Colombia: what to do in Medellín – a beloved city of backpackers

Medellín is the favorite city of many backpackers traveling through Colombia, especially for the party-people. Most of them stay in the district Poblado, there are many bars, restaurants and discos. In addition to the lively nights, the country’s second biggest city has enough tourist attractions for a visit of at least three or four days.

How to get there

Medellín doesn’t have an own airport. Just on one flight lane can land small airplanes. José María Córdova International Airport, which is closest to the city, is located in the municipality of Rio Negro. About 1h drive from downtown Medellín.

In addition to international flights at this airport land planes from major cities in Colombia. We flew from Cartagena with Viva Colombia, a Colombian low-cost airline.

To get from the airport to Medellín city center, the cheapest option is by bus, which leaves from the airport (timestables at the exit) and costs COP 9,000 per person. The bus is quite comfortable and the last stop is at the North Terminal, where you can find the subway line Caribe. From the terminal it is also possible to take a taxi to get to the place where you will be staying.

Medellín also has two bus terminals: South and North, where you can arrive by buses from several cities, including Bogotá and Cartagena. However, as the city is in a mountainous region, the trips are usually quite long and cause nausea.

Where to stay

I would say that the most important thing in Medellín is knowing where you SHOULDN’T stay. Definitely avoid the area from Prado, the outskirts of Parque Berrío and Parque Bolívar. It’s a very, very weird region. If you want to enjoy the nightlife, Poblado is probably the best district. It is always the best to be near a subway station because the system works very well and it is possible to travel all around the city.

We stayed in the Las Colores district, which isn’t so touristy as it is a residential neighborhood, quiet, beautiful and has a main street with many restaurants, shops, supermarkets, pharmacies. We stayed in Sophia’s House and loved it. The house is huge, very pretty, has a pool and a kitchen. Sophia and her daughters are very friendly and helpful.

Transportation

Medellín has a great transport system, by subways, which aren’t underground. You can get everywhere by subway. The public transportation card is for free and unified (subway, bus and cable car).

The city’s taxi fares are pretty cheap and are set by meter.

Safety

Medellín was once the most violent city in the world and was very dangerous, especially in the 90’s, after the death of Pablo Escobar, when a war between criminal gangs began. But a few years ago, the life in the city changed radically. And today it is possible to go there as a tourist without feeling insecure. Of course, should still be careful, especially in the city center.

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Medellín is also the hometown of Fernando Botero, who is one of the most expressive artists in Colombia and has works scattered throughout the city. If you arrive in Medellín, I recommend to start visiting Plaza Botero, which has giant bronze works by the artist. Afterwards you should visit the Museum of Antioquia(18,000 COP), which shows works by Botero and other artists who were donated by him.

Antioquia museum
Antioquia museum

Botero's picture representing the death of Pablo Escobar
Botero’s picture representing the death of Pablo Escobar

To visit the Plaza and the Museum, you will probably get off at Parque Berrio station. In front of this station is the Basilica de la Candelaria and the Palace of Culture (Palácio de la Cultura, which in my eyes is a building of bad taste). The Metropolitan Cathedral is also nearby. But on the way there, it isn’t very beautiful and there are many prostitutes and transvestites, even during the day.

Plaza Botero
Plaza Botero

There is a very famous and recommended Free Walking Tour which includes the city center of Medellin. But we didn’t go, as you need to book in advance. But some friends did and liked it a lot.

Another area that has many attractions is around the Botanical Garden (free admission), directly opposite of Explora Park (website in Spanish: http://www.parqueexplora.org/) (24,500 COP), recommended for those traveling with children and the Planetarium of Medellin (website in Spanish: http://www.planetariomedellin.org/).

Hut in the Botanical Garden with indigenous musical instruments
Hut in the Botanical Garden with indigenous musical instruments

From Universidad Station which is in front of the Botanical Garden, you can go to Acevedo Station, where you can take the cable car to Parque Arví. You don’t need to pay anything extra for the cable car as it is the same fare as the subway. From the cable car you can enjoy a great view overlooking the whole city, but I wouldn’t recommend to take it back down unless you want to visit the park.

Explore Park
Explore Park

Another place that gives you a view of the whole city is Pueblito Paisa (free admission). The pueblito is on the top of Cerro Nutibara and was built as a Colombian colonial village, with a small church, a small square and a little school. In the buildings you can find restaurants and craft shops.

Pueblito Paisa
Pueblito Paisa

Pueblito Paisa
Pueblito Paisa

And, finally, don’t forget to visit Poblado, one of the most beautiful districts in the city, modern, a lot of squares, artists, bars and restaurants. And for those who want to enjoy the nightlife, this is definitely the place.

Parque Lleras, where are most of the bars and restaurants in Poblado
Parque Lleras, where are most of the bars and restaurants in Poblado

Poblado
Poblado

Where to go next ..

From Medellín, don’t miss a one-day round trip or spend one night in Guatapé.

Another option from Medellín would be to travel to the Colombian Eje Cafetero, which includes the city of Salento.

From Medellín we continued our trip to Turbo, where we went by boat to the beaches Capurganá and Sapzurro, already on the border to Panama.

Written in Portuguese by Karla Larissa

Translation by Juliane Boll


Lagunas Altiplánicas and Piedras Rojas: a must-see in the Atacama Desert

In the Atacama Desert there are so many tour options and each place is more beautiful than the other. Therefore, it is difficult to choose as not everyone has the time nor the money to do them all. However, in my opinion, Lagunas Altiplánicas (Altiplanic Lagoons) and Piedras Rojas (Red Stones) are a must-see, which include some of the most beautiful landscapes we have seen in the desert and even in whole Chile.

Salar de Talar
Salar de Talar


We did the tour as an invitation of Ayllu Atacama * and I will share my experiences with you and also give you some tips so that you can make the most of this incredible tour.

* The tour of Lagunas Altiplánicas and Piedras Rojas was a courtesy of Ayllu in Share Journeys, with the commitment that all the opinion expressed in the text was true and authentic, as in all the posts we wrote.


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The tour

The tour of Lagunas Altiplánicas and Piedras Rojas is scheduled in the morning by the agencies and starts very early. At 5 am in the morning, the vans begin to get the participants from their accommodation (this day, we left a little late, which was to be expected as a Brazilian tour! ^^). At dawn and in the morning, it is sooooo cold in the Atacama Desert, so leave with some layers of clothes, regardless of the season. Later on, I will give some tips about what you should take with you.

Old church in Socaire
Old church in Socaire

From San Pedro de Atacama we drove for 86 km to the first stop, the village of Socaire. On the way, we saw the sun rising over the mountains and volcanoes in the desert. It is worth it to stay awake this part of the way, as the landscape is even more beautiful in the colors of the dawn.

Socaire is the last small town on Route CH-23, before Argentina. As we arrived very early, it seemed that the small village was still sleeping. And the main attraction of the town is the old church, with the typical architecture of the Atacama Desert, built with mud bricks and a straw roof. The church was closed so we just stopped for an outside photo and to go to the bathroom (which on that day had to be outdoors! hehe But usually they stop at one of the establishments on the way. However, take the chance whenever you can because in Atacama there aren’t a lot of possibilities to go to the bathroom outdoors and the next toilet stop will take a while).

After the quick stop in Socaire, we continued to Salar de Talar. Don’t confuse it with Salar de Tara, which is another tour. Still try to stay awake, because on the way, you can see some animals, such as vicuñas and guanacos, which are camelid like animals, as well as llamas and alpacas, but are exclusively wild. Pay attention because they camouflage very well in the Atacama vegetation. Drink a lot of water so you don’t get problems with the altitude.

Laguna Tuyacto
Laguna Tuyacto

Salar de Talar is at an altitude of 3,950 meters and spreads over an area of ​​46 square kilometers. It is in this Salar that you will find the famous Piedras Rojas and Laguna Tuyacto, which was our first stop.

The water of Tuyacto has a milky tone due to the salt. At some days of the year, it has a high salt concentration around it and becomes even more beautiful. When we were there, there wasn’t a lot. On the other hand, the water mirror was perfect, reflecting the surrounding mountains.

Laguna Tuyacto is a few kilometers from Piedras Rojas where we went next. During the tour, our guide Dani, explained to us the geological formation of this region and the reason for the intense red color of the stones, which is due to the great concentration of iron, coming from volcanic lava. By the way, Dani is an excellent guide. Super fun and with very good explanations. Moreover, he is always helping to get great photos! =)

As Ayllu specializes in giving tours for Brazilians and the group was almost all Brazilian (except for Julie, who is German but speaks Portuguese), the explanation was all in Portunhol (portuguese +spanish). But they also speak English and have tourists from other nacionalities as well.  Dani understands Portuguese very well, so we talked all in Portuguese. All the explanation is made on the way in the car so that you can spend more time outside, enjoying the scenery and taking photos. And also that you don’t freeze too much!

I repeat again, be prepared for the cold, which ranges from below zero to 10 degrees and the wind is very strong in Piedras Rojas. We did the tour in late May and the temperature was below freezing. Also avoid to take off your gloves to take pictures, so that you don’t get frostbites on your hands, which happened to me.

When we got to Piedras Rojas, we were nearly alone only together with one other group from Ayllu, which was very good to take good photos. Ayllu groups are a maximum of 10 people per car, which is great because we can get to know people better (our group was really fun) and the guide can explain everything without being interrupted.

Red Stones, Salar de Talar
Red Stones, Salar de Talar

While we took photos and admire the stunning landscape (which is best described by the pictures than by words), Ayllu team prepared the breakfast, overlooking one of the most beautiful lagoons in Piedras Rojas. The offered breakfast is very good with everything you could need: fruits, bread, biscuits, tea, coffee, nutella … everyone will be satisfied. I think this was the most beautiful place I’ve ever had breakfast in my whole life! But we ate quickly as the cold was hard to bear.

After breakfast, we went to Lagunas Altiplánicas, and in case you think that the landscape cannot be as beautiful as the one of Piedras Rojas, you are surprised by the beauty of these lagoons.

We visited just two of the Lagunas Altiplanic: Miskanti and Miñiques are inside Los Flamencos National Reserve. The entrance fee of $ 3,000 CLP per person (May 2017) is paid extra.

Laguna Miskanti
Laguna Miskanti

The first lagoon, Miskanti, is the largest and in my opinion the most beautiful one. With a very blue and calm water, surrounded by the volcano with the same name and other mountains, that had a very beautiful contrast between the white of the snow and the dark color of the rock formations, next to the greenish-yellow of the Atacama vegetation, at the end of May. The pond is shaped like a heart, which can be seen best by looking at the map: https://goo.gl/maps/hSzifaTzUvz .

At this lagoon you can go to the bathroom (puhh!) and also do a trail in case you want to walk around the lagoon, respecting the boundaries marked by stones. There are flamingos (that we just saw from far away) and vicuñas.

Vicuña in Lagunas Altiplánicas
Vicuña in Lagunas Altiplánicas

By car, we went to Miñiques lagoon, which is next to Miskanti, but too far to go on foot. The two lagoons were separated by petrified lava from an eruption of the Miñiques volcano. Yes, as you would expect in Atacama, next to the lagoon Miñiques there is another volcano.

Laguna Miñiques
Laguna Miñiques

Miñiques is much smaller than Miskanti and the volcano was not as snowy as the other one, so I think the first one is more beautiful. However, the two are stunning!

On the way back from Lagunas Altiplánicas, we saw even more animals like vicuñas and guanacos (difficult to differentiate one from the other) and also a fox (Culpeo fox), a typical species in South American countries.

Fox in the Atacama Desert
Fox in the Atacama Desert

Along the way, the sun begins to heat up the air, and the altitude decreases, as well as the wind. So, you can enjoy the scenery a lot more and for longer.
 [Vicuña on the road and the usual question in Atacama: is it snow or salt?]
The last stop before lunch is at the Tropic of Capricorn, parallel to the South of the Equator. A sign on Route CH-23 marks the place where the imaginary line passes.

With Fred and Julie at the Tropic of Capricorn
With Fred and Julie at the Tropic of Capricorn

We returned to San Pedro de Atacama around 2pm, for lunch at Ayllu’s restaurant. The lunch was a free buffet, full of great choices (we even had feijoada!), with enough option for vegetarians as well. To accompany it with a drink of juice, soda, white and red wine.

Lunch at Ayllu's restaurant
Lunch at Ayllu’s restaurant

A perfect tour from start to finish! <3

Landscape along the road
Landscape along the road

As it is a half-day tour, some people take two tours a day. But I believe it is very tiring, since you get up at about 4:30 in the morning. If you want to do two tours try to find a second which leaves as late as possible in the afternoon. Considering as well extra time for an eventual delay of the first tour.

 

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What to bring
As I have mentioned several times, it is very cold on this tour. So, make sure that you wear enough layers of clothes as several trousers and jackets (preferably wind-jackets) and that they are warm as well, a hat, gloves, closed shoes (preferably boots, because usually wind enters into the sneakers), a scarf and very warm socks. I used several layers of each of these things and still, I almost froze to death! Hehe

Wear several layers. Like this you can take some off during the tour
Wear several layers. Like this you can take some off during the tour


But, don’t forget, even when it’s cold, the sun is usually very strong in Atacama, so don’t forget sunscreen and sunglasses. Take your water bottle too.

 

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Ayllu
There are thousands of agencies in San Pedro de Atacama, so we have to choose wisely that the “cheap” ones don’t get expensive in the end. Ayllu is an agency with 15 years of experience in Atacama and has focused on Brazilian tourists and also on the luxury concept.

Ayllu Vans and our breakfast in Piedras Rojas
Ayllu Vans and our breakfast in Piedras Rojas


Therefore, the guides speak good Portunhol (Portuguese + spanish) and the service team is Brazilian.

The agency offers the main tours through Atacama always for small groups of a maximum of 10 people to make the experience more intimate and exclusive. Moreover, a curiosity that I always had, Ayllu means “community” or “family group”, in Kunza dialect.

In addition to the tour of Lagunas Altiplánicas and Piedras Rojas, we did the Lagunas Escondidas (Hidden Lagoons) tour with Ayullu. I will tell how that went in one of the next posts.

 

Ayllu Atacama
Calle Toconao # 479, San Pedro de Atacama
Http://www.aylluatacama.com.br/
Contact@ayllu.cl
+56 94021-2535 (Whatsapp)

This could be interesting for you as well:

http://sharejourneys.net/2017/06/26/20-day-itinerary-in-chile-santiago-pucon-andean-lakes-lagos-andinos-chiloe-island-and-atacama/

Written in Portuguese by Karla Larissa

Translation by Juliane Boll

Leia este post em português:

Lagunas Altiplânicas e Piedras Rojas: passeio imperdível no Deserto do Atacama


20-day-itinerary in Chile: Santiago, Pucón, Andean Lakes (Lagos Andinos), Chiloé Island and Atacama

Two years after our first trip to Chile, we came back to make peace with this country. That’s because in April 2015 when we traveled the North of the country, we had a full week of heavy rain, to the point that the government declared a state of calamity in that region. This time, we wanted to make the most of it but taking into consideration the weather of the season (May). So, we postponed the dream of getting to know Patagonia and planned our 20 days between Santiago and the surrounding areas, Andean Lakes (Lagos Andinos), Chiloé Island and Atacama. Luckily, the first impression from 2015 was “washed away” and we left Chile with a lot of love for that country.

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Continue reading 20-day-itinerary in Chile: Santiago, Pucón, Andean Lakes (Lagos Andinos), Chiloé Island and Atacama