Colombia, You Deserve a Medellin

February 27, 2019 Off By resignatedsurvivors

These last couple of weeks we have had the opportunity to visit a country that was once home to the most dangerous city in the world, but has now re-invented itself as one of the coolest, liveliest and most beautiful nations in South America – Viva Colombia!!

Central Bogota

We were so excited to finally reach this wonderful country as we’d heard so many great things about it. Successfully having shaken off it’s reputation as being the home of violence, murder and drug trafficking, the people of Colombia today have created a nation that everyone should want to visit and let me tell you, we are so glad we did! We started off in the country’s capital Bogota. Here we had our first taste of the passion and patriotism of the youth of Colombia, and got a chance to see their desire for change and progress through the numerous and colourful graffiti artwork adorning street after street of their capital city. We joined a graffiti tour and were taken around the streets, looking at both the political and artistic value these works had to offer, and rather than being a sign of poverty, crime and rebellion, these artworks represented a desire for change and a sense of pride of the people in leaving their dramatic and controversial past behind them. As we were guided around, we were treated to some Colombian hip-hop music blasted by our guide to alert pretty much everyone within a mile radius of our presence, and it was really interesting to see the kinds of things the youth of Colombia today are fighting for. 

One of my favourites from Colombia. This man in a suit casually standing in front of this graffiti. The scene is so contrasting!
Another contrasting scene. It's not often a horse is standing in the middle of a city with graffiti as a backdrop.
Poverty is still so prevalent in Colombia. The man on the left collects leftover food to feed his horses and donkeys. The man on the right is making a donation.
Loading up the food
Bogota's Skatepark in the Candelaria
You can't visit Colombia and not try Arepas

The other thing that springs to mind when thinking about Colombia is, of course, coffee! The country is one of the largest coffee producers in the world, so we had to check out where it came from. We took a short flight to the cute town of Salento. This gorgeous toy-like town is full of colourful colonial-style buildings, old Colombian style pubs and restaurants, and is the gateway to the Cocora Valley (more on that below). We wanted to tour around the countryside and visit a coffee plantation, and there was only one way we wanted to do that – on horseback! Not being particularly seasoned riders, we cautiously mounted our horses (Caserolo and Janeiro) who were to be our trusted vehicles for the afternoon. Naturally, neither of them did as they were told, so we were at their mercy entirely as we rode down into the valley, along coffee fields and through raging rivers. It was an amazing yet slightly nerve-wracking experience to say the least! We also had the opportunity to tour a small coffee farm, where we picked coffee beans ourselves and learnt the process of producing the beans that are then shipped out to cafes and shops far and wide.

Drunk Hombre 1/4: This guy is a local cowboy and he was having a few shots with his buddies in the main square in Salento.
Drunk Hombre 2/4: You thought I was kidding eh?
Drunk Hombre 3/4
Drunk Hombre 4/4: Yep, he caught me watching! Then later on he hugged me!
Salento's main square at sunset
Horse riding is amazing - especially when you have views like this!
The coffee farm - fantastic little coffee growers - Acacia Coffee Farm

One of the other things that Colombia is famous for are the giant palm trees dotted all over the countryside, in particular the Cocora Valley. This little haven of a place is incredibly lush and green and the towering palm trees (the tallest in the world in fact) look absolutely stunning against the vivid landscape. Once again, we laced up our hiking boots and went hiking, this time a six-hour trek through the Cocora Valley, to witness not only these beautiful palms, but also a beautiful cloud forest and pretty little hummingbirds (see, I told you I was into birdwatching!). If in Colombia, doing this hike is non-negotiable as it was the most liberating experience to be amongst nature again and to have felt a sense of accomplishment once the hike is done and you can have a nice coffee back in town to congratulate yourself!).

Purple tree standing out amongst all the lush green countryside in the Cocora Valley
The Cocora Valley trail
Hummingbird 1/3: Truth is, I couldn't decide which photo I liked the most!
Hummingbird 2/3: So beautiful!
Hummingbird 3/3
The Cocora Palm Trees - tallest palm trees in the world
More Cocora Trees

Of course, no visit to Colombia would be complete without a stop at the (in)famous city of Medellin. Those of you familiar with the Netflix show “Narcos” will know exactly why, but even if you aren’t, the city is definitely worth some time there, as it has become a bold symbol of rejuvenation for Colombia as a whole, and how such a dangerous city could turn itself around so dramatically and leave its very dark past behind it. Along with many other western tourists, curiosity got the better of us, and we wanted to see where some the key places that “he who shall not be named*” operated during the eighties, and of course where it all culminated in a very bloody end for the famous perpetrator. We joined a tour with a couple of other curious tourists, and our driver seemed to have a vast knowledge of what had gone on during that time, having been friends with Pablo’s son. We even managed to catch a glimpse of the famous house where he often lived, only a few days before it was destroyed by the government, who are doing all they can to eliminate that part of the country’s history. 

The Monaco Building, also once home to Pablo Escobar
The Monaco Building just days before demolition
View from La Catedral - Pablo Escobar's self made prison
La Catedral
The rooftop where Pablo Escobar was eventually shot and killed (though it's said he shot himself)
A Pablo Escobar impersonator and tour guide showing people around the cemetery where Pablo Escobar is buried. The next day we saw the impersonator again and he seemed happy to see me, so he hugged me! Must be a thing here.
A now developed and rejuvenated Medellin with a prosperous future

Aside from its controversial history, Medellin really was impressive, having risen from the ashes to become a dynamic city, whose citizens are extremely proud of what it has become. I have never seen such a pristine metro system (often credited with sparking the positive change the city needed), and the cable cars up to communes in the hills was simply fantastic. Speaking of communes (districts), visitors to Medellin must visit commune 13, once a no-go area riddled with drugs, violence and poverty, and now regenerated into a colourful bohemian haven with outdoor escalators for easier accessibility by the residents into the main city, and shops and restaurants (and cool graffiti) to cater to the ever-growing boost in tourism. 

Comuna 13, reformed and colourful as ever.
Still maintains its urban roots but now in a more positive way
Comuna 13 boasts spectacular views of Medellin. Also note the orange escalators going all the way down which is real sign of innovation in once war torn city.
Comuna 13 is so colourful and vibrant and worth a visit - be careful to visit with a guide as some parts are still slightly rough.
Downtown Medellin
Cable Cars are an actual mode of transport for locals to reach the hilltops and are part of the metro system.
Santo Domingo, one of the towns situated high on the hills, accessible by cable car.

Finally, we thought we’d like to get a taste of Colombia’s Caribbean coast and get a different flavour so we hopped on a plane to the awesome city of Cartagena. The “Ciudad Amurallada” (the Old Walled City) is the stuff of Insta-dreams, again with beautiful, colourful colonial style houses, great big market squares paved with stones, and stunning views of the sunset over the Caribbean Sea. Live salsa beats permeate the narrow cobbled streets and the vibe is altogether more laid back and colourful. We spent a few days here wondering the streets doing nothing in particular and soaking in the vast Colombian culture, before retreating to a quiet little place on the island of Tierra Bomba for some much-needed R&R, before the madness continues in Rio for Carnival!!!  

One of a whole row of booko stores in Cartagena's central park outside the walled city.
Stunning colonial buildings which now house high end fashion stores
Another gorgeous street within the Walled City
A local lady casually sitting there watching the crowds. Something about this felt like a painting so it was a scramble to get the shot in time!

*It was very clear to us whilst there that Colombians do not under any circumstances wish for their country to be associated with Pablo Escobar’s reign of terror, during which were some of the bloodiest years the country has ever seen, so out of respect, we will not be glorifying what he did or in any way attempt to justify his actions. The mere mention of the name is pretty “hush hush” around Medellin and so we’ll instead refer to him in the same manner as Lord Voldemort.

Lessons learnt: From what we have told you about coffee production in Colombia, you would think that the coffee would be some of the best available in coffee shops. However, this isn’t the case, as all the “good stuff” is actually shipped abroad, leaving Colombians to drink the “second rate” stuff left over. A bit disappointing but try a little bit harder and you will find some excellent coffee in some places.


Other notable things: the mode of public transport in Salento are these jeep things called “Willys”. They fit around eight passengers inside the thing, and then another three or four hanging precariously off the back! Mr RS had the privilege of being one of these hangers-on for the 30-minute journey to the Cocora Valley. It was fun as he made us some friends! 

A few Willies hanging out in the main square in Salento