Home of the national hero slash merciless murderer, Pablo Escobar, city of brilliant vibes, modern, green and multi faced - Medellin is a true gem of Colombia. Medellin can make you feel like you’re in Manhattan, Rio de Janeiro, Bangkok, Napoli, Tijuana and San Francisco depending on what you’re looking for. Its urban modernity shares the fame with the remains of the age of the drug lords at the same time - you can enjoy the luxury of a Marriott hotel or you can organize a private party at one of the many narcofincas - former drug lords’ castle like estates in the mountains surrounding Medellin, now being rented out for private events. There are areas where you can go, where you absolutely shouldn’t go and where you can try going if you’re feeling adventurous, but only if you can put on a credible badass gangsta image. Taxi ride with an agency taxi driver through for example Buenos Aires neighborhood or a cable car ride up the mountain to Parque Arvi will let you peak at these areas from the safety of a cabin.
The city has a very convenient metro which stretches very far North and South making each stop a distinct neighborhood. There is a lot of nightlife, primarily posh bars and clubs in Poblado and life music and salsa clubs around 78th street. There is a pretty big gringo land in Poblado as well - majority of hostels, gringo food places will be there, right around the Parque Lleras which is the famous party scene. Hostels here are overpriced, all look the same and provide not a very good value for the money. If you want to experience a bit more real Medellin apart from this Parque Lleras area gringo aquarium, use Airbnb.com - we’ve been using it for a while, mostly for bigger cities, and it has proved to be an excellent experience, especially in Medellin where hostels can’t much the value of most Airbnb properties.
We paid $30 per night for a private room ensuite in a new, modern apartment right in the heart of Envigado neighborhood - it was just perfect! Envigado (same name metro stop) is a middle class working “town” where culture and atmosphere is perfectly preserved as very local. There are very few gringos/expats living there and generally tourists don’t really come here, so it’s a very well kept secret of Medellin. Envigado has everything you might need to feel like a local - tons of all sorts of shopping, food market, supermarkets, colonial architecture, entertainment, transportation, local nightlife and some local gangster scene as well if you’re into checking out the remains of Pablo’s times. Holidays like Christmas and Easter are especially big in Envigado - we got to see the preparations for Christmas - oh, man, Times Square in NYC would be embarrassed seeing Envigado on Christmas. From markets to street food to local billiard “barracks” and fondas (little dive bars) where usually older guys hang out after work - everything will make you feel the very authentic atmosphere of the town. There are many renovated and newly built apartment buildings in the area - beautiful, spacious places that go for relatively cheap. Our Airbnb place was one of them. Jesse, the host, is a great guy who loves this city, its vibe and what it has to offer. Spending time with him gives you a very profound perspective on the life in Medellin. Jesse also knows a lot of young expats who chose Medellin as their home and it’s a great little community that gets together time to time - we were lucky to be there for a Thanksgiving party and get to know Medellin’s expat crowd a bit.
A definite highlight of staying in Medellin was 4 days spent in the mountains surrounding Medellin - at a castle like cabin in the woods near Santa Elena hanging over the city of Medellin at almost 3000m. This is another property Jesse and some of his friends are renting out time to time and its perfect for relaxation, getting off the grid or just locking yourself in the woods for some productive work time which this place is almost wants you to accomplish. Stained glass windows, fireplace, medieval chandeliers, rustic kitchen, sun room, huge bath tub for cold evenings, chill hangout area, the views - just perfect! From there you can hike about 5-7 km to Parque Arvi and get back to the city by a cable car.
The downtown of Medellin is a hustling and bustling commercial hub - overall chaos, crowds and crowds of people may be overwhelming at first, but you get used to that, plus it’s not a very popular area to visit except for shopping, transportation options (buses to nearby towns and villages leaving from here) and some more shopping.
Medellin is a great place to be, especially when it’s still a quite hidden gem of South America. We absolutely loved it!