(Re-edited and updated December 2018)

During the difficult years end of last century, Medellín was Colombia’s most infamous city – inseparably tied to the name Pablo Escobar and his drug cartel.

The unshapely people and things created by Colombian superstar Fernando Botero make parts of Medellín an outdoor museum.

Escobar was shot and killed by the Colombian National Police already in 1993, but like all the rest of this beautiful country, since then, Colombia progressed a lot; sadly, without the world taking notice.
I wish my post will change that at least a bit.

Medellín, being Colombia’s second largest city, obviously has an international airport.

However, we took a direct bus from Salento to Medellín which cost a bit more than the local buses, but is much faster and especially with the luggage more comfortable than venturing via Armenia or Pereira.

City Tour of Medellín

There are two main highlights in Medellín not to be missed: For one, the Museo de Antioquia – housing i. a. a vast collection of Fernando Botero’s paintings and sculptures – as well as the adjacent Parque Botero with many of his voluptuous statues.

Fernando Botero La Muerte de Pablo Escobar.
As a matter of fact, to many Colombians, Escobar was some sort of Robin Hood since he actually took care of things in regions that let him rule.

While a visit to the square is, obviously, free of charge, to visit the Museum, you need to buy a ticket, but it’s worth every peso.

Everything gets out of shape in Botero’s hands.

You not only get to see their permanent collection that includes many huge, fantastic Boteros as well as paintings and sculptures he donated from his private collection including works by Wilfredo Lam, Frank Stella, Alex Katz, and many more.

Paintbrushes -that’s what it takes.
Fernando Botero donated Armand Fernández’ Expansión Sinfónica – Concert Expansion.

There are also multiple temporary exhibitions – each and every one just sublime.

The one that impressed me most is by Colombian photographer Erika Diettes: As a reference to the suffering of her people,  she created at the Museo de Antioquia her Relicarios.

Erika Diettes “Relicarios”

From 2011 to 2015, the artist visited families all over Colombia who are mourning their disappeared loved ones, listened to their stories and got a ‘relict’ that once belonged to the victims. Some relatives even travelled from secluded places just to hand Diettes the treasured objects. Sealing these ‘tokens’ individually in cubes of rubber terpolymer, Erika Diettes arranged these ‘gravestones’ into a graveyard of remembrance.

Walking through this cemetery, you are looking at random pieces – and they are telling you a story; a very sad one.

Thank you, Fernando, for giving me the honor to be “Pedrito” for a couple of minutes. 

However, this exhibition was temporary – check their very informative website to see what’s one right now and plan your visit accordingly.

Part of the permanent collection is also a room for the children and the childish: You can put on a uniform and incarnate Botero’s painting Pedrito that shows the artist’s son who tragically passed away at the age of four;
why does everything have to have a depressing twist to it in this city?!

Museo de Antioquia
Carrera 52 # 52-43
Phone: + 57 – 4 – 251 36 36

The museum is open Monday to Saturday from 10 a. m. to 5:30 p. m. and Sunday only till 4:30 p. m.

The other must-do activity should a guided tour by Real City Tours where local guides tell you a lot about what’s going on behind closed doors.

Sometimes even individualists might cherish the warmth of belonging to the herd.

Also, Medellín is developing and even was awarded for its progress, the vibe in the city center is not as relaxed as in Bogotá.

Medellín’s center is dirtier, poorer, more aggressive, a bit lost. Many homeless people and small groups of pathetic prostitutes lingering around churches. Godforsaken places – called Parques, definitely not being parks.

Enjoying a well-deserved ice cream while serving and protecting at the Plazuela Nutibara.

Everybody knows Medellín’s rough, violent past. Many of these lost souls had to flee from their little piece of land on the countryside, threaten, scared or chased away by one of the fighting forces, either the paramilitary right, the left wing guerilla or a drug cartel.
Eventually, they got stranded in the city.

Life is what happens in Medellín between Iglesia de la Veracruz, fruit carts, and office buildings.

This I’ve learned from Juan, our guide at Real Walking Tour Medellín who guides groups through downtown, pointing out special places and narrating the country’s, the city’s, and the people’s history and stories; and it’s only thanks to his energetic and entertaining attitude that after following him and his anecdotes for almost four hours, you’re not too depressed. Because when you get to the root of it, all of them are more or less atrocious and depressing. Like the one of the two Botero-birds on Plaza San Antonio, one of Medellín’s most dismal places:

During a rock concert in 1995, someone placed a backpack with a bomb in Botero’s bird statue, and it killed 25 people including a pregnant woman and a 7 years old girl. Until this day nobody knows officially which group is responsible for this barbaric act. It was the very Fernando Botero who forbid the mayor of Medellin to clean the ruins of his work. Now there is a plaque with the victims’ names, and Botero donated a second bird that symbolizes peace and hope for the new Medellín.

Fernando Botero “El Pajaro” and “El Pajaro de la Paz”

So I honestly recommend this tour, you’ll get a whole different and much more complete perspective on Medellín than walking around by yourself.

Day trip to Guatapé

Besides exploring a bit of the city, it’s also worth it to see the famous Guatapé, known for breathtaking views from the 200-meter high rock, that you have to climb over a couple of stairs, and of course the colorfully elaborated facades of the houses at the town of Guatapé.

Interestingly, on arrival in Medellín, we were greeted by a thunderstorm, so we stuck to the planned tour to Guatapé, but instead, of doing it individually by public bus, we joined an organized day trip. For US$ 28 per person including refreshments it was worth every cent, especially since we got to see far more places than we had seen going by ourselves.
Therefore I’d recommend it even if the weather is better.

The whole trip is nice and interesting, but also a bit bizarre since you are visiting places that technically do not exist anymore and were – at least partly – reconstructed…I don’t know, it is a bit Disney World-ish, but anyway, here are the places we go to see:

El Nuevo Peñol and El Templo Roca

Accomplishing the very ambitious project of filling up the reservoir of Guatapé transforming it into a large catchment lake, the old town of El Peñol was completely flooded; and reconstructed 1.5 miles west. Only that architecturally and sociologically, it has very little to do with its predecessor.

The most prominent landmark here is the church El Templo Roca, a house of worship hewn in stone.

Palm Sunday at El Nuevo Peñol.

Parque Temático Viejo Peñol 

Parque Temático – like I said: a little bit of Disney World.

Founded in 1714, this municipality used to live from agriculture, but slowly changed to tourism and river fishing. Until in the late 1970s, it was simply washed away.

The replica of the Peñol’s church – practically the counterpart to Cinderella’s castle at Disney.

What you see today, is a small replica of the vanished town – since the Nuevo Peñol looks nothing like this and lost all the colonial charm.

Lago de Guatapé

So the whole tour includes also a boat ride on the Lago Guatapé. Today, wealthy Colombians have some amazing holiday homes around the lake – and so did Mr. Pablo Escobar.

Pablo Escobar’s former residence – pretty run down.

You can spot the remains of his former mansion from the cruise.

El Peñón de Guatapé aka Stone of El Peñol

The main reason for doing this tour was the view from La Piedra, the Rock. Some call it El Peñón de Guatapé – that would be the people of Guatapé – other call it Stone of El Peñol; guess where those are from.

It might have been a bit less exhausting climbing the steps in liquid sunshine.

After climbing about 700 steps – the figures differ and I did not count while climbing – you have a great view of the picturesque composition of numberless islands.

Lunch with a view: Some refreshments before climbing the rock.

I’m sorry, guys, I took my pictures when there were dark grey clouds and shitty light so they look nothing like the ones I saw on the internet. Please be so kind as to google them from others if you want pretty; or look at mine if you go for a rather melancholic version.


On the one hand, the construction of the dam on Lago Guatapé, the region became one of the country’s most important electric production centers. At the same time, they nourish and cherish the colonial and artistic appearance of towns to make them attractive for tourists; which works pretty well.

Guatapé was founded in 1811 by Don Francisco Giraldo y Jimenez and declared a municipality in 1867.

Since the early twentieth century, the sockets, the zócalos, have been sculptured and show scenes related to the town’s history.

A Zócalo depicting its father Jose María Parra Jiménez who started this unique artistic tradition in 1919.

Some are just adorned with beautiful decors like flowers, market scenes or the typical chicken buses. But all these images have one thing in common: They are fantastically painted in bold colors.

The church Nuestra Señora Del Carmen….
….a well…

…and both together on a Zócalo.

Best place to sleep:

We stayed in the upper middle-class neighborhood San Joaquin – not on purpose but because the hotel sounded great – and it was. However, the Hotel El Portón de San Joaquin is not located in the center but three subway stops further west. It’s only one block from the Carrera 70, a very lively street packed with stores, restaurants, and bars.

The hotel has nice, very modern rooms and a rooftop sauna which is a great treat after a long day exploring. Also, booking the tour to Guatapé with them was far cheaper than what you find on the internet.

An opulent breakfast served in a very pleasant setting is included.

Check out their availability and prices here.*

Best place to eat:

We were so lucky that our hotel was only two blocks from the fantastic organic grocery store Salud Pan that every day also offers five great menu options including vegetarian food: soup, main course, dessert, and a drink at incredible 5 to 6 US$, depending on your choice of the main course.

Salud Pan
Circular 4ta No. 70 – 84
Barrio Laureles
Phone: + 57 – 4 – 411 69 35

These paintings at the organic shop and restaurant “Salud Pan” not only cheered us up, but also gave us faith – that brighter days would come; and it actually cleared up the following day.

Do you want to read about all the other beautiful places I’ve visited in Colombia? 

Then go to the main post and take your pick!

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