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Pueblito Paisa, the Tourist Trap of Medellín

This is an excerpt from my journal, written during my first visit to Colombia in 2016.

Yesterday we (Cris and I) split up and I went to Cerro Nutibara, on top of which is Pueblito Paisa, an attraction that is supposed to mimic an old Antioquian town and offer a great view of the city. It pops up on every Google maps search of Medellin, proud and bold in the center of the city.

Any closer inspection reveals raving reviews, so I figured why not?

I took the metro, then a bus…and at first I thought I was lost because I was expecting this hill to be set in a quaint residential area surrounded by calm, green space. All I saw were gas stations and mechanics. I followed the directions I had written on my hand, sweaty and nervous and absorbing cat calls from gritty men. Finally, I saw a tour bus, bedazzled and adorned with images of Madonna and child, honking voraciously and blasting music. It turned left at the next intersection – finally, a revelation! I followed suit and was soon confronted by a walkway with seemingly endlessly steps leading up, up, and up forever. I climbed in the ninety-degree heat, dripping and panting. Eventually at the top I saw three more of the iconic tour buses that served as my guide at the base (two with resurrected Jesus imagery instead).

The place was swarming with Colombian couples, foreigners, and children in uniform akin to the American Boy and Girl Scouts.

The mock-town itself – Pueblito Paisa – was a tourist trap. Booths and carts of vendors sold cheap Colombian souvenirs – stamped leather purses, shot glasses, and ponchos proclaiming “Pueblito Paisa” in idyllic cursive. The buildings themselves were a kind of hyperreal Colombia, an exaggeration and plastic-ification of history. They were supposed to contain rooms with artifacts of old Colombian society. I toured a single home, each of whose rooms contradicted one another. The first room I entered looked like it was from the 1940s with a radio and retro furniture. It’s neighbor has all unglazed terra-cotta objects – a kitchen presumably used by a colonial pioneer. And then across a courtyard within this ranch-style house there were, inexplicably, CDs dangling from fishing line.

Maybe it was all written and justified in a language I couldn’t read. My Spanish is shit.

I became rather upset and felt cheated. This – this?! – was the tourist go-to in Medellin? Something that is marked and highlighted and amplified on every Google search of the city? I sat on a bench, seething and trying to let my soaked shirt dry. I looked around at the faux-public square. The tourists couldn’t seem to get enough of the vendors and souvenirs and fried food. The houses…they didn’t look like they were made by humans. They looked like plastic, melted and molded by machines. They reminded me of the Polly Pocket dollhouses I used to play with as a child.

I walked up a flight of stairs to the tippy top of the hill, past the entrance of a bland single-story museum dedicated to urban planning (don’t, I repeat don’t, bother entering). There was an open, grassy plateau upon which the Boy and Girl Scouts were flying kites. In the background, I could see the mountains sliding up and encircling the city of Medellin…and all of the rust colored housing speckled up and down the landscape.

It was beautiful…the wind, the colors, the energy of the children, their saturated uniforms. The freedom was palpable, in a city that only decades prior experienced such indiscriminate violence. I stood in the midst of it all for a while, watching the shoulder-high, criss-crossing movements of children.

So if you’re ever in Medellin and notice Pueblito Paisa when browsing Google, deciding how to spend your day, perhaps you should go. Not for Pueblito Paisa itself – skip past the plastic tourist trap and climb every last step, to the very top of Cerro Nutibara. Maybe you can watch some floating kites.