Holiday in Colombia (8): Medellin

Today (Sunday) was devoted to a tour of Medellin which is Colombia’s second city with a population of 3.4 million. Thanks to its location at 1,500 metres (5,000 feet) in the Aburra valley, it is known as “the city of the eternal spring” and the weather today was comfortably warm.

Sadly Medellin is best known worldwide for its violence associated with the drugs trade, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, but infamous drugs baron Pablo Escobar was killed in 1993, the military-style Operation Orion was launched in 2002, and in recent years the city has seen a dramatic decrease in violence and a social transformation. 

A key element of this transformation has been an innovative transport system which currently includes two metro lines throughout the city, four cable car systems connecting the shanty towns to the city, and an extended escalator linking the most notorious of the shanty towns (Comuna 13) to the city centre. 

Currently, more than 30 street gangs or “combos” operate throughout Comuna 13, controlling territory, drug dealing and extortion. Nevertheless, the area has become a tourist attraction because of its colourful graffitis and the Cox & Kings tour promised a visit to the Comuna. However, at the start of today’s tour, our guide Christian announced that there had been a recent growth in violence in the area and it was no longer safe for us to visit.  

We started our city tour by driving over an hour up the mountainside to a nature reserve called Parque Arvi. The walk that we should have taken here was not open so, after a short while, we sampled the delights of the city’s new transportation system. First we took the cable car down from Arvi to Acevedo and then from Acevedo to Santo Domingo which gave us dramatic views of the whole city in the valley and – as we descended further and further – the shanty towns clinging to the mountain sides. Then we took the metro to San Antonio. 

Now on foot, we looked at a location called “El Hueco” (“The Hole”) where locals can buy a fantastic range of goods for cheap prices, before wandering over to Parque San Antonio where there are 23 sculptures by the famous local artist Fernando Botero. Lunch was in an establishment called “La Fonda del Pueblo” located in Pueblito Paisa which is a small square created to replicate a colonial era venue. After the meal, Christian treated us to a local treat called oblea con arequipe which is a pair of large, thin wafers with a sticky, sweet substance in between.

Our final destination of the day – a rather macabre one – was very close to the hotel. It was the former residence of the drug baron Pablo Escobar: an eight-story building that once housed 12 apartments decorated in opulent fashion. Although the building has long been empty and unused, it remains a tourist attraction to the irritation of local residents and it is due to be demolished by the end of the year and replaced with a memorial to the victims of the narco wars.  


XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>