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Published: November 18th 2019
Even as a seasoned traveller, the first experience in an unfamiliar nation just has to be an episode worth treasuring, and in the case of a delayed flight to Medellin, Colombia, you might well be led to believe that this false start might not bode well for what was pending. Agreed, chopping half a day off a planned tourist itinerary is an irk in itself, but as Medellin revealed all of its individual features, the dream of discovering a city once famed for ceaseless violence galore mostly fuelled by the antics of drug barons and their associated cartels came alive. The first day in Colombia ended with a visit to one of the numerous malls for which the city is now famed, and it soon became clear that the innovative plan of action for Medellin's future has knocked a once-desperate city into truly fine shape. Left with one full day and a rampant desire to experience the best of what the city had to offer, the option of an organized tour was a strategy in itself, even if this tour was to be conducted solely in Spanish, thus putting my language skills to the test. Starting off at the barefoot park,
this curiosity is a truly great concept in that the idea of walking around the park barefooted to feel the textures and surfaces underfoot is a novel one, and the area immediately surrounding the park also hints at the scale of the building work which has altered the face of the city in recent years. Onto the memorial museum, and the way in which the place documents the city's shaky past is a grim but real reminder of the fact that personal safety was at an all-time low, casual pedestrians becoming moving targets, owing to the fact that violent crime prevailed to a scary degree. In the central square which flanks Medellin's impressively photogenic cathedral are various monuments of note, each one well worth a casual photo or two, and the gentle buzz of commercial activity in the immediate vicinity suggests that this area is a treat for both visitors and locals alike. On Colombia's sole metro network, you get the almost immediate impression that this is a city with a keen eye on the future, and the real star turn in their transportation network happens to be the city's cable car, a truly stunning ride up to the peak
of the foothill surrounding the city which offers views which can be triply classed as panoramic, bird's eye and indeed world-class. A short hop to the botanical gardens to spot a few iguanas, and the crescendo of the trip, as it happened, is saved for the very last spot, namely Comuna 13, a once crime-ridden ghetto with huge safety issues, spruced up to create an area no longer resembling its former self. In order to get the area's residents back on their feet, huge efforts have been made to turn Comuna 13 around, and the hotly impressive wall art which follows the visitor around everywhere is one piece of evidence of this. Add into the mix a funky blend of street dancers, outdoor crafts stalls, freestylers in local bars and an overall sensation of a community trying to bury the past in swathes of colour and expression of the soul, and you have something mightily impressive for sure. Flying from Medellin to Cartagena is more than likely a short hop included on many a tourist to Colombia's itinerary, and what is worth bearing in mind is that Cartagena is seen as an exclusive area as such, and is, for this
reason, the nation's priciest place to visit. The city can be best described as being in two halves, one being the modern and upscale district of tower blocks, hotels, eateries, shops, bars and the usual in-between features, flanked by a beach which is by no means the most revered in the entire region. The other area, by way of contrast, is the colonial splendour of the Old Town and the warren of delightfully-poised streets which are as narrow as they need to be, and make for the main bulk of the city's numerous photo opportunities. In this area, nothing at all is high rise, and the churches, cathedrals, plazas, courtyards, multi-coloured houses, stores, markets and lesser prominent sub-features make for a truly splendiferous whole which explains the large numbers of tourists and indeed hawkers, keen on doing business on the spot whilst jutting from place to place with all their wares in tow. A couple of real curiosities here come in the form of museums, most of which have well-stocked stores attached, namely the emerald museum (Colombia boasts the world's finest, so the story goes), the chocolate museum (free samples galore!), and its very own gold museum, though by no means the nation's most prominent example thereof. Experiencing the best of what the region's beaches has to offer will more than likely necessitate a visit to one of the outlying islands, and the Rosario islands are tailor-made for this kind of day trip which incorporates an activity of sorts with a lunch buffet and full use of a hotel's facilities. Back in Cartagena, and one interesting transformation can be experienced in the form of Las Bovedas, once a dungeon complex, now a building housing one souvenir shop after another, suggesting that no former institution might have been wasted here, they just got put to use in more practical ways. Whatever you choose to make of it and whatever angle you choose to approach it from, the street of Calle Angosto here, with its arcade-style appearance created from the use of multi-coloured umbrellas hanging overhead typifies the city very neatly - where a riot of enticing colours line the way, and the elemental splendour of just being there is eye-catching, memorable and as much of an artistic statement as any city of its size could ever possibly offer.
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