Medellin, Colombia – Hop, Skip and a Jump from Panama and is well worth the trip!

Blog by Terry Richmeier and Manzar Lari!

In a nutshell: It’s easy to travel from Panama to Colombia! Maybe include it in your plans for your next vacation to Panama?

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When we originally heard that Copa Airlines would be flying to Colombia, we were hesitant to travel there. Old thoughts of safety matters began to circle around in our heads. Soon, we started hearing of more and more people living in Boquete, Panama, seizing the opportunity to travel to Colombia, especially Medellin. We were told that Medellin of today is a completely transformed city and is ready to show any tourist a time of their lives!

 It all started with a 45 minute, reasonably priced, flight to from Enrique Malek (David) Airport to Tocumen Airport in Panama City and then an hour flight into Medellin, Colombia. The aerial view as we got closer and closer to Medellin was breathtaking! Such natural beauty. The hotel had set up a taxi ride and we arrived feeling overwhelmed by the beauty of the country side. The hotel was about a 45 minute taxi ride away as Medellin is in a valley and is surrounded by the Andes Mountains. We gawked at the grand homes and large farms as we journeyed down the winding roads to our hotel and could not get over the fact how green everything was. We asked the taxi driver many questions and learned much more about Colombia and the change it’s gone through since the Cartel days. Especially Medellin! After the Cartel, the city rebuilt and re-grew. It’s one of the most beautiful cities we have ever visited. Our feelings of uncertainty melted away as we made the taxi ride to our hotel. All our concerns were gone by the time we arrived at the hotel in El Poblado, an amazing part of town.

Once we arrived at the hotel and unloaded our luggage it was time to hit the pool and the steam room! A boy has to get rid of all the travel aches and pains! We, of course, wanted to relax and this was the best start to our time in Colombia. At the hotel we immediately noticed how happy the people of Medellin were. We felt the warmth of the smiles and laughter and the most important piece – how proud they are of their beautiful women! Later on in the evening we decided to walk the two blocks to Parque Poblado and found a hole-in-the-walk authentic Chinese restaurant to eat at. The food was actually quite good.

Day two, we took a bus tour through the TuriBus Company. It is designed for you to be able to get on and off the bus at different stops. We were dying to see the Fernando Botero Art Museum and the park outside, called Plaza Botero, which had many statues of his work. Botero is the most famous Colombian artist known for his paintings and artwork of heavy set people. He was originally from Medellin. We learned a great deal about him while visiting the museum. Here is some more information about him: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fernando_Botero

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 From Plaza Botero we ventured into many other parks and points-of-interest such as Parque de los Deseos, Estación Estadio del Metro, Parque de los Pies Descalzos and Pueblito Paisa. Parque de los Pies Descalzos had amazing sculptures in the shape of fish and exclusively made out of plastic water bottles! We also saw the Science Museum and planetarium and a number of university students milling about over their lunch break. We ended up walking through a botanical park that was located right by the university. The butterfly garden was small but breathtaking – a must-see! We decided to eat lunch on a train car in the botanical garden that was turned into a luncheon and snack cart. It was relaxing to sit outside and enjoy our food and take in the sights and sounds of nature.

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The following day we went to the Santa Fe Mall that is located in the heart of Poblado neighborhood within a short walk down the street on the super-trendy Poblado Avenue. Wide sidewalks, handsomely dressed people walking around with a sense of purpose and tourists with their cameras and lollygagging and happily snapping away their photos that would eventually become the narratives of their travels to Colombia. As soon as we arrived at the Santa Fe Mall we realized that it was no ordinary mall. Spotlessly clean with an amusement park in the middle and four floors of specialty shops, restaurants and incredible views from each window and open terraces, it rivals a high end mall in any major city around the world. The only difference is that the surrounding mountains, tropical plants and vistas galore give this mall something “extra”. We spent some time searching for gifts and new shoes, we learned about two other malls and did get to go to one other one as well a couple of days later. This second mall called Tesoro Mall was a 10 minute taxi ride further up the mountain in a high end neighborhood of the same name (El Tesoro). This mall did not disappoint either. In fact, arguably we probably liked it better than the Santa Fe Mall. The inside/outside design, lots of plants and areas to sit and enjoy were the highlights of this place. Yet again, we found the employees at the different stores to be friendly, courteous and helpful! What is up with that?!

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One day we decided to explore around the neighborhood close to Dann Carlton Hotel (where we were staying). We stumbled upon this park called Lleras Park. What a find!? This is a park with a unique character all its own. Lots of street vendors selling handicrafts, some guys playing music and singing, tourists and locals hanging and chilling out. In two concentric circles around the park there are restaurants, bars and nightclubs galore! Every imaginable type of food is available. Since we were in the tropics, every single business has outdoor seating, palm trees and accent lights that light up as the sun goes down. We fell in love with this area and immediately decided to visit it a few different times! Starting with dinner at Angels Restaurant – steak and potato restaurant to Mexican food around the corner from Angels and finally our last night dinner at Thaico Restaurant – a Thai restaurant that we would highly recommend.

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Yes, admittedly we ate a lot during this vacation! No, it was not the food that was the favorite part of our trip. The highlight of our trip was actually the 12-hour (7 AM to 7 PM) tour to Guatapé and Peñol through the TuriBus Tour Company. This tour cost less than $35 per person and included a LOT for the price. We spent the entire day with 6 other tourists and 2 tour guides. Breakfast and lunch at authentic Colombian restaurants was included in the price. We went to Peñol first and walked around town and saw a combination Angel and Phoenix statue – yes, the town rose up from the ashes. We took a paddle boat on the lake while we took in some of the rays from the sun. We also visited a look-out point from where we could see the top of a steeple of a church that was submerged in water along with the rest of the town! This created the most amazing lakes region of the Guatapé area. Beautiful lake homes abound, each with an unobstructed view of the area. As we traveled through the winding mountain roads and took in the awe-inspiring views, we ended up at the entrance of the Peñol Rock. This is a huge rock that is visible for miles in any direction. Recently the stairs leading up to the top of the rock have been re-done. Our tour guide shared with us that there are 659 steps leading to the top. We did not do the climb (we will have to come back after we have spent considerable amount of time at the gym!) but have been told that the view from the top is worth the half hour or so it takes to climb up there. Right after our lunch, we visited the town of Guatapé during the second half of the day. We took a cruise ship onto the Guatapé Lake. We consumed a local beer called “Aguila” and the dancing and music was so uplifting that we really enjoyed this boat ride! By the time the boat ride was finished, we were getting a little tired so we took the time to take in a cup of really strong coffee that was fused with chocolate. We explored the colorful town of Guatapé on foot by walking down the narrow streets and discovered many shops selling handicrafts and objects that were uniquely Colombian. After a day of sightseeing, we were ready for the trip back. A short pit stop for more coffee, some local breads, and a bathroom break, we could manage the two hour ride back through the mountains. We arrived back at the hotel super tired but with a feeling of joy for having experienced this once in a lifetime journey. We ended our incredible day with a pizza delivered right to our room on the 14th floor! Life doesn’t get better than that!

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On one of the days we also took the “Metro” train ride around town. The crowded train was full of happy and smiling people and we felt completely at home on this train ride. Just a couple of stops from the far end of the train ride begins a cable trolley system that takes you all the way up to a park by the name of “Arvi Park”. As we climbed up the side of the mountain we started to see more and more of the city of Medellin unfold in front of our eyes until we got high enough to have a complete panoramic view of the city! All this for just a few dollars per person – you can’t beat that! Originally the cable cars were put in so people from far away neighborhoods had a quick and easy ride into the city. It has now become one of the big tourist attractions.

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Our adventures were limited to the time that we had to spend in Medellin, Colombia, nevertheless we had a wonderful time and experience. Even though we spent a whole week there, we feel that we have only scratched the surface of all that Colombia has to offer. So, as you plan your trip to Boquete, Panama, and stay with us here at Casa de Montaña Bed and Breakfast, be sure to ask us about our trip to Medellin and make Colombia part of your future tourist plans or just add it on to your trip to Panama! You will not be disappointed.

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