Perfect weather, friendly people, beautiful scenery, cheap beer, and great nightlife: this is Medellín, Colombia. I’ve wanted to visit Medellín for many years and finally got to go with my girlfriend last week. I had always imagined going by myself and falling in love with a beautiful local and quitting my job and becoming an English teacher. But, going with my girlfriend was a great time and I’m glad we were able to share the experience together.
We stayed in El Poblado, which is the wealthiest and safest part of the city. We stayed at a hotel right next to Parque Lleras, which seemed to be the center of the night clubs and bars and restaurants of the area. Every night was like a party there with bars closing at 3am on a Monday or Tuesday, and much later from Thursday to Saturday. We woke up early Sunday morning to go on a trip and the streets were deserted and everything was closed. I guess people like to party and sleep in on the weekends. There were trees and plants and flowers everywhere. Aside from the booming base music at night, the area was very relaxed and peaceful.
We were warned about certain places, such as Comuna 13, which people said to visit only as a group with a guide who knows the locals. There are parts of Chicago I wouldn’t want to go without a guide either. We felt pretty safe where we were staying and using the Metro train seemed safe too. Everyone was very nice, especially the people working at the hotel. Instead of saying ‘you’re welcome,’ they say, “mucho gusto” or “muchisimo gusto,” which basically means “it was a pleasure” or “it was a great pleasure.”
Overall, the whole trip cost $2,036 for two people, or $1,018 per person. Beer was between $2 and $3 and meals were about $8-10 per person. The Metro was about $0.82 per ride. The taxi from the airport was $35 with a guy who had my name on a sign (I always wanted to have someone waiting for me with a sign). The taxi back to the airport was $26. The trip to Guatapé was $30 per person. The metro cable car was $6 and the guided tour at Parque Arví was $16 per person.
We used $400 in cash and the rest on credit. Overall, I’m pretty happy with how we used our resources.
Here are some of the places we visited and experiences we had:
We walked to the Poblado Metro station and took it to the Universidad stop. The station was super clean and well maintained. There wasn’t any garbage on the tracks and we saw a lady mopping the floor. We were both in shock because we’ve never seen that in Chicago. I’ve never seen it in Boston or New York City either. The park was beautiful and free to enter. We saw several families and couples having picnics there. We spent a lot of time watching the iguanas and other wildlife.
After the park, we went to a little restaurant. We sat outside and this Rasta Colombian guy came over and sold us a couple hand-made bracelets. He said we looked very happy together because we were always smiling. A few minutes later, some crazy crackhead dude started talking to us and sat down at our table. He had a PlayStation 1 controller he was carrying around for no particularly obvious reason. He was talking really fast and slurring his words and I couldn’t understand him. I was saying in Spanish that I didn’t know Spanish and that I didn’t understand him, but he wasn’t listening. He asked for some food and my girlfriend gave him her plate of leftover fries. He then grabbed my beer, which was almost finished and drank it. I had had enough and we left the table to pay for the lunch.
Parque Arví was a beautiful place on top of a mountain. The only way to get there is to take two separate cable car ski-lifts. The second one brings you through the forest after you reach the summit. There were really incredible views of the city and the slums below. We went on a guided hike through the forest and I did my best to translate what our guide was saying. There was a huge red mushroom that we walked by that had a sign next to it. We all took pictures of it, and then soon realized it was made of styrofoam (buzzkill). Later, we were walking and saw some blue stones. My girlfriend thought they had naturally appeared there and took at least 5 different pictures of them. I asked our guide later about them, and she said they were just for decoration. Little kids had painted them and left them by the trail. There was no significance.
The elevation at the top of the mountain is 8,465 feet, which is about 1.6 miles high, so the hike became pretty difficult in the steeper sections. A grandmother was doing the hike with her son and after a steep climb said, “Saqueme un tequila!” (Get me a tequila!) when she finally joined us at a resting point with park benches.
El Peñon de Guatapé – The Rock
What was probably the highlight of the trip was our adventure to see the rock of Guatapé. We took a bus tour that included breakfast, coffee, lunch, and a couple stops in small towns for sightseeing and shopping. It only cost $30 per ticket, which was a great deal. Our guide was funny and gave us a brief history lesson of Medellín and all of the places we visited.
Climbing the 740 steps up the mountain was a lot more difficult than we were expecting. The top of the rock has an elevation of 7,005 feet, so we had to make several stops to catch our breath because of the reduced oxygen that we’re not used to from living in the flat C-level city of Chicago. The views from the top were absolutely amazing. You could see light blue/green winding lakes going between mountains as far as the eye could see.
Envy Roof Top – Charlee Hotel
My girlfriend really wanted to go to a pool or be around water, so I did some research and found the Envy Roof Top bar, which just so happened to be a 1 minute walk away from our hotel. They had a fire drill right before we got there, so it was pretty empty. We swam in the pool for a bit and then had several beers and a small bottle of champagne. We saw the sunset there, which was really beautiful. The views from the roof were pretty awesome. We could see the mountains engulfing the city as the sky changed colors.
Aeroparque Juan Pablo II – Water Park
It was our last day in Medellín and we decided to spend it at the water park. It was right next to the local airport, which was cool because we got to see planes take off. It was a little loud at times, but entertaining enough that it didn’t matter. They had a wave pool and some slides. It wasn’t the most amazing water park, but for $2 per person, who can complain about that?! I got us an Uber from the hotel for less than $3. The WiFi at the park didn’t work, so I started to panic about how we were going to get back to the hotel. The lady at the ticket counter was very nice and helped us get a local cab. She was telling me in Spanish that we needed to get the taxi driver #, just in case he tried to screw us over. It was interesting that even a local didn’t trust the taxis around there.
DANCEFREE – Bachata and Salsa Dancing
Our last night in Medellín, we went to DANCEFREE, which holds Bachata and Salsa dancing lessons. It was about $5 per person, which was a pretty good deal. The instructors were obviously very good and made us look like a couple stiff ass gringos. There was one move I couldn’t quite get, so I kept screwing up the dance routine with my partners. A tall German guy kept getting mad at my girlfriend because she didn’t let him lead. It was a good time and we had some drinks and dinner after.
Medellín is a great city and I hope to visit again someday. I totally recommend it as a travel destination. There are opportunities to be around nature, drink and party, and to enjoy eating at a restaurant without worrying about the cost. Surprisingly, I didn’t have to join the cartel as a drug mule or join a gang or get shot.
Photo credit for the DANCEFREE photo: