Medellín

After Salento, Medellín was another place firmly on the Gringo Trail that I had missed the first time around. Mostly because I was visiting places less visited, get me, including the Tatoca Desert, Cano Cristales and the white peaks at El Cucuy, which I would highly recommend. For some reason when Angela had first agreed to travel with me she had been less than enthusiastic when I told her this was my next destination. Instead that time we headed up to Santa Marta. I wasn’t 100% surprised as Medellín is the home of regauetton, cheap plastic surgery and beautiful women who are looking for a gringo – I should say I’ve learned from Colombians and I didn’t see any evidence of this when I was there. Well actually there was a lot of surgery. None of this really interested me too much. I wanted to head to Guatape, an artificial lake with a beautiful view and get some much needed sun so was delighted when Angela brought me tickets to go for my birthday.

We flew, which I’m trying to do less, but it’s 45 minutes vs 10 hours on the bus. I know. With ice sheets melting it’s better to save 9 hours than the planet but also the tickets were a present and it would also be rude of me to turn them down. Coming from the north of Bogotá we spent about 90 minutes on the bus to Bogotá airport. Remember you can access the city by TransMilenio from the airport, weirdly not the main bus terminal, but airport yes.

After trying to get a breakfast at McDonalds I have up when the line didn’t move and headed to Creps & Waffles which along with Home burgers is fast becoming one of my favourite places in the city. The domestic flights in Bogotá is a relatively small area and before I Kew it we were onboard, and high above the Andes before landing again on some strong wind which made the landing a little more fun.

We opted for the bus option from the airport to Medellín at $10000 per person. You can also take a taxi or a collectivo at twice the price and no idea how much a taxi would set you back but the busses are very regular and cheap so why wouldn’t you wait a few minutes. There are two locations that the busses drop you off in the city and neither is a bus terminal. The San Diego Mall and behind the Nutibara hotel in El Centro. For more information check out this blog.

Once we had arrived at the first mentioned stop we realised it was only around a half hour walk to our Air BnB so went on foot. Most Gringos stay in the south of the city where there are a tonne of hostels and it’s safe but we opted for the student district. We checked in a headed out for lunch. After a quick google we found a Mondongue Restaurant nearby. It’s worth going for some typical Colombian food. We had Chicharrón and you can see Angela was very happy!

It was now mid afternoon and hot. Really hot. With the sun beating down we decided to head to Plaza Botero. I don’t know if it was just because Angela knew the city and how dangerous it can be and projected that on me or if it was just the feeling of the Plaza but I didn’t feel at ease. I think much of the time when travelling I visited potentially dangerous places but didn’t feel it as I didn’t know the history. But when you are with someone who knows then you pick up on the feeling. Either was ignore the danger and you can take a metro right to the square whereas we took the bus and decided to walk. The plaza itself was bustling and pretty. The surrounding building which were quite obviously lap dancing bars are not so attractive.

You will have noticed the abstract bronze statues, which are mostly of cats, created and donated by Colombian artist Fernando Botero. He wanted to donate them to a poor part of the city so that tourists and outsiders would have to come to this place, mix and see what life is like for the locals – a more detailed history can be found here. It does make an interesting place to sit and watch the world go by, just watch your bag when you do although there are plenty of police around on a Saturday afternoon.

The plaza is also home to the Museo de Antioquia where you can find more statues and a lot of other work. The air con is a relief from the heat but its a fascinating building along with the art work held inside. I took a few photos but the art is best appreciated in person. Also there were a few live exhibits with a chorus singing a variety of songs using the acoustics of the building.

While I perused the exhibits Angela grabbed a beer as she had been here before and afterwards I joined her before we took an Uber back to the place we were staying. It was getting dark and as I had been showing off my camera all afternoon we thought lets be safe. 

That night was going to be our only chance to party so we took a bus down to calle 10 which is where all the tourists stay. To say this area is up and coming is a mis-representation and there are hundreds of bars and restaurants. We had been advised to go to Pizzaiolo which severed delicious wood-fired pizza. It wouldn’t have been out of place in London or New York and they have a slightly left field menus. We shared one to my disappointment but my stomachs relief and had shrimp which is unusual for me on a pizza but delicious. Its really all about the salsa and the cheese and this was great in both instances.

After we went on a walk around the bars. It was about 9pm so early by partying standards. Angela commented on how much the area had changed in the past two years and after a few passes we popped into a bar which felt fairly local. After a few beers we decided to go on to somewhere else and after rejecting the idea of popping into a few clubs we took a taxi back. We were both exhausted after the early start and had an early start the next day for Guatapé and more importantly we are both old so decided to reject two of the main things Medellin had to offer – dancing and drinking. 

Guatapé

Is a town two hours bus journey outside of Medellin perched on the edge of a man made lake created by a hydro-electric dam. I hunted for photos and the location of the dam but with little success. But look environmental damage is pretty and it brought me to the location so…yeahhhhhhh.

Anyways you ar not going to be able to take out the dam and it does help to provide Colombia with the 70% clean energy that the country utilises. The key point is the Piedra del Peñol which is a large rock over looking the lake and the town itself where you can take part in water sports and boat rides.

To get there you need to take the metro to Caribe and then follow the bridge into the main bus station – oh yes Medellin has an amazing metro system which you should check out. You can’t really miss the bus station but its on the west side of the train station.

Head down to the ground floor and go t counter 9 or 14 and book yourself on a bus to Guatapé. They leave every 30 minutes and it was $15000 each way. Busses leave form around 5am-6pm so make sure you don’t miss your connection back, especially at the weekends when locals descend on the town. For some reason Angela and I had trouble finding the bus but they leave on the ground floor behind the counters where you brought the ticket. There isn’t a ton of exciting food at the terminal but there is plenty at Guatapé so no need to bring lunch.

We woke early and headed to the bus station and I snapped these on the way tot the station. The journey is exciting as you leave the valley which hosts Medellin and you get a great view of the city.

Most people jump off the bus at Piedra del Peñol which is about a 10min bus journey outside of town. While it is worth mentioning this to the bus driver the stop is so popular that busses seem to stop here as a matter of course. We jumped out along with most of the other passengers and grabbed a coffee at one of the restaurants right at the bottom of the hill.

Then we started our climb, which to be fair although steep is not really anything compared to getting up into the mountains. But it was fun to see the view of the lake quickly change.

Yes we did climb those stairs but the initial climb is to the base of the stairs or the car park as of course people in cars always need to do less exercise than us who are taking public transport. Before you ascend further you have to buy tickets for $18000 per person, no reduction for locals, and there are a tonne of tourist shops and a sad looking fun fair. Don’t worry about buying supplies here as you can get everything you could possibly want at the top.

Either these cages are for transporting prisoners or supplies to the top. The jury is still out on my part.

And here is the car park that I spoke of earlier. It is a hard steep climb made more difficult by the heat. We started around 10am so it was getting hot but keep going one step at a time and you will get there. Just tell yourself each step up is one closer to the top…and one more you have to come down later but there is beer at the top! And the views are stunning. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves for a while.

And as I promised when you arrive there are a variety of stores you can get supplies. Everything form ice cream to beer and beyond. And toilets! Once you are ready head up a little further to the top and you get some spectacular views. You can probably see your house from here!

There were some vultures circling  far below.

And then is was time to go down. The stairs amused me, especially the signs and the fact the stair case became really narrow at points. But its probably just me that was having do much fun.

Afterwards we decided to head to Guatapé. Once you meet the main road then you can get a tuk tuk or flag a us to the town. Luckily for us this was the last drop off point until 3pm as the road was closed to traffic for a triathlon. But as the town was only another 3km we decided to walk and I say luckily as you will see everything that we got to see. I would highly recommend skipping the transport and taking a walk if you have time.

Above is where the bridge was closed to traffic and there was a little big of a line, including a dog on a motorbike. He was a very happy pup.

We were not alone in walking and it was a fun journey.

And my close up shots, this time of some grass.

What I particularly enjoyed was the different views of Piedra del Peñol.

As the road was closed there was no traffic but we saw a lot of people crossing this bridge and the natural thing to do is to cross it. It feels pretty dangerous and I assume the post is suggesting that people should not cross so do at your own risk. We decided to and realised it was completly needlessly but it was still fun.

There is another small colourful town town just before Guatapé which provided me with a wealth of photo opportunities.

Keep walking a few hundred meters and you will arrive in Guatapé proper and we headed directly for the Plaza.

Here suddenly we found ourselves in the middle of the race and had to work hard to avoid the runners. We took a walk around the town and decided to stop for lunch in one of the burger restaurants along the lake front. There are many many restaurants to choose from, most of which are serving the same Colombian food so either take a little time to research or just pick one. They all look as good as the others. 

After lunch we decided to grab some beers and site on the lakeside before heading back. Here I do have some advice as there is a supermarket where the beers are half the price as the bars and the shops around the square.

As it was particularly busy on this Sunday we decided to head back around 4pm and I’m glad we did as there was a little wait for a bus. As we left the station had become much busier. We arrived back around 7pm and headed back to our hosts place and grabbed a Rapi.

We were flying back around 8pm so needed to make the most of the day and decided to head to Parque Avri which is only accessible by cable car. Sadly for us it was not open on Mondays and we only realised after we had reached the end of the metro line. We decided to take the cable cars anyway to get a view of Medellin.

Once back down we hastily looked for other things to do and realised that it would be possible to join a tour of the fabled Comuna 13. We took a tour organised by Inside Medellin Tours, and our tour guide was Sergio who had grown up in the area and his local knowledge was great. He knew a lot of history and personal information but also more importantly was his commitment to helping those who lived in the area, supporting the local people and encouraging those on the tour to do the same. The tour starts at 10:20 each day, no need to book, just head to the San Javier metro station.

We phoned them from the metro and after I made us get off at the wrong station we made it there just as the tour was leaving.

Its a really good tour that gives you the opportunity to see another side of Medellin.

There are a few spots where you have to walk for a time to get to the next point but the graffiti gets better as you progress through the tour.

And then out of nowhere a set of sophisticated escalators appear form nowhere taking you up the mountain.

The last spot at the top gives panoramic views of the valley which you don’t get on any other tour.

And then the tour ended. We took the offer of joining Sergio for lunch and then headed back to the metro and back to the airport to return to Bogota and the cold.

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