Our spirit of adventure & curiosity has been aroused, and we are going to explore, observe, and learn about cultural behaviours at Christmas time in Medellin, Colombia.
Medellin is Colombia's second largest city with one of South America's most vibrant nightlife scenes.
This is our first visit to Colombia. The country's current national tourism slogan is " where the only risk of visiting Colombia is that you may not want to leave. "
Medellin, infamously notorious as "the most dangerous city in the world" due to drug fueled violence, has undergone an incredible transformation.
Located at 4,950 ft in a green, tropical Andean valley north of Ecuador it is not a top destination for travelers.
Medellin has an extensive metro system that links 23 km along a north south river channel and 6 km across a smoggy valley floor.
The system employs a mono-rail rapid train, escalators, and gondolas to link an extensive variety of neighbourhoods across a wide range of income classes.
We rode the cable cars high above a sea of illegal homes to the architecturally impressive España library,
( the three black stone faced buildings perched on the hillside ) one of the most conspicuous emblems of a new Medellín with spectacular city vistas.
In previously risky districts the cable car has created a spine for commercial development and civic squares up in the mountainsides barrios.
This city has achieved a remarkable turnaround, and is now emerging as a world leader in industry, hospitality, and civic leadership.
This explosive growth caused the city to sacrifice some of its heritage buildings for crisp new ultra modern architectural lines. Colombian national policy mandated architectural interventions as a means to combat poverty and crime.
The application of advanced social integration concepts ensured that new libraries, schools and cultural centres were constructed in both the poorest, and the affluent areas of the city.
The government goal of providing rich and poor with the same quality education, transportation and public architecture, provides civic ownership and pride. In 2013 Medellin was named "Innovative City of the Year."
Home to over 3.5 million people they host a " world famous " fantastic spectacle of Christmas lights. Los Alumbrados
one of the world's most extravagant displays of literally millions of Christmas lights sculpted in a variety of shapes:
and one of the finest nativity village scenes we have ever seen.
In 2012 National Geographic placed Medellin in the top ten cities worldwide for its impressive Christmas lights. Growing each year, this year will be the 46th annual event, 475 miles of light strings with more than 27 million bulbs costing in excess of $9 million US with this years theme showcasing the various Christmas traditions & customs of the local barrios.
A true time of celebration and holiday spirit as the city lights up with amazing decorations.
In order to set up these extensive displays, preparation began in October . Citizens have decorated their homes, balconies, and yards, with festive decor as everybody contributes to December and its various celebrations. The celebration is a tremendous source of pride for the local citizens and enjoys very broad public participation and support.
These Christmas lights adorn the entire city and are setup along major thoroughfares, roads, parks, public squares, and especially along the Medellin River. Christmas carols, and the scents of fresh cinnamon & fruit pastries, and roasting kebobs fill the evening air through the stores, sidewalks, and city parks and displays. Centro commercials - shopping malls are decorated with lavish displays, and many buildings and churches are bathed in colourful changing lights.
The concentration of Christmas lights along the banks of the Medellin River is truly a sight to be seen where the concentration of unique giant themed scenes that are different from the previous season's theme.
Families come out to visit the Medellin River area and it comes alive each evening with thousands of folks who revel in the fantastic array of coloured light designs. The sizzling grills, skewers of sausage, chicken, beef, roasting corn, fresh arepas & buñuelos fill the night air with tantalizing aromas.
Hundreds of vendor stalls selling a wide variety of fast foods, candy apples, caramel popcorn, cotton candy, & beverages of every flavor. Street performers and musicians were out to entertain the crowds. More than two kilometers of the Medellin River is surreal, and completely covered in explosive and sparkling colours with the over 27 million bulbs!
Candles hovering in the river with twinkling stars overhead, many people line the bridges and walkways to watch. Dancing coloured water fountains provide additional fascination. It was a very pleasant night out, joining the crowds that wandered along, eating and taking in the magnificent colours of a Colombian Christmas.
As Northerners who were previously used to being in parkas, tuques, & scarves when we enjoy Christmas tree lights and outdoor winter carnival events, the tropical balmy evening air is strange but welcome.
Christmas eve we enjoyed a five hour long open double decker bus tour which showcased the Christmas light displays throughout the city. Filled with singing, laughing, and festive people we traversed a variety of civic plazas, Cerro Nutibara, Parque de las Luces,
Avenida la Playa,
Parque Bolivar, Parque Bicentenario, Carerra Carabobo, Avenida San Juan,
the EPM Intelligent Building,
and the central plaza & balconies of Itagui.
The Metropolitan Cathedral of Medellin lights its facade with a hologram show featuring the history of Antioquia. This excellent video mapping show, complete with ground shaking music was absolutely awesome and the first that we had ever experienced. ( a 10 minute clip that is fascinating to watch - Enjoy )
We love the variety of traditions and celebrations that take place throughout Latin America, but this Christmas in Medellín was the most impressive extravaganza we've experienced. Air balloons drifting silently in the skies, firework's explosions cracking the city noise day and night, and the nightly displays of Christmas lights.
In a city of over 3.5 million citizens, currently swelling with many more visitors, we unexpectedly encountered a young traveler we had previously met in Bahia, and this mime doing impromptu impressions of others who we saw previously in Bahia's cantonization parade !
Parque Explora also boasts many new civic facilities in Medellín. Located around the city's former Central Park, before it became too dangerous to visit and was shut down.
The park has been transformed into a well used Botanical Garden for large garden functions and events with the Orquideorama, a towering wood meshwork canopy rising above a latticed patio, outdoor amphitheaters, ponds, and a small butterfly reserve.
The new interactive science museum, omnimax theatre, planetarium, aquarium, and public plaza can be found in this area.
Not too far away is a large impressive collection of sporting facilities, tracks, stadiums, swimming pools that is used for hosting national events.
Following a major city worldwide trend, on Sunday they close half of Avenida El Poblado until 1 p.m. for walking, jogging, cycling, or rollerblading.
Central Medellin's Plaza Botero is home to a collection of 23 of Fernando Botero's voluminous bronze sculptures. Fernando Botero Angulo born in Medellín, Colombia in 1932 is a figurative artist and sculptor.
His exaggerated volume art pieces sell for millions and his art can be found in prominent places throughout the world, such as Park Avenue in New York City, and the Champs Elysées in Paris.
Pueblito Paisa is a small traditional model pueblo on top of Cerro Nutibarra, a hill in the centre of the valley offering terrific 360-degree views of the city.
Parque Arvi is a 1,765 acre highland tropical forest nature reserve containing a treasure of archaeological and cultural themes. Accessible by bus, car, or tourist metro cable extension from the Aceveda metro cable station.
A 4.5 km aerial tram takes you higher into the Andean mountains east of northern Medellin.
For nature lovers or those wishing to escape the busy city it is a wonderful way to spend a sunny day. Guided informative tours, interpretive nature trail walks, cycling, horseback riding, good hiking trails, and zip-lining can be enjoyed. Local farmers sell a variety of fresh fruits, artisans a variety of crafts, and a variety of vendors have delicious locally prepared dishes in a tent covered market. Arvi park is a beautiful tranquil place and worth staying and relaxing or adventuring the whole day.
Colombia being one of the world's top coffee producers, we enjoyed many a fine cup at Juan Valdez, and other coffee bars while people watching.
In the upscale neighbourhood of Poblado is Parque Lleras a little tree filled park surrounded by a collection of restaurants, bars and dance clubs that form
Medellin's nightlife epicentre. The surrounding commercial activities occupy about 3 square blocks.
Newest centro commercial such as Santafe Mall - modern four story with over 425 shops.
Tourists flock to the vibrant, tropical city, and we also met Colombians who now live elsewhere but had returned home to visit family & friends for the holidays.
If you still seek more Christmas spirit - this video clip highlights 2012 Los Alumbros in Medellin.
If you have ever wanted to visit the dynamic city of eternal spring, the month of December is an excellent choice as tourists and visitors come from around the globe to witness the sights and sounds of Christmas in Medellin. They also host a spectacular flower festival in August of each year, along with salsa, tango, jazz, and poetry events.
December the last month of the year is a great time for introspection, enhancing relationships and setting a course for the year ahead. It is a time of year to be extra thoughtful to those special in our lives.
Set yourself three new challenging skills to learn over this next year. You'll not only gain the subject knowledge you desired, but you'll stimulate your desire and enhance your aptitude to learn more.