Four days in Medellín and its surroundings

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Stopping on the roadside is basically unavoidable when, from atop the mountain, the green and ochre stain that is Medellín is unveiled below. Splayed throughout the Aburrá Valley, the city takes on the colors of its omnipresent brick buildings and well-cared-for flowerbeds.

 

There, where the Andes splits into three ridges before disappearing into the Caribbean Sea, every and any horizon is framed by mountains. In the morning, if the clouds descend in the form of mist, you can be sure it will be a beautiful day. Even if it isn't, the City of Eternal Spring always welcomes visitors with mild temperatures and warm people that stop you in the street just to personally welcome you.

 

Day 1

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9 a.m. – Land & water

Breakfast is inside the Jardín Botánico at Café del Bosque, but feel free to buy some arepas (discs made of cornmeal) in the surrounding area and have a picnic. The first stop is the butterfly house. When you get to the edge of the lake, look up: giant wood structures appear among the trees forming a beehive. It's the Orquideorama, looking like something out of a science-fiction forest, which doubles as an orchidarium and events venue. The structure was designed by the architecture firms Plan B and JPRCR in 2006. On the other side of the street, Explora Park is home to an interactive science museum, a planetarium, and one of the biggest aquariums in South America.  

 

1 p.m. – Buen provecho

Time to understand why Medellín is a reference in public transport, starting with the fare – each ticket costs less than the equivalent of one dollar. Head to Industriales station and have lunch at El Rancherito, where they serve bandeja paisa: a dish with rice, beans, pork rinds, blood sausage, chorizo, ground beef, arepa, plantains, avocado, and fried egg. 

 

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3 p.m. – Art around every corner

Plaza Botero is home to 23 rotund sculptures by one of the city's most celebrated sons. There, you'll find the Museo de Antioquia, whose collection also features works by master Botero. If your stomach starts to growl, how about trying some of the fried ants sold by street vendors? They have an earthy taste but make a good appetizer.

 

9 p.m. – Night fever

The nightlife is concentrated in the area surrounding Lleras Park, to the south, at such locales as Vintrash. On its three floors, partygoers enjoy food and drinks to the sounds of cumbia or electronic music, depending on what night it is. 

 

Day 2

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10 a.m. – Run for the hills

A hill at the geographic center of Medellín serves as the perfect overlook from which to view the four corners of the city. Add to this the scenario of Pueblito Paisa, a replica of a colonial village like so many others found in the mountains of the department of Antioquia, with a church and a patio lined with colorful doors.  

 

1 p.m. – Soup of the day

At the restaurant Mondongo’s, there's no doubt about what the house specialty is. The dish for which it's named is a soup of beef entrails served with rice and arepas. It's common for local customers to line up at the city's two locations on weekends.

 

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3 p.m. – Peace and love

Escalators go up the mountain where thousands of houses form the pacified community of Comuna 13. The peace established there since 2002 is embossed on the graffiti that covers the walls, as well as the faces of the tour guides, most of whom are young residents who take care of their barrio.

 

7 p.m. – Disco fever

In the Poblado Park region is a pizzeria with a discreet facade that might go unnoticed. At El Zorro y La Gitana, you can share slices in the cozy setting whose décor features Medellín bricks. 

 

Day 3 – Day trip to Santa Fe

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10 a.m. – Days of yore

The first capital of the department, Santa Fe de Antioquia is a trip back in time a little over an hour from Medellín. The Spanish arrived there by the Cauca River, where prospectors search for gold to this day. In the city, stone streets lead to small squares. The colonial architecture is still present there in mansions. One of them is home to El Portón del Parque, a restaurant that serves regional dishes.

Calle 10, #11-3

 

5 p.m. – Espresso or filtered?

Back in Medellín, stroll down the tree-lined Vía Primavera to Pergamino Café. Hipster baristas will inform you of various techniques and varieties brought by local producers. To go with the coffee, try some chocolate made with Antioquian cacao or croissants on display at the counter.

 

8 p.m. – Cheers!

The night ends at a warehouse closer to the city center. Cervecería Libre symbolizes the attention that craft beer has been attracting in Medellín. One of the owners, John Restrepo, leads a tour lubricated by the four beers produced there in those same kegs. 

 

Day 4 – In the surroundings

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8 a.m. – On the road

Around two hours away by car, the cities of Guatapé and El Peñol were flooded by a reservoir in the late 1970s. Their history and views alone make the visit worthwhile. Buses run there from Terminal del Norte Medellín. If you're renting a car, save breakfast for the ride and try some fresh panes de queso (made with milk, eggs, and cheese) at the roadside eateries on the way to El Peñol.

 

12 p.m. – Downstream Boat

trips in between the islands formed in the reservoir set sail from the foot of a mountain. At the top is a reproduction of the city of El Peñol before the flood. The original location of the church replicated there is marked by a cross planted at the bottom of the reservoir.

 

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2 p.m. – Step by step

The zigzag staircase looks like a zipper opening up to the enormous Peñol de Guatapé. Climbing the 740 steps is the only way to get to the top of the rock. You're probably picturing it already: being up there, enjoying a panoramic view of the whole reservoir, is more than worth the effort.

 

9 p.m. – Farewell feast

Back in Medellín, the long day gives way to a pleasant evening. At Carmen, local ingredients are combined in contemporary creations. Octopus rice with black polenta, pork loin with mashed sweet potatoes… You can opt for a five- or seven-course dinner, always harmonized with wine. Make reservations ahead of time.

 

LATAM has direct flights to Medellín from Bogotá, Cartagena, Lima, and 3 other destinations.

 

Special thanks to: Hotel Sheraton Medellín, Panamericana de Viaje e @medellin_travel