I’d heard of Medellin before coming to Colombia, but it was almost always followed by the word “Cartel.” Thankfully, Pablo Escobar’s cocaine empire is no longer terrorizing the city, it’s quite safe, and we decided it was a good place to take a week of daily Spanish lessons. We also learned about its most infamous former resident, which was admittedly by watching Season 1 of the Netflix series, Narcos. It was really nice to feel normal and spend a week in an apartment where we just cooked our meals, did homework, escaped the daily thunderstorms, and watched TV every night. We did, however, have a couple extra days there so we ventured out from the apartment a bit.

Central Medellin

The city itself is set in a spectacular valley at around 7,000’ and spreads onto the high hills surrounding that valley. Interestingly, the higher up on the hill, the better the view, the better the air quality, and the poorer the neighborhood. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a great view of the entire city because the visibility was never that good due to either pollution or general haze.

We learned that the most famous Medellin native is the painter and sculptor, Fernando Botero. Once we saw his work, we recognized it immediately because it’s very distinct and we’ve seen it elsewhere in the world. There is even a plaza named after him that contains many of his very large bronze statues, which was fun to visit on one of our days off school.

Botero Plaza

Finally, there is Pablo Escobar. Although he wasn’t born in Medellin he spent his adult life there. There is no museum in Medellin that talks about Pablo, no street named after him, no Escobar Plaza, and it’s understandable why the city would rather not be known for being the home of the world’s most famous cocaine trafficker. So Internet and Netflix aside, the only way to find out much about his life while you are in Medellin is to take a tacky private tour that visits places like where he hid out, where he was shot, and where he’s buried. Apparently, his brother was even offering one of these tours for a while. We didn’t partake, and we recommend that you watch Narcos if you want to learn more about all that.

After Medellin, we visited the nearby colorful village of Guatape, which is surrounded by many lakes and is known for colorful bas-relief sculptures on its buildings and a large rock that you can climb for a view of those lakes. We’ve seen a lake or two before, so we opted not to pay $6 each to climb the rock and instead went on a long country walk, wandered around the village, and rented a motorcycle for a day to tool around the area and ended up trying to outrun a thunderstorm. We almost made it, but lost. Having experienced rain nearly every day so far in Colombia, we had had enough. Up next, the heat and sun of the Caribbean coast.

Colombia, where men wear hats

Click on more images below of Medellin and Guatape and scroll through.