What’s your first thought when someone says “Medellín”? Let me guess, your mind scrambles to Pablo Escobar, the show “Narcos” on Netflix, and violence. I’m here to tell you that Colombia, as a whole, has come light years since its dramatic history spanning decades in the late 1900s. Medellín was at the heart of Colombia’s unpleasant recent history as the home of Pablo Escobar and his cartel. The drug wars tore not only the country apart, but threatened the stability of many countries throughout the region.
If you’re going to travel to Medellín, yes, be vigilant as you would be anywhere. There are places you don’t want to venture just like there are places you wouldn’t venture to in U.S. cities like Baltimore and Chicago. That being said, there is a welcoming and beautiful ambiance of Medellín exemplified by its recent prosperity and traditional hospitality commonly found with Latin America cultures. Colombians are some of the most hospitable people on the face of this earth and that’s never more apparent than in Medellín.
Now, you’re probably asking, why should I go to Medellín other than the hospitality and the recent improvement of security? Let me start by stating that Medellín is the most beautiful valley city tucked in between the surrounding mountains, both day and night, I have ever seen. This is apparent as soon as you drive down from the mountains into the city from the airport (the airport is approximately 45 minutes away). As you descend into the Aburrá Valley, each switchback presents a beautiful panoramic view of the sprawling metropolis surrounded by lush draws and ridges.
During my visit, we arrived at night and the lights seemed to span forever, it was simply stunning. Some of the best ways to view the city during the day are from the gondola lifts or “Metrocable”. These cable cars are how many of the city’s outlying residents who live on the slopping mountains traverse ‘into town’. The cable car we chose, which I recommend, is Line L. Take Line L to the peak of one of the northeastern mountains to reach Park Arvi. During the ascent, you’ll be amazed at the view of the city as you quietly glide skyward. One of the best times to do this is around the November – February time frame at sunset. The sun will fade behind the southeastern hills and blanket the city in a warm orange glow.
Another “not to miss” attraction, which is growing in popularity in Medellín, is paragliding. My friends and I stayed at the Happy Buddha Boutique Hostel (which I highly recommend). The hostel coordinated our paragliding trip including a taxi ride and with the paragliding company. The taxi ride was very cheap, as are all taxis in Colombia, and the paragliding cost approximately $40 per person for 30 minutes. Relatively speaking, the experience is extremely cheap compared to many other paragliding opportunities around the world (you’ll notice this common theme with many activities in Colombia).
The tandem paragliding guides were skilled and comforting. We started out by gliding along the mountainside nearly grazing trees (on purpose) followed by a half mile high ascent where the views were to die for. If you bring a camera, ensure to have a strap for your wrist OR better yet, wear a GoPro.
Other essential experiences in Medellín include (but not limited to):
• Eating Ajiaco at Ajiacos and Mondongos, Address: Cl. 8 #42 – 46, Medellín. Ajiaco is a traditional Colombian stew complete with potatoes, avocado, chicken breast, corn, and other delicious essentials.
• Horseback riding tours in Arvi Park
• Laguna de Guatape: Check this destination out if you have time to take a short day trip outside of the city
• Parque Explora