• devon

City of Red, Medellin

Updated: Mar 9, 2019

Medellin, Colombia

When you’re backpacking, flying to your next destination might be one of the most exciting and satisfying feelings after taking what feels like endless bus rides.

Remember that song "The Wheels on the Bus"? Well after being on as many bus rides as we’ve been on, just the thought of this song sends me into a manic anxiety attack…

In every country I’ve been to, the peasants are subject to the abuse of the long haul bus trip while the bourgie look down, point and laugh as they fly by at 30,000 feet. Not in Colombia, though. Flights between major destinations cost in the tens-of-dollars! No joke. If you want to take the bus, for some ungodly reason, you will likely have to fork up more money than it would cost you to fly. For instance, our flight from Cartagena to Medellin cost us $37 CAD per person! And that included the additional cost of checking a bag! We booked our flights two days out and at the beginning of Christmas holidays, so I’m sure that this wasn’t even a very good bargain.

For a Canadian who has had to fly between Vancouver and Calgary more than a few times a year for the last few years, the idea that flying can in-fact be a good value is almost incomprehensible.

Booking our tickets felt like what it must be like to win the lottery; we don’t have to ride a bus, and we don’t have to feel guilty about indulging! WOW! I’m sure there are a few of you reading this thinking that we must’ve been on some kind of sketchy-cheese-ball airplane, run by an airline who has a less than stellar flying history. Well, you’re wrong. The operator, Viva Colombia, is flying the same planes, but newer vintage than most used in Canada, so that isn’t where their cost savings are. Well, then the airports must be terrible, right? No. Both Cartagena and Medellin are nearly as nice as most airports in Canada - don’t get me wrong, they aren’t going to blow you away, but you wouldn’t be wallowing in self-pity if you had a six-hour layover. So where are the cost savings? The planes are not “optioned up”, meaning they don’t have televisions in the seats (does anyone actually watch these pixellated archaic screens anymore?), the seat cushions are thinner, and the wages of the employees are presumably lower… Other than that, I have no idea how they can afford to operate at these rates unless the company is run far more efficiently than our Canadian airlines.

It truly makes me wonder why flying in Canada is so dang expensive?! If there is one thing that traveling will really ingrain in you, it’s that we Canadians really get the short end of the stick from our airlines and cell phone companies. For instance, I can get 1GB for $5 CAD per month in almost every country we have been to on our journey. In Canada, 1GB of data per month will set you back about eleven times that - $55 (at least!).

We arrived in Medellin, after our pleasant hour-and-a-bit flight, grabbed our checked bag, and sat down in the food court to leach some Wifi and get lunch. Rose applied her organization superpowers and we had our transport and accommodation in Medellin lined up, as well as a basic sightseeing list. Like almost everywhere we have been up to this point, we didn’t know much about Medellin. Truthfully, the depth of our knowledge of Colombia, when we arrived, didn’t extend much past what we had garnered from the Netflix show: Narcos.

Fun fact: the guy who plays Pablo Escobar has a Brazilian accent, not Colombian. For this reason, and many others, which I will get into later, the Colombians hate the show.

Everywhere we have been in Colombia has been incredible; whether that be the architecture, history, natural scenery, or people, it's no wonder why this country is on so many people's travel lists. It is one of, if not my favorite country that we have been to so far. From the moment we arrived in Medellin I was dumbfounded with how clean, organized, and modern it was. I am ashamed to admit it, but I had the impression that Medellin was like many other major "third world" cities: a place of somewhat chaotic disorganized squaller. My thoughts couldn't be further from reality. Medellin is clean, has great roadways, and has a modern subway/tram system that'll put most other cities public transport systems to shame. There is so much to see and experience in Medellin you could easily burn five full days there - we stayed for four, but only had two full days.

What we did in Medellin:

  • Explored El Poblado

  • Walking tour

  • Botello’s Sculptures

  • Medellin City Museum

  • Metro Cable/Arvi Park

  • Parque Explora - Christmas light display (Free)

  • Checked out a few neighborhoods, but I am unsure of the names

  • Hiked to and Paraglided from San Felix

The story of Medellin, and Colombia in general, is one of recent heartbreak. This is a country with a tumultuous past. A past which the people of Colombia are all too ready to leave behind. Globally, Colombia is known for one thing: cocaine. Drugs have put Colombia on the map, and have cost the people of Colombia dearly. The Medellin City Museum is a uneasy reminder of the not-so-distant past where the people of Medellin lived in terror as drug cartels inflicted mass casualties. It is one thing to watch Narcos and relish in the drama, but walking through the museum will ingrain in you that this was non-fiction - a true story that is written in blood. Just the mention of the name Pablo Escobar or cocaine will ignite public rage among a certain faction. Some organizations and tour operators will publicly denounce Pablo Escobar tours - with hotels and hostels going as far as ripping the adverts out of tourism booklets before they give them to the patrons.

Pablo Escobar had many homes throughout Colombia, so everywhere you go you will be offered a tour of “Pablo Escobar's House”. When I first arrived in Colombia I thought this would be a cool thing to do, but my understanding is that most of these homes are now dilapidated, and not worth the time or money to see.

Pablo Escobar and the "Cocaine Cartels" are really only the tip of the iceberg of Colombian history. Colombia and Medellin have a remarkable history. From the Indigenous beginnings, to Spanish colonialism and the struggle with the British, to the current story of an incredible transformation, it seems as if the people of Medellin are solely focused on a brighter future. The city is quickly undergoing a modern transformation of once dangerous neighborhoods and plazas. Only a handful of years ago, many of the places that Rose and I enjoyed walking around were dangerous “no go” zones. It is truly hard to believe when you see how beautiful these places are now. A true testament to the desire for change, in the citizens of Medellin. It may be hard for generations older than Rose and me, who lived through the constant news coverage of the non-stop violence in Colombia, but Medellin is a beautiful city that is quickly becoming world class. I can all but guarantee that you will be as enthralled with it as I am.