Whoever came up with Colombia’s tourism slogan: “The only danger is wanting to stay” was bang on. We’ve found three different towns in which we could happily while away the rest of our days, the only country to make us feel this way in South America (don’t get too worried Mum).
Why? The Colombian countryside is gorgeous. We’ve hit it in the rainy season so the hills are especially green and plants are flourishing. Major roads lie under canopies of trees and white-walled, terracotta-tiled houses are smothered with colourful pot plants. Colombian people are happy, friendly people who are proud of their country. Then there is the abundance of fresh fruit! It is such a joy to try new fruits with flavours that dance on our tastebuds.
Perhaps this appetite for life is only to be expected from a country that has emerged from decades of terrorism, murder and destruction, and nowhere was this more apparent to us than the city of Medellin. We saw three incredible, world class initiatives that have shaped this city’s impressive rebirth.
The first is Medellin’s metro system. Can you imagine a public transport system that residents are so proud of, it is devoid of litter and graffiti? Where PA announcements are delivered gently, like a whisper in your ear? Where users are encouraged to give up their seat for someone who looks tired (and they do!)? Where smiling staff roam the platforms willing to help, by providing information or taking your photo?
This transport system doesn’t finish at the end of the tracks. It has been taken high into the remotest and least privileged suburbs via cable car! Two cable car lines are integrated seamlessly into the network, cut commuting times by more than half and allowing residents to seek employment and stay connected to the city centre. Users pay the same price for a journey, regardless of where they start or finish – the equivalent of about AUD 0.80.
Second is a network of 27 parque de bibliotechas or library parks. We took a train & cable car combo to reach the hillside suburb of Santa Domingo. Wandering around its streets, it was hard to imagine that this was once one of the most notorious and violent slums in Latin America, sustaining a death toll of 6,349 in 1994. Its library park was opened in 2007 and offers books, computers, childcare, workshops and exhibitions to the neighbourhood and visitors. The imposing building has few windows but light streams down from skylights. The architect’s intention was to disconnect people from their reality of poverty outside, allowing them to dream a new reality inside. It was a welcoming space, run by earnest staff and quietly humming with activity.
Third are the city’s public spaces. Previously dangerous areas, where only the police would enter under the protection of the army, have not been demolished but restored and turned into positive spaces, often with public artworks on display. One famous Medellin artist – Fernando Botero – has donated many of his giant sculptures to decorate the town’s plazas.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Medellin and left feeling a great respect for a city that has worked hard to restore the dignity of its citizens and its spaces. Its people have every right to feel proud of their success.
See some of our photos from Medellin below.
Below are some photos of our Colombian journey through to Medellin.
Our full photo gallery is available here.