TRAVELLING TO MEDELLIN: 20 YEARS AFTER PABLO ESCOBAR
TRAVELLING TO MEDELLIN: 20 YEARS AFTER PABLO ESCOBAR
When I first mentioned to coworkers and colleagues, that I was travelling to Medellin (pronounced Med-A-Gene), I was immediately met with comments like, "why?", "Isn't it dangerous" and "Is the cocaine better over there?" As opposed to rolling my eyes and responding to the ignorance, I used it as an opportunity to educate the ignorant and mis-informed. Medellin has recently rose in popularity, largely due to the Netflix series, NARCOS, as Pablo Escobar's old stomping ground. Fast forward some 20+ years and Medellin has done a complete 180. The government has adopted aggressive initiatives to revitalize the city and move past the dark, violent history. With its enhanced security, social services, booming manufacturing industry and innovative infrastructure, Medellin was dubbed the most innovative city in 2013.
With that, I booked my trip and set-out to explore the new and re-vamped Medellin. From the food, people and culture, I understand why Medellin is a growing hotspot and nicknamed “The city of eternal spring”.
I opted to book with Air Bnb not only because the prices are super competitive (2 bedroom/2 bath/ large balcony/ pool for $67/night) but, I really wanted to "live" our Medellin experience. Our condo was located in El Poblado. A fairly affluent district, sprinkled with high-rise condo buildings, sprawling shopping centers, trendy boutiques and restaurants. It's also home to many ex-pats but most locals are unilingual so come prepared to speak Spanish.
The cost of living in Medellin is very low. Monthly expenses for a single person is approx. $505/month. So commuting by bus, metro, tram and taxi are very inexpensive. The average 3KM cab ride costs about $6,000 Colombian pesos (3$ CAN), which makes taxis very affordable. The metro, although frequented by 900,000 people per day, remains one of the cleanest in the world. If you’re heading over to Comuna 13, you can take the Medellin Metro Cable for just 2.000 COP.
Colombia is home to some of the best culinary dishes in South America. They have everything that will satisfy even the pickiest of eaters. If you’re looking for a casual, inexpensive, sit-down restaurant, Chef Burger and Mondongos are excellent options.
Chef Burger is a trendy burger joint, that boasts having the best burgers in the city. The burgers are juicy and delicious. I suggest taking the baked cookie and ice cream for dessert.
Mondongos is more of a traditional Antioquia restaurant, serving typical Antioquia dishes. I had the Bandeja Paisa, which is a typical Colombian plate, comprised of white rice, red beans soup, fried plantain, fried egg, avocado, fried pork fat and arepas. All of this very similar to Caribbean dishes. The portions are huge, so make sure to come hungry. Lucia Wine Bar flaunts a robust Italian menu and a swanky setting. Perfect for a date night.
For breakfast and brunch options, Crepes and Waffles is a great choice for those looking for crepes and/or healthy/ lighter options. Now, don’t skip out on the street vendors. Arepas / Arepas Chocolo and Empanadas are EVERYTHING! They’re absolutely delicious and hit the spot when those cravings hit. Try them with a Guabanana drink or hot chocolate.
I was lucky enough to arrive right on the heels of Feria de Los Flores. The parade is visually stunning. With colourful flowers and costumes, the city is alive and in full blown festival mode, as the sounds of salsa and afro-Colombian beats float in the air.
Right in the heart of downtown Medellin is Plaza Botero. It’s right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Medellin’s, street vendors and tourists. Sprinkled around the park, are 23 Botero statues that were donated to the city, by Fernando Botero himself. They also double as eclectic backdrops for photos.
Antioquia Museum and the Rafael Uribe Cultural Plaza surround the plaza and are equally popular and interesting tourist attractions. Make sure to sample the museum restaurant. It has a quaint outdoor seating area where you enjoy a meal, people-watch and the spring-like weather.
In the city of Eternal Spring, where the weather is sheer perfection all year round, there are so many things to do and places to be. Parque Lleras is the number one place to experience Medellin nightlife. The actual park is a hotspot to meet up, eat, watch soccer games, be serenaded by live music and buy artisanal goods. The entire area is within a 4-block radius and littered with bars and restaurants. It a great spot for tourists to meet up with other tourists or locals, grab a drink, share a meal or dance to salsa and reggaeton tunes. Woka Lounge offers a full menu, under a retractable roof, city view and unique cave-like decor but, it's best for drinks and dancing. Luxury night club has the best and latest in Reggaeton. Two floors, bottle service and an outdoor spiked slush bar, is just some of the reason’s why this club is so popular. The South American chains like Juan Valdez Cafe and The Beer Store are good alternatives for food, drink and relaxed setting.
For the serial shoppers, Premium Plaza and Santa Fe Centro are two of the biggest mall in the El Poblado area. Santa Fe has 5 floors and four annexes. I was in the mall for the entire day and still didn’t see everything. It has most North American brand name stores, in addition to Colombian vendors. Last but not least, the food selection is ginormous. Whatever you want, is at your fingertips in the large food court.
A short cab ride from El Poblado is the Jardin Botanico. It’s a free tourist attraction, that offers a break from the hustle and bustle of the city, in exchange for tranquility. Make sure to try the empanadas at the cafe...you’ll thank me later. Right across the street is Parque Explora. This is Medellin’s science museum and a excellent family-friendly day trip. It’s houses over 400 hundred species of Columbia’s animals so this educational experience is super enriching.
Comuna 13 tours with Carlos is a non-negotiable when travelling to Medellin. Yes, it was a major artery for drug trafficking and gang violence, with an average of 20 murder/day but things have completely changed. Government initiatives like outdoor escalators (provide accessible transportation to the locals), vibrant street art and community centers /gardens, are just a few things that have helped ameliorate this district's circumstances.
Guatape, home to El Penol, is about 2 hours outside of Medellin. This little town is so vibrant and colourful with Zocalos along all the homes. It’s a great place to buy artisanal jewelry and inexpensive souvenirs. After visiting the town, head over to El Penol and brave the 740 step climb for a awesome 360 view of the man-made lagoon.
Did I miss something? Let me know below
Mel is an occasional grill-totin', lifestyle writer. She scouts movers, doers and everything in between.