Medellín, Colombia

June 17-21 Medellín, Colombia

Next stop Colombia! I had good memories of my previous stay in Medellín last year and I returned to the land of the Paísa for a bit of a longer stay this time. I had been traveling with a heavy duty schedule for the last two and a half weeks and this was my stop for some recuperation. I also had the Ciudád Perdida (Lost City) hike coming up and would be sleeping in huts in the wilds of the Sierra Nevada of Tyrona, perhaps crossing rivers waist-deep again, hiking up huge inclines every day, and fending off mosquitos. This would be my second time tackling this massive trek. I had done it two years ago and it was one of the most serene treks I had ever done. I was going to meet my bro from my Antarctica trip, Bastien, to do the hike with – in fact I do not think I would have done it again if he was not doing it. And he wouldn’t be doing it, if I wasn’t. Go figure! A bit of a Hillaryesque “because it’s there” reason to do it. But truth be told, this hike rivals the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu for several reasons. Keep an eye out for my upcoming “Ciudád Perdida” post.

All things considered, I deserved some TLC for a few days 🙂 My right knee had been bothering me quite a bit after Colca Canyon and I was a bit nervous about the impending hike, so I spent the first few days in Medellín taking things easy, icing my knee, hanging out at coffee shops, running errands at the Santa Fe Mall nearby and just plain relaxing.

After roughing it for several weeks, I decided to pamper myself a bit and stayed at the iconic Hotel Medellín Royal in Poblado, one of the nicer areas in town. I somehow ended up at the top floor with a view of the valley. I was not going to complain 🙂

Room with a view, at the top floor of the NH Hotel Medellin Royal

When I finally felt up for some sight-seeing, I decided to head to Parque Arví, and I would do it myself, without a guide! This was quite an undertaking, but I was determined to do it! I took a cab to Poblado metro station – then I bought a metro card and took the metro to the Acevedo station. There I got some bad news. The cable car to Santo Domingo was not working. So I would have to take a local bus instead. This was going to be an exciting trip through a comuna that I would normally never take.

Comuna, Medellín

The bus ride was one of the craziest rides I’ve ever been on. The driver was racing up steep windy roads in the hills of the comuna, dodging motorcycles, kids running amuck, grandads and grandmas with canes and more. But ultimately an illegally parked van would be his downfall. Our driver scraped the side of the van. He stopped the bus and then began the arguing and fault-finding. The passengers just waited until the next bus arrived. It was nearly full, but they didn’t care if all of us piled in. The bus was so full that it was scraping the road on the steeps. This was the wildest bus ride I’d ever been on. Add to it, the backdrop of a comuna, that clearly was not one I would walk through for safety reasons.

Survived a treacherous ride, complete with a minor accident, but made it to Santo Domingo

Once at Santo Domingo I was able to take the cable car to Parque Arví. It was quite a long ride and very beautiful – hovering over the lush green canopy for several kilometers was pretty cool.

Cable Car to Parque Arví

Once at Parque Arvi there were a few decisions to be made. Should I take a guided hike to a lake for about three hours? Or a guided hike through the Orchid Garden for one hour? I chose the latter, considering the condition of my knee. It was a beautiful garden and we saw plenty of orchids (a variety!), other flowers and of course some birds.

After the tour of the Orchid Garden I tried to go on a little hike by myself, but I kept getting conflicting comments from the park employees. It seemed as though there was only one self-guided walk that was allowed (and that all other trails were inaccessible without guide). I am still not sure if this is true. Anyhow, I decided to go on this one permitted path and to my disappointment it was just a paved road with quite a bit of traffic. But the saving grace was a nice picnic areas at the end and a little stream – Picnic Area Chorro Clarin.

On the walk back to Parque Arví I stopped for a very delicious lunch by the side of the road. I had some beef steak and it was accompanied by some delicious Sancocho, a type of soup/stew.

The cable car ride back was very serene and I really enjoyed it. I had the whole car to myself and just took in the amazing views distraction-free.

Lush forest below me, Medellín in the background

I was down with a fever for the next few days. It was a bit disconcerting. Along with my knee pain, my odds of being able to hike Ciudád Perdida were not looking good. I decided to rest for the next few days and I even ordered room service one night (I could not get out of bed) and had Caldo, another type of soup (brothy with tender beef chunks) which was pure magic in my bad state. I was feeling a bit better after a couple of days and decided to head to Comuna 13. I met the guide, Sebastian at the Poblado metro station and along with a few other people we headed to another station to take a cable car ride up into the hills. It was a nice ride with nice views.

Riding up in a cable car with the group

Later we headed to Comuna 13 and we started walking up the hill, sampling all kinds of food and drinks and admiring the art all around. The graffiti was some of the best I have ever seen and almost every piece tells a story. The street musicians are really great as well. And despite the presence of lots of tourists the place seemed to maintain some authenticity in the form of people going about their daily routines.

Comuna 13 was one of the most deadly neighborhoods during the reign of the Cartel de Medellín. People would die almost every day from crossfire between rival gangs. Now Comuna 13 is a thriving artist community and the inhabitants have done a great job of turning things around. But the graffiti is a great combination of past and present – a reminder of how things used to be and how positive things can be if headed in the right direction. The famous artist Chota does a great job displaying this juxtaposition. And he is always updating his graffiti with new artwork.

With Chota and his art – government playing with people’s homes

We are all Migrants

As with all governmental institutions there are some good things they do and some bad. One of the positive things is the presence of escalators to help people up the comunas. I would expect this in an affluent and developed city such as Hong Kong, but was really impressed to see this in a comuna in Medellin.

Escalators helping folks up and down Comuna 13

One of my favorites – I’ll call this “Girl Power”

The tour was excellent and Sebastian devoted a lot of time to us describing the history and politics of the comunas and and I would be remiss not to mention the different types of food and drinks he treated us to. Colombians mix the strangest things and it was fun drinking Micheladas, Coffee Lemonades and sampling some fine coffee. Of course we had arepas and queso helado (cheese ice-cream).

Sebastian was an awesome guide

My trip to Medellin was just what I needed – a little bit of R&R. It helped me recover just enough for the Ciudád Perdida. I would be flying to Santa Marta the next day.

The highlight of Medellín this time around was definitely Communa 13 – do not miss it!

One response to “Medellín, Colombia”

  1. How was the coffee?

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