Man having his shoes shined
Architecture,  Colombia,  Monday walks,  Street photography

Exploring the sights of downtown Medellín

It’s not enough to bring peace to a city, you also need prosperity. So while the transformation of Medellín from no-go drugs capital of Colombia to a safer and more visitable city started in its outlying comunas, the city centre has been vital to its continued development.

I took you to a couple of those communas on a previous Monday Walk, so today I’m inviting you to explore downtown with me. We took a tour with the same guide, Jean, in fact on the morning before that visit.

We started in a plaza surrounded by local government offices in modern blocks. In its centre is a dramatic sculpture, the Monumento a la Raza, the work of Colombian sculptor Rodrigo Arenas Betancourt. It was installed in 1988 and celebrates the history of the city and region, Antioquia.

Monumento a la Raza

The Parque de las Luces

We saw the nearby train station, now no longer in use, and from there walked to the next square, the Parque de las Luces with 300 tall columns, bamboo clusters and the main city library. Jean explained that the square used to hold a large covered market, built after the railway came to the city to encourage commerce. But the market became too crowded and spilled over into neighbouring streets, so the commercial focus of the city shifted slightly. This square was completely overhauled as part of the major redevelopment of the city centre in 2005. Made of concrete and metal, each column contains an illuminated strip. The idea is to create an ‘artificial forest’ providing shade during the day and light at night. The square is now a popular meeting place for locals and hosts street performances and events.

Large low modern building and tall thin columns in front
The Parque de las Luces and central library
Looking up at slender columns and bamboo fronds
In the Parque de las Luces
City streets

We walked through some of those commercial streets, busy with Saturday shoppers. This was an area of low-priced shops and stalls with rip-off brands (Versace, Dior, Calvin. Klein). This is where I spotted the street musician who featured in my Seeing Colombia in black and white post.

Jean asked if we were interested in art. When we said that we were he added a stop at one of his favourite places in the city, a shopping mall in the former Palace of Justice. Its two upper floors are devoted to a series of small rooms showcasing art by a wide range of local artists, both painters and sculptors. I photographed a few of my favourites.

Art in the former Palace of Justice

We passed, but didn’t go into, the Iglesia de la Veracruz. This is one of the oldest churches in the city, dating back originally to 1682. That earlier church was demolished in 1791 as it was facing collapse, and this replacement built on the same spot, opening in 1803.

Colonial church with bell tower
Iglesia de la Veracruz
Colonial church's bell tower
Iglesia de la Veracruz
Around the Plaza Botero

We arrived in the Plaza Botero, named for Medellín’s most famous son and filled with 23 of his characteristic sculptures. Since I’ve shared these previously we’ll just pause here for coffee on the terrace of the museum overlooking the plaza. My feature photo was also taken in the plaza.

Cup of coffee on a table with a portrait of a woman
Coffee in the Plaza Botero

The plaza has been fenced off and bags are searched on entry. That has reduced crime there but of course simply pushed it out to the fringes. So as we walked to the next spot that Jean wanted to show us, we could see a few prostitutes hanging around, waiting for business.

That next spot was the former site of the Banque Populaire, formed by working people to help working people. The bank has since been demolished. But the murals commissioned for it remain, showing the history of the indigenous peoples from pre-Columbian times to the coming of the electronics era. They are protected by glass and were consequently rather hard to photograph.

Mural of women carrying fruit on their heads
Part of the mural
Man in front of a mural, gesticulating
Jean explaining the paintings
The Metropolitan Cathedral

We took a circuitous route to our next sight, the Metropolitan Cathedral, as Jean said that the most direct route would take us through an area unsafe to walk in carrying a camera. I wondered if he were being over-cautious, but I’ve since seen warnings online not to venture there even in daylight.

Medellín’s cathedral dates from the late 19th century. Its official name is the Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, as it was granted minor basilica status by Pope Pius XII in 1948. In the square in front is a statue of Simon Bolivar, ubiquitous in every South American city. There was a service in progress so we only looked inside from the back.

We ended our morning walk with lunch in a restaurant recommended by Jean, where we enjoyed some empanadas and plantain arepas. The food was good and plentiful; we were very happy when Jean proposed asking the waiter to wrap our left-overs so we could give them to a homeless person during our afternoon walk, which he subsequently did. Just one of the reasons I rated Jean highest among the several guides we had during our time in Colombia!

Jo isn’t walking this Monday as she’s travelling, so I’ll add this to last week’s Monday Walk selections.

I visited Medellín in February 2023


    • Sarah Wilkie

      WP does odd things from time to time and I think it’s possible to be dropped out of following a blog without choosing to! It has happened to me in the past and it’s annoying as you don’t always realise 😣 No, I haven’t read any García Marquez – my husband started one and hated it which put me off, although it perhaps shouldn’t have done as we have quite different tastes in reading!

  • Prior...

    Jean does sound like he should get a high rating – and seeing him in action in that photo was wonderful

    and asking if you like art? – but of course… lol
    thanks for the post and good point that peace is not enough – we need prosperity too


    I’ve read quire a lot about Medellin on other blogs, but this is a slightly different angle to all that I’ve read before. It always looks endearing but in this post and your others it’s so interesting to read it from the angle of revovery from a dark and dangerous past.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Don’t get me wrong, there are still some dodgy areas, but aren’t there in any city? It’s definitely on the up so this is a great time to visit, but it’s somewhere that even independent travellers might want to take a guide if they really want to get into some of the more interesting parts 🙂

  • wetanddustyroads

    Another lovely stroll through Medellín. The concrete and metal columns are a bit strange, but I love the beautiful old church. Indeed, Jean turns out to be a very good guide! And thank you for introducing Downtown Medellín.

  • Sue

    Thanks for a great Virtual Tour to a place I’ll never get to, Sarah! Seems like that city is really star.ting to turn itself around. Love your images of people going about their daily lives

  • Tales From My Lens

    Beautiful city indeed. The buildings are full of art and your street images make me want to be there and since I will never be able to do that, I love the visit through your photographs. Very nice 🙂

  • Monkey's Tale

    I love the pictures of people going about their daily lives. It’s so true that making the city peaceful was just one step but prosperity ensures the success for the long term. Maggie

  • Mike and Kellye Hefner

    I enjoyed this walk so much, Sarah! A few years ago, the thought of going to Medellin would have been terrifying. I’m so glad to see that it “cleaned up nicely”. By the way, what is your secret to finding such perfect guides on your travels?

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Kellye – I highly recommend a visit to Medellin if you get the chance, it’s a fascinating city. We tend to pre-book our trips in advance with one of a handful of favourite UK companies, including some tours and sightseeing like this. It’s not as flexible and is definitely more expensive, but with relatively little time to spend in each place we like the fact that we don’t use any of it sorting travel arrangements. So Jean was pre-booked for us for this tour and one the following day. But I made sure to get his contact details to pass on to any friends visiting the city, as well as in the unlikely event we return. He was especially invaluable when visiting the comunas as it’s not recommend to visit some of them independently.

  • Easymalc

    One of the joys about following your posts like this one Sarah is that I get to see places such as this, which I’ll never get to now. It’s not quite the same thing as being there I know, but your artistry with the camera and information comes a close second.

  • Anne Sandler

    Beautiful tour Sarah. You are a great street photographer. My favorite is the image of the picture taken in the art mall of the boy with the camera, Mickey Mouse and more. That artist had a great sense of humor.

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