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Colombia Travel:Medellin and Guatape

Updated: Oct 20, 2023




January 13th, a day etched in memory, not for the golden beaches I left behind in Copacabana or the buzzing anticipation of reaching Colombia, but for a twist I didn't see coming. As I bid goodbye to the vibrant Rio de Janeiro from the GIG airport, bound for Bogota, an unexpected bump appeared on my journey's radar. Unknown to me, a unique requirement - the yellow fever vaccine - was essential for travelers from Brazil to Colombia, besides the universal COVID vaccine.


Standing in line, with a clock ticking towards departure, panic nudged at me. Fellow travelers, equally unvaccinated, buzzed with tension. On-the-spot vaccination was out of the question. However, in whispered huddles, a risky workaround emerged: board a connecting flight from Bogota to Lima and then return. Or, simpler yet, buy a ticket to Lima and upon landing in Bogota, hope that immigration focuses solely on the COVID vaccine.


Gamble in hand, I chose the latter. With bated breath and a stamped passport, I stepped into Bogota, canceling my onward flight to Lima. The warm smiles of airport security melted away my anxiety, introducing me to the famed Colombian hospitality.


As I checked into the Hotel Habitel Select, conveniently close to the airport, it wasn't just the free shuttle or the budget-friendly tag that appealed, but a welcoming restaurant that promised flavors of the region.


Though my heart yearned to explore Bogota, I had a reason to stay close - to save on baggage fees with Viva Air for my flight to Medellin. Leaving behind the weight of excess luggage and the day's adventures, I traveled light to Medellin, a city of dreams, just an hour away. Pro-tip for fellow adventurers: always confirm your reservation online with Viva Air; it saves you from an unwanted surprise at the boarding desk.


From the lively streets of Rio to the unexpected turns in Bogota, and now off to the charm of Medellin - this journey was proving to be more than just a change in latitude. It was about embracing the unexpected and finding a way.




As my feet touched the vibrant streets of Medellin, I was immediately enveloped in tropical splendor. The city presented itself draped in luxuriant greens, almost as if nature had painted it overnight. And yet, juxtaposed against this verdant backdrop, were the towering symbols of urbanity: sleek high-rise buildings reaching for the skies, embodying the spirit of modern Medellin.


But the city's present profile is not its entire story. To truly understand Medellin, one must dive deeper into its turbulent past.


Decades ago, Medellin's name echoed very differently on the global stage. In the late 20th century, the city was infamously known as the epicenter of the world's most notorious drug cartel, led by the infamous Pablo Escobar. This cartel didn't just deal in narcotics; it orchestrated bombings, assassinations, and kidnappings, casting a shadow of fear over not only Medellin but all of Colombia. At its peak, the Medellin Cartel controlled a vast majority of the global cocaine market, turning it into a multi-billion dollar enterprise. Streets that now hum with life and laughter were once gripped by terror and uncertainty.


However, this is not the Medellin of today. Through resilience, innovative social programs, urban investments, and community rebuilding efforts, the city has undergone a metamorphosis. It has shaken off the dark shroud of its past to emerge as a beacon of hope, innovation, and transformation. Today's Medellin is celebrated for its culture, innovation, and welcoming spirit, drawing travelers, like me, into its embracing fold.


In witnessing the city's renaissance, one can't help but marvel at Medellin's journey from the shadows of its past to the radiant promise of its future.



From the moment I stepped out for my journey to the Dann Carlton Medellin Hotel, the city continued to surprise and enchant. The route was like a sensory rollercoaster. Encased in darkness, we ventured through the longest tunnel I'd ever experienced, a stark contrast to the vivid colors of Medellin's streets.


As we cruised through, my driver, though limited by language barriers, exuded a warm eagerness to introduce me to his beloved city. His eyes lit up, and with animated gestures, he pointed out the private prison - a stark remnant of the city’s past - Pablo Escobar had built for himself. We navigated through our linguistic differences with smiles, nods, and shared appreciation for the history embedded in Medellin's streets.



Pulling up to the Dann Carlton Medellin Hotel was like turning a page in a luxury magazine. Its grand exterior hinted at elegance, but nothing prepared me for the opulence that awaited inside. The rich interiors, pristine services, and the general ambiance spoke of five-star luxury, making the rates I had booked it for seem like an absolute steal.


The cherry on top was its prime location, with the city's touristic hotspots merely a stone's throw away. With the major tour pick-up points just around the corner, it became evident that I had stumbled upon one of Medellin's best-kept secrets.


Indeed, in the heart of a city that thrives on contrasts - from its turbulent past to its bright future, from its lush greens to urban skyscrapers - the Dann Carlton Medellin Hotel stood as yet another beautiful juxtaposition, blending luxury with affordability, and history with modernity.



Amid the urban backdrop of Medellin, the day began with a cadence of its own. As I headed towards Parque de El Poblado, the city's heartbeat manifested in an unexpected performance. Street dancers, in synchronized harmony, transformed pedestrian lanes into lively stages at each red light, their impromptu moves delighting halted drivers. The sound of their beats, their laughter, and the city's unmistakable "party" atmosphere enveloped me.

Then, there was the party bus — a rolling fiesta that turned streets into dance floors. Medellin was surprising me at every corner.



But the mood took a dramatic shift as I reached my destination. The city that danced also had tales that echoed of a darker time. The Pablo Escobar tour beckoned, offering a glimpse into the life of a man whose name was once synonymous with Medellin's identity. As the guide delved into stories of his rise, power, and ultimate downfall, there was an aura of mystique, a mix of admiration and horror. We wandered through locations, each with its tales, but the narrative was deliberately elusive, like an unfinished novel, leaving us hungry for more.


I will just leave you some photos I took for the Pablo Escobar tour.


The culmination of this journey brought us to a quiet cemetery. There, amidst cold stone and silent memories, lay the final resting place of Pablo Escobar. As if on cue, a gentle rain began to fall, casting a somber mood over the day’s revelations.


Drenched in both history and the light drizzle, I made my way back to the hotel. As I settled in, the duality of Medellin resonated deeply within me — a city that celebrates life with fervor, yet doesn't shy away from reflecting on its past. And with that, my eventful first day in Medellin drew to a close.




As the first light of January 15th painted the skies of Medellin, I found myself on the move once more. With a backpack ready for the day's adventures and a heart filled with anticipation, I strolled towards Carrera 37. The morning air was fresh, punctuated with the subtle hum of a city waking up, and soon I'd be meeting my tour guide for the day's grand escapade: the enchanting town of Guatape.


Nestled amidst the lush green highlands, Guatape is more than just a destination; it's a vivid tapestry of Colombia’s rich culture and history. Often described as the "most colorful town in Colombia," Guatape is renowned for its vibrant 'zocalos' or baseboard reliefs. These brightly painted carvings adorn the lower parts of most town buildings, each telling a unique story — be it of the town's history, legends, or the daily life of its inhabitants.




But the town's allure doesn’t end with its rainbow-colored streets. Dominating the landscape is the magnificent El Peñón de Guatapé, a gigantic granite rock that looms over the horizon. For those with a zest for adventure, a 700-step stairway winds its way to the rock's summit, rewarding every climber with a panoramic view that's simply unmatched. Overlooking the labyrinth of blue-green water reservoirs, islands, and the sprawling landscapes, this view encapsulates the true essence of Guatape.


Then, there's the boat ride. Cruising through the serene waters, one gets an up-close view of the fascinating remnants of the old town of El Peñol, which now lies submerged after a dam construction. This boat trip is not just a visual delight but also a journey through time, a silent homage to the past.



Though Guatape offers a visual overload, its soul lies in its atmosphere. The friendly locals, the delicious traditional cuisine, and the myriad tales whispered by its winds ensure that a visit here becomes a cherished memory.


So, as I ventured into this kaleidoscopic town, it became evident why Guatape is not just a must-visit but a dive into the very heart of Colombian culture. Another day, another narrative, but the story of Medellin and its surroundings continued to unravel in the most fascinating ways.



Every destination has its own story, a unique blend of history, culture, and natural beauty. But in Guatape, the lines between these elements blur, creating an experience that resonates deeply within every traveler's soul.


The El Peñón de Guatapé, with its daunting stairway of over 700 steps, is undoubtedly the town's crowning jewel. Climbing each step felt like a mini-adventure, with my heart rate syncing up with the mounting anticipation. As I reached the summit, the vista was breathtaking – but it wasn't just the aerial view of the town and the vast landscapes that held my gaze. It was the expansive man-made reservoir that narrated a poignant tale.


The waters below mirrored the sky, but they also hid a profound history. This vast reservoir is a testament to progress, a mega-project that underscored the ambitions of a nation. But every achievement comes at a price. In this case, it was the submergence of the old town of El Peñol. Its inhabitants had to leave behind their ancestral homes, memories, and a life they had always known, all for the larger good.


Yet, the spirit of the town wasn’t entirely lost. The "Replica del Peñol" stands as a memorial to this submerged town, recreating its essence and ensuring that its story is never forgotten. Walking through this replica, I could feel the echoes of the past, the stories of those displaced, and the sacrifice they made for the vision of the future.


The tour concluded here, at this crossroads of history and homage. As I sat in the vehicle that would take me to the airport, I reflected on the duality of Guatape – its awe-inspiring beauty intertwined with a narrative of loss and resilience. Heading back to Bogota, I carried with me not just memories of vibrant streets and panoramic views but a deeper appreciation for the stories places hold, often hidden beneath their surface.


Bogota's lights twinkled beneath me as I made my descent back into the city. While I had touched its soil and breathed its air, I hadn’t truly experienced Bogota. The vibrant street life, the local cuisine, the art and history - they remained mysteries, stories yet to be told. As I nestled into my accommodation for the night, I couldn't shake off the feeling of having left something unfinished. Colombia had offered me a taste, a tease, and I was left yearning for more.


Sometimes, as travelers, we're faced with tough choices. Time and money are finite resources, and the vast world always seems to beckon with a million possibilities. Every city, every village, has its own song, and sometimes, we only get to hear the first few chords. But every good story has a sequel, and I knew Bogota's story in my life was merely on pause. One day, I’d return to let its tales wash over me, to let its rhythms move me, and to let its flavors fill me.


But as dawn broke, a new adventure awaited. Panama, with its unique blend of the old world's charm and modern marvels, was calling. As the plane cut through the clouds, I eagerly anticipated my next destination. Panama City, with its majestic skyline, was a testament to human achievement, especially its engineering wonder - the Panama Canal. To think of ships from all corners of the globe, traversing through this narrow strip of land, was mind-boggling. It was a testimony to human will and innovation.


My South American journey was drawing to a close, but with every ending comes a new beginning. Soon, I'd be back in the Caribbean, rejuvenating, reminiscing, and dreaming of my next escapade. The world is vast, time is fleeting, but the traveler's spirit? That's eternal.







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I'm Archsael, i am an architect and a passionate traveler who finds joy in exploring the world's wonders. This site is a tapestry of my adventures, offering unique insights and inspirations from my journeys.

 

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