December is my favorite month of the year in Medellin thanks to the atmosphere created by the millions of Christmas lights (Los Alumbrados) strung up around the valley.
Add to that shopping malls, private homes, commercial buildings, and smaller parks and you’ll see lights everywhere you go.
Last Saturday night, Viviana and I embarked on a whirlwind tour. Our goal was to see Christmas light displays in four cities: Envigado, Sabaneta, Itagui and Medellin.
Readers may recall the unfortunate chiva incident of 2010, which is why I preferred to take taxis this time.
I chose last Saturday, December 7th because it was the first of two nights celebrating the Virgin Mary.
Starting at 7pm, Colombians began to light candles outside their homes, and in public places. Street vendors were selling candles everywhere, making it easy for them to do.
Below are my favorite photos from each of our stops. Simply hop in a taxi and request the associated park. The whole night cost us less than 40,000 pesos ($20) in taxis.
I also tipped each driver 2,000 pesos ($1), which they were all quite thankful for. I encourage you to show a little holiday spirit in a similar manner. Taxi drivers here aren’t accustomed to receiving big tips, so an extra dollar in their pocket is appreciated.
I’ve also included a few food ideas. I recommend you skip a regular dinner, and make a night of trying the various street foods each city is famous for instead!
Envigado’s lights won me over in 2010, and the city’s decorated church from that year graces the cover of my Medellin Travel Guide.
This year, I was once again charmed by the atmosphere in Parque Envigado. It was full of life, from the littlest of babies, to the oldest of folks, and everyone was there to see and enjoy the lights together. Don’t forget to walk along a few of the streets radiating off the main square, as they are blanketed in lights as well.
Envigado is famous for its empanadas, so be sure to grab some while you’re in the park. You can’t walk five feet without bumping into a food vendor.
From Parque Envigado, we caught a taxi further south to Parque Sabaneta, the smallest of the parks we’d be visiting. There were some Christmas lights, and figures, but nothing on the scale of what you’ll see in Envigado.
What we did find were candles lit around the park, and a lot of people out enjoying food and drinks.
I was craving a bunuelo, a deep-fried ball of cheesy dough which is especially popular around Christmas. Lucky for me, it just so happens Sabaneta is famous for its bunuelos.
On the right side of the church is a group of restaurants. The main one, called Peregrino, is known for its bunuelos and chorizo. I’ll be writing a separate post about the restaurant soon, because they’re doing some funny things with bunuelos.
Afterwards, we walked along a street closed to car traffic for the night. It was littered with melted wax, and must’ve been quite a scene at 7pm. I made a mental note to go to Sabaneta for the candle lighting next time.
Our next stop was across the river at Parque Itagui. According to Viviana, the main park had been closed for rennovations much of the year, so we were both happy to see it open and decorated for December.
It was clean and spacious, and featured a lot of new concrete. The decorations were a close second to what we saw in Parque Envigado, but the atmosphere was more toned down.
Itagui is known for its arepas con queso (arepas with cheese), so I indulged in one since I rarely spend time there.
Why are their arepas the best? Judging from the arepa I received, I believe there’s a direct correlation with the amount of cheese included. I only made it through half my arepa before calling it quits.
Our final stop of the night was the valley’s largest Christmas light display along the Medellin River. It runs from the Industriales metro station north to the EPM building.
In a repeat of our second date, we took the taxi from Itagui to the northernmost point of the lights along the river, near Parque de los Pies Descalzos. From there, we began walking back south along the river.
As expected, there were tons of people, and the crowds tested my patience. Mostly, it’s the drunk, obnoxious teenagers that get on my nerves.
It took us a good hour to walk the length of the lights, including pictures and stops at most of the displays along the way.
By the time we reached the Guayaquil Bridge, near the Industriales metro, it was almost 1am, at which point the lights would be turned off for the night. They’re on this late for the weekends only. During the rest of the week, I believe they’re turned off by 11pm, or midnight at the latest.
Special thanks to my friend Alejandra for allowing me to use her camera after mine broke unexpectedly the week before.