Seeing the Sites
Medellin is a pleasant place to explore as an independent traveler, but tours can take the guesswork out of the experience, especially for first-time visitors. I enjoyed an informative one-day city tour with Viva Expeditions, which included a stop at Botero Plaza, a public park that’s most famous for the 23 sculptures by Fernando Botero, Colombia’s most famous artist, who was born in Medellin in 1932. Botero’s unmistakably rotund depictions of people make for great photo opportunities. Also worth a visit is the Museum of Antioquia, which is set in a beautiful art deco building next to the park, with art ranging from the pre-Columbian period to the 21st century. Fans of contemporary and modern art should also consider a visit to the Museum of Modern Art, which is set in a revamped industrial building.
Nature lovers, meanwhile, should make time for the Botanical Garden of Medellin (Jardín Botánico), a 35-acre attraction with more than 4,000 flowers and 139 bird species. Parque Arvi, a gigantic forest reserve, is yet another rewarding place to observe nature; the most scenic way to get there is via the MetroCable aerial tram, which carries you up
the side of the mountain to an area graced with more than 160 species of bromeliads, anthuriums, and orchids. It’s a peaceful place to stroll.
The advantage of touring with a company like Viva is that it can also show you how to get around. One of the most enjoyable parts of the day was the time we spent using mass transit. A sleek Metro system links many neighborhoods in Medellin efficiently, while the Metro Cable is an innovative aerial tram system that connects the Metro with hillier neighborhoods that were once difficult to reach. The Metro Cable also happens to offer some of the city’s most spectacular views. A new streetcar system, which debuted a couple years ago, is further cementing Medellin’s identity as a role model of efficient urban planning and transportation.
My city tour with Viva Expeditions also included a visit to Pueblito Paisa, a depiction of a traditional Colombian village that, while touristy and not actually historic, is still worthwhile for those eager to learn more about traditional life in earlier decades (interesting note: Medellin was not an important city in the Spanish colonial days, and while there is a downtown, there is no historic colonial city center).
As I stood at the hilltop Pueblito Paisa and gazed out upon the city, I noticed the landing strip for Olaya Herrera Airport, the city’s regional airport, which serves mostly domestic flights from other parts of Colombia. My guide, Julio Casadiego, shared a fascinating piece of history. “You know who Carlos Gardel was?” he asked, referring to Argentina’s legendary tango
performer. “He died in a plane crash at that airport, back in 1935.”
Perhaps that’s why tango music continues to be celebrated in Medellin. The city hosts a tango festival annually, and year round you can enjoy live tango music and dancing at venues like Salón Malaga, which has operated downtown since 1957.
The international tango festival is just one of several noteworthy annual celebrations in Medellin. In August, Feria de las Flores (the flower festival) features flower-laden parades, pageants, and concerts, while the Festival of Lights brings holiday light displays in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
The city’s LGBTQ pride celebration, the second largest in Colombia, after Bogota, takes place in June, with a parade, festival, and other events throughout the month.
Medellin is a cultural hotspot, with diverse options to fit various interests. The Ballet Folclórica de Antioquia, the city’s folkloric ballet company, recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, and stages performances nearly every week.