Central and South America Highlights Reel

 

Top 5 tours in Medellin

a quick and dirty guide to awesome tours offered in Medellin, Colombia.

 

  1. Pablo Paintball tour
  2. Guatapé tour
  3. Comuna 13 tour
  4. Pablo Escobar tour
  5. Cable cars and other tours to consider (2000 meter decent tour, botanical garden)

*You may notice that I start with number 1 instead of 5… that’s because I value your time, hate that reverse order crap. As if information is a grocery store, they put the stuff you want in the back… anyway

1. Pablo paintball tour

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On this tour, you paintball on the property owned by the infamous Pablo Escobar that was destroyed by Los Pepe’s years ago. The property now stands as a scorched and hole-ridden tourist attraction owned by a former employee of Pablo. Upon arrival, you will eat lunch. Afterwards, half will paintball the other half will explore the property (switching later on) and learn not only about Escobar and the property but how it was like to grow up in Medellin during the peak of cartel violence. Mentioning things such as how people would drive with their interior cabin lights on at night to prevent being confused with someone who was to be assassinated. Paintball takes place at the stables where you will find a very nice “call of the duty” apocalyptic environment.

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Included 

Less than desirable breakfast

Bus ride to Guatapé

Good Lunch

Tour of the property and history of Pablo as well as how it affected those living in Medellin during the time.

Boat trip down Guatapé

Paintball (4 rounds altogether if you run out of paintballs, you can purchase more)

Visit Peñol rock (REALLY COOL)

Coffee in the town of Peñol

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Town of Peñol gathered around street performers

2. Guatape tour (and Peñol Rock)

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Guatapé is an unforgettable experience. The thing that stood out the most to me was how vivid and saturated the colors seemed to be. The green plant life in contrast with the bright orange dirt that touched the glassy blue water was stimulating to the eye. Jet skiers can be found exploring the seemingly endless coves. It’s no surprise Pablo bought himself along with every member of his family property here within view from his own. I went here 3 times. Similar to (#1) Pablo Escobar paintball tour you will receive lunch, a boat trip through Guatapé, coffee in Peñol, visit Peñol rock. The boat trip and time spent at Peñol Rock is longer. Perfect for those who don’t care to paintball and want to spend more time exploring Guatapé. If you want to kick up the excitement a notch you ride a motorcycle from Medellin to Guatape. Look at the bottom of this page.

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Peñol Rock is located in Peñol which is in the larger area of Guatape.

3. Comuna 13 tour 

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Comuna 13 was once a very dangerous place but now it is safe and you can even go there without a guide if you prefer (brief history here).

Brief History

The 1980s-’90s: The neighborhood was controlled by groups loyal to Pablo Escobar, the notorious drug lord who lived in Medellín. Illegal activities remained rampant after his death in 1993, as drug cartels sought control of the area.

2002: One of the most pivotal events was on Oct. 16, 2002, when the Colombian military carried out the controversial Operation Orión, a strike to overthrow all rebel groups in Comuna 13. Over 1,000 policemen, soldiers, and aircrew in helicopters attacked the area (comprising of roughly 100,000 inhabitants). Nine people were killed (three children), and hundreds were wounded. The siege made it impossible to seek medical attention for the wounded, and the community took to the streets in solidarity flying white rags. With that action, the fighting stopped.

Post-2002: Residents voiced their discontent and anger with the violence that occurred in 2002 through art and community events. Striking street art around the neighborhood depicts scenes with the white rags raised for peace and solidarity.

Today: Residents are no longer afraid to leave their homes and their quality of life has changed positively. As we walked through the narrow roadways, kids were playing soccer in the streets, vendors were selling fruit and empanadas, and we laughed with friendly shopkeepers who let us sample their signature green mango ice cream topped with lime and salt. We felt comfortable visiting the area. However, a full transformation of this neighborhood will be slow and gradual, spanning decades. The situation is still tenuous and there’s still work to be done.

source of history can be found here

Now it serves as an artistic tapestry that stretches across a portion of the province. The graffiti art on the walls was done by people from the community, some of which you can follow on Instagram such as @chupa_13. The wall is constantly changing.

Outside escalators were installed recently to allow you to enjoy the area with ease.

Below is a video shot with my drone with some local and a friend from travelundertheradar.com

4. Pablo Escobar tour

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Of course, you knew I would mention the Netflix original narcos. Did you know that the guy who plays Pablo is actually Brazilian? Thus he speaks Portuguese and not Spanish? He doesn’t roll his r’s and this explains why he is a man of few words in the show. Colombians hate this, haha. Anyway, I really enjoyed hearing and seeing the real story. During the tour, you will visit the prison Escobar built for himself (pictured above) Afterwards you will go to a soccer field Pablo bought for the people of Medellin during his “Robin Hood era”. You will visit a fortified clubhouse Pablo had built right across the street from a club that rejected his membership (coincidence?…no). Attempted bombing was made on his fortified clubhouse, thanks to the reinforcement you could never tell. You will even see where Pablo, Gustavo, Límon, and The Black Widow (featured in cocaine cowboys) are buried. I will say that the highlight of this tour was the prison but, personally, I really enjoyed what I learned during the paintball tour more from the guy who was a kid in Medellin during the time mentioned much more factual history about Pablo.

Sidebar: Just want to mention here that the Colombian people never praised Pablo during my time there. To me, it seems they look at him as a scar on their reputation as well as murderer causing much grief and terror. All Pablo Escobar represents now is a marketing effort for tourist.

I felt like the Pablo paintball tour guides did a better job of encompassing Pablo’s life and how it affected the life’s of those in Medellin.

5. Cable cars tour

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photo credit pinterest

I did not take this tour personally, however, I heard good things from many who went. Aerial cars that ascend above and over the city for an amazing view of the vast city for a couple of bucks. You can pay additional to take the cable cars up to a park in the forest. I heard that the park isn’t much but the view over the canopy of tree for roughly 20 minutes makes it all worth it.

Worth mentioning…

Rent a motorcycle and do a day trip to Guatapé!!

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The big highlight of my trip to Colombia was taking a motorcycle to Peñol Rock. There is a guy named Jon who rents the coolest bikes in Medellin. You can find him debating which cryptocurrency to get onboard next at Rango hostel boutique. For around $40-50 dollars a day (depending on bike) you can have your pick between a 150, 250 or 400cc. They are enduro so they come with nice knobby tires. The trip from Medellin to Peñol Rock (as well as the city will take roughly 2 hours. I suggest you rent a smartphone cradle from Jon before you go so you will not need to stop along the way. Hostels can be found in Peñol at very affordable, however, they are often booked so make a reservation when you can.

 

2,000-meter Descent tour

Another tour for you thrills seekers is called the 2,000-meter decent tour. Where they take you all the way up a mountain and provide a nice “Trek” brand mountain bike you can use to descend.

Learn more about the tours listed above at Top10MedellinTours

They are very prompt and professional with inquiries.

The time I lost my phone in Palomino, Colombia and got it back with Find my iPhone

This story starts in Costeña beach about a 40-minute bus ride from Palomino.

Long story, short. I ate some bad chicken quesadilla and reserved a hammock. Hammocks rarely work out for me but I really wanted to sleep outside near the beach and fall asleep to the waves. I never ended up sleeping that night, thanks to food poisoning. As much as I wanted to stay I figured I should get to the pharmacy. So I started my long miserable trek back to palomino. Costeno is about a 30-minute walk from the road so I made the voyage, waited 15 minutes for a bus and headed towards palomino. After arriving I promptly went to the drug store to pick up some antibiotics and found a nearby moto-taxi to take me down the road to my hostel so I could relax and after being up all night, horribly sick and all this immediately after hiking Tayrona National Park so I was pretty sore from top to bottom. After taking a seat and feeling a flush of relief I reached to grab my phone. Not in my left, not in my right, not in my fanny pack. A rush of anxiety shoots across me. I don’t put in my phone in any other place! I had just lost my 256gb unlocked iPhone 7 Plus In Colombia.

I immediately begin to retrace my steps and remember using it at the drug store for translation. “I must have left it at the drug store,” I thought. I rush out of my hostel racing towards the nearest moto Taxi I see.

He takes me to the drug store. The man I spoke to earlier is dealing with another customer and I am doing my best to be as patient as possible. I burst and ask the man if he has seen my phone, he said he has not seen it. It was this moment I was pretty certain it was gone forever. However, there was still one more place to look and that was on the dirt road I paid the moto-taxi to take me down to get to my hostel. I walked the dirt road eyes on the ground. Got all the way to my hostel without a trace.

I had to resort to Find my iPhone if I was going to have any luck. So I grabbed my iPad which was having problems connecting to WiFi, so I grab my laptop. Same issue no wifi…  Hostel networks aren’t the most consistent. I go two hostels down where my friends are staying at. I jump onto iCloud.com on my laptop and begin to track the location of my phone. I locked and sent a message to my phone in English and Spanish informing the possessor of my location at Tiki Hut hostel, including their phone number and the promise of a reward upon return. Thankfully my phone was still on and I was locating my device on the map which was vague however I could see movement, up and down the length of the dirt road. 5 minutes or so went by with no response or arrival: I grew tired of waiting and decided as a final last-ditch shot in the dark effort I would play the sound and waltz down the road in hopes of hearing it. So I did just that, played the sound walked outside the hostel, didn’t get but 20 ft before I heard a muffled “ping, ping, ping”. I hear it once “Ping Ping Ping” more as I close in on a group of moto taxi’s under a shady tree. They look at me guiltily and awkwardly as I’m now directly not front of them when I hear “PING PING PING”. I reach out my hand curling my fingers in the “hand it over” gesture. He reaches into his bag and pulls it out and promptly hands it over. His friend said something in Spanish I could only assume translated into “where is the reward?”. I handed over decent cash but didn’t pay out like I would have had I not needed to hunt down my phone. Make sure to download and turn on “Find my iPhone”. It may be the only tool you have to get it back.

For a list of other great apps to have when traveling check out my TOP 20 apps for backpackers

Top 20 apps for Backpackers

The Top 20 apps on every seasoned backpackers phone

Apps you don’t leave home without 

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Here is a list of my TOP 20 Apps that are paramount during your travels. This list encompasses affordable accommodations, options for offline entertainment, free financial transfer and visibility, offline maps and more. If you feel have left anything out please make use of the comments below.  

  1. Hostelworld – Every backpacker’s resource for finding and researching hostels. Find all you need to know about hostels here.
  2. Airbnb – Is to hotels what uber is to taxis. Community-based accommodations where you can rent a bed, room or entire apartment or house for an agreed duration. Often cheaper than hotels and sometimes cheaper than hostels.
  3. Couch surfing – Everyone has that friend who will let you crash on their couch. Couch surfing is an app you can use to find a couch to crash on all over the world. As well as amazing people along the way. Free accommodations!
  4. TripAdvisor – This app needs no introduction. Where to go to hear real experience and reviews as well as find exciting things to do.
  5. Maps.me – A new addition to the arsenal that I love. This is the perfect solution for those who travel without cellular reception and rely on WiFi, or just traveling through a dead zone… Maps.me allows you to download the map of your area and view your location while not connected (many people are under the impression you need cellular/WiFi to view your GPS location but this is untrue.) Not only can you view your location, you can easily bookmark locations, share those locations and get directions to and from with a couple of clicks. Like Hostelworld, you’ll find few backpackers without this helpful app on their phone.
  6. Skyscanner – A great resource for finding budget-friendly flights. Search by month view to see the cheapest flight possible given flexible dates. Set up email alerts for when the price drops considerably.
  7. CheapOair – I consistently find the cheapest flights on CheapOair (even when compared to Skyscanner) always cross-reference the two to find the best deal. I found a round-trip flight from Quito to Galápagos for 400 bucks and a one-way ticket from Medellin to Rio for the same price.
  8. Paypal – It’s always recommended to bring several sources of cash along with your journey. Paypal is a tried and true solution that many people feel comfortable using, even hostels. I say open up a Paypal account in the event you need to transfer cash or receive cash instantly for a very nominal charge. This service is free if you choose to send money to “friends and family”. I seriously recommend getting the debit card for it as well which can act as another source of cash in the event you lose your debit or credit card.
  9. Mint – If you don’t already know Mint is the business when it comes to the insight of your finances. Track and categorize transactions throughout multiple accounts. You can even view your credit score and pay your bills… all from one place. Makes taxes easier too. Set up your accounts before you leave so you are never surprised or suffer from the overdraft, late fees, and dings to your credit from missing your payment!
  10. Cash app – Similar to Paypal, completely free. Uses your bank account and is quick and easy to set up. You can set it up so that money is automatically redirected to your account after it enters your cash app account. You can make it instant for a fee. Otherwise, it takes 3 business days. You even get a digital card you can use to make online purchases. Made by square so you trust it’s validity!
  11. Speedtest – This one is a little geeky but stays with me. With Speedtest you can check the speed of the WiFi or cellular signal you are on. This is helpful when you want to find the best bed in the dorm, best dorm in a hostel, the best network between hostels or comparing cellular carrier data speeds.
  12. Audible – Great audiobooks for long bus rides, or drowning out partying hostel roommates.
  13. Kindle App – eBook and Pirated Lonely Planet Reader (Jk)
  14. Spotify – A great way to discover new international music by following playlists of your newly acquired friends.
  15. WhatsApp – The universal, international messaging app everyone unanimously agreed on, seemingly. No matter where they are from you can expect they have WhatsApp.
  16. Uber – Works well in larger cities (Bogota, Medellin, Cartagena, don’t know about Cali but assume so. Usually around half as cheap as a taxi. Do not take uber from airport, my driver got busted by the policía, more on that here<- link>
  17. Find friends (Location Sharing App) – Great way to make sure you are never separated and can always find each other. You can allow the family to track your location as well, for peace of mind. You can revoke privileges whenever you want.
  18. Find my iPhone (Lost Phone Recovery App) – Allows you to track, lock, wipe, display a message or play sound on your iOS device. This literally saved my a** in palomino, read this amazing story here.
  19. Duolingo – To learn the fundamentals of the language of wherever you are headed to.
  20. Google Translate – The best translation app. Use voice or images to translate as well.

Cocora Valley Drone Footage

Near the small mountain town of Salento within the coffee belt in central Colombia lies a valley called Cocora, famous for the enormously gigantic wax palm trees growing there. This type of palm tree can grow up to a height of 60 meters (200 ft) and is recognized as the national tree of Colombia.

 

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Peñol Rock, Colombia Drone Footage

On the northern face of the stone, there are painted large white letters “G” and an incomplete “U” (only the single vertical stroke was completed). The towns of Guatapé and El Peñol had long disputed ownership of the rock, and the residents of Guatapé decided to settle the matter by painting the town’s name on the rock in huge white letters. It did not take long for the residents of El Peñol to notice the work, and a large mob was assembled to stop it. Only the “G” and part of the “U” were completed.

-source

 

Tayrona National Park, Colombia

 

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This time the park will close on January 28 and remain closed for one month until the end of February. Tayrona will reopen on March 1. As before, not even employees of the park will be allowed access to Tayrona during the month in question; only members of these Indigenous groups, of whom several families live permanently within the park

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Tayrona National Park

 

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This time the park will close on January 28 and remain closed for one month until the end of February. Tayrona will reopen on March 1. As before, not even employees of the park will be allowed access to Tayrona during the month in question; only members of these Indigenous groups, of whom several families live permanently within the park

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