Medellin, more than any other Colombian city, represents the changing face of this country. It is a large metropolis of approximately 3.7 million people, that was once renown for being the most violent city in the world, and the dominion of the ill-famed Medellin Cartel, run by drug lord, Pablo Escobar. Since his assassination, and the ensuing opportunities for change, recent mayors have made significant improvements to the quality of life of this Antioquia capital. Poverty has been reduced by 66%, and the homicide rate has dropped by 95%! Part of this change in outlook has been a strategic outreach to the poor communities clinging to the steep hillsides of Medellin. The city developed an advanced transportation system of metros and telefericos (cable cars) that integrated the poorer neighborhoods into the heart of the city, increasing access to jobs, commerce, education, and health services.
On our way to Parque Arvi, we took advantage of this advanced transportation to get a bird’s-eye view of the city. This nature reserve is another ambitious project that connects the dense city to the greater outdoors. As the cable car climbs higher up the mountain side, passing above densely-packed concrete and brick homes, you eventually reach the top, only to be surprised by a vast green forest spanning ahead of you, as far as your eyes can see. We spent a pleasant early afternoon hiking through the highland tropical forest of Parque Arvi, followed by a later visit to the city center’s green Botanical Garden, featuring orchids, lakes and bamboo groves.
Julie and Doug joined us again for a day of art appreciation in the main Botero Plaza, a park filled with the voluptuous and rotund sculptures of Fernando Botero. He is both a sculptor and artist, famous for his “fat” figures. The exaggerated, voluminous shapes of his subjects is uniquely sensuous, curvaceous and joyous. Julie and I were particularly mesmerized by the happy, Rubenesque forms, and Doug and I hungrily snapped photos. In the Museum of Antioquia, another homage to the brilliance of Botero (in addition to many other modern and historic painters of the region) we were surprised and impressed with artistic creativity.
We ended our long day of touring with a visit to the top of Nutibara Hill and its oddly popular Pueblita Paisa, a Disneyland-like reproduction of a tiny Colombian town. Drinking sangria and watching the city light-up at nightfall, made the touristy, cheese-factor more bearable.
We left Medellin with a great appreciation for this revitalized city. I’m sure that our positive impression was greatly influenced by the El Poblado neighborhood which we stayed in. The commercial streets of this prestigious enclave of wealthy residents were filled with lush trees and tropical plants, winding by bamboo-lined creeks and nature paths. We walked everywhere, admiring the beautiful and fashionable locals, their stylish apartment buildings, trendy boutiques, gourmet restaurants, international bars, and hipster book, grocery, and yoga establishments. We drank the best coffee, coldest beers, and indulged in delicious and heady, rum and coconut cocktails. I even got to spend a night free of parenting, with Doug and Julie, as we bar-hopped and imbibed with all the pretty youth. It did rain a lot during our stay, but this did not diminish our enjoyment or appreciation of all that this city has to offer. I do recommend Medellin as one of the better, big cities in South America.