We don’t usually like big cities very much (they tend to be busy, noisy and often smelly) so usually spend only a couple of days in them, and are there mostly for transport links. However, Medellin is one of my favourite cities I’ve ever been to (up there with Amsterdam, London and New York), so we ended up staying for 5 nights – and could have stayed even longer if we had more time in Colombia.
Sightseeing – Real City Tours
We decided to start the first morning of our first day in Medellin with a city walking tour, as it always helps us get our bearings and a bit more understanding of the place we are exploring. Real City Walking Tours are rated as the number one thing to do on Trip Advisor so we went with the hope and we’re so glad we did. Our guide Julio, an ex school teacher, and passionate paisa, was brilliant. He was clear, interesting and had such an obvious passion for his city which helped us fall in love with Medellin. Julio talked about different types of people in Medellin; the adults who lived through the city’s most difficult times, the people who knew nothing of Medellin’s struggles and the “pop culture generation” – educated by means of Netflix and other entertainment who glamourise Medellin’s history. We have to be honest and say that we definitely fit into this final category, I mean come on – who hasn’t seen Narcos? But after this tour we came away with a better understanding of the magnitude of terror that the people of this city had suffered, and the real feeling of hope and happiness that surrounds it now. Because of this Julio said that he would not be using the name of famous drug lord Escobar during our tour and urged us to do the same when in public – after all, for many he is not a celebrated figure of history but an embarrassing part of their recent past. We saw main sights in the city centre, learnt about history and politics in Colombia, tried tasty local foods upon Julio’s recommendation and even had the opportunity to ask any questions we wanted about how Colombian people live.
Rating – 4/5
Culture – Football
On the same day as our walking tour we found out that there would be a football match between one of Medellin’s teams – Nacional Atletico (they have two – like Man Utd and Man City) and another South American team. Julio advised us on where to buy tickets – they’re sort of sold by a man sitting at the back of a cafe or shop that is a vendor for that team. We decided to go for it not only because we are a pair of football lads but because we had heard it was a really fun thing to do in Medellin. The people here are very passionate, about almost anything, so a football match is bound to be an exciting atmosphere. We got tickets for one of the ends of the pitch for about £6.50 each.
We arrived 10 minutes late after queuing for the wrong side of the stadium, but it’s Colombia so everyone runs on their own time and we weren’t the only ones. We ordered two beers (all beer served in the stadium is non-alcoholic, I think it has something to do with that aforementioned passion) and joined in with the madness. It was bonkers but such good fun, and our new team won 3-0. Top tip: try to wear the colours your team is playing in, everyone else does. I just went full tourist and wore a Colombia home shirt so was the only yellow blob in a sea of green. At least I wasn’t wearing the opponent’s colour though.
Rating – 4/5
Hostel – Ivy Hostel
Ivy Hostel was very cheap – just £6.50 a night for a dorm bed with breakfast, and it was located just a 5 minute walk from a shopping centre and Aguacatala metro station. The reception staff were friendly, showers were warm and a good pressure, and the WiFi was decent but apart from that it was just a place to sleep. Nothing to write home (or here) about.
Rating – 2.5/5
Museum – Parque Explora
We love a good science museum, so we couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to visit Parque Explora – an interactive science museum which houses South America’s largest freshwater aquarium and has a planetarium and vivarium. Tickets that allow access to all of the above are around £9 each. We spent almost an entire day at the museum as there was so much to do and see, but if you were a little less enthusiastic you could probably do it in a few hours. There were 4 science and technology exhibits when we visited – we enjoyed the time one the most!
Rating – 4/5
Dinner – Nezzia
It seems that Colombian food could be anything that has been fried, grilled meats and arepas. It’s not my cup of tea to be honest. And so I continue my tour of eating pizza around the world. In my eternal quest for the perfect slice I stumbled upon this place in the food court of our local shopping centre (mall). Now I know what you’re thinking – who goes to Colombia and eats in the mall, but hear me out. Food courts are ideal for a cheap dinner – so many options, some healthier than others and you can choose whatever you want (even something totally different to whoever else you’re with). The pizza at Nezzia was incredible. Fresh dough, fresh ingredients and a real pizza oven. I made several pizzas (sorry not sorry) and they each cost between £3-£4 depending on the toppings. Incredible scenes.
Rating – 4.5/5
Sightseeing – El Peñol and Guatapé
First we got off at El Peñol (a big rock that you can climb up) so that we could ascend the 650 steps to the top and enjoy the beautiful views. Entrance was just under £1 each, and after sweating our way to the top in the midday sun with the rest of the weekend crowds we reached the summit. Which was also packed, and had three cafés and a shop. So we went back down and jumped in a £2.70 Tuk Tuk to the main town of Guatapé.
El Peñol Rating – 1/5
After the disappointment of climbing a big rock, we actually really enjoyed walking around picturesque Guatapé. The houses are colourful, with beautiful unique painted concrete designs that once told the stories of the residents within (but are probably now more a stylistic choice). We also ate lunch at El Patito Modosito (the snuggly duckling) where I had a fantastic milkshake. After a few hours we were ready to head back and so headed down to the waterfront to catch our bus back (note: we bought a ticket for the bus a little bit before leaving as we had heard they can get booked up with people returning to the city in the evening).
Guatapé Rating – 3.5/5
Best Bit – The best part of Medellin was probably being so pleasantly surprised by how great it is. There’s loads to do (if we had more time we would have visited the Antioquia Art Museum, Arvi Park, and the Botanical Gardens), the Metro is cheap, clean and safe, and the people are so friendly. Of course there’s still pickpockets, and some areas that are unadvisable to visit at night but I did not feel unsafe in Medellin.
Worst Bit – Probably El Peñol. Walking up 650+ steps is not my idea of fun, but getting to the top to have 10 people trying to sell me beer with slices of mango in it, questionable flavoured ice creams (seriously who eats cheese ice cream?) and magnets with the big rock on them wasn’t the peaceful experience I had imagined. It’s an overrated, strange tourist trap and if I could go again I’d skip it.
Planning a trip to Colombia? Check out my blog on Cartagena, Santa Marta and Isla Grande too.