Colombia has it all, and Medellín is its emerald in the rough. Tucked away in the Aburrá Valley, a central part of the Andes Mountains, it has been dubbed by locals as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild weather (which means you can walk around and see cool shit without sweating your ass off, year round). After years of being the center of Pablo Escobar’s drug operation, today’s Medellín is a friendly and safe (seriously) place to explore amazing architecture, botanical gardens, contemporary art galleries, and of course a rowdy & diverse South American party & food scene.
Where to stay?
Hotel Charlee, in the heart of El Poblado
El Poblado is where you want to be- walkable to many things, a $5 UBER to others, and full of bustling eateries, shops, and places to go out, as well as lush parks to chill in. The hotel itself is design-forward and well appointed – each room has a private little atrium with sofas, and a well-stocked “Mega Bar” (beware of the full-sized Tequila). Breakfast is included, and served on an incredible rooftop with sprawling views of the city and mountains (the building is one of the highest in the area, which is great for rooftop cocktails, pool dips, and even work time, as wifi is free!).
Where to eat & drink?
Medellín’s avocados are reason alone to get excited for some quality noshing – they’re absolutely massive (the size of your face). There’s something to eat for everyone here- from carnivores to vegetarians (the latter usually have slim pickings on this side of the world). From low (ie cheap) to high, here are 3 top picks, below:
This is a traditional local cafeteria. The food and beer is really cheap (think $3), but substantial and tasty. The local tripe soup is well-known as one of the best delicacies, but for the more faint of heart, the arepas and various meat and fish platters are easier to take down on a hangover.
Go here for contemporary and fusion cuisines. Chef Laura trained for 8 years abroad in Europe, Australia, and Asia – and it shows. They specialize in slow (meaning: 14 hour) cooking times, so items like the short ribs are prime…but also the falafel platter and salads are amazing for the more health-conscious.
This is the gold standard for the fancy foodie- book ahead, and go early….this is where you go for a 2-3 hour tasting menu that will change your life, and deplete your savings account. Chef Juanma is only 34 but is killing it- El Cielo has outposts now in Bogota and Miami, as well.
This restaurant and bar is tucked away above a storefront in El Poblado. If you don’t know where you’re going, you are sure to miss it. The open air space is decorated with miss-matched lamps and equally as charming farm tables. Make sure to order at least two cocktails and don’t shy away from the albondigas.
Where to get a coffee?
Pergamino coffee is one of the best coffee places we’ve ever been to- in the world. Selling beans directly from their own farm, which is mere miles away, coffee has never tasted so damn fresh. They also have a beautiful and large space where the local hipster freelancers seem to flock – and a yummy red velvet cake. You can buy beans to take home (which is also a great “lazy gift” idea).
Where to see some hits of culture? (Galleries, Museums, Architectural landmarks, etc)
For us, the building itself was actually the most interesting part of the experience- it’s an incredible copper lattice-worked beast with many nooks and crannies, living walls, and sculptures throughout. Definitely check out the gift shop.
Other guides will definitely tell you to go to Pablo Escobar’s final resting place, Cemetario Jardins Montesacro, Itagüí. But for a more “off the beaten path” place with incredible architecture and views of all of Medellin, go to Crematorio Campos de Paz at dusk. It reminded us of Richard Serra’s large copper sculptures at Dia Beacon, in the best way.
Come here to see 23 of artist Fernando Botero’s finest bulbous sculptures. Huge and fleshy, you might have deja vu, as you’ve probably seen these somewhere before- like on 49th St. in NYC by Rockefeller Center. Just don’t laugh at the tiny peens;)
Where to work out?
The gym at Hotel Charlee
Is honestly like a mini EQUINOX in the heart of the city – you’ll work out next to (super jacked) locals and foreigners alike. Two stories high, it has all the equipment you might need (even a cycle room) – and you can cool down with a drink at the rooftop pool after.
Where to hang out?
If you come to Medellin even for 24 hours, this place is a must. Colombia is a “megadiverse” country, and 2nd only to Brazil (which is a million times it’s size) in terms of diversity of plant life. There is also a really amazing fancy restaurant on a pond surrounded by bamboo forests, and a small vintage train car that serves drinks that looks like it’s straight out of a Wes Anderson film.