Real Medellin – Barrio of Santo Domingo

It was our first evening in Medellin and we were debating whether to go and see the “Zona Rosa”, the modern and trendy part of the city, or take the cable car up to the Santo Domingo barrio, which was once one of the poorest and most dangerous neighbourhoods. Our new friends Elena and Noah, who were both almost full time residents of the city, persuaded us to go with the latter and they promised to show us the real Medellin. Medellin16

I was already excited after five minutes into the metro ride: it’s above ground, spotlessly clean and very secure, not things you would normally come to associate with the metros of New York and London! It was a unique experience as far as “metro’s” are concerned. Medellin lays along the wide Aburra valley, with the city sprawling up the steep hillsides. This one of its kind metro somehow manages to traverse partially up one side of the valley, from which you have the most magnificent views of city. After a 10-minute ride from San Antonio station, we stopped at Acevedo to take the cable car up to Santo Domingo barrio. Yes you did hear me right: this metro even has a cable car aptly named “metro cable.”

We jumped off the cable car at Santo Domingo station and strolled over to the viewpoint. Almost immediately a boy came rushing up to Noah: in his best English, the young man introduced himself to us: “ Hello my name is Freddie and I ‘m going to be your tourist guide and explain the story of Santo Domingo barrio.”  Noah explained he had met him before while in the area and already had the famous tour of the barrio.Medellin15

As we started to wander through Santo Domingo. Freddie explained that during the late 80’s and 90’s up until 2002 people were not be able to walk through the streets for fear of being killed: warring urban militias controlled the neighbourhoods.  These militia came about because of the Medellin Drug Cartel, headed by the infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar: he brought a reign of terror over the city because of on going wars between the cartel and it’s enemies. Freddie describes how it was a sad and horrible time when many people were killed unnecessarily.  Because of this, Medellin was given the title “ the most dangerous city in the world”.

On a more positive note, Freddie was very proud to show off a huge new construction called Santo Domingo Savio – Spain Park library: the name was given in honour of the King and Queen of Spain who contributed to the construction. The huge structure dominates the hillside, standing proudly overlooking the rest of the city: it offers book collections, recreation areas and free Internet access to the local community. These new facilities, along with the metro cable system, have allowed these poorer neighbourhoods a cultural revival: they now have become an integral part of the city and are no longer cut off, as they once were in those violent crime ridMedellin18en years.

As we finished our tour with Freddie we could sense the community atmosphere on the streets: music blaring from every home, hot dog stands on every corner, children playing on the streets. It was public holiday so everyone was in a party mood and seemed Santo Domingo knew how to get you in the festive spirit.

The following day we went to check out the “Zona Rosa” and surely enough we were disappointed: it was full of modern bars and restaurants that could have been in any big city of the world. It lacked the heart and feeling of Santo Domingo and Freddie, our Tourist Guide!!

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Eternal adventurer and wanderlust seeker! Always thinking about (and planning) our next adventure, hence the name"Thinking Nomads"! Wife to Marco and mamma to Isabella and Maya. India, Nepal and Vietnam are my top three countries! Norway, Iceland and South Africa are top of my bucket list!

12 thoughts on “Real Medellin – Barrio of Santo Domingo”

  1. Cool post. Good insights. Medellin is an amazing place and I would argue that there is no real side to it as it is a city built on extremes of poverty and wealth. I make Medellin’s English Magazine called The Arepa. We are about to release the next issue but there are a few places in the city that still have the last one. Check it out online at http://www.thearepa.com and keep up the posts.

    Robin

  2. Sounds like you had a fun time, but how scary to hear that about the drug cartels. What a lifesaver that library must be.

    Thanks for adding the map to your post. As much as I love to travel, I'm awful at geography!

    I found you via Blog Carnival, btw. Nice to meet you! I will be back. 🙂 ~Tui

  3. Robin, fair comment and your right I'm sure Medellin has many faces, it's an intriguing city and we hope to return shortly and explore some other areas. P.S I like your magazine thearepa.com I will definitely be checking it out when we return, some very useful info on the city.

  4. Robin, fair comment and your right I’m sure Medellin has many faces it’s an intriguing city and we hope to return shortly and explore some other areas. P.S I like your magazine TheArepa.com. I will definitely be checking it out when we return, some very useful info on the city.

  5. Nice to meet you to. Yes there was some scary stuff going on in Medellin. Although I had heard of Pablo Escobar, I never realized what huge problems he created for Colombia and Medellin. It was interesting doing the background research for the post. Glad you like the blog, keep on reading as there is lots more interesting posts to come.

  6. Nice to meet you to. Yes there was some scary stuff going on in Medellin. Although I had heard of Pablo Escobar, I never realized what huge problems he created for Colombia and Medellin. It was interesting doing the background research for the post. Glad you like the blog, keep on reading as there is lots more interesting posts to come.

  7. This brings back great memories.

    The second time I went up to Santo Domingo, I took a Colombian friend, and she hadn't been there in years. She was really proud of the improvements that had been made to the neighborhood as a result of the metro cable, and we too, paid a young boy for a tour.

    Glad you went there first. Zona Rosa is fun, but there's much more to Medellin!

  8. Even though we never saw Santa Domingo in those crime ridden years, it's easy to imagine the barrio being completely cut off from the rest of the city before the metro cable existed. Now what a great incentive for the community with tourists visiting as well.

  9. This brings back great memories.

    The second time I went up to Santo Domingo, I took a Colombian friend, and she hadn't been there in years. She was really proud of the improvements that had been made to the neighborhood as a result of the metro cable, and we too, paid a young boy for a tour.

    Glad you went there first. Zona Rosa is fun, but there's much more to Medellin!

  10. Even though we never saw Santa Domingo in those crime ridden years, it's easy to imagine the barrio being completely cut off from the rest of the city before the metro cable existed. Now what a great incentive for the community with tourists visiting as well.

  11. Great article! Though the city has recently experienced a spike in gang violence, the average paisa continues to do his part in improving the city for the locals and tourists alike. To learn more about the trasnformation of Medellin, Colombia http://www.medellintraveler.com Viva Colombia!

  12. I could be wrong, but I’m not sure Pablo Escobar was responsible for the violence in the ‘barrios’ back then. The violence continues to this day and is the result of many factors.

    On a positive note, Medellin has turned many corners and I hope the transformation continues.

    If you need a map of Medellin, I would like to plug my own here. http://www.themedellinmap.com

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