October 2, 2018, 6:05 am
Medellín, Colombia has been hailed as the model city for pulling a 180 degree turn from the world’s most violent city into one the most innovative which in turn has helped it become one of the newest hot spots for international travelers.
In the few years I’ve lived in Medellín, I’ve watched the tourist traffic grow (which is absolutely great) but I personally live and travel abroad in order to be immersed in the local culture, language, and life. While you’re traveling overseas, you don’t want to hear more English than Spanish, or see more blond hair and blue eyes than black hair and brown eyes.
If you stick to the tourist bubble of Poblado and Parque Lleras, that’s almost surely what you’ll find. Some tourists don’t want to leave that bubble, and this article isn’t for them. It’s for those who want to venture into places that the tourists crowds don’t frequent, for those who want to explore Medellín off the beaten path.
Everybody knows about the downtown walking tour, the cable cars, and Communa 13, so we won’t be touching on those most common tourist spots that are often considered “off the beaten path”. Here we’ll be focusing on a DIY downtown adventure.
Medellín’s downtown often gets a bad rap. It’s gritty, it’s chaotic, it doesn’t have the old and beautiful architecture of many other Latin American cities. But it’s a vibrant and dynamic place with a lot to see and do beyond the Museo de Antioquia.
Start your day in La Minorista, Medellín’s largest public market, where you will find virtually everything, from fresh fruit and produce to meat products, to furniture and animals for sale. You can get a real feel for the heart of a city in their markets, and Minorista is no exception.
If you’re looking for breakfast pop into one of the stalls that serves up a hearty calentado breakfast — the rice, beans, and meat from yesterday’s lunch served up with eggs and arepa. It’s a filling meal and you’re sure to be rubbing shoulders with locals, often market workers or shoppers, who will often strike up friendly conversation.
After wandering the market, head down to El Hueco just south of Plaza Botero where you can wander among the pedestrian-only shopping area, overflowing with stalls selling all sorts of goods.
Expect to constantly hear “a la orden” (at your service) from the workers. Be sure to pick up a fresh guarapo — sugarcane juice — which costs around 40 cents.
Walk towards Coltejer Tower — the large building that is shaped like a sewing needle — and then veer north on Junnin Street. Junnin was Medellín’s original upscale shopping area, and even gave birth to the verb “junninear” which means to window shop.
There are a few local institutions that are absolutely worth checking out — namely Salon Versalles which is an old-school restaurant that serves up some incredible food and is nearly always full. Along the same street, you will also find Reposteria Astor, an awesome dessert shop where you can have the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had. I always make a point to visit Astor when I’m in the area.
Junnin ends at the Parque Bolivar and the Metropolitan Cathedral, but if you backtrack and turn east at the base of Coltejer (Calle 52) you can cross the Avenida Oriental.
Casa de la Memoria
In a few blocks you will pass the Teatro Pablo Tobon and arrive at the relatively new Casa de la Memoria. Colombia has undoubtedly had a violent and troubled past, full of armed conflicts, drug lords, and gang violence.
This museum is dedicated to documenting the conflict, remembering the victims of these atrocities, and spreading a hopeful message for the future. Very few know about these museum, but it’s definitely worth going to, and it’s absolutely free.
If we backtrack toward Avenida Oriental, we can return along Maracaibo street just one block to the north. Here you’ll find a number of hidden gems when it comes to nightlife.
If you’re looking for dinner or it’s near sunset, I’d recommend heading to the 10th floor of the Centro Colombo Americano, where you’ll find Credenza, an upscale (but affordable) restaurant and bar where you can get unique dishes like glazed chicharron or cocktails with a view of the setting sun to the west.
If you’re looking for rock ‘n roll, check out Wall Street. If you want to chill out and listen to some jazz, look for El Acontista, which is also a bookstore. If you’re looking to sweat and move, find El Eslabon Prendido, one of the city’s best salsa bars. All of these are located within a few blocks along Maracaibo.
Safety in El Centro
In terms of safety, common sense prevails. Don’t carry expensive camera gear, don’t flash valuables. All of the areas mentioned above are safe during daylight hours, as are the few blocks along Maracaibo at night. But be sure to take a taxi to and from your destination at night.
There are still many other parts where one isn’t likely to see many other foreigners, from the tango museum in Manrique, to the thriving neighborhoods of Jardines and La Magnolia in Envigado.
Even after two years living in Medellín, I still find more stuff worth exploring.
Where to Stay
If you’re looking to get away from the gringo trail of Poblado, I’d recommend checking out Laureles, probably the second-most popular neighborhood among expats but it’s my personal favorite for living thanks to its overall quality of life. But if you’re looking to get a little further away, I’d recommend checking out Belen or Envigado.
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