Colombia

Upon arriving at the Medellin airport, we hopped in a cab and spent about an hour driving up and around curvy roads carved into the mountain sides. First impression? The Medellin terrain is very lush. And green. We drove and drove and drove…and drove and drove and drove…more trees, more green, lots of green…trees, vines, hills and perhaps some of best roads for the car game Corners.

During the drive, we chatted with our cab driver. When he told us he was born and raised in Medellin, I  couldn’t help but try to wrap my mind around what his life has been like, as Medellin has transformed from the murder capital of the world to the Most Innovative City in the World during his lifetime.

Eventually, there was a break in the greenery and we caught a glimpse of a city nestled in the middle of a massive valley. It was quite breathtaking. 

We popped into the nearby shopping center the first evening and came across potentially one of the most beautiful Christmas-adorned snow globe village looking ice skating rinks I’ve ever come across:
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 Another evening in Medellin was spent at the Festival de las Luces and once again, we were completely blown away. We walked and walked…and walked and walked and walked down the Medellin River taking in the incredible and massive display of lights. Medellin had been ranked as one of the world’s best places to see Christmas lights and after attending the Festival de las Luces, I understand why.

We spent a lot of time walking around and exploring the various parts of Medellin – botanical gardens, aquariums, squares, museums, etc. Medellin has an incredibly easy and efficient metro system which we used frequently. The metro is above ground, so we were also able to enjoy sightseeing when riding from point A to B.

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Below is a view from from the bottom of one of the gondola lines. The gondola is a recent development and has really changed the lives of some of the most poverty-stricken people in Medellin. 

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Here I am in Plaza Botero with one of Fernando Botero’s famous sculptures.

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 We also walked through El Hueco, a shopping area that provided the perfect amount of sensory overload: 

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After a few days in Medellin, we flew up to Cartagena.  Cartagena was about 100x warmer and also much smaller. We spent a lot of time wandering around the old town and it reminded a bit of a mashup between Nafplio, Greece and Old San Juan in Puerto Rico. 

We also ate some of the most delicious ceviche here:

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 Overlooking Cartagena: 

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 View of Bocagrande in Cartagena:

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Mas de Bocagrande:

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 Beautiful pool at the hotel:

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Gorgeous view pictures cannot do justice at Cafe del Mar:

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 While in Cartagena, we spent a wonderful day on Isla del Encanto.

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One day we took a bus tour around Cartagena to learn a bit more about the city’s history. At one point, we got to a stop light and I took a moment to watch the people below. I saw this group of men sitting around with a checker board balanced between their laps and felt happy to know that people still take the time to do stuff like this. And by this I mean spend time with one another without their faces buried in their phones.

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After Cartagena, we flew back to Medellin for a final few days. One morning we took a Pablo Escobar tour, which I wasn’t sure I’d be totally crazy about, but coincidentally, it ended up being one of my favorite parts of the trip. The amount of influence and power one man had over an entire country (and really…many countries) is mind-boggling. I’m still not sure if I think he was pure genius or pure sociopath.

We didn’t know this when booking, but our tour also involved us meeting Pablo’s brother, Roberto. Roberto was very much involved in the Escobar operation and as he was talking to us, I had to keep reminding myself that what he was telling us was not some over the top fictional Hollywood movie but a real life – HIS real life – story.  

While Roberto was in jail, he received a letter that, when opened, exploded in his face. He’s now partially blind, deaf, can’t taste, etc.

All of the money from Roberto’s tours now go to his AIDS research foundation. 

Overall, we had an incredible trip to Colombia. I knew it would be a good experience but the trip really did exceed our expectations. Medellin and Cartagena were both wonderful – they were clean, we felt safe, everyone there was so kind and I would absolutely love to return to Colombia someday.