South from Cartagena

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April 9th 2017
Published: April 17th 2017
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Now in the few final days in Bogota before a return home. It’s been a busy couple of weeks since Cartagena. There's still too little free time just to sit and write, so a summary will have to do:


From Cartagena, went by bus south about 3 hours to Mompox, a small colonial village on the banks of the Rio Magdalena. Once strategically located, the decline of river transportation left the town isolated and declining. Though isolated in most respects, it’s been found by tourists and was a pleasant place to spend a quiet few days. One afternoon of those days was spent on a boat tour on the river for bird watching, general relaxation and a quick swim.

Isolated though the town is, it draws 30,000 people to an annual jazz festival. How the small town and transportation infrastructure handles the influx is hard to imagine.

After a few days, we returned to the Cartagena airport for a flight on to Medellin leaving Mompox at 4AM on a door-to-door service from our inn. Only 4 passengers. When we heard “door-to-door” and “4 passengers”, we imagined comfort. Instead, the 4 of us, including 2 big Colombians, were squeezed into what was really meant for 3 passengers. It never fails that I fail to ask important qualifying questions!


I’m an economy traveler, which makes Colombia a great place to be. Witness our arrival in Medellin to our hotel at the top of the hill above El Poblado, now the center of Medellin’s nightlife, but once the center of Pablo Escobar’s business. $55 a night. Large room. Fitness Center. Small pool on top floor. Killer view. Only downside was the mile straight up a steep hill trip from the metro, really only possible thanks to low-cost cabs or city buses.

Medellin sits in a valley between to mountain ranges. The city creeps up those mountains, with many of the poorest residents in infamous slums sitting above the city. Since the early 2000, those residents have had more access to the rest of Medellin thanks to a cable car that connects them to the metro system.

Came to find that cable car also connects the slums to one of the most accessible national parks, Parque Arvi. Initially planning to just check out the cable car linking the slums to the city, we just kept going and going and ended at the park. It was a surprising escape from the city for an afternoon.

Medellin itself offered some nice sights, including a great collection of the artwork of one of the richest Colombians and its best known artist, Botero. A large collection of his drawings and paintings are in the Museo de Antioguia which is fronted by a public space devoted to a number of his larger sculptures. The Museo also features the work of a lot of other remarkable Colombian artists. I was initially put off by the cuteness of Botero’s rounded figures, but a guide and seeing these figures in a wide range of subjects, including comments on Escobar and the civil war, changed my perspective.

Had some great meals in El Poblado and a Saturday night roaming the area including a few stops for drinks along the way.

Piedra del Penol

A day trip from Medellin to Piedra del Penol a 200M-high granite rock. A climb up a brick staircase of 650 steps plus another 100 up to the top of a viewing tower, provided some excellent exercise and an unparalleled view of the area.

A short distance away, Guatape is a beautiful town on a large lake hosting a few tourist activities and plenty of restaurants.

After 4 nights in Medellin, a nice break from constant travel, it was time to move on.

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