Welcome to Medellin, Antioquia!
Paisas (pie-suhz), as natives of Antioquia are referred to, are the Texans of Colombia! They love their region more than they love their country. Known for being extra friendly, these folks also have shrewd business instincts and a work ethic that starts well before sun up and normally does not finish until after the sun has gone down. Yep, we’re in Paisaland now and the pride of Antioquia runs deep here! Welcome to Antioquia, y’all.
Granted, Paisas have a lot to be proud of. Their dynamic abilities and enduring nature boast strong economics for this part of the country. The agricultural, textile and industrial sectors are all strong performers. Antioquia mines produce 80% of Colombia’s current gold output. The capital of Medellin, once synonymous with drugs and violence is now one of the safest big cities in all of Latin America. As a matter of fact, go ahead and forget everything you know about Medellin up to this point because it is probably old news by now. Yes, the city was the headquarters and principal killing grounds for Colombia’s cocaine cartels and their henchmen. However, what the media has forgot to report (until recently) is the fact that this city has achieved a remarkable turnaround and is re-emerging as a world leader in industry, hospitality, and civic leadership.
Modern Day Medellin
A City Moving Ahead!
Located in the Aburrá Valley and nestled in the foothills of the Central Cordillera, the capital of the state of Antioquia, Medellin is a dynamic nucleus of the nation. The vibrant and tropical city is the second largest in the country behind Bogota and boasts an average annual temperature of 73 degrees Fahrenheit, which has earned it the epithet of City of Eternal Spring. The city spreads from south to north, with the Medellin River as its axis and is mainly composed of lush, green mountainous highland terrain including four picturesque hills known by the names of Nutibara, El Volador, Picacho and Pan de Azúcar. The Mountain Capital as the city is also known, is famous for its gardens, its flowers and a large variety of orchids. Several districts make up the metropolitan area of Medellin, with a total of three and a half million inhabitants. Medellin is now one of the top 100th most populous metropolitan areas in the world according to the latest world atlas data.
Medellin is a City of Change & Advancement
The downtown district of Medellin (El Centro) preserves good examples of republican architecture such as the Nutibara Hotel and the Municipal Palace. However, Medellin is predominately a modern city in which buildings such as Plaza Mayor, EPM Library, Parque Explora, Parque Biblioteca España en Santo Domingo Savio and the Medellin Planetarium define the ultra modern style that now adorns all parts of the city. Created with crisp architectural lines and native stone exterior facades, these buildings not only represent the new culture centers and libraries they house, but a nascent feeling of re-emergence that is shared with exuberance by all the citizens of Medellin. Fueled by explosive growth and a desire to transform this vibrant city into an international hub of economic activity and culture, numerous city projects have sprung all across the city. It would be a mistake not to mention the name Sergio Fajardo Valderrama when speaking about the recent transformation of the city. As the city’s mayor from 2003-2007, he applied advanced social integration concepts to make sure that new libraries, schools and culture centers were not only constructed in the affluent areas of the city, but the poorest as well. Although he receives criticism as well as praise, his efforts have helped to create a difference in the lives of many people here in Medellin.
Medellin & Beyond / Daytripping Around Medellin
All around Medellin one can find an amazing array of scenic and fun filled activities to engage. Due to the fact that Medellin is nestled into the Andes Mountains, the countryside is a spectacular example of highland tropics complete with lush green vegetation, native fruit trees and an amazing variety of flowers. Each small town that you come into contact with is like stepping back in time, full of culture, rich heritage and genuinely curious locals who will take the time to help you or tell you about their wonderful area and all its treasures. Whether you prefer strolling around the town square of a quaint village looking at local artwork or exploring a local coffee farm, the state of Antioquia has many treasures to discover. Don’t be surprised if you find some special place that makes you want to return again and again. One of the biggest problems here is wanting to stay!
El Peñol / Guatape – located just east of the city about an hour and a half away is the beautiful lake and recreational area of El Peñol (literally ‘the Stone’). Similar to the famous Sugar Loaf of Rio de Janeiro, El Peñol is a 650 feet tall granite monolith rising from the banks of Embalse del Peñol, an artificial lake built in the early 1960’s. Adventurous visitors can even climb the 649 steps to the top and get a bird’s-eye view of the entire region including the beautiful lake below. There is a visitor’s center and place to buy snacks on top of the rock.
Since the construction of a hydro-electric damn and subsequent flooding of the area, El Peñol has become a popular tourist area. There are numerous activities to engage around the lake including hiking, biking, horseback riding, water sports and swimming, and an amazing zip-line in Guatape just to name a few.
Santa Fe de Antioquia – northwest of Medellin about an hour down the road exists a town that has gone relatively unchanged in looks and character since the 18th century. The narrow streets are lined with well groomed, whitewashed houses that are mostly single story construction, many of them complete with beautiful Spanish courtyards. You will also find elaborately carved and typical Antioquian woodwork around doorways and windows. This area is located in a warm and balmy valley outside of Medellin and receives much less rain and is therefore considered by the locals as one of the top recreational destinations outside of the city.
Founded in 1541 by Jorge Robledo, it served as the capital of Antioquia until 1826, when the government moved to Medellin. Also known as La Ciudad de la Madre (Mother City), Santa Fe de Antioquia has been declared a national monument since 1960. It was declared Headquarters of the Archbishop in 1985. Not to be missed is the Puente de Occidente (Bridge of the West) just outside of town a few miles. Constructed in 1894, it is listed as one of the longest suspension bridges in the world at 940 feet in length. Flowing beneath the bridge is the Río Cauca, one of the area’s most important rivers.
Eje Cafetero – or the coffee region is an area south of Medellin that will take you into neighboring states (departmentos) of Caldas, Quindío and Risaralda. Because of this regions specific altitude and climate, it is hailed for producing some of the finest coffee beans in the world. Accounting for just 1% of Colombia’s total area, this region produces nearly half of the countries annual coffee crop. The combination of agreeable temperatures, lush green valleys, and impressive snow-capped peaks make it perfectly suited for curious travelers as well. Although this area is not really considered a day tip, it is a great place to spend a few days or more exploring some of the most unique terrain on the planet.
The region was not settled by the Spanish until the mid-19th century, when Antioquia began expanding southwards during the colonization period known as ‘colonización Antioqueña’. By 1905, the area had developed enough to become a state (department) of its own, which was called Caldas. By 1966, conflicting economic interests within Caldas led to a split of the area and created two new states of Risaralda and Quindío. The countries rich natural beauty is the reason most travelers visit the region and strong paisa influence can be seen throughout the region including architecture, food and general kindness of its inhabitants.