What’s life like in Medellin? The short answer is: it’s amazing. The city provides a diverse array of delicious restaurants on par with anywhere on earth. Between the natural wonders and the local culture, there’s no limit to enjoyments for both travellers and residents alike. Instead of telling you all about it, it’s better to show you. Here’s a weekend guide to the best Medellin has to offer.
11 AM: Mountain Munchies
You’re not in Medellin yet, but since you’re fresh off the plane you’ll want a refreshment. RioNegro is the mountaintop town that perches above the larger city below – cooler, calmer, and a perfect stopover before heading down into the valley. The newly installed Plaza Pakita is a traveller’s dream, a collaborative merchant space that recalls the earthy gastronomy of Whole Foods and the delicious variety of an all-you-can-eat food truck extravaganza.
Strolling the aisles of the modern, upcycle-inspired warehouse you might grab you can savor your first cup of Colombian roast coffee. Wash it down with a perfectly sweet arepa de chocolo garnished with crystallized ginger and dusted with cinnamon. Dip into on of the select organic grocers for a bag of honey puffed quinoa crisps or patacones crusted with sea salt. Make sure you enjoy the calm and coolly tropical ambiance out on the patio. Before you leave, look to the back: they’re giving live cooking lessons.
1:30 PM – Poblado, Por Favor
The formerly formerly quiet hillside neighborhood of Poblado is now the bustling, upscale hub for tourists and wealthy Colombianos. Boutique shops selling handcrafted dresses, shirts and hats nestle between outdoor cafes and upscale eateries. Restaurant 37 park occupies what used to be a public park, so slip into a seat under the palm trees, beside the bamboo and the nearby stream. Nibble at patatas a la brava with question and romesco, or try the chilled pumpkin soup. Genovese burrata pizza with prosciutto makes a great meal, shared or otherwise.
Sip a cold Colombina beer or a designer gin & tonic with Fever Tree tonic, cucumber, mint, lime, and a salt rim.
Afterwards, pop up to Envy atop the Hotel Charlee for an afternoon cup of Colombian joe or a designer cocktail. This boutique hotel offers not only great drinks but sushi and all-week dancing – from DJs to live salsa and rock bands. But foremost, this is the greatest view in Poblado. Take the elevator up and chill out.
6:30 PM – Drinks then Dinner
Set out for Carmen, and be sure to call ahead. The chef immaculately prepares Colombian cuisine under a heavy California influence. Start the meal with a Kentucky Mule – with bourbon instead of the clear cousin from Moscow – for a choice cocktail pick. Or the Flor de Jalisco melds reposado, lychees, with lemon, thyme and cherry bitters for a off-dry and deep tequila experience.
When it’s time for an entree, grilled octopus set over polenta is exquisitely flavorful. Bacon makes everything better – especially the wrapped ostrich filet beside truffles and risotto. The premier wine list matches the quality of ingredients and the imagine with which they’re applied. Finish off the meal with coffee ice cream sprinkled with pecans.
9:00 – Parque Lleras
Colombian Paisa culture is vibrant and enjoys public spaces, whether they’re steamy dancefloors with salsa bands or a park with friends and family. Grab a cold beer or sangria from a vendor and have a seat within thrumming Parque Lleras. The winding stones provide a natural grove for relaxing and enjoying the perfect Medellin evening.
If you have energy, lace up your dancing shoes and cut a rug at DanceFree salsa club. The club offers free salsa and bachata lessons to visitors with a dance social following. At least stay around to glimpse some of the impressive grooves and maneuvers of practiced salsa dancers – this is a favorite hangout for local semi-pros.
11 AM – Relax in the Garden
The Jardin Botanico is set in 13 acres of great sights and activities. With a butterfly farm, a maze, a lagoon, and abundance of tropical flowers, you’ll catch parrots and iguanas amidst the flora. While the 600 species of trees and plants are awesome, the fantastical architecture will amaze as well.
The gardens offers free Sunday morning yoga classes. Show up ready to ease into nature and connect with your inner peace. Classes are free-flowing and meditative, by no means strenuous, and serve to give you balanced start to your day.
Head over to the pavilion for a cold-pressed juice afterwards. Or reward yourself for all that conscious breathing with a bunuelo (Colombian cake-donut ball) and a cafe con leche y canela. Spoonfuls of salpicon con helado (fruit salad with ice cream) make a great brunch option too.
Keep the healthy vibes coming and head to Lenteja Express for lunch. Next to Eslabon Prendido salsa bar, this is a vegetarian paradise. Chef and owner Gabriel Ramirez makes outlandishly tasty vegetarian burgers from black and garbanzo beans. Sample the vegetarian ceviche, lasagna and quesadillas. Expand your palate with a range of spicy salsas and juice blends. The amazing flor de jamaica guarapo is pure nectar.
2:30 – Plaza Botero
Step back in time to the “Old Quarter” for some amazing contemporary art. Named after the celebrated Fernando Botero, the plaza displays 23 of his famous bronze, bulging sculptures. They might as well be made of iron: they’re magnets for hamish tourist photos. The Museo de Antioquia is a backdrop to this outstanding plaza that opened in 2004.
Once you’ve seen the sights, sit for a pitcher of rose sangria at El Covacho with a view of the plaza. If you’re peckish, the deep-fried potato gorditas with guacamole are terrific.
4:30 – Up and Out
The stunning nature and pleasant tranquility of Park Arvi is best accessed by gondola. Take the metrocable up and over Medellin, enjoying incredible views of the city laid out beneath you. This 10 minute bird’s-eye is even better once you’re at the top. Touring of the ecological park at Montevivo allows you to traverse the rope network set up within the canopy of the forest. Here’s a forest experience unlike any other.
Surveying the view and meandering between the trees, flowers, and artisan vendors can make you thirsty. Enjoy a michelada – soda, salt and lime with anything you like added. Or sip up fresh-squeezed mango and coconut juice or a tamarind and papaya blend.
6:00 – Tucked Away
Formerly the home of renowned Colombian poet and philosopher, Fernando Gonzalez, Cafe Otraparte is a quaint and secluded cafe with lots of history and charm. Enjoy a candle lit table under the trees as the sun dips behind the mountains. Sip on a the decadent Senorita Taylor, a coffee concoction with amaretto and whipped cream.
And try the coca tea. While the tea leaves won’t give you more than a caffeine buzz and a numb tongue, it’s a Colombian experience unique and worth sharing. Nibble at a charcuterie plate with local chorizo, questio cheese, sun dried tomatoes, gorgonzola, and crisps.
After, stretch your legs with a tour of the home inside. The paintings and writings throughout offer some food for thought and insight into the mind of a Latin American thought leader.
8:30 – Argentinian and Colombian
Lucio: Carbon y Vino pairs Argentinian steaks with Colombian ingredients and European techniques. The stuffed portobellos, calamares a la romana, and savory herb-grilled vegetables make for robust, flavorful beginnings to the meal. Enjoy a glass, or bottle, of some marvelous Malbec or other far-reaching international vintages. Solomito Sterling or prime-cut New York strip steak are menu features. Lemon chicken piccata with garlic mashers or a seared tuna steak are satisfying partner meals.
Just a stroll outside the restaurant is the Tunan Verde (The Green Tunnel). You’ll see the tree-lined boulevard bedecked with lights and peppered with couples out to enjoy the quiet atmosphere. Envigado is a calm neighborhood, more appealing to families and well-travelled diners than other boisterous areas of the city.
10:00 – Gelato Time
Antonio’s Gelato make a great nightcap. Join the dessert scene along the quiet street and grab a chair. Generous portions of dreamy and creamy desserts await: coconut, blackberry cheesecake, canela cocoa, triple fudge, lemon sorbet…come for one, stay for all if you like. It’s reported that some will order, take a lap around the block, and then order again. Maybe it’s an urban legend. But the gelato is certainly worthy of such rumoured acclaim.
There’s the guide to a weekend in Medellin. If you’re a traveller with some fresh tips, share your favorite places to go or things to see with us. We’d love to hear about them!