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I can confidently say Colombia has been our favorite trip. It was nothing like we were expecting and exceeded anything we had dreamt up in our minds. We loved it. I think mostly because it felt like, well, Colombia.
Some of the other places we’ve traveled to are just….easier. People hear us speak English and they start speaking English, even if it’s just a few words. We hear American pop music ALWAYS. Seriously, nothing kills a trip more than hearing Justin Bieber while sampling a coffee in a little quaint, corner cafe. And while it’s always different than home, it’s all still very familiar.
In Colombia, we got none of that. Nothing was familiar. In fact, the other travelers we met agreed. They even were a little frustrated in the lack of trying to speak English by the Colombians. It seemed like the moment Colombians realized we didn’t speak Spanish, they would repeat what they were trying to say only faster. That’s not to say the people of Colombia weren’t kind or helpful, it’s just we had to work a bit harder and use Google translate more than we ever have. I found it refreshing. For once we had to work for the things we wanted and like anything you work for in life, it made it that much sweeter.
This trip was a bit different for us in that we planned where we were staying ahead of time. I know, I know it probably doesn’t sound that crazy to you but truth be told we’re the type of travelers who are usually booking our first night’s stay while we’re in the airport.
With only 9 days in the country, we didn’t want to waste any time trying to decide on a schedule or looking for places to stay. We’ve found that our favorite memories have been when we give ourselves TIME. Time to explore. Time to see all the tourist sites. Time to really get to know a place. It’s usually on the third day that the best memories start to happen and we wanted lots of memories. Everything is so connected it would have been easy to go, go, go the entire 9 days but for this trip, we wanted that time. So we booked places to stay in two cities and split our trip into two parts.
This was the second time we traveled with only carry-on backpacks as our luggage. We used and continue to love our WANDRD PRVKE 31L backpacks. It keeps our gear safe and has enough storage for our clothes and other things. I wrote a whole blog post on why they’re our favorite bags that you can read here!
Here’s the breakdown of Part 1 of 2 from our trip to Colombia. It’s all things Medellín! Say it with me, “Meh-deh-jean.”
DAY 1: MUSEUM OF GOLD
We only had a few hours in Bogotá, the capital city and where we flew in the night before. We were excited to spend the morning at El Museo del Oro, the Museum of Gold. It was perfect. We don’t usually spend much time at museums, but this one was exceptional. It contains the largest collection of Pre-Colombian gold in the world. The entire museum was a work of art itself.
Scott’s gotten into carving lately so trying to understand how these elaborate pieces of gold were constructed, designed, and used in the everyday moments of life blew our minds.
After the museum, we got on a flight headed to Medellín. Medellín was once the most notorious city in Colombia. Maybe you’ve heard of Pablo Escobar or the show Narcos. Yep, this was THAT Medellín.
I mean it was and it wasn’t. So much has changed in the city, for the better. We had a lot to learn and we were excited to be there. We were enjoying the little we had seen of Colombia but were anxious to settle in for a few days.
Once we landed in Medellín, it was a 45-minute taxi ride up and over the mountain into town. Medellín sits in a valley, getting lost in both directions and houses sprawling up the sides like moss on a big rock. You know, how it’s nice and thick near the ground and then slowly, but surely makes its way encompassing the entire surface? That’s the beautiful Medellín.
In broken Spanish and hand gestures, we got our driver to pull over at one of the overlooks so we could get our first taste of the city.
We checked into our hotel and, per the recommendation of Julian at the front desk, headed to eat Mondongo at Mondongos. We had no idea what it was but we’re ALWAYS game for a recommendation and some local food.
I wasn’t a huge fan. I can stomach a lot of different types of food, but this? Mmmmm… no way. It tasted like a dairy barn to me. We learned the next day it was a soup made with a cow’s stomach lining. Now it all made sense. Needless to say, it was a fun experience but we didn’t order it again on the trip. Check out those avocados though. The size of a small child ya know what I’m sayin?
DAY 2: FREE WALKING TOURS
Walking tours are ALWAYS my #1 recommendation for people when they visit other countries. Do some research and see if the city you’re visiting has free walking tours.
They’re generally 2-4 hours of walking with a guide telling the history and stories of the city and country. It’s all tip based, so the hope is that they work a little bit harder to do a good job and you tip them well at the end. You get to meet people from all over the world who are visiting the city for one reason or another. You’ll get to know more about the city, get a layout for where things are so you can visit them later in your trip, and get to ask your guide for recommendations.
We’ve taken A LOT of walking tours throughout our travels but the Real City Medellín walking tour was HANDS DOWN OUR FAVORITE walking tour we’ve ever been on. And we’re not the only ones who think that, they have a 5-star rating out of 5,000 reviews on TripAdvisor. These guys are amazing. At one point after our group stopped to talk, Scott looked at me and said, “Wow, I got a little teary on that one.” I’m glad he said it first because that was the third time I’d choked up.
Hernan, our guide, made us feel like we were a part of the Medellín story. He kept reiterating how we are now a voice for the Colombian people, we are a part of the change. His country has a history that they can’t do anything about but we are a part of the rebirth, the new, the proud. It was so cool. I’ve never felt so much like a part of a country’s story before.
I think we ended up enjoying Medellín and Colombia so much because of its story and history. The Colombia you think you know and what you’ve heard of is so different than the Colombia we experienced. Hernan wouldn’t even say Pablo Escobar’s name during the tour because he said most of the Colombian people don’t speak English and if they hear him talking to us and only hear him say his name, they might become angry with him. Escobar left such a scar on the people of Colombia but they are making a new name for themselves and starting to share the other things that make Colombia so great.
After the tour, we found some wifi and saw that another walking tour was happening in 20 minutes all the way across the city. We jumped on the metro and rode off to San Javier to learn about Comuna 13.
I had never heard of Comuna 13 nor had any expectations, Scott was the one excited about it and I was just excited to learn more about Colombia. What we learned was another example of change. Our guide grew up and still lived in Comuna 13, a neighborhood highly involved with the cartel at its height. It used to be one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the most dangerous city in the world and is now a place of revival.
This intricately interweaved, generally poor, rising with the mountain, neighborhood where residents once had to climb the equivalent of 28 stories just to reach their home and the cartel used kids to help in their operations, is now a place where children play and families feel safe.
In 2011 six bright orange escalators were installed on the side of the mountain to welcome visitors and tourists. They make the once complicated to get to community, more accessible. The escalators have been transformative and spurred other movements of change in the community. Throughout the main walking path, you can find brightly colored graffiti representing hope, change, unity, and rising. We even saw someone creating a mural on our walk!
As the sun was going down, we ran into two girls from our second walking tour who were going to take the Metrocable, a gondola route connected with the metro system, to the north side of the city. The gondolas are another testament to the innovation and city planning taking place in Medellín, finding ways to connect the once poor and nearly inaccessible mountain communities with the main city.
DAY 3: EL PEÑÓN & GUATAPÉ
Remember how I said this trip was different for us? Well, this was the first time we took a tour bus for a day trip!
It was oookkkk. I mean we enjoyed the day, but looking back probably would have done things differently. It just felt like they kept taking us to places that we were supposed to be impressed by but actually were pretty meh. If we did it again we would rent a scooter and visit the cities on our own.
The best part was getting to climb El Peñón and visiting the town of Guatapé. We didn’t get enough time in either place, but then again if you know us at all you know we like to take our GOOD OLE TIME exploring new places so I’m not sure what would have been enough time.
El Peñón of Guatapé is a GIANT rock rising 656 feet out of the earth from nowhere. It has more than 700 steps that lead to the top. We made our way up the side of the rock, and the result was a stunning view. We flew the drone for a bit which is always such a unique perspective. The area is surrounded by water from a man-made hydroelectric project in the ’70s.
Guatapé is called the most colorful city in Colombia but I’d argue they’re all pretty darn colorful. The buildings’ facades are all decorated with zócalos. Zócalos are colorful designs on the bottom portion of the buildings. Most of them tell a story of what you might find inside like a cobbler outside of a shoe repair store, others are just a beautiful addition to the building.
We liked visiting Guatapé but the town now thrives off of tourism. We got there before the other tour buses and had some moments of peace in the main square by ourselves, but when the other buses showed up it was just masses of tourists getting their photos taken with all the color. Don’t get me wrong, we did it too but like I said, looking back we would have probably skipped the tour and done our own adventuring.
DAY 4: LET’S PLAY FÚTBOL
The one thing Scott really wanted to do was go to a fútbol game. I don’t think either of us has watched an entire game our 3 years of knowing each other but we figured if there was a place to do it, Colombia would be it.
We set out early to get our tickets and made sure we got something on the south side because we were told that was the place to be. Scott got himself a jersey and of course, put it on right away so he could walk around wearing it all day. We went downtown for the afternoon and every time we passed someone wearing a jersey, Scott would get a little head nod and smirk of approval.
We headed to the game with what we thought was plenty of time but when we saw our line, we knew we were screwed. I swear in 45 minutes we moved 5 feet.
After lots of pushing around us and holding our ground and trying to look like we belonged (okay, we weren’t kidding anyone… we totally didn’t belong) we made it into the stadium. We found our way to the top level and joined a rowdy group of people. We immediately started clapping and high fiving and chanting on cue with the people around us. It was everything we were hoping it would be.
I swear the stadium didn’t stop cheering, not even for a second. The band would finish one song and they’d go right into the next one. As we looked around at the flags and banners and umbrellas and signs, I noticed that each section was a little bit different. It turns out, each section represented a different neighborhood in the community. When I took a closer look at ours, I realized we were smack dab in the middle of Comuna 13’s section! We felt right at home.
The game ended 0-0 and because everyone around us was pretty excited about it, we were too. I still don’t get soccer but I’m forever an Atlético Nacional fan now.
Then, perhaps the highlight of the night, we headed to the main street to do some salsa dancing!
Colombians looooveeee their salsa dancing. We figured we’d give it a go, only after copious amounts of tequila — for real, this was Scott’s one condition for getting on the dance floor with zero salsa experience. That plus and chips and dip.
It was so. much. fun. It seemed like the entire soccer stadium took the after-party to a street nearby called La 70. We spent the evening with everyone else from the game just hanging out, dancing, and full-on JAMMING to traditional Colombian music. We didn’t understand a lick of it but we sure enjoyed watching and being a part of it. They sang every single song with so much enthusiasm, it was like they haven’t heard the song in 3 years.
We found an underground salsa bar and immediately felt like we had walked into some sort of undiscovered dance academy. Holy schomley could those people move. ALL OF THEM! Young, old, guys, girls, it was unbelievable. We even got out there a few times but I’m guessing no one’s writing a blog post about our moves.
DAY 5: HEADING FOR THE MOUNTAINS
Our time in Medellín came to an end and it was time to go to the mountains of Jardín. Jardín is southwest of Medellín in the coffee region of Antioquia.
We boarded a bus and headed out for the 3-hour ride to the small town of Jardín. The views on the way were incredible but let me say this, the bus ride was throw up worthy. Man oh man there are so many curves and hills and whipping left and then right and then left again and up and down, that you just better hold on. Nonetheless, it got us really excited for some time in the mountains and to be entering the famous coffee region of Colombia!
We had such a good time in Medellín. I truly think it’s because we had time.
We did the touristy things we needed to do, we took the walking tour to get our bearings, and then we were able to just be. To enjoy and observe and not feel like we needed to go anywhere or do anything crazy. It was enough to grab a coffee and people watch.
If you get a chance to visit Colombia, I highly recommend putting Medellín on your list. It’s one of our favorite cities and the memories we made are with us forever!
Read Part 2: Jardín here!
Here are 4 things we used ALL THE TIME for this part of the trip!
- Google Pixel 2: These are our phones and we got them specifically because of the camera. It’s ridiculously good and captured almost all of the images in this blog post.
- Moment Lens: This is a wide-angle lens attachment that connects to a case on our phones. We always have it with us, especially when we travel. It’s a quick and easy way to add variety to your shots.
- Gorilla Pod: An easy tripod for on the go. You can manipulate it to wrap around any sort of structure you can think of. We use it for selfies, night photography, and time lapses when we travel.
- WANDRD PRVKE 31L Backpacks: I said it up above but these are our favorite backpacks! We use them for our everyday work as well as when we travel. They protect our gear, are super comfortable, and have an obnoxious amount of room without feeling bulky.