I have always had South America on my "bucket list" of places to visit, however, I can honestly say I had never considered Medellin, the second largest city in Columbia.
This has changed since reading a post about the city's ambitions to become the first "Eco city" in South America, I had to find out more. I have to say it is a hidden gem as it has so much to offer a traveller!
Firstly, Medellin is located in the Andes Mountains, which is surrounded by forest,
waterfalls and caves. Weather is good all year around (20- 25 degrees) and is value for money, compared to Cartagena (a top beach destination in Colombia) which is home to the rich and famous.
This city is known for its Paisa's (name for people in the Northwest of Colombia) as they have a pride and love for their country. They are very welcoming, friendly and polite, they will often smile or even start up a conversation in the street.
Colombia has bargaining ingrained in its culture and at the street vendors selling trinkets bracelets, etc., aim to negotiate up to 30% off the price.
There are many things to see/do in the city and outskirts, here are some suggestions:
A MUST is to travel to the comuna13 area which clings to the hillside on the outskirts of the city. This is where the famous Pablo Escobar (Colombian drug lord) lived and so nobody went near this area in the 1980's.
Now this area has had a lot of money invested in this community, (peoples homes and transport) there is even an escalator that can take you to the top in 6 minutes!
Take a walk around and see its history in its graffiti streets and visit the local people who are proud to show the inside of their houses to see how they live.
Take a visit to the Plaza Minorista market, which is the 2nd largest farmers in market on Medellin and showcases an abundance of exotic fruits, vegetables and herbs and mixing with the locals is a great experience. They sell 364 different types of fruit that is produced in the local area!
Colombia also exports the best coffee beans in the world, but locals usually opt for a cheap cup of "tinto" (a strong, thick cup of coffee sweetened with unprocessed sugar)
that is found in cafes and street vendors on every corner.
Food is very important in Colombia. The must try local dishes are the popular breakfast
treats, Bunuelos (traditionally a Christmas treat) which are little balls of yucca flour and
cheese deep fried until golden brown and served piping hot with a cup of tinto.
For lunch or dinner, then try Bandeja Paisa, which is platters of various meats served with
some rice, egg, arepas (bread patty) and avocado.
To have a bird's eye view of the city, then either visit Cerro El Volador Natural Park (which is located in the heart of the city) or travel by gondola to Arvi Park located east of the city.
Arvi Park is a large ecological nature reserve - ideal for hiking - which is home to 150 species of birds, butterflies and mammals. Keeping with their sustainability plan, there is a market and gift shop which are both run by local communities.
There is also so much to see 0utside the city, Take a 2 hour drive to Piedra de Penol, a huge monolith rock that dates back thousands of years and is 200 meters high. Take the 740 steps to the top that rewards the most amazing views of the lake and surrounding area.
Also close by visit the colonial, colourful town of Guatape and discover the authentic zocalos, (main square) cobblestone roads and colonial church.
For a day trip, visit the town, Jardin as barely any tourists go there. A small town made up of colourful houses, traditional culture, and a peaceful vibe. The local men are dressed in cowboy hats/ponchos and their horses stand in the square. There is an opportunity to take a horse ride either around the town or to Ls Cueva del Esplendor where you can visit a cave and waterfall.
An interesting fact. Medellin is the second largest supplier of flowers in the world. Every year in August the city holds "Feria de las Flores" (Festival of Flowers) which is the largest cultural event of the year and ends with an amazing flower parade.
Finally, Medellin plans to become South Americas first "eco-city " and reduce its carbon emissions by 20% by 2030. Medellin has already been recognised by winning the most innovative city of the year in
2013 and Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize for urban development in 2016. This has led to better transport links for everyone (only city in Colombia to have a subway!) and community based projects that has allowed all communities to reach schools and healthcare in the city.
By their previous successes, I would consider it a high chance they will meet their set target.
Medellin has certainly shifted from a violent and dangerous place to a beautiful, friendly city which I will love to visit one day.
More information can be found here on Medellin: https://colombia.travel/en/medellin