Two days is not enough in Colombia’s City of Eternal Spring, but if that’s all you have, here’s a list of must-dos.
But first, some vital facts about the city:
Medellin was voted the most innovative city in the world in 2013 by CitiGroup and the Wall Street Journal, well justified by the visionary public works that have transformed the lives of its 2.4 million inhabitants.
The depth and breadth of its public and private infrastructure should be a source of inspiration for cities across the world. In two decades, the city has built public parks, libraries, schools and innovative public transport systems. Unique links include the first mass transit cable car in the region, if not the world, as well as an outdoor escalator to the hillside shantytowns where the poor enjoy the best views. At the height of the infamous Medellin drug cartel’s reign led by the late Pablo Escobar, the city reported up to 365 homicides a day. Nowadays it’s down to 15 a day. Once so dangerous, these hillside neighborhoods are now overrun more often than not by tourists instead of drug gangs.
Set in a valley surrounded by lush mountains, Medellin is also the flower capital of Colombia where a festival is held during the first 10 days of August. It’s the most important event in the city and includes a parade of horses and vintage cars as well as concerts.
Have lunch at the Hato Viejo restaurant, perched on a hillside with stunning views of the city below. Ask for the diet-busting national dish, the Bandeja Paisa, which includes red beans, rice, ground beef, chorizo with lime, plantain, arepa, avocado, a fried egg or two, and a big slice of chicharron or crisp pork belly.
Walk off lunch by visiting:
1. Cerro Nutibara, one of the seven guardian hills of Medellin, which features the Paisa Town, a replica of a traditional Antioquia village square, a small scale model of Medellin and a history of its urban development.
2. Plaza Botero to see the 23 plus-size sculptures gifted by its most famous former resident, artist Fernando Botero.
3. Forming a magnificent backdrop to the Botero sculptures is the black and white Rafael Uribe Uribe Palace of Culture, designed by Belgian architect Agustín Goovaerts in a Gothic Revival style. Cross over to the Museum of Antioquia, which houses Botero’s paintings as well as his private collection of masterpieces.
4. Stroll through the pedestrian lane of Carabobo to end at the Parque de las Luces, which features a forest of 306 lampposts.
1. Visit the longest outdoor escalator in the world (1,260 ft) in the Barrio Comuna 13, which has shortened a 35-minute climb up the hillside to just six.
2. Lunch at the upscale restaurant In Situ in the Botanical Gardens where a massive bird’s nest structure houses orchids.
3. Take the Metro overhead train to the Metro Cable Car to visit the Santo Domingo Sabio neighborhood, which boasts the Espana Library, presently being buttressed to prevent it from sliding down the hillside.
4. Take the tourist cable car for a 15-minute ride to the Parque Arvi, 2,500 meters above sea level. Spanning 2,200 acres, the city is currently reforesting the park with indigenous trees.
The airport is a relatively short drive away from the Parque Arvi. The pending construction of a tunnel road through the mountains will further reduce the commute in the near future.