Give me a choice on how to explore a place and I will choose 'by bike’. Always. Every single time. For me, biking is the perfect way to see and experience a place - new or old.
So naturally, one of the first things I do when researching ‘things to do’ in a new city or country is to google ‘bike tours'. More often than not, I get a hit and for Medellín it was no different - Medellín Bike Tours looked legit. And it was awesome.
After finding my way to Dan's small shop in the basement of his apartment complex, we - Dan, Liam from SF and I - set out on our adventure. We started the tour in the quiet and tasteful neighborhood of Laureles but the quiet quickly turned into chaos as we entered traffic and fought to navigate our way around people, dogs, cars, and motorcycles. The adrenaline kicked in and we were on our way! Thankfully, though, throughout the ride we rode on a mix of quiet streets, busy roads, and bike paths so there was a mix of riding and it wasn’t all pedestrian dodging and car evading madness.
Our first stop of the day was at the top of Cerro el Volador, a small mountain in the middle of Medellín. It was a steady climb to get up there but after a few long days of travel to get to Colombia, the sweat and burning lungs felt good. At the top, Dan informed us that Cerro el Violator was apparently the go-to place to off unlucky citizens during the Pablo Escobar era. Not a pleasant history at all, but it had great views of the surrounding city.
From Cerro el Volador, we cruised back down the hill and made our way to the Botanical Gardens, but not before tasting the delicious and so very refreshing taste of guarapo - a Colombian concoction made solely of sugarcane and lime juices. Dan has his go-to lady for the best guarapo in Medellín and even though it was my first taste of the stuff, I have to agree. It was the best. Think margarita without the tequila. I know that probably sounds pretty disappointing, but after we had been out biking in the hot sun for a few hours, fighting through thongs of cars and motorcycles, it tasted pretty magical!
The Botanical Gardens were a great reprieve from the busy, noisy streets of downtown Medellín. It was almost like we had stepped into a different world. A world that was home to giant iguanas that perched stoically on thick tree limbs and birds of all shapes in sizes flitting and waddling about. There were families lounging on park benches, kids throwing stones in the pond, photo shoots of fancily dressed women and the best part is that it was it is completely free to the public.
After the Botanical Gardens, our ride evolved (or devolved?) into even more of a chaotic whirlwind adventure. Dan, apparently impressed by our intracity biking skills, decided to take us into the heart of downtown where the streets were even more crowded with cars and smoke-billowing motorcycles, sidewalks were filled to the brim with people and things, and pickpocketers were on high alert for inattentive gringos. Despite all these potentially day-ruining factors, though, I honestly felt safe. The drivers were all respectful of our space, pedestrians gave us the right of way (most of the time) and as long as we didn't flaunt cameras or iPhones, I didn't feel threatened in the least by opportunists.
Somewhere amid all that craziness, we emerged onto the Plaza de Botero - a large square studded with a handful of Botero's famous and proportionally challenged sculptures. There was a large horse with a small head, a curvy woman with huge thighs and a tiny waist, a soldier man with a six-pack and microscopic you-know-what... the sculptures were both evocative and puzzling and I would have liked to have spent more time wandering among them, but we had a schedule to keep.
Continuing on our way, it wasn't long before we emerged back onto sane - or what we now called sane - streets and made our way to our last few destinations of the day: Parque de la Luz with its iconic tall pillars that light up like hundreds of beacons at night, the EPM building (and business) that has helped shape Medellín into what it is today through hundreds of forward thinking community projects, and finally the cute but touristy Pueblito Paisa that sits at the top of Cerro Nutibara, another small hilltop in the middle of the city. As we sat on a stone bench and recuperated from the hot climb up, we treated ourselves to another delicious Colombian concoction - salpicón de frutas - basically a delicious tropical fruit gazpacho with chunks of papaya, banana, and watermelon.
The afternoon thunderclouds were rolling in and it was looking like it was going to rain, so we sped back down the hill and navigated our way through traffic one last time. At one point, I heard Liam, my cobiker, behind me exclaim "I'm getting the hang of this!" And then we were back at the start - tired, thirsty, hungry, sweaty, sunburned, but throughly delighted over the days adventure.
MAKE IT YOUR OWN
Traveling is all about making your own experiences! My adventure was awesome, but here's some ideas on how to make your adventure your own
✦ Book a private tour and email Dan with a list of places you want to visit within the city
✦ Ask to get out of Medellín and explore the outskirts of the city
✦ Interested in a specific topic? Focus the tour to your interests such as food, street art, or Medellín's innovative projects