Medellin is definitely not what we expected.
Since it's corrupt and political unrest it is obvious to see the cities major transformations and is now one of the most commercial and modern cities within South America. Lined with huge shopping malls, gourmet restaurants and vibrant, salsa dancing bars!
We stayed in the up market, cosmopolitan area of El Poblado. This is where most of the hostels are based as well as the highest concentration of nightlife and restaurants.
Medellin has undergone huge transformations since it's drug baron days in the 80's and 90's. Pablo Escobar, the most successful of the drug lords, inflicted a lot of violence and pain on the city's civilians until he was shot down in 1993.
We had heard from fellow backpackers about how interesting the free city walking tour is so it was at the top of our list of things to do in Medellin. The guide was ironically called Pablo and has set up the company himself to educate travellers about Colombia's violent and corrupt history; the problem with international cocaine demand and how the positivity and happiness of Colombian people gives them hope of a safer and better future.
Throughout the entire tour he always referred to Pablo Escobar as "the criminal with my name". As he took us down the streets of the downtown area he described some of the terrible events he endured as a small child growing up during the country's political and guerrilla unrest. His story telling was funny, very capturing and moving and he was full of knowledge and passion of the city and it's 'paisa' people. It was a great insight into Colombia and it's history and an inspiring way to see how the city has changed.
Another recommendation of something to do in Medellin came from Colombian friends who we met on the Inca trail. They had told us about Guatape, a lakeside village 70km east of Medellin and it's main tourist attraction is Piedra del Peñol which translates to "the rock". A huge rock that rises from an artificial lake surrounded by islands and turquoise green lakes. A hydroelectric dam submerged the original town in the 70's. The views were incredible once we reached the top of the rock after climbing nearly 1000 steps. I thought it slightly resembled a mini version of Halong Bay in Vietnam. After the hike up we visited the small village of Guatape and walked around the palm tree line plaza and colourful colonial houses.
That evening we met up with friends and went to sample Medellin's vibrant nightlife. We sat around the bustling square in El Poblado drinking Cuba libre (rum, coke and lime) with the locals before heading to a salsa bar with a live salsa band. After one too many Cuba libres we all seemed to think we were expert salsa dancers. We were soon put back in our place once the locals got up and started dancing!
Nick went on a Pablo Escobar tour the next morning where he got to meet Pablo Escobar's brother, go to his grave and visit one of his old houses.
After a fun and interesting few days in Medellin we have the luxury of flying to Cartagena on the Caribbean coast to celebrate Nicks birthday. Flights are cheaper than the bus if you book in advance which is a first for South America! Beaches!