Situated in a narrow valley, Medellín packs the punch of a city twice its size. Its skyline reaches for the heavens, setting high-rise apartments and office buildings against a backdrop of jagged peaks in every direction. Its pleasant climate gives it its nickname – the City of Eternal Spring – and the moderate temperatures put a spring in the locals’ steps, at work and at play. It’s a bustling place of industry and commerce, especially in textile manufacturing and exported cut flowers. On weekends Medellín lets its hair down, its many discos attracting the beautiful people.
The city sprawls north and south along the valley floor; slums hug the upper reaches of the hills. True to its paisa (people of Antioquia) roots, Medellín affects an indifference to the rest of Colombia, putting on metropolitan airs and looking overseas for inspiration for its next great public-works projects.
La Comuna 13
Once one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Medellín, the Comuna 13, which clings to the mountainside above the San Javier metro station, has undergone an impressive transformation in recent times and is now considered safe to visit. The focal point of a trip to the comuna is the area around the escaleras electricas, the outdoor escalators that provide access to homes in marginalized barrios that were formerly isolated from the city below. A taxi from the metro costs COP$5500.
Alongside the Metrocable lines, the escaleras electricas are one of the icons of the rebirth of Medellín. The area surrounding the six sets of escalators is awash with murals and graffiti, while at the top there is a lookout and a boardwalk offering fine views of the bustling city below.
In order to fully understand the violence and difficulties that have plagued the area and its impressive reformation, it’s a great idea to hike the comuna with a local guide. Recommended guides can be arranged at Casa Kolacho near the San Javier metro. Alternatively, check out the barrio’s artwork with the Comuna 13 Graffiti Tour, departing twice daily from the Poblado metro.
To reach the escaleras take either bus 221i or 225i from the stop by the traffic lights on the right as you leave the San Javier metro. Buy an integrated ticket at the station where you board the metro.
Bicitour offers in-depth cycle tours of Medellín, visiting a variety of interesting sights pertinent to local history, politics and culture, on a 19km route through diverse neighborhoods. They’re a healthy and ecological way to see a side of the city you might otherwise miss. Tours begin and end in El Poblado.
Tours start at 9am, take around five hours in total and prices include a refreshment.
Zona de Vuelo
This experienced operator offers 15- and 20-minute tandem flights (COP$130,000/160,000) and photos/videos of your flight for an extra COP$40,000. Also on offer are 15-day courses (COP$3,500,000). It also provides round-trip transportation to the launch point in San Felix from Medellín (COP$90,000 for up to four passengers).
Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellín
Set around a refurbished industrial building in Ciudad del Río, ‘El MAMM’ showcases changing exhibitions of contemporary art. The large new wing houses pieces from the permanent collection, which includes many works by local painter Débora Arango. It also has a cinema showing independent films.
Runs the original Pablo Escobar–themed tour (COP$60,000) daily at 9:30am and 2pm. You’ll learn all about the history of drug cartels in Colombia and get taken to significant sites around Medellín that featured in Escobar’s wild life.