Medellin – Nothing like the movies

I didn’t know what to expect when I went to Medellin. I had just got done watching Narcos, watched another documentary and was a little nervous. But my buddy went down there for a month and raved about it. So after a handful of pitches that I should go down and visit I said, “Let’s do it!”

Iglesia De La Veracruz

Here are some suggestions that I have for someone travelling to Medellin:

Tips:

  1. Use Uber. Super safe and fast. Plus, since there are directions but in, the driver won’t “get lost.” There are a LOT of little side streets and on a few occasions the taxi driver didn’t seem to know the address we gave them even though they were using WAZE. But never had a problem with Uber, plus they were always fast to arrive.
  2. This should be 1)B. Don’t slam the doors when getting in the car. This is huge pet peeve of theirs. I was told a couple of times that Americans seem to be the worst so be cautious and careful when closing your door. You don’t want to start your ride with a pissed off driver.
  3. Men wear pants. All year, no matter the weather. When visiting another country it is always good to fit try and blend in as much as possible. Locals will already know you are a tourist.
  4. Brush up on your Spanish. In Colombia, most people do not speak much English. Unless you are checking in to the front desk of a nice hotel, chances are their English is going to be worse than your Spanish. Even if you can get the start of a sentence down, there’s a good chance they’ll know what you are asking for.
    • Know your common courtesy (Hello – Hola / Good bye – Adios / Thank you – Gracias)
    • Order food. Any dietary restrictions?
    • Directions? ( ¿Dónde están : Where are the ????)
    • Questions? ¿Tienes: Do you have ???)
      • Of course, Google Translate can become your best friend
  5. Always Carry cash (a lot of smaller restaurants don’t accept card) AND….
  6. Don’t exchange your money at the airport. Instead, you should either get the currency from your bank or get it out at the ATM once you arrive in the country. You will get hit with a charge, but it will most likely be cheaper than the commission the airport takes + you can a truer exchange rate. Just try and take a big sum at once, so you only pay one service charge.
  7. Keep your valuables close. Robberies are the most common form of violence in Colombia and as a tourist you will most likely have expensive things with you. Keep your wallet and cash in your front pocket. Don’t set your cell phone on the table or hold it out in front of you for selfies. Always be aware of your surroundings, but people will run out of nowhere and grab your things.
  8. Service is slow. This is common if you have been to Europe, seeing as it was my first time in South America, I didn’t know what to expect. The culture in Colombia is if you come out for food or drinks, it is to enjoy the company you are with. Put away the cell phone and chat.

Stay:

El Poblado for sure. Considered by many to be the “nicest” part of town, it has the best access to area that you would want to go out in, Parque Lleras. You’ll be close to the train station ‘El Poblado’ in case you need to get across town.

The AirBnB I rented was $41 a night, a clean 1-bedroom condo with a balcony over looking the city complete with a rooftop pool and small gym. You’re only a $2 (usd) uber ride to Park Lleras and walking distance to my favorite little section near Las Lomas.

Must dos:

Comuna 13 – Highly recommend booking with SAG tours through TripAdvisor. They let you book a tour same day up to approx 1 hour before it starts. Our guide Luis was extremely knowledgeable and lives in the Comuna as well, so he knows cool little hidden spots besides just the history of the murals. Also, the owner of the company (Juan) was the architect for the roofs over the escalators. Make sure to spend some time chatting with him at the end of the tour (A little bonus that no other group could offer).

Botero Plaza – Botero is a famous artist that creates sculptures that likes to make everything bigger. His work is found all around the plaza that is named after him. Be careful though, this is probably one of the hottest spots for thefts. Since this is a huge tourist attraction, there are pan handlers or someone trying to sell you something everywhere. The place is packed. The police actually try to keep these people out of the center of the plaza, to give you some peace in enjoying the art. Keep your valuables close!

Parque Lleras – Best nightlife in Medellin! Parque Lleras is an area near El Plabado (see below) call La Provenza. This is where you are going to find nice restaurants, bars, clubs, with some light shopping sprinkled throughout. If there are some places specifically want to go, make sure to check their website first so that you can confirm they are even open. It is pretty slow during the day, some places don’t even open till 5pm.

TIP: Try to know the prices and keep track of your drink orders. I got “accidently” overcharged once. Not sure how common it is, but good to be mindful so you’re not taken advantage of.

  • Suggestions – Drinks:
    • La Octava: the place is kind of small, but if you are a younger traveler then you could have a lot of fun here. There is a huge ball pit in the back in their little ½ covered courtyard.
    • Old Toms – The Gin Palace: Gin lovers dream. Even if you aren’t the biggest fan you will enjoy their hand-crafted cocktails and presentation. If you didn’t know, back during prohibition Gin was made in a tub. To pay homage to the prohibition days where gin was made in a tub, their signature cocktail is served in a mini bathtub complete with a candy duck.
    • 37 Park Medellin – I ended up going here a couple times. Once for lunch and coffee the other to have a cocktail in their outdoor space. Great atomshere!
    • Botanika Lounge – Had a good mix of locals and other travelers. Went here for late night drinks. Good atmosphere and well made cocktails.
    • If you are American craving Sunday NFL football, you have 3 choices: Patricks Irish bar, Hooters and The Medellin Brewing company. All are located in Parque Lleras.
  • Suggestions – Food:
    • Verdeo – All vegan / vegetarian. There was a special for The New Black burger and it was amazing. The patty was seasoned great and made with quinoa, corn and red lentils. Topped with guacamole, grilled onion jam on a black sesame bun, I will go back here for sure when I return!
    • Botanika Lounge – See above. Didn’t actually eat the food as we just came for drinks after dinner at another location. But I saw some food coming out and it looked well prepared.
  • Spend the afternoon in a non-touristy area. So besides the above or El Centro, jump on the train or take a taxi to a lesser traveled section. I chose Sabanata Park. This was locals only for sure. There was a little square where you can sit leisurely and have a 30 cent (usd) cup of coffee. Yes that cheap! Chill and relax and enjoy your day.

El Penol (tour) – A must side trip! Book through TripAdvisor (or other company) and take a full days trip to El Penol de Gutape. Depending on the length of the trip there will be different sites to see along the way, but the rock is the main attraction. This is the only Penol in Colombia that has stairs where you can climb to the top (659 to be exact). Depending on how many people are there, and how long they take selfies along the way, it shouldn’t take you more that 20ish minutes to climb up. Amazing views from the top. They just recently introduced a 10 min helicopter that takes you up, over and around the rock giving you a bird’s eye view.

El Piedro de Penol
One of Escobar’s home in Penol Colombia

Medellin comes with a pretty bad rap for the city. Drugs, gang wars, cartel and poverty are all immediately associated with Medellin. This is still a lower incomed working class city for sure, but they are making great strides to turn their reputation around. Pablo Escobar made the city famous, but now-a-days the city is moving to distance themselves from their violent past. What was once considered one of the most dangerous communities in the world. Comuna 13, over 400 positive murals have been painted to show equality, freedom, a stop against war and violence etc… attracting up to 25,00 visitors just to this area in a 3 day span. People of Peru and Venezuela have fled their countries to Colombia because the prospects are better. Don’t go down to Medellin looking for cocaine or glorifying the past, the more we can help the country succeed in the future.

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