Medellín: From the "most dangerous city" to the hot border of tourists
Medellín, Colombia (CNN) - Medellín, once known as the "most dangerous city in the world", has worked hard to eradicate this image with drugs, gang warfare and gun violence.
The "city of eternal spring," as the Colombians affectionately call it because of its temperate climate, is fast becoming a delicious place for tourists to eat, trendy bars and, of course, world-class coffee.
The capital of Antioquia offers visitors the opportunity to experience the vibrant and chaotic Colombian culture amidst soaring mountains and leafless coffee plantations.
A flight to Colombia's second largest city with a population of 3 million is the only reason to visit it. The town in the valley clings to the hillsides, and the descents through the low clouds over the coffee plantations are spectacular.
Although Pablo Escobar may be the city's most notorious export, Colombian sculptor Fernando Botero, who created his signature big, exaggerated "Boterismo" style and raised his fame for the first time in the 1950s, is certainly revered for the city.
There is a city around his voluminous, voluminous art, but Botero Plaza is a large, bustling square devoted to the artist's creation. And if that's not enough for you, there's a large collection of Botero paintings in the nearby Antioquia Museum.
It is impossible to visit Medellin without mentioning Escobar, a 1980s billionaire narcotics squadron called "the king of cocaine," and it would be foolish to ignore its influence on the city.
Although there are Escobar tours (the most popular one offered by Medellín City Tours for $ 55), they resent locals wishing to disparage the city's violent past. These are interesting, but other tours include Escobar with an additional cultural, social and historical overview of the city.
You can join one of these walking tours for free. Real city trips are led by Pablo Alvarez-Correa, who earns money based on tips from satisfied customers. The tour is so popular that you have to pre-book online so its method seems to work.
She takes tourists on a tour of the city's best sites: Plaza Botero, Parque de las Luces (formerly a place where the town's homeless gather, but now renovated with tall towers forests), Iglesia de la Veracruz and San Antonio Park. Plus the best pit stop in Empanadas Envigadeñas Plaza Botero.
Around the world, Medellín has been labeled as a lighthouse that uses infrastructure to turn rough, crime-ridden neighborhoods into successful tourist-friendly communities.
Comuna 13 is just one example of Medellin's impressive infrastructure. Get a taxi to Cr 109 # 36-63 and follow the crowd until you get the first escalera electrica - one of many escalators built to defy gravity on angled slopes to help improve barrio social mobility, saving residents a grueling walk up and down the hill to get downtown to work.
It's a long way up, but the food and beverage kiosks run up to the high pig alleys and the view from the top of the Medellin Valley takes you by the hour.
While escalators made international headlines about their innovation and social impact on a poverty-stricken neighborhood, Metro is what really gets the lyrics waxed in "Paisas" - as the people of the area are popularly known. Built in 1995, during the worst years of the country's 50-year conflict - which culminated recently in a historic peace deal - it became a symbol of hope, resilience and pride for city dwellers.
For richer driving, city cable cars take you to the northeastern neighborhood of Santo Domingo, home to the award-winning modernist Parque Biblioteca España. It's another great place to take photos, admire murals and try the best street food in town.
Crossing the L metro to Santo Domingo will take you further from the city to Parque Arvis (open Tuesday to Sunday), where lush forests and waterfalls are less than 20 miles from the city center. From the cable car station, you can take a horse or bus to the Piedras Blancas entrance and take a walk along the trails around the lake.
The neighborhood of El Poblado is the main destination for most tourists and the best place for bars, nightclubs and trendy cafes. Parque Lleras is a leafy square lined with discos and can turn into a pretty night fight, but there are great cafes during the day that don't seem out of place in Brooklyn.
The best coffee beans are no longer exported, and independent roasters, including Cafe Velvet, Pergamino and Urbania, all offer quality coffee, made in a variety of ways, from the French press to the siphon.
Andrés Múnera, along with his LandVenture travel company, offers one-day or overnight trips to Concordia and Jardín, two of the country's most beautiful areas.
Groups are small, sometimes only two people, and you are guided deep into the coffee axis. Múnera offers running commentary as you venture across valleys and rivers, through villages and to the top of mountains.
Back in Medellin, El Poblado also makes a name for itself as a place to eat. Michelin-starred chefs have descended on a treasured barrio in recent years, opening up a wealth of fine dining and contemporary facilities to trendy crowds.
For Carmen, a Colombian-California fusion restaurant run by a couple who both trained at Le Cordon Bleu, you have to book a lot in advance, but it's well worth the planning. The fish of the day is fresh off the Pacific coast and guests dine in a beautiful room overlooking the open kitchen.
This is a meal behemoth; The plates are high piled with morcilla, chicharroni, pork stewed with red beans, minced meat, chorizo and fried eggs, plantain and, of course, area. Head to Restaurante Hacienda in the old downtown to get the most meat you've ever seen in your life.
The sleek, sexy Charlee Hotel is where the hips hang. With a rooftop pool, DJ, gym floor with three floors and a sushi bar, it's a magnet for the young and beautiful. With only 42 rooms, the high-rise focuses on quality and quantity, and each bedroom is beautifully furnished, with spacious modern bathrooms and plenty of space to continue the party.
If you are looking for a more peaceful environment, Patio del Mundo offers a suburban leaf location just a stone's throw from the Parque Lleras hub. The family-run, seven-bedroom boutique hotel welcomes the city.
The lounge opens onto a beautiful terrace and guests can walk down the path of the outdoor hot tub on the bottom of the garden. The rooms are individually designed, respecting the French owners' world travel.
Breakfast is served on the porch and while you are drinking regionally brewed coffee, you will be forgiven if you thought you were in a lush, tropical oasis rather than a bustling city.