Medellin hadn't been on our radar when we started to plan our trip to Colombia, but a friend who travels often to Colombia told us we had to spend a few days there. Was he ever right! The first thing that hits you when you get off the plane are the beautiful mountains that surround the city. And because we were coming directly from Cartagena which is on the coast, the effect was even more dramatic (as was the welcome change in climate)!
Medellin is only 6 degrees above the equator, but its elevation at 4,900 ft. gives it the ability to boast a climate of eternal spring. It is Colombia's second largest city with a population of about 2.5 million people.
While researching Medellin I saw several Pablo Escobar day and half-day trips. Escobar was of course the infamous king of the Medellin drug cartel. In the 1980's it is estimated that his cartel was shipping more than 80 tons of cocaine per month into the US. At the same time, Escobar initiated advantages for the poor including housing, so in addition to being a drug king, he was considered a Robin Hood of sorts. He was arrested and jailed in 1991 but escaped a year later and was shot and killed by authorities in Medellin in 1993. It is estimated that more than 25,000 people attended his funeral.
I thought it would be interesting to hear more about him and the drug culture he led, but the concierge at our hotel said that Medellin is working hard to rise out of the ashes of the drug decades and advised against doing this trip. We understand the country's desire to shed its violent past and therefore did not take that trip.
Plaza de Botero
Located in the north of the city, the Plaza de Botero, a 23,000 sq. ft. park, is home to the Museum of Antioquia, the Palace of Culture and 23 oversized and whimsical bronze sculptures by Colombian artist Fernando Botero. Botero donated one of his sculptures to Cartagena, a photo of which can be found in our Cartagena post. It was fun to wander around the park and enjoy them.
And for all our fellow cat lovers...
Paul's saying, "What have you gotten me into?"
The highlight of our time in Medellin, however, was a tour of a coffee farm. We booked a private tour of a farm, "La Leona", in the hills just outside Medellin which lasted three hours including the drive. This was the first time I had booked a tour through Viator and we couldn't have been happier. Our guide, Oscar, spoke excellent English and took us to a medium-sized "finca" with 9,000 coffee trees. The farm has been in the owner's family for almost 70 years and he was proud to show it off and take us through the process. We had so much fun learning about the process and of course being able to taste the fruits of their labor at the end of the tour!
It's a long process to get from the seedling to the coffee in your cup! The seedlings are planted in sand to establish them. If they're viable, they're then replanted in soil. It takes about two years from seedling to viable tree.
When the beans are red, they're ready to pick. There were three pickers when we were there, but Señor Fabian employs 10 pickers during the peak season.
The pickers spend all day on the hills picking by hand. The pickers were on the hill in the photo below, but we couldn't see them.
We were able to pick some! Notice the basket around my waist.
Once the skins are removed, they're sorted according to grade; premier, regular and "raisins" (due to the dark color of the seeds). Señor Fabian said that the "Pergamino", or highest quality, beans get a visa to come to the US! The rest stay in Colombia. He said that the Pasilla, or lowest quality, become instant Nescafe!
The process by which they're sorted is very interesting and while this farm is mechanized, the process requires more hand labor than we expected. The left-hand photo are the beans just after the husks are removed and the red husks in the right-hand photo become compost.
Señor Fabian made a delicious cup of coffee for us. The foam is the natural sugar which is released during the heating process.
From the tree to the grocery shelf!
It was such an interesting visit!
A P.S. to the coffee farm visit... This is Paco. Paco was making a beeline to Paul to take a chunk out of his leg. Señor Fabian said that Paco's wife, Luisa, was incubating their eggs and we were getting a little too close for Paco's comfort. Fortunately, Paco retreated to his watering hole after a stern warning from Señor Fabian!
A Restaurant of Note
We found a gem, Malevo. It's an Argentinian steak house in the Manila neighborhood of Medellin with shops and restaurants. The atmosphere is great as is the food and wine. The waiter was very patient with us and gave us good advice about which wine to choose. Our dinner was delicious and we recommend it heartily if you visit Medellin.
Another winner. Hotel Sites is only five years old, in a lovely neighborhood, El Poblado, and the staff is wonderful. I booked a room with a sitting area, kitchenette and a balcony for a mere $82/night through Expedia. And breakfast was included. What a bargain! An extra benefit is the view of the mountains to the east which I could stare at all day.
A Note About Medellin
Our guide Oscar told us that because Medellin sits in a "bowl" surrounded by mountains, pollution is a problem. With almost 4 million residents in the greater Medellin area, the city has put restrictions on driving. The last number of the license plate indicates the days that the car may or may not be driven during rush hour Monday - Friday. He also told us that in the city of 2.5 million people, there are two million cars!
There are also 900,000 motorcycles in the area which didn't surprise us; they weave in and out of traffic like noisy snakes. Oscar said that there are an average of 57 motor vehicle accidents per day, 90% of which involve motorcycles. Driving in Medellin is not for the faint of heart!
Some miscellaneous photos of beautiful Medellin.
Even with clouds it's beautiful.
Adios, Medellin, it was a great visit!
➜ Top Tips
The hills add to the beauty of the area, but be prepared if you plan to do much walking.
Be sure to visit a coffee plantation!
Check out Plaza de Botero; the sculptures are fun to see up close.