Once the World's murder capital, Medellín is now a proud and modern city. But in the 1990s Medellín was the centre of worldwide cocaine trade. The streets were full of motorbike riding sicarios on killing sprees for the most famous drug lord, Pablo Escobar. Declared as the most violent place in the World; it was an absolute no go for any tourists. But in 2013, Medellín won the award for the Most Innovative City in the World. Now transformed with an awesome metro, cable cars, stunning graffiti, outdoor escalators, modern restaurants and night clubs; the people of Medellín (the Paisas) play hard and work hard. The city boasts passionate, hard-working people and a powerful nightlife with legendary parties. Nestled in a beautiful valley, Medellín is surrounded by beautiful mountain terrain. Also known as the "City of Eternal Spring" for it´s incredibly pleasant weather; it was a welcome breath of fresh air from the sticky, sweaty heat of Cartagena.
We were off to a good start. After a delayed flight (thanks again, Viva Colombia).. to avoid any further fleecing by money grabbing taxi drivers we decided an Uber to the hostel would be the safest bet. Only 20
seconds in and we were pulled over by the police.. yikes. Our driver got out and began nervously faffing around with various papers and items in his boot. We had no idea what was going on, but something didn't feel right . Another policeman came over, and like the first, spoke zero English, but kept muttering away in Spanish. I translated "is everything okay?" on my google translate app (thank you, Google) and got "Uber es ilegal en Colombia"
in response.. well we certainly understood that! And she pointed to the taxi rank. After a "¡lo siento!"
, we got out of the Uber and reluctantly got into a taxi. . We really had no idea Uber was illegal! Luckily, taxi prices were fixed to get to town, so there would be no fleecing today. Horray!
Recommended by eight other gringos, there was no way we were staying at anywhere else but Los Patios
. Well.. well.. What an incredible hostel.. Colombia, you do have the most awesome hostels. Comfy beds, a privacy curtain, free towels, an individual light, fan and plug socket.. we had died and go to hostel heaven. Pablo Escobar Tour
The tour was a trip
The Luxury Pool
Now not so luxury
round one of Pablo´s 500 (yes, 500!
) luxury properties scattered around the country. When he was shot in 1993 on a rooftop in Medellín by security forces, most of his houses were seized by the Cali Cartel, the authorities, or abandoned; but this house is now owned by William, Pablo´s long-standing butler. The building of property began in 1985 when his daughter was born, and for that reason the mansion (named "La Manuela" in her honor) was a particular favorite of his. It took 7 years to build and covers 8 hectares, consisting of one main house, a guesthouse, one house for his son and butler, William. It has a football field, tennis court, stables, motocross field, a recreational area, and of course, a bar with epic views.
We arrived by a small boat, and were greeted by William himself. It was immediately clear that this property was once an incredibly beautiful and luxurious place. But now, it is an eerie reminder of Colombia's dark, and gritty past. We were given a full tour of the mansion’s barely standing, graffiti clad exterior. The once gorgeous swimming pool is now a swamp like green colour, and there are holes in
the walls and floors where people have hunted and dug for his hidden drug money. I couldn´t help but imagine what had previously gone on within these worn walls; huge, cocaine-fueled crazy parties full of celebrities and corrupt politicians. Now, in a small complex of crumbling buildings set back from the main house, where Pablo's extended family would have stayed, a paint balling zone now exists. I wondered what Pablo might have thought about this; a group of noisy gringos shooting each other with paint, where his mother would have once stayed. Interesting Facts:
• Escobar was so rich he actually offered to pay off Colombia's foreign debt.
• He gave $1000 USD to anybody who murdered a cop and brought him the badge; hundreds of cops were murdered. And the ones who weren't, were working for Pablo.
• At his children’s birthday parties, he would stuff the piñatas with wads of cash.
• With earnings in the region of $60m a day
from his cocaine empire, he was bringing in so much cash that his monthly business expenditure was £2,500 just on rubber bands for wrapping
all that cash.
• He was more powerful than the Colombian government.
• He made the
Forbes' list of international billionaires for seven years straight, from 1987 until 1993. In 1989, he was listed as the seventh-richest man in the world.
• By the end of the 1980s, he supplied 80%!o(MISSING)f the world's cocaine.
• There was an average of 17 murders a day in the year of 1991.
• He helped build numerous houses and communities; therefore some residents adore him and believe he is a savoir.
• People have very different, and strong opinions about him, so we were not allowed to say his name on the tour, in case it upset the residents of Medellín who may not understand English and therefore understand what we are saying about him. Graffiti Tour
During our stay, we learnt that there was a recent murder of the top dog of the Medellín cartel in Comuna 13. Now, the gangs (there are 200 in Medellín!) are all fighting it out to be top dog, and unfortunately 14 murders had occurred whilst we were there. Nowdays, the drug-related violence is very much out of sight, at night, off the streets, and not involving the public... unlike the 80s and 90s. So although we knew that the city
was still dealing with its issues, it did actually feel safe for us as (sensible) tourists. Comuna 13 is at the heart of Medellín´s violence, but we were assured it was safe for us to do the graffiti tour in this area at this time. The tour guides are residents of Comuna 13 and have good relationships with the neighborhood. Full of beautiful and colourful artwork portraying hope, peace, and harmony, the residents are fed up with the violence and want change. We also saw huge white sheets with messages of love hanging from buildings. The community felt friendly and energetic, and awesome music blared in the streets. Randomly, our tour guide also put on a hilarious and unexpected mini salsa lesson here. The locals gathered around (they must love watching all the gringos attempt to salsa) and we learnt some epic new moves. Guatapé
I had heard that no trip to this area is complete without at least a day spent wandering through the streets of Colombia's most colourful
town, Guatapé. We toured this town of cute cobbled streets and homes with brightly coloured with images. The images traditionally tell the story/heritage of the family/business
who own the building. Here, we stopped for a delicious cup of Colombian cafe
and listened to the local bands in the square. As well as the town, I was super keen to visit Piedra del Peňol, a 200m vast granite rock, just outside of town. We climbed the 740 steps on a crazy looking zig zag staircase in the rocks fissure for stunning views of the Guatapé lake sprawling between mountains. The whole area was flooded in the 1970s to make way for a huge hydro-electric dam. It was a breath-taking sight which my camera just could not capture.
Lastly, it was of course compulsory to experience the legendary parties of Medellín that I had heard so much about. We had a couple of nights out with el parche ("the crew"
) drinking aguardiente. We let our hair down, partied hard, and danced reggaeton (I now have a reggaeton obsession) with the friendly and beautiful locals. Wow... Medellín was so cool. I absolutely loved this totally transformed city, but after 3 days it was time to leave for the next stop... Salento. Adiós for now!
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