If you've been reading this website for a while and following me, you probably heard about my “Colombian incident” just over a year ago (January 2017). After that accident, I vowed to return and continue my Spanish studies – and I've done just that. I've been here in Medellín for almost 6 weeks now, and want to share some of my travel photography of this amazing city and country with you.
When I first announced I was going to Colombia by myself over a year ago, I got a few gasps and questions and statements like these:
- Is it safe?
- Is that a good idea?
- Are you going by yourself?
- I've heard things about Colombia and Medellín that are not good.
The short answer is – yes it is safe if you use common sense. They have a saying here in Medellín that says, “No dar papaya” which literally translated means don't give the papaya. But the concept means don't be an idiot or act like a victim. Don't walk around with expensive stuff on dark streets you don't know. Don't leave your cell phone sitting on the table of an outdoor cafe. Be conscious of your surroundings and use good judgment.
So have a look at my images of Colombia and you tell me – does it look dangerous to you?
The city of Medellín
First things first. If you want to pronounce the name like a real Colombia, you need say “med-a-jeen”. Not “med-a-yeen” or even “Med-a-lin” – see the video below to hear the proper way to say it.
I happen to agree that it's the most beautiful city in Colombia. In fact, it is probably in the top five most gorgeous cities I've ever visited. Also on the list would be Auckland (NZ), Portland (USA), Havana (Cuba), Paris (France), and possibly Victoria (Canada).
It's just stunning, truly. It's also the city of eternal spring – daily temperatures are always between about 23-29c (73-85f). All year!! It's pretty much perfect, even with the occasional rain and thunderstorms.
Here are some images of Medellín to give you an idea of how green it is here in and around the city.
Just outside the city is more green
I used to do professional food photography and still find it fun to take photos of my food, especially when I'm traveling. So here are a few of the good things we've seen to eat – and have eaten!
I love to photograph people as part of my travel photography and the Colombian people are happy to oblige for a photo. In fact, I find that Colombians are some of the nicest people I've ever met – anywhere. They will even go out of their way to give you directions – I've even heard stories from other travelers of locals actually getting off the Metro (subway) early just to show the visitors where to go, then they went back to the train to continue their journey. Now that's helpful!
Here are a few of the amazing Colombians I've met and been privileged to get photos of.
Graffiti tour and Comuna 13
One of the “must-do” things here in Medellín is to take a graffiti tour up to a community called “Comuna 13”. Medellín is divided into a total of 16 communities, and each is assigned a “strata” number from 1-6. The strata number indicates the income level and services of the community. A strata 1 is the poorest and a 6 is the most affluent.
The area we lived in during our stay in Medellín is a 6, while Comuna 13 is a strata 1. It is one of the poorest neighborhoods, and it also has one of the most tumultuous and violent histories. But they are on a mission to change that and the people of the community are doing have beautified it with art and music. The graffiti is to put color and life back into a place that suffered some of the worst violence in the history of the city.
In the 1990s many people moved from the countryside to escape the fighting there and ended up at the top of the hillside overlooking Medellín. They had no services, no water, no electricity, nothing. The government forgot about them – then the guerillas came in to help them build houses, and get services – but it came with a price! If they made a product they had to donate a certain amount to the guerrilla cause – if they had children they would take them and teach them to fight as young as 12 years out.
In 2002 the government came in to get right of the Guerrillas by attacking them from the air. Many civilians, including children, were killed. One woman started waving a white sheet out her window to tell them to stop shooting as two kids lie injured in the street outside. Others follow suit waving white flags of all kinds and they got the shooting to stop so they could help their injured get medical care.
Since that time the community has seen a transformation and hip-hop and graffiti has given the community color in what was once a bleak and drab existence. There were mad incredible stories, many sad ones – but it was encouraging to see what they've created and how it continues to transform.
This article from a travel blogger has some good information about the community. Here are more images of the community and the art.
Click on one of the photos below to see them larger.
Guatapé and The Rock
Guatapé is a really cute little town about 79km from Medellín, but it takes over 2 hours to get there. The roads are windy and slow but the scenery out the bus window was fantastic. We took a tour there so we got to make a few stops along the way – then we stayed overnight and returned the following afternoon with the next tour (for the same price!).
The town is situated on a man-made reservoir. Several years ago the government wanted to create the lake and one town was submerged in the process. So they negotiated with the people and built them an entirely new town prior to the flooding process. Not a bad deal!
In the area is also a giant rock – which nobody has an explanation for how it got there. But it's on privately owned land and the man who owns it created stairs to the top and you can pay to climb it for a nominal fee (18,000 pesos or just over $6 USD).
This has to be one of the cutest little towns I've ever seen. If not, it certainly is the most colorful! They have something called a Zócalo – if you can read Spanish it is explained in the photo below. But basically, it's an artistic application to the lower part of the outer wall of each house and building. Each one is unique to the owner or business and indicates either their interests or profession or the nature of each business.
Here are just a few of the colorful ones I found in Guatapé. Click on one of the photos below to see them larger.
More of the town
Here are some other images of the town of Guatapé.
Click on one of the photos below to see them larger.
I hope you have enjoyed seeing a bit of Colombia through my eyes. I know I'm not done here, not by a long shot. The city is gorgeous but it's the people that keep me wanting to come back, the climate isn't so bad either.
Without a doubt, I will return to Colombia again. I want to see more of it and visit Cartagena and Santa Marta and other cities on the coast yet too. Colombia you have a lot to offer – te quiero!