This post was originally written for and published on Colombia Eco Travel.
Travelers rave about Medellín, and for good reason; there’s plenty to do in the city on a budget. Medellín is also one of the most progressive cities in Colombia, and it ‘s filled with enough art and culture to keep your urban exploration itinerary full and your spirit inspired.
My boyfriend and I took a bus to Medellín from Manizales, which took around 5 hours after getting caught in some accident-related traffic. Once w arrived, we headed to the Happy Buddha Hostel; it was hip and clean, but it was definitely a party scene – and not one I wanted to be associated with. It became clear that Medellín had become a mecca to backpackers who seek drugs and women. Unfortunately, this completely plays into the stereotypes most Colombians are working hard to break, as explained by the article “What the Netflix Series Narcos Doesn’t Tell you About Colombia” by Sarah Duncan. We quickly ditched the hostel and found a small, Italian restaurant in El Poblado, the upscale neighborhood most tourists stay in.
The next morning, we woke up early to explore the neighborhood and find breakfast. After we ate, we jumped on the Metro to head to Botero Plaza. Fernando Botero is a local to Medellín, and his art has become an integral part of the city. His abstract perception of proportion and volume is best explained in his own words, “A painted landscape is always more beautiful than a real one, because there’s more there. Everything is more sensual, and one takes refuge in its beauty.” After strolling through the Sculpture Park, dodging tourists, we entered the quiet sanctuary of the Museum of Antioquia. I was lucky enough to stumble upon the MDE15 Exhibit: Local Histories in the Global Context. I found pieces inspired by resilience, contradiction, memory, resistance and possibilities, themes all deeply woven into Medellín’s identity.
That evening we wandered up into Envigado searching for a restaurant with amazing views; we didn’t find the exact one we were looking for, but we did find the traditional and bright La Mayoria Restaurante. It was packed, but they found us the last table. There was a sultry live music performance and a horse show mid-meal. During dessert, we jumped in the Conga line and did as the Colombians did.
On our last day in Medellín, we headed out to see the inspiring street art in Comuna 13. In 2014, walking tours started of La Comuna 13. The tours of this "once most dangerous neighborhood in the country" have grown immensely popular in the past 2 years due to its eclectic and bright street art and socially progressive escalator installation. I highly recommend Toucan Cafe, because part of the proceeds for this company directly supports local education initiatives, and Toucan Cafe's tour is led by the group of artists who are responsible for over 90% of the graffiti art you'll see in the neighborhood. Unfortunately the Toucan Cafe tours were booked when we were visiting, but we didn't let that stop us. If you're interested in the formal tour, make sure to book ahead. If you're interested in visiting independently, you can find a detailed guide with directions and tips here. We walked past a high school soccer game and men carving meat with machetes in the street. Kids ran up to us wanting to practice English, and I felt warmly welcomed in the neighborhood. It was my favorite afternoon of the trip.
Finally, we returned to the bus stop where we began. As the buildings faded into the hills, it was easy to understand why Medellín so easily captures travelers' hearts.