A Travellerspoint blog

High Above Medellín

Taking in the scenery of this sprawling, Colombian city

semi-overcast 75 °F

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View of Medellín from atop Pueblo Paisa

A decade or so ago, I wouldn’t be taking this trip. The drug wars that plagued Colombia and caused havoc have ended. Since then, Colombia has recovered from the chaos and is now a much safer place to visit. In fact, Europeans have been coming here for years. However, if you mention flying to Medellin to Americans, the words “cocaine” and “Pablo Escobar” are what you will likely hear in reply.

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Medellin is Colombia’s second largest city and would be my hub for my travels

Landing at midnight is not my preferred way to arrive in a new country. And certainly not after waiting almost two hours in the Immigration lines. By the time I checked into my hotel room, it was nearly 2am. I unpacked a little, and went straight to bed. Medellín would be the hub of my two weeks in Columbia. I would come and go from there to visit other parts of the country. This time, I would be leaving after just two nights to go down to Salento - Colombia’s scenic coffee growing country. So, I really had only one day of sightseeing during “part one” of Medellín. My hotel was in the El Poblado district, which is where most travelers stay. Conveniently, there was a shopping mall across the street where I could get water and other essentials before beginning my exploration.

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Medellin sprawls through a valley and up the slopes of the surrounding hills

Driving in from the airport the previous night, I’d gotten a glimpse of the city’s sprawling landscape. The city spreads across a valley and up the slopes of the surrounding hills. Overlooked by green hills and vistas all around, Medellín is a scenic city. The hotel receptionist suggested starting off my sightseeing at Pueblito Paisa, a green hill sprouting up amidst the urban sprawl. Atop the hill is a touristy little Pueblo - a replica country village square - with lots of souvenir shops and some cafes. More importantly, it has great views of the city. To get there, I took what would become my main mode of transportation in Medellín: Uber. Prices for trips around town are amazingly cheap (usually about $3 US). Service is quick and efficient, and the drivers were friendly and helpful.

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Pueblo Paisa’s village plaza atop a hill looking down on Medellín

The views from Pueblo Paisa were excellent. There was a slight haze, but no sign yet of the rain that threatens to plague this trip. Looking at the weather forecast for the coming week, it shows rain every day in every city I plan to visit. Yikes. I am hoping it doesn’t rain all day, every day. That would be a miserable two weeks. So far, it was looking good. After exploring the hilltop and Pueblo, I relaxed in one of the cafes with a snack and Colombian beer. Where to next? I had read on a visitor’s blog that the cable cars were an excellent way to see the city. In particular, it recommended the K and L lines that go all the way to Arvi Park. I checked the map I had picked up at the tourist information booth in the Pueblo, and figured out how to get there. I arranged another Uber and was soon on my way.

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The cable car network in Medellín are part of its metro system

The cable cars were built by the city as a way for the residents of the hillside neighborhoods to get back and forth between home and the city. Some of the hillside settlements are impoverished neighborhoods called communes in Columbia. These were the scene of a lot of misery during the drug wars, and the cable cars were a way for the government to try to improve the lives of these citizens. A pleasant side effect for visitors is they are a great way to see the city -especially the poorer areas which might not be as safe to visit. I know it sounds a little harsh, but I love getting views from above. I would have taken the cable car no matter how wealthy or poor the neighborhoods were that it went over! So, this wasn’t a “Gee, Mom - look at the poor people!” tour!

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The steep climb up the hillsides in the cable car

The cable cars are part of Medellín’s efficient Metro system. It was easy to use one of the automated machines and purchase a card and load it with money for the ride. As it turned out, Line L that goes up and over the surrounding hillside to the park was relatively expensive as transportation goes in Medellín. Of course, by expensive I mean more than just a few dollars worth in Columbian pesos! The gondola of the cable car says it can fit up to 10 passengers, but most of the time, we had one to ourselves. The line climbs steeply from the river bank and quickly begins gliding above the city. The views were every bit as fantastic as advertised. It was cool to see how the buildings of the communes are constructed in a number of ways, most containing multiple dwellings. Tin roofs, often weighed down by large stones, were common.
Just as common were the colorful murals that Columbians decorate their walls with. I had been snapping pictures of the most striking all day. Some are cartoonish, but others show a skillful use of shading and light that display the talent of the artists that created them. My favorites were the portraits of people, although I admit I had know idea who they represented. On my return to Medellín from Salento, I plan on taking a graffiti tour. So, expect more on the graffiti in a later blog entry.

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The settlements along the hillsides are constructed out of many materials in many different styles

Central Medellín was receding below us in a haze, but our aerial view of the hillside settlements continued to unfold beneath us. The buildings became less city-like of brick or plaster, and more village-like as we ascended. I saw more farm buildings and livestock like goats, horses, and donkeys. Sounds drifted up to us, too. From dogs barking and music blasting, it slowly morphed into faint rural sounds of roosters and soon only the whistle of the wind.

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Colorful graffiti and murals adorn the walls throughout Medellín - not just in the communes

Eventually, the last of the hillside villages faded away and the trees grew thicker as we entered Arvi Park. The park has hiking trails popular with residents and visitors, but I was not planning on that today. I have a big hike scheduled in Salento, plus I had left the hiking shoes and rain gear in the room. Floating above the treetops, I was able to see the variety of trees and plant life in the park. The cable car line went on and on. We passed over a hill and descended into another valley. The ride was much longer than I expected. Ominously, I could see dark clouds gathering in the distance towards where we were heading. I thought that it would be a bit frightening to be trapped in one of the gondolas, floating through a thunderstorm! Rain drops were dotting the windows when we finally arrived at the park’s visitors center.

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more views of the hillside communes from the cable car’s gondola

The rain didn’t come in force, yet. So, we explored the little craft and fruit market just outside the metro station. I’d had a big breakfast at my hotel, so was content with snacking on a fruit bowl and drinking freshly squeezed juice. The clouds continued to darken, so I figured it was time to head back. The return ride on the cable car was just as scenic as the trip out. However, it was mid-afternoon, and at each stop, the gondolas were picking up more passengers. As we drifted into the final station, we no longer had the gondola to ourselves, but instead their were six of us. The long line of passengers waiting to board made me wonder how crowded the Metro would be as we neared rush hour.

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The buildings become more like rural farms and less like urban shacks as you ascend the hillside

The plan was to make one more sightseeing stop, but the rain began to fall and I decided to head back to the hotel. By the time I disembarked from the metro at the El Poblado stop and summoned an Uber home, it was a torrential downpour. I regretted the tennis shoes and leaving my rain gear by the time I ducked inside the Uber. Still, for a day that was supposed to be mostly rainy, I had been able to squeeze in a decent amount of sightseeing. Hopefully, the rain would continue to hold off most days and allow me to enjoy the beautiful sights of Colombia.

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Posted by world_wide_mike 18:22 Archived in Colombia

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