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Three stops later at Acevedo station, transfer to Line K, the first of Medellín's Metrocables. Take care not to follow the crowd through the metro exit gates or you will have to buy another ticket to re-enter the system. Instead walk to the Line K entrance, wait for an empty car to slowly inch around the terminus bend and step on. If photography is your primary goal, hang back and wait for a car with newer, cleaner windows; older cars with scuffed and defaced windows will defeat even the best photographers.

As the car climbs, the city transforms. Modern, permanent buildings with finished rooftops begin to fade. The structures become shorter, three levels at most, the exteriors comprised of bare cinderblocks and the roofs of simple corrugated tin. Likewise, the streets begin wide and expertly paved, then deteriorate, becoming narrow and uneven. These are the favelas.

Several fascinating minutes later at Santo Domingo station, the Metrocable's mountaintop terminus, you will see an improvement in the surroundings. A revitalisation has occurred here, anchored by the new Biblioteca España (Library of Spain), an artistic, three-part, irregular structure made of black slate that would likely be the pride of any community, never mind this far-flung, long-suffering neighbourhood.

Linger on the Metrocable platform and snap pictures of the neighbourhood and copious long-shots of Medellín down below. Many locals and expats warn visitors from wandering the favelas, but Santo Domingo is relatively safe.

Reframe or capture missed photo opportunities on the way back down, then retrace your route on the metro, heading back south to San Antonio station, where you will switch to the east-west Line B. The six stops on this branch of the metro travel mostly through business, retail and then residential areas, though the colossal swimming and soccer stadiums break up the monotony.

At San Javier station, six stops from San Antonio, it is time to sidle onto Metrocable Line J, the newer and, at 2.7km in length, the much longer of the two cable car lines. Again, the surroundings begin to change only a few moments after the car begins its ascent. The neighbourhoods on this side are decidedly scruffier, with the poverty far more palpable and unsettling. The homes are built mainly from cinderblocks and corrugated tin, though several shacks appear to have been simply lashed together with whatever material could be salvaged. Streets, when there are any, are narrow and impossibly steep at times.

As some of the slopes were too prohibitively steep to build on, there is also a lot more greenery on this line, and you will rise to much higher points than on Line K. Keep an eye out for small planes gliding down the length of the valley, coming in for a landing at Medellín's domestic airport. Once again, feel free to alight from the Metrocable at La Aurora, the final station, to snap panoramic photos of Medellín, which is now so distant that the city may be smog-obscured.

Finally, descend back into the city at your leisure, knowing that you have now quite literally seen all of Medellín -- in what is arguably one of the biggest bangs for a buck on the planet.

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© 2012 Lonely Planet. All rights reserved. The article ‘The cheapest sightseeing tour in the world’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.

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