First Impressions of Medellín, Colombia

Medellín has the advantage of immediately making a great first impression when visitors descend from the mountain tops straight into the belly of the city. I arrived late in the evening, so the spectacle presented to me was one I would describe as a million fireflies trapped in a bowl shaped by Mother Nature herself. It was a beautiful sight. But even in the daytime it awes its visitors and citizens with the surrounding luscious treetops, and mountains that beg to be hiked. Medellín is also known as ‘La ciudad de la eterna primavera’ (= The city of eternal spring) and it got this name from its year around spring-like weather. They may have rainy and dry seasons, but generally speaking the weather is mostly sunny with a nice occasional breeze. It is rarely too hot and the humidity is bearable – the perfect climate you could almost say. But due to my first impression of the capital of the Antioquia region, I will also personally refer to it as “the city of a million fireflies”.

I spent the first few days in the popular area called ‘La Poblado’, a rather busy area filled with hostels and restaurants. Only five minutes away is the financial and shopping district where you can find more luxurious hotels and big shopping malls, if you have a few more pesos in your pocket. Due to this outline the prices tend to be higher compared to other areas I have visited so far. For that reason and another one, which has to do with my quiet and peace-seeking nature, I moved thirty minutes northwest of ‘Poblado’ to ‘La Floresta’. It is more of a student district and therefore a little cheaper. Peaceful and quiet, I still wouldn’t call it, for the traffic is still as mad as in any other area of Medellín. I don’t think there’s any escaping it. Unless you take a bus two hours up north to Guatapé, which is a great refuge for someone who wants to escape the crazy citylife. You can do a tour in order to get to Guatapé, but a few friends from the hostel and I went there on our own. Depending on your personal preferences, choose whatever option suits you best. I haven’t done any tours thus far and I honestly don’t plan on doing any. While it may be a good way to get to know a specific place and gather information from a capable guide, I’m simply not a fan of going from point A to B to C, then back to point A. I prefer to go on my own, because first off I can take my time and I also can find out what lies between the different points. Sometimes you discover beautiful and curious places that you never would have found on a thoroughly planned out tour. So if you were expecting recommendations for any tours, then I’m afraid I can’t give you any.

20170901_152054
The ‘Museo El Castillo’ is not only a beautiful castle, but also stands in the middle of an equally beautiful park.

Oh, the same goes for the night-time activities. I don’t drink alcohol and I don’t party anymore, as some of you may know. Thailand “satisfied” my need in those regards for the unforeseeable future. But yes, there are bars, clubs and party hostels galore around Medellín, especially in the Poblado area. Which also means that I have to disappoint all of my lovely friends who shared their “secrets” with me on how to pick up the indeed beautiful Colombian ladies. You know who you are. Once again, Thailand scratched that itch for now.

What really makes Medellín this modernized city is their famous Metro, which makes getting around so much easier. They run every few minutes in any direction and with only 2300 Pesos (less than a Dollar) are also extremely cheap. I have only used it once so far, for the same reasons I mentioned above. I love walking, only that way I personally get a good impression of a place. What can I say? I’m half Austrian, we are bound to walk and hike! And God gave me two healthy legs, so there are no excuses not to use them. Whenever my legs do get tired after a couple of hours, they usually find their way into a charming café. And just like my late grandfather had a particularly good nose for finding the best local restaurant, I would say that I have a pretty good nose concerning great cafés. But yes, a search on Google narrows down my choices significantly, I have to admit.

 

Colombia is world-famous for their coffee beans, but that doesn’t mean you get a delicious cup of ‘tinto’ on every street corner. Since they export a big chunk of it into the world, they don’t keep a lot for themselves and often times what you will be getting is some good ol’ Nescafé. But fear not, there are still cafés that get their beans from one of the local ‘fincas’ (= farms) and that my friends, is a taste to behold. My favorite so far is a charming, little place called ‘Café Revolución’, which is located in yet another busy area: ‘Bolivariana’. What makes ‘Revolución’ stand out to me is their cappuccino and if there is one thing you may know about me, then it’s my undying love for a good cup of cappuccino. If you are a little hungry, they also prepare some great paninis with all sorts of different toppings. Meat lovers and vegetarians alike will certainly find their perfect choice. It’s a fairly small place with three tables inside and four located outside on their patio. If you enjoy the coffee served here, you can also purchase the coffee beans in variously sized bags.

10374907_254476411405181_8335424482818927871_n
The cappuccino tastes as good as it looks. Photo: Café Revolución Facebook Page

In terms of restaurants I’m a little surprised to find myself frequently in vegetarian and vegan restaurants. This may be due to some of the Colombian dishes served during ‘desayuno‘ (= breakfast) and ‘almuerzo‘ (= lunch), which can be extremely filling to put it lightly. The infamous ‘Bandeja Paisa’ (= people’s plate) has been described in an online article as “a high-calorie dish that should come with a warning label”. A fitting description, since it comes with red beans, pork belly, white rice, ground beef, fried egg, chorizo and so much more. It’s insane. The Colombians also love their pastry, especially the different sorts of ‘arepas’ (= flat corn cakes, but you often find them filled with cheese. #guiltyyyyy) and ‘empanadas’ (= fried pastry usually filled with beef), but in general you will find many types of baked goods in a near-by ‘panaderia‘ (=bakery). None of these goods are particularly healthy, but are they delicious? Absolutely. So, vegetarian/vegan restaurants present a good and well-needed counterbalance to all the devilish daytime treats.

20170905_174720
I had my first vegan pizza in Colombia. Who would’ve thought?

But by now I enjoy a free breakfast in my hostel, which after a week almost feels like a small community. Some people may refer to it as their home away from home, but since I don’t really have any other home, Yellow HouseHostel is legitimately my home right now. In order to save money, I also buy my groceries from one of the stores and cook my dinner in the small, but well equipped kitchen. When everyone eats together on the long wooden table, you could say that major parts of the world gather around it, for about three to four different languages are usually being spoken. It has a relaxed atmosphere that I really like, so I will stay here until I eventually have to leave for Bogota in about a month, since my flight leaves from there.

As I mentioned in one of my Instagram posts, the first word that came to mind after spending a day in Medellín was ‘vibrant’. So vibrant and alive in fact that I could spend the better part of my week describing it in more detail. There is just so much happening; it is fast and it is loud in the parts I’ve been so far. The traffic as I mentioned is insane. If you come here, please be warned that they don’t slow down if you cross the road. They are like raging bulls charging at you and even if they have to stop at a red light, they have the collective appearance of the bulls in Pamplona waiting impatiently to destroy everything and everyone in their path. During their involuntary stop, people would walk between the cars trying to sell their goods. Which is something I have seen before in different cities around the world, but what was new to me, was that some more creative ‘paisas’ (= the name people of the Antioquia municipal are known by. Literally translated: ‘people’) would entertain the drivers with little acts like juggling Styrofoam  bricks, playing a music instrument or performing aerial contortions on a silk fabric tied on a tree above them. Yeah, I couldn’t believe witnessing the latter either.

20170912_141441
The infamous ‘Bandeja Paisa’. What you can’t see on this picture are the beans under the sausage and porkbelly, and the portion of rice under the egg. I had 1 1/2 plates of it. #heartattack

To wrap things up for now, Medellín is a city that I like, but not one I could see myself living for an extended period of time. It is hard to say, since I have only been here for about two weeks, but so far it hasn’t impressed me so far as to make me want to settle down here. It definitely has managed an impressive feat by turning what was once considered to be one of the most dangerous cities in the world into this modern and well-developed capital of the Antioquia region. Although cocaine is certainly still a problem here, and all around Colombia in fact, Medellín valiantly does its best to close this dark chapter of their past and to start a new one that is more hopeful; one that continues to attract backpackers and tourists alike for decades to come. I’m sure they will succeed.

2 thoughts on “First Impressions of Medellín, Colombia”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s