- Lifestyle & Sports
- 14 Aug 14
Once considered one of the most dangerous destinations on Earth, the Colombian city of Medellin has undergone a startling transformation and is now a beautiful, safe spot to visit.
Where exactly is it?
Known as ‘Ciudad de la Eterna Primavera’ (or ‘City Of The Everlasting Spring’, in English), located in the basin of the Aburrá Valley next to one of the most northern of The Andes. Considered the country’s industrial capital, the metropolitan area boasts a population of nearly four million.
How do I get there?
Medellin is quite the trek from Ireland, taking at least two flights and between 16 and 20 hours of travel to reach. Most of the cheaper options involve flying via Miami.
What language do they speak?
Like the rest of Colombia, the language spoken is Spanish, with the dialect of Antioquean Spanish the most widely used by the Paisan people that occupy the majority of the region. The Paisas are considered to be genetically isolated within Colombia, arising from the colonisation of the area by Basques rather than Spaniards.
What is the local beer like?
The most popular beer in Medellin – and all of Colombia – is Águila, the flagship cerveza of the iconic Bavaria Brewery. Águila is considered a smooth and slightly creamy beer, with subtle flavours and a mildly bitter aftertaste. It’s particularly suited to the warm and comfortable climate of the city.
The native brands of sodas are Colombiana and Postobón, in various flavours, and definitely worth a try for connoisseurs. For those looking to drink a bit more healthy, freshly squeezed orange juice is available at most markets, along with adventurous styles of juice including blackberry mango and guanabana. No worries on drinking the water – tap water in Medellin is very clean.
What is the transport like?
Medellin is well equipped in terms of transportation, with a metro system that is capable of taking you from one extreme of the city to the other. There are also plenty of buses and taxis on offer. Medellin is quite walkable in most parts. Be aware that some of the “hills” and “slopes” are literally mountains.
What’s the food like?
It’s said that the typical menu of Colombian restaurants found around the world is modelled after the food served in Medellin. Many restaurants in the city follow the movement of locally grown non-GMO food and traditional “bandeja paisa”, which consists of red beans, white rice, steak or ground beef, a sunny side up egg, pork grinds, plantain and avocado. A must visit is Café Zorba in Calle 8, where you can enjoy a pizza and sangria in a relaxing atmosphere that is welcoming to visitors without feeling too touristy.
What’s the nightlife like?
Medellin, like much of Colombia, is renowned for its nightlife. Most bars and clubs don’t close until three or four in the morning, with some pushing towards sunrise. The best place to go is the Parque Lleras district, the music and entertainment hub. On any night out in Medellin, you are likely to meet people from all over the world who have come to enjoy themselves.
Why should I go?
Medellin was once synonymous with drugs violence and considered one of the world’s most dangerous cities. It has lifted itself by its boot-straps and is now a world class destination. Lush trees and beautiful weather all year round add to its appeal.
What are the touristy things to do?
El Pueblito Paisa is one of the more popular tourist attractions in the city. Located on top of Nutibara Hill, the “Little Town” is a recreation of the typical pueblos that made up old-time Antioquia. On the outskirts of the town in Guatape is Piedra de Peñol, a monolithic rock that, once climbed, gives the impression you are on top of the world. You could also take a ride on the MetroCable, a gondola lift transport system intended for those who live on the mountainside barrios. The Metrocable offers breathtaking views of Medellin, along with a view of the barrios that dot the mountains surrounding it. You’ll also find plenty of museums and, of course, Botero Plaza, a park filled with the work of famous Medellin artist Fernando Botero.
Medellin is a beautiful city, considered very clean with warm, beautiful people to match. While it’s a bit of a trek to reach the city from Ireland, a visit would be well worth it.
Anything to avoid?
Always an important factor in any foreign city, you should avoid wearing gaudy jewellery or being too flashy when downtown. While Medellin is the safest it has been in years, low level crime such as pickpockets and muggings can be an issue.
What should I bring home?
A trip to Medellin wouldn’t be complete if you didn’t bring home a traditional Paisa poncho or Paisa hat.
When should I go?
Medellin has two major civic events in the middle of summer and winter, so visit during these times to see the city at its most alive. December brings The Festival Of Lights, during which the Medellin River is lit up by millions of Christmas lights and the city is abuzz. In early August, there is The Festival Of The Flowers, a celebration of the end of slavery. Locals parade through the city with intricately designed floral arrangements, along with vintage automobiles and folk on horseback. Given the city’s consistent year-round temperature between the mid-teens and upper twenties, you can be sure the weather will be fine whenever you choose to visit.
What’s my challenge?
Building up a modest ability to speak Spanish with the locals is a good challenge and can open you up to a richer experience in the city. If you can manage to avoid being ripped off by a cab driver or street vendor during your stay, consider that an accomplishment!
What’s the currency?
Something to remember?
While Medellin’s reputation is still in the shadow of Pablo Escobar and the violent legacy of the drug trade, the city has begun to assert itself as an international destination. No longer is Medellin one of the most dangerous places on the planet. Its reinvention proves no city can ever be considered completely lost.