Known as the city of eternal spring, Medellin seduces with its mix of old architectural beauty and entrepreneurial spirit, buzzing city life and green oases. Above all, it’s a city of breathtaking views -and some of the world’s best coffee.
On our way from the airport to downtown Medellin, at Second Mirador de Palmas, I ask the driver to pull over, so I can have a first glimpse of the city and the sunset. It’s a mesmerizing view –city lights sparkling, Medellin nested in the surrounding hills, with a reddish pink sky as its background.
Medellin, Colombia’s second biggest city with nearly 2.5 million inhabitants and the capital of the department of Antioquia, is nestled in the Aburra Valley. The name Medellin first surged in 1675, when the Spanish Queen Regent Mariana of Austria founded the “Town of Our Lady of Candelaria of Medellin,” in an area of the city which today corresponds to a part of the city center –specifically, the neighborhood of fashion, El Poblado.
This is where I am heading, a neighborhood full of galleries, trendy restaurants, and good shopping. After a short walk through the neighborhood and looking out for designs by Colombia‘s well-known Mercedes Salazar and her incredible flowery earrings, and Silvia Tcherassi and Johanna Ortiz (who just launched a special edition with H&M) both known for their dresses in particular, it’s time for dinner –and another view over Medellin. I head back to the Charlee Hotel where I will stay for the upcoming days. So here I am, sitting at the hotel’s rooftop, captivated by a different, yet not less impressive view over Medellin. A chic crowd, Paisas (as the locals are called) come here for sushi and to start a night out, mingling with travelers from all over the world. It’s difficult to choose if you come for the food: La Chagra offers cuisine from the tropical forests; Carmen, run by famous chefs Carmen Angel and Rob Pevitt with its incredible menu and setting (as is Don Diablo, for steaks); and El Cielo offering molecular gastronomy at its best and coffee from their own fields. Meanwhile, delicious finds of street food and comida rapida (the Colombian version of a set menu) can be found all over town. But this evening, what I want is the view from the roof, the view over Medellin by night.
Next morning, I am set to experience the new and to revisit old favorites. Medellin is transforming rapidly, it is an innovative city that has won lots of prizes for its architecture, and innovative infrastructure solutions that attract an international entrepreneurial crowd. After coffee and some fresh papaya and sweet bread, Comuna 13 is today’s first destination. Comuna 13, a previously disreputable area in the outskirts of the city, has developed into an open arts and start-up space, also thanks to better connectivity. You can use a 160-meter-long outdoor escalator or a metro cable, both easy to use, to arrive at Comuna 13. Once up, it’s worth taking a break at one of the small cafés to have a mango or any other kind of fruity ice popsicle, one of the famous paletas of all sorts of flavors, or a coffee and a bit of merenge. Up the hill, Comuna 13 is full of street art, startup spaces, artist studios, upcoming design boutiques, and a huge wall of plants full of flowers –there is one plant for every person who disappeared from the Comuna 13 neighborhood during the times of terror in Colombia in the 1980s. Though there is more hip hop and salsa to be heard these days, Rodrigo Amarante’s “Tuyo” obviously comes to mind for all those who have watched Narcos. Surrounded by people enjoying their day off and strolling along, I listen to the surrounding chatter, before going back down, and leave Parque Arvi, and the metro cable ride with its views for another day. I want to see Botero’s sculptures, so I head towards Plaza Botero, a square where 23 of his enormous bronze sculptures are exhibited -there are more Botero works in the adjacent Museo de Antioquia. Fernando Botero, Colombia’s most famous artist, gifted these to his hometown Medellin. You can find a cat and a dog, Adam and Eve, women and men, and horses, of course. All in their typical Botero chubbiness. Nowhere have I seen this number of Botero’s works, and people meet here, sit and talk, there are a lot of families and kids around, admiring the sculptures or just enjoying the sun.
From here, I head to the botanical garden, Jardin Botanico, and the Orchideorama. Colombia is famous for its flowers -orchids especially- and the Joaquin Antonio Uribe Botanical Garden in the middle of the city shows a variety in a green and relaxing setting. Besides more than 4,500 varieties of flowers and close to 140 bird species, the garden hosts an orchid collection and butterfly sanctuary in the Orchideorama, an impressive wooden construction, representing flower and tree structures that apart from looking beautiful and giving shade collect rainwater. The orchid variety in shapes and colors is mind-blowing and one easily forgets about time here. Hungry now and with enough of walking for the day, I settle in the botanical garden’s restaurant, In Situ. The restaurant, in an elegant, peaceful, and luminous space, offers excellent food –some traditional Colombian choices, some meats and pastas, incredible salads, and my favorite seafood. This would be the ideal place to stay for drinks after coffee, for an afternoon read in a nice atmosphere.
For me, though, it is time to take off. I head back to the hotel and get ready for Guatape, Colombia’s most colorful town. An hour-and-a-half ride from Medellin, Guatape is a small town in a green setting on a lakeside (La Laguna Guatape) with a huge rock, El Penol, sitting next to it, waiting to be explored. From the Bosko Hotel, with its incredible cabanas, one has a nice view of both: the lake and its many islands, as well as El Penol. I get up early the next morning to walk up El Penol’s 740 steep steps, rising 220 m, for the most spectacular view: over the lake, its islands, and far into Antioquia‘s scenery. Later, I walk through the town, on Calle del Recuerdo, admiring the colorful houses, decorated with the typical zocalos, telling the stories of the families and businesses that own the buildings. All over town, you get coffee and different kinds of fruit waters as well as empanadas and arepas as small, in-between meals bites. Make sure to leave some space for a meal and a drink in the lovely surroundings of Parque Principal, the square in front of the Nuestra Senora del Carmen church, where you can also find handicrafts from the region. And then, way too fast, it’s time to leave despite the many things left to do and see in Medellin and Antioquia –and the many more coffees to drink. For sure I will be back soon, and to stay longer in this eternal spring.