by Michelle Santiago.
Medellín — 6 days
Cartagena — 2 days
Isla Grande — An impromptu (and unbelievable) 2 days
as far as travel destinations go, colombia has dealt with its fair share of stigma. but in recent years, there has been a noticeable revival countrywide, with thriving metropolitan cities, flourishing arts districts, and the addition of the country’s first metro system. It’s actually been on my bucket list for a while, so when I stumbled upon cheap tickets, the decision was easy. A few unnecessary bathing suit purchases and a couple connecting flights later, I was in Medellín. Read on for my lucky seven spots, places you won’t want to miss if you find yourself there!
1. Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellín. the modern art museum of medellín is a must-see, even if for the architecture alone. the newly renovated building has a center courtyard that extends through all four levels, making it feel like you are both inside and outside at once. if you’re looking to dive deeper into country’s world of art, el mamm’s impressive collection is the place to do it.
2. Parque Arvi. Do not leave Medellín without hopping on the metro cable (an activity in itself) and riding up to Parque Arvi. the park is a seriously impressive ecological nature preserve that sits up in the mountains. it’s definitely worth dedicating an afternoon to the park, and pro-tip: when you want to take a break from hiking, duck into one of the little outdoor bars right off the path. relax and play a game of chess over some beers before the park closes. on your way back down, be prepared for some of the best views of the city.
3. El Centro + El Poblado. to get a good feel for medellín, take a walking tour of el centro and el poblado. el centro is the city’s crowded downtown area— it’s rich with history and is a great way to experience the paisano’s every day. you’ll find cool trinkets and tons of typical colombian food. head to el poblado for a taste of modern medellín. the neighborhood is filled with little boutique stores, amazing coffee shops, and dreamy streets lined with tropical greenery and the sound of rushing streams. then after dinner, you can make your way to one of many clubs for some dancing and late-night empanadas, which is basically *the dream.*
4. Guatape. in guatape, a town a couple hours outside of medellín, sits a monolithic formation about 7,000 ft. high. you can climb it, and you should. it may take 740 steps to get to the top, but you won’t be sorry once you see the view from the top. guatape itself feels like a fairytale town, made up of cobblestoned roads, pastry-carts, and colorfully painted houses. you need about an entire day to explore the area, but if you have the time, duck into a hostel and enjoy the small town life for a little. apparently, there are really good swimming spots, too!
5. Food. eat anywhere! seriously, all of the food is amazing. arepas are good for all times of the day, and you should try all of the empanadas you can get your hands on. and if you’re looking for a few recommendations: la cantine cocina for french inspired dishes with fresh, colombian ingredients, el social if you’re looking for a dive bar away from home, and berlin bar for a good game of pool and some cheap aguardiente shots (which are a must).
6. Getsemani. cartagena is a tropical port city on the northern caribbean coast of colombia. you’ll find most travelers within the walled city, and there’s reason for it! the entire area is made up of candy-colored colonial style buildings, filling the city with some serious romantic vibes. but if you’re looking to get a real taste of cartagenian nightlife, i’d suggest venturing a little further out to getsemani. on a typical weekend night, plaza de la trinidad becomes crowded with street performers, late night food vendors, and groups of friends hanging on steps. unfortunately, i didn’t take my phone around too much so not a lot of pictures to capture this magic— all the more reason for you to check it out for yourself.
7. Isla Grande, Rosario Islands. on our third day in cartagena, we ventured out to the much-talked-about rosario islands. we stayed in a community of restored independent hostel homes working collectively as the one paraiso secreto. this place was unreal. it was so good, in fact, that we extended our trip by a night and nearly missed our flight back the next day. but with secluded beaches, a nighttime swim in a glittery plankton-filled lagoon, and the best fried snapper dish i’ve ever eaten, it was well worth it. oh yeah, small thing— there’s no wifi, and electricity is only available between 7pm and 9am, but honestly, it was pretty freakin’ nice to disconnect for a bit.
one thing we heard a lot of people talk about is the the current state of the country, and the tenacity of young people that continues to affect this change. even from an outsider’s perspective, it’s hard to disagree. colombia is experiencing a dynamic shift that you can see in everything; the new architecture, the shops, and even in the dishes you eat. it’s more than just a visual shift— it’s an energy that reverberates. if you ever get the chance to visit, do not pass it up. colombia is a place like no other.