in Medellin, two people, Miriam and Andrea, expressed interest in what I thought about it. I wondered if it was as polarizing to travellers as Cartagena?
So what about Medellin? The city itself is located in the Aburrá Valley, in the Andes. When you look around you can see various peaks around you with the city sprawling up them. The population is around two and a half million people, and when you get a look at the city, you think it’s probably larger.
A night view of Medellin from Cerro Nutibara
During our visit to Medellin, we spent our time exploring the art the city has to offer.
Discovering Medellin: Botero Park
Found in the Old Quarter, Botero park is filled with 23 statues from Fernando Botero. Just like the art in Cartagena, you will notice the size of the statues. Most people describe his characters as fat, but as this article from Google arts & culture describes this as his “lifelong exploration of volume.”
Botero’s art is just one type of art Colombia boasts. Medellin is full of art, brought to life because of its recent violent history. Like many citizens in Colombia, Botero was against the violence. I found this quote. I’m not sure where he said it, or when. Truth be told, I found it because because Walmart sells this as a poster.
“I love my country, and it hurts not to be able to see my country, as I did for so many years. I hope that I will one day be able to live in a peaceful Colombia.” Fernando Botero
Many people have watched the Netflix show Narcos, the story of Pablo Escobar and the drug cartels of Colombia. Medellin is the city that is front and central to this story.
Just over 25 years later, Medellin is a beacon of revitalization. How did this city change?
A local guide, who was interviewed by Stanley Stewart said:
“The metro was the beginning of all the good stuff. It was like a bridge to a different world. We suddenly realised that things could change. It was the beginning of a revolution in Medellin.” Stanley Stewart writing for The Telegraph
Getting around Medellin
The whole infrastructure of Medellin is something to marvel at. The rail system itself can transport you North/South or East/West, much like the system we have in Toronto. Built-in the 90’s it opened up a new world to many of the people of Medellin. Now, most people could travel anywhere in the city they chose to. You did not have to stay in your neighbourhood, barrio, to work. Visiting family in other areas was now easier to access.
As I mentioned, most people could access the rail system, but not all. There are many steep hilled areas in this Andean city. A hillside area known as Comuna 13, where violence raged just a few years ago, is now alive with art, music, and food. The rail didn’t reach Comuna 13, so, they installed escalators to reach the top of the hill. This allowed many of the residents easier access to the rest of Medellin.
Marco, Mateo and Charo going up one of the escalators in Comuna 13, Medellin, Colombia.
Some impoverished communities live in the mountainside, and they were not left out of the revitalization. To help with their transportation needs, a series of cable cars were installed that can deliver you to the mountain top, or to the metro below.
Museo Casa de la Memoria
Before heading over to explore the rest of Medellin I suggest you make your first stop at Museo Casa de la Memoria. Here you can learn about the years of violence, and what the community went through to get to where they are today. The information is a little heavy for younger children. Marco was able to intake the information and asked some good questions, while the twins could not appreciate what they were seeing.
A few of the exhibits. There is one pencil for every teacher killed during the violence.
Wow is the word that truly describes Comuna 13. When we were walking the streets, you could feel the passion, feeling of loss, and fear that is still felt years after the violence. As we walked, the eyes of each painting stared back at you. What those eyes must seen, and what they must have been through.
Where did we eat
Not too far from the rental, around Boston Park, our Airbnb host, Sandra, told us about Lili a la carta. When we got there, we found a small restaurant and we weren’t sure what to expect. What we found blew us away.
We ordered three “menus” and we all were all left satisfied. It started with soup, which Charo and I barely had a taste of as the kids devoured it. Followed by the main dish.
What could possibly make this delicious food better? All proceeds made by Lili a la carta is given to charities. All the employees are volunteers. If you’re in Medellin, you should give it a try. Read more about the story on their Facebook page.
Berracas de la 13
When you’re backpacking, one tip. Go to the restaurants all the locals go to. How will you find it? Easy just find the biggest line-up. When we arrived in Barracas de la 13 we found a large line up of people. We thought there was no way the kids would wait, and to our surprise, everyone was waiting for takeout. We were seated and received our dishes.
The food was amazingly tasty. If you find yourself in Comuna 13, give Berracas de la 13 a try.
Where we stayed
We spent our nights at an eclectic Airbnb called a spring home in Medellin. It’s located within a 5-minute walk of Boston park and a 15-minute walk to Botero Park. Well, it’s a 15-minute walk if you’re travelling with kids.
Our host Sandra was excellent. Not only did she take her time to tell us about the community, but she walked us to Boston park so we wouldn’t get lost. A good thing too because Mateo was getting hangry. You wouldn’t like Mateo if he’s hangry.
We had a queen bed and the kids slept together on a bunk bed with a trundle. Mateo wanted to sleep with Big Bear. We tried to pull them apart but I couldn’t tell which one was which.
The house came with a fully equipped kitchen, and we ended up making most of our meals there. One thing the kids really enjoyed was the number of chocolates and candy they found in the house. We had to stop them from eating it all! They wanted an all sugar diet.
Sandra’s house was in a great location, was clean and quiet. We can recommend a stay for 4 people as the trundle did give us a little bit of trouble.
My thoughts about Medellin
Okay Miriam and Andrea, the moment you’ve been waiting for. My experience in Medellin was much different than the one I had just days before Cartagena. Medellin is a city I would visit again. There is so much to see and experience. I would have enjoyed listening to some local, live music while we were there. I am sure, if it was just Charo and me, we would have stayed a few more days to investigate the rest Medellin has to offer.
I’m an aspiring world traveller. I’ll be taking my family of five on the road for a year to see where it leads us. While I’m writing this there is approximately 10 months till we hit the road with our backpacks. Till then I’ll be teaching and trying to survive being a dad.