In that instance I stayed here in the city for three months before setting off on a trip which took me through Colombia and down as far as Tierra del Fuego, then back up through Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil. I finished the trip with a journey up the Amazon from Belen in Brazil to Iquitos in Peru, stopping in various places along the way and finally ending up in Medellin again before flying home to look for work and live a relatively normal life once again. Now many years have passed since that youthful adventure and here I am in Medellin, but this time living here rather than just passing through.
Medellin is located about 1,500 metres above sea level in the Aburra Valley and is surrounded by high mountains which form part of the Andes mountain range, stretching from Venezuela in the North to Argentina in the south. The Andes are approximately five-hundred miles long. Medellin is the capital of the department of Antioquia and is the second largest city in Colombia after the capital Bogotá. The city is known as the city of eternal spring due to its temperate climate, though the average temperatures have risen since I was first here due to global warming and the increased construction of high rise buildings in the city. The population of Medellin, if you include the entire metropolitan area and Envigado, is in the range of 3.5 million. Some of the towns which form the metropolitan area are no longer easily distinguishable from the main city as they are now joined in effect as one. Certainly from Bello in the North to Sabaneta and Itagui in the South there are no gaps separating the areas.
The city has changed a lot since my first visit, it has certainly grown, and now after all those years of bad press it appears to be going through a period of reinvention. In 1980 and 81, when I first came here there were only two main shopping centres that I recall, Oviedo and San Diego. San Diego remains pretty much unchanged, but Oviedo has undergone various expansions and now has a large cinema complex, many places to eat, and enough shops to keep avid window-shoppers and those wishing to offload some of their disposable income, happy for hours. I remember we often used to go to the centre or along La Setenta (70th street) to eat, whereas now we don't normally go to either. Now there are numerous shopping centres, some more successful and visited than others. Personally I think there are too many shopping centres and malls, but I’m not the best person to pass judgement as they are not my favourite places to hang out. I prefer the country and nature any day over the city. However, if you do want to visit one, I would recommend, El Tesoro, Santa Fe or Oviedo.
The metro cable also goes to a poor neighbourhood called Santo Domingo where there is a new library which architecturally is a very impressive and Innovative design. In another poor area of the city there is an electric escalator which takes people up and down the steep slope on which they live. Recently Medellin was voted as the most innovative city in the world by The Urban Land Institute, The Wall Street Journal Magazine and Citigroup.
There are many places worth seeing for a tourist visiting for the first time and my choices would include the following. To the north next to Univesidad metro station you will find the city’s Botanical Gardens, a great place to go and relax and get away from the noise of the city. The gardens have two restaurants, and throughout the year they organise various activities, such as a book fair and another called Orchids, Birds and Flowers, which is worth seeing. Opposite the Botanical Gardens is Parque Explora which is an interactive science park which also boasts an aquarium and is well worth visiting. You could spend the whole day seeing both.
The centre of the city is kind of hectic, but there you will find the cathedral, which is the second largest brick construction in the world, and also the Museum of Antioquia with works by famous artists including Fernando Botero, Pedro Nel Gomez and Francisco Cano. Outside the museum is Plaza Botero where you can see some of his fat sculptures. In between Poblado and Industriales metro stations you will find the Modern Art Museum, which if you like modern art is definitely a place to go, situated near Ciudad Del Rio Park. It’s a pleasant area where, after visiting the museum, you can go for a quiet drink or a bite to eat in one of the nearby bars or restaurants.
Another place you could visit is Cerro Nuitibara where there is a replica of a typical square in an Antioqueñian town, with restaurants and bars. For me personally I would prefer to just go to one of the real towns not far from the city, such as El Retiro, La Ceja, San Antonio, Santa Fe de Antioquia or Jerico, however, if you don’t have the time Cerro Nuitibara will give you an idea of what an Antioqueñian town is like. There is also a museum called el Castillo, which I haven’t been to for many years, but which if you have time on your hands could be worth seeing. In Envigado a museum in honour of the late Debora Arango, an artist from Envigado, is under construction and when finished I’m sure will be well worth taking the time to visit.
For discotheques, and partying in general the city’s playground is situated in Parque LLeras, in Poblado, just off La Diez, (10th street). Other places nearby which are less crowded would be La Strada and Rio Sur in Avenida Poblado or Sabaneta to the South.
The people in Medellin are very friendly, helpful and welcoming, the climate is pleasant, with two seasons, wet or dry, and the cost of living is cheap compared to Europe. The wet season is referred to here as Winter, and it always amuses me when local people start saying how cold the winter is, as for me and I’m sure anyone who is accustomed to four seasons, it never really gets cold, maybe a little chilly at night or early morning if there is a breeze, but not really cold.
And in a nutshell that is Medellin and the Aburra Valley. If you have the chance to visit Colombia, try and spend some days here.