Colombia 4 – Don’t miss out on Medellin!

19th – 24th November –  Many people have told us not to miss visiting Medellin, Colombia’s 2nd largest city situated in the Aburra valley in the department of Antioquia and surrounded by mountains.  It is often called the ‘City of Eternal Spring’ because of its year round, spring-like weather and the production of flowers grown in the nearby villages, which are exported throughout the world.  Every August, Medellin celebrates its wealth of flowers with a grand Flower Fair which draws hundreds of visitors and is accompanied by artists, musicians and dance groups.

It is hard to imagine Medellin as once having been recognised as the city with the world’s highest murder rate, due to bloodthirsty killings between rival drug gangs in the 1980s and 90s.

Today, this modern city has overcome many of its earlier problems and has progressed so far with its planning, culture, shopping, sport, education, medical facilities, industry and businesses, to have been awarded the title of ‘The most Innovative City in 2013’ by the World Bank,  beating many other large cities around the world.  Communities in outlying areas, no longer feel separated, due to excellent transport planning.  As well as an excellent network of buses, there is a metro system that connects both ends of the valley, cable cars and a tram service is being planned.  Cycle paths make it easy for cyclists, a popular form of transport, especially at the weekends.

Medellin really does welcome you with smiles everywhere.  We are finding this city a great place to explore and are really impressed!

With Christmas not far away, Medellin’s newest, superb Santafe shopping mall in the El Poblado district, provides luxury shopping with world-class names.  It is quite an eye opener to see the standard expected by wealthy Colombians.

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We take the metro to the crowded downtown area, a world away from the above, full of street vendors, colourful stalls, noise and activity.

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This busy Plaza Botero is one of the most important attractions in the city, named after Fernando Botero. These are just s few of his enormous sculptures of ‘everything fat’, that have been erected in the plaza.

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A collection of Botero’s unique work is on display in the Museo de Antioquia also situated in the Plaza de Botero.  Inside, it is a very light and spacious gallery, well worth a visit.

Why does Botero paint fat people?  Fernando Botero is quoted to have said….”I fatten my characters to give them sensuality.  I’m not interested in fat people for the sake of fat people.”

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Some more of Botero’s beautiful sculptures……..

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…….and some very interesting work from other artists.

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The ‘Rafael Uribe Uribe’ – The Palace for Culture and Heritage of Antioquia, is also located on Plaza Botero.  An unusual building that includes Gothic, English, Flemish and Spanish detail.

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During our second visit to this plaza, there’s a lively and colourful atmosphere as circus performers are entertaining the crowds, despite the showers….

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……and within walking distance of Plaza Botero is the Basilica Metropolitana, said to be the biggest, oven-dried, brick cathedral in the world.

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Another short journey on the metro takes us to the Botanical Garden ‘Joaquin Antonio Uribe’.  This lush garden is the oldest and most important park in Medellin and is certainly worth a visit.

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The Orchideorama is a very unusual structure of steel trunks and woven woodwork towering amongst the trees.  An orchid festival is held in August each year to coincide with Medellin’s flower festival.

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A highlight of the garden is the beautiful Francisco Jose de Caldas Lake, covered with waterlilies, shaded by over-hanging trees and occupied by many little tortuga charapa and even iguana cooling off!

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We came across more of these iguanas by the lake, such amazing and prehistoric looking creatures!

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Our last stop is to treat ourselves to a special lunch in the very relaxing restaurant amongst the gardens.  This is our view as we sit by the open, glass doors……..

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……and these are our delicious desserts!

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Not far from the Botanical Gardens is the Parque Explorer which has a building housing a vivarium and the largest freshwater aquarium in Latin America. Another fascinating place, where most guides speak English, are very knowledgeable and keen to answer any questions.

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On our last morning, we walk to a little supermarket that is part of a shopping mall. The streets are deserted but as we near the entrance we can hear some very loud and lively music and discover people of all ages, wearing all kinds of sporty clothes, doing a keep-fit class on the forecourt.  Some obviously know the routine well whilst others need more practise but everyone looks as if they are enjoying themselves.  Dogs are tied to the railings and bicycles propped against the wall, people come and go as they feel……what a great way to begin a Sunday morning!

During our time in Medellin we stay in the Black Sheep Hostel (a very friendly place), the Ibis Hotel (which we decide is one of the best we have ever stayed in and with secure parking) and one night in the Ghl Comfort Hotel San Diego where the staff look after us and Moby so well and even present us with a book about Medellin when we leave.

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We close our hotel room door and say goodbye to a great time spent in Medellin and with such friendly and helpful people.   What can I say except yes, it is also great to have a bit of luxury from time to time…..real towels, nice bathrooms, big comfortable beds, football on the TV for Bill and being able to retreat to a cosy room when it is pouring down with rain outside, as it did for one day and the whole day….when it rains here, it really rains!  Medellin is a great city and our advice is to be sure not to miss it!

But it is good also to be on the move again, to visit new places and today the sun is shining!  The Xmas lights are being erected as we leave the city, they follow the whole length of the Rio Medellin and will be a big attraction.  We are heading east, having to cross back over the Andes yet again but we don’t want to miss a visit to the salt mines at Zipaquira where there is a cathedral carved from the salt deep in the mines.

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