Spending three weeks in Medellín, Colombia, (pronounced ‘Mede-jj-een’ in Colombian Spanish and ‘Mede-y-een’ by everyone else) equated to about three lifetimes of my wildest dreams come true. Never had I experienced before such a vibrant, impassioned, exciting, progressive and above all else, beautiful city.
What is now known proudly as “The City of Eternal Spring” wasn’t always so. Head back in time to the 1980s and Time Magazine was calling it the “most dangerous city in the world”. Picture mobsters lining the streets with semi-automatic rifles, where murders, corruption, drug production and trafficking, fraud, extortion, kidnappings and muggings were happening as far as the eye can see.
But fast-forward to 2016 and the city is almost unrecognisable. The quality of life in Colombia post-Escobar reign has improved immensely. Having shunned ridiculous and out-dated misconceptions, Medellín in particular is seen by tourists as the “new black” of South America. Why?
Aside from near-perfect weather conditions year-round, Medellín’s improved economy means that the city has undergone colossal progress in urban development, education and safety regulations, as well as new parks, galleries, museums, apartments and a modern metro system. To top it off, your money will go much further than it will in countries like Argentina, Brazil or Chile – so have a look below for our top picks of how to make the most out of Medellín!
Where to stay
The wealthy, fashionable suburb of El Poblado is where it’s at: all of the busy bars, restaurants, cafes, hostels and nightclubs are nestled in this progressive, tree-lined suburb, where trendy shops, design stores and cafes adorn the streets.
Our top pick is Casa Kiwi Hostel – it has a great rooftop area with a pool, kitchen, and very comfortable mattresses.
If you prefer more of a nightly party vibe, (read: social but noisy travellers) try Happy Buddha Hostel one block away.
What to do
The best part about exploring a brand new city you’ve fallen in love with is to walk, baby, walk. The whole ‘Eternal Spring’ label means Medellín gets near-perfect conditions year-round, and for me this translates to perfect park weather. The fact that Medellín is a city situated amongst valleys and mountains also means that the views from most parks are pretty spectacular.
El Castillo Museo y Jardin (El castempre) literally translates to ‘The castle museum and garden’, inspired by the French Loire Valley. Think real-life Beauty And The Beast setting with extraordinary views of the city. Bring a camera and a book and sit in the courtyard amongst the sculptures. Admission of 8000 pesos (about $5) includes a guided tour of the castle if that’s your jam.
Plaza Botero – this intriguing sculpture park can be reached via the Parque Berrio metro station and is home to 23 of Fernando Botero’s massive sculptures. Whilst here check out Museo de Antioquia for free, where you can see paintings by Botero as well as other Latin artists.
Cerro Nutribara looks like a park on a map, however you’ll find yourself actually ascending a bunch of stairs (the climb isn’t tough) to a mini town on top of the hill with *another* amazing viewpoint of the city. Grab some food and drink from the stalls nearby while you chill and watch the sunset.
Cable car. Riding the service that extends to the end of the city’s poorest neighbourhoods is a must-do. The first leg is free with a metro ticket, the second leg costs a few dollars and you’ll be carried up into the mountains to Parque Arvi – the biggest nature reserve in Medellín. Jump on the last cable car back before 6pm to get phenomenal night-time views of the lit up Medellín on the way back.
What to see
Two big highlights for me were the day tours of Pablo Escobar’s old countryside ranch and the colourful village of Guatapé. Your guide will paint an in-depth picture about what life was like at Escobar’s favourite holiday house on the lake.
Keep an eye out for up-and-coming concerts, festivals, events and local street performers too. Medellín’s social calendar is always packed.
Where to eat
Medellín is a haven of multicultural cuisine; I’d say one of the most diverse in all of South America. All in the same area (around Parque Lleras) you’ll find Japanese restaurants, Indian, Thai, Greek cuisine, burgers and ribs a la North America, loads of Italian and of course some restaurants selling local fare, which is a breath of fresh air when all you ate was Gallopinto (rice and beans) while passing through nearby Nicaragua.
To eat where the locals eat, check out Empanaditas – a stall on Calle Diez (10th Street) heading down towards the metro, the one with the queue of people fighting for freshly fried Empanadas with a barrage of homemade spicy condiments. Think fragrant South American samosas that will set you back around 50 cents per empanada. Bargain.
For coffee, Café Velvet on Carrera 37 is a beautiful indoor/outdoor space for lounging around and drinking Colombian espresso, and perhaps nibbling on some Belgian chocolate.
Where to drink
Aside from the obvious bars in hostels, there’s a lovely bar on Via Provenza Called Burdo, a super trendy and London-esque spot for wine and cocktails.
To continue the party, check out Calle Nueve (9+1) afterwards, with underground techno music situated in warehouse-style vibes.
Feature image c/o Alejandro Bustamante Campillo, Flickr