City Guide: Medellín

An Insider Guide

Colombia’s rising second city, Medellín is a sprawling metropolis of contrast and opportunity. This is where sleek cafés pop up next to historic plazas and street art can be found alongside quiet urban streams. Once famed as the murder capital of the world, Pablo Escobar’s bloody cocaine enterprise has now been replaced with feverish innovation and dynamic architecture, evolving the city into the lush, amicable enclave that teems with bravado we see today. Here, photographer Santiago Rodriguez takes us on a stroll through his hometown, revealing why the city is so special to him and lets us in on local haunts to eat, explore and dance along the way.

“What makes Medellín so special to me is that it feels like its own country within Colombia; it’s a reference point where groundbreaking mindsets mix with long-established traditions”, says Santiago. The city is often described as a calmer antidote to bustling Bogota, with a refreshing mix of working-class families and enterprising young start-ups making it an urban tech hub that fizzes with creativity. The city is brimming with co-working spaces, such as Impact Hub and Tinkko Co-Working, and has earned itself a reputation for social innovation through technology with its network of cable cars that sew the city together, acting as a lifeline for poorer mountainside communities that are now connected to the city centre.

To Santiago, the city is special in many ways: “I think my favourite memory of Medellín has to be seeing it for the first time.” To journey from the airport is a 30-minute, winding drive up through verdant green, misty mountains surrounded by breathtaking scenery. After around 20 minutes, the city slowly begins to appear out of nowhere on the horizon; a jewel cradled amongst the surrounding mountains of the Aburra Valley. “That magical sight is an experience I don’t think I’ll ever forget, and it’s what ignited my love story with the city”, he concludes.

Las Palmas

Downtown Medellín is often known as being a little seedy, but dig just a bit deeper and you’ll find a cool pocket of a town full of vintage shops, traditional restaurants and unique architecture. Try Moda Retro for ultimate thrifting bargains, El Rinconcito de Yenny for quirky antiques and Hacienda Origen for delicious traditional fare. If you’re looking for a nature fix whilst you’re in the city, Medellin’s vast, red-roofed urban area is surrounded by hills, so it’s easy to stumble upon hidden oases of green. Head up north along the Medellín River from La Candelaria to Jardin Botanico de Medellín – the city’s iconic botanical garden – for a snapshot of Colombia’s incredible biodiversity, or make your way to Las Palmas viewpoint for far-reaching panoramic views of the city from the mountainside.

El Poblado

Medellín’s main hangout for travellers, El Poblado is a neighbourhood full of cutting-edge restaurants, effervescent nightlife and cultural highlights. Kick off the day at the Modern Art Museum of Medellín, a large city block housing a curated collection of interesting Colombian artworks, before strolling down to Pergamino Cafe for strong coffee and pastries. For lunch, grab a snack from a street food cart and head to Parque Lleras – a busy town square popular with lounging locals – to enjoy your meal al fresco, then continue down to opulent El Castillo, a castle-style museum offering a permanent exhibition and free tours.

Once you’ve satisfied your culture fix, spend the afternoon ambling through the city’s side streets, popping into bookstore Casa Tragaluz on your way, before taking the cable car up to the hills for city-wide sunset views. Back in the centre of town, head to Carmen for dinner, a stylish restaurant lined with plants and trees, for a tasting menu of innovative Colombian cuisine. To sample some of South America’s most vibrant nightlife, head to Salon Amador for hip underground club vibes or Buena Vista for authentic salsa dancing. Or, if you’re looking for something a little more relaxed, make your way to Click Clack's rooftop all-day restaurant for a cocktail or night-cap in a laid-back, leafy setting.

For more inspirational imagery of Medellín, follow Santiago on Instagram @rodrigueztarditi

What to Pack