Fernando Botero is one of the most recognised artists to emerge from Latin America. His fascinating sculptures are famed around the world, and the best place to view his work is in Medellin, at the Plaza Botera: a gorgeous open air gallery that blends art, culture and nature, showcasing 23 of his iconic bronze sculptures, including The Hand”, “Eve”, “Maternity”, “Man on horseback”, and “Roman Soldier”.
Drink Colombian coffee at one of the local coffee shops
Colombia produces the most Arabica coffee in the world,with its unique coffee cultural landscape declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2011. Most locals drink something called tinto, small, cheap espresso sized cups of coffee with sugar mixed in, but this won’t be the best coffee you’ll taste here. Instead check out one of the little independent cafes that serve up killer cups of punchy but well balanced Arabica coffee.
Wander around Jardin Botanico
These spectacular botanical gardens have over 1,000 different living plant species. Home to a tropical forest, a lake, a desert garden and a butterfly farm, this is the perfect place to appreciate Colombia’s dizzying biodiversity. Make sure you spot the opulent array of orchards; the colours are mesmeric.
Take in the view at Pueblito Paisa
Pueblito Paisa translates to ‘Little Town’ and is a replica of a turn of century town located at the top of Nutibarra Hill. With a quaint traditional stone fountain, mayor’s office, barber shop and school house, this allows you to appreciate a Colombia of years gone by. It also gives sweeping panoramas of the city below.
Walk in the Arvi Park
The Arvi park is an Ecotourism park, accessible from the scenic metro cable car that takes you up over Santo Domingo. The park itself is home to 1760 hectares of natural forests and 54 miles of walkable trails, known for its enchanting blooms of wildflowers and butterflies. It’s pretty special to explore all that beautiful nature so close to such a bustling city.
Things to do in Medellin
Medellin is packed with cultural experiences. Here are a few to whet your appetite.
One of Colombia’s most important folkloric celebrations, Barranquilla's carnival takes place around February and March - 4 days before Ash Wednesday -and is one of the biggest carnivals in the world, with traditions that date all the way back to the 19th century. You can expect to be swept away by the riotous festivities, including street dances, musical performances and masquerade parades. The carnival’s slogan? ‘Those who live it are those who enjoy it’. We can all drink to that.
Festival of the Flowers
Colombia is famed for its coffee, but it’s also the second largest supplier of flowers in the world. Though once tarnished with accusations of exploitative labour, the flower industry has moved in a positive direction, with a flourishing export business built of Fair Trade principles. More than one million out of a total population of 43 million rely on flowers for their livelihood. The Feria de las Flores, or festival of the flowers, celebrates this fact, with stunning blooms of flowers shown of in the colourful parade, which also includes a classic car show, concerts and social gatherings.
Festival Internacional de Tango
Tango - a passionate dance originating in Argentina - has a rich history in Colombia, and in Medellin in particular. A visit to Salon Malaga, the oldest tango bar in Medellin, is a must for anyone seeking some gorgeous live music, and so is the international festival of Tango, where the city celebrates this art form through competitions, concerts and, of course, dance.
In the build up to Christmas, Medellin transforms as millions of tiny Christmas lights sweep the entire city. These aren’t any usual Christmas light displays, they’re incredible bursts of colour up and down the streets of Centro, strung along Rio Medellin and covering every inch of Parque Envigado. In recognition of these spectacular displays, party buses run throughout this period to each display, so you don’t need to miss a thing.
Festival de las Aves
Medellin is known as the ‘bird capital of the world’,with the skies often ablaze with colour and song from locals such as the beautiful tanager. This region even has 14 species of hummingbird. The Festival de las Aves celebrates the exotic bird species in this region, promoting awareness around Colombia’s incredible biodiversity. Take some of the festival’s guided local bird walks and see how many you can spot.
Top 5 Festivals in Medellin
Medellin is a colourful and energetic city that knows how to get the party started. Here are the festivals you just can’t miss:
Museo de Antioquia
Art & Culture
The Museo De Antioquia is just beside the Botero Plaza and fittingly has a comprehensive collection of Fernando Botero’s works. Check out his famously rotund portraits before exploring other exhibits like the modern, religious and colonial art exhibitions.
Museo de Arte Moderno
With eye-catching architecture that boldly announces exactly what it is, Medellin’s museum of modern art may be modestly sized, but it’s also modestly priced (around 3 US dollars) and packs some fascinating exhibits within those angular, brutalist walls.
Memory House Museum
Medellin was once the ‘murder capital of the world’ as Pablo Escobar’s infamous cartel ran riot in a decade of terror. This multimedia museum details the violence that plagued the city, taking a sombre look at the civil war that haunted this city and the many, many victims of the unspeakable waves of violence.
This interactive science museum houses South America’s largest freshwater aquarium - the Explora Aquarium, and contains over 300 incredible, interactive attractions, including a television studio, a planetarium, a vivarium and an auditorium.
Casa Museo Pablo Escobar
Pablo Escobar remains an infamous figure of fascination in Colombia and around the world, most recently being the focus of Netflix’s acclaimed series, Narcos. The impact he had on this region can not be understated (escaped hippos from his menagerie of animals have become a thriving colony - a significant problem for the state to deal with). This museum details the life of Pablo, with some fascinating exhibits, but is careful not to pay tribute to the man who is still regarded as a Robin Hood figure to some locals.
Top 5 Museums in Medellin
Medellin is a sophisticated and culturally rich city. Here are the museums you have to check out.
Arabica coffee is a must in these parts. If you want to experience delicious coffee and service with a smile, you should check out Cafe Velvet, a Colombian/Belgian start-up that offers authentic Colombian Arabica coffee alongside delicious Belgian chocolate.
Best eaten at Cafe Velvet Medellin, Cra. 37 ##8A 46, Medellín
Chicharron is a local specialty consisting of fried pork rinds and pork belly. Spicy, crispy and packed with flavour, you can enjoy this dish with fries in the aptly named Chicharrón City.
Best eaten at Chicharrón City, Cq. 2 ##68, Medellín
A tamale is a traditional dish Mesoamerican dish formed from masa, a starchy, corn-based dough, steamed in a banana leaf. The leaf can be discarded, eaten, or used as a plate, but either way you’ll find delicious fillings inside - either meats, cheese, fruit or chilli and vegetables. Try it at Mercado del Rio.
Best eaten at Mercado del Rio, Cl. 24 #48-28, Medellín
A hugely popular dish throughout Colombia, this rich and hearty soup is usually made with chicken, 3 different types of potatoes and a fragrant herb called guascas. A peerless comfort food, it’s often served with corn and heavy cream. Try it at Tipicos.
Best eaten at 3 Tipicos, Cra. 34 #7-05, Medellín
Colombia’s national dish, Bandeja Paisa has numerous variations, but is often served in a large, oval tray, due to the sheer amount of food served. It’s a platter of meats, carbs and veg, with red beans, pork, white rice, chicharron, fried egg and chorizo some of its most common ingredients. Try it at La Casa de Beto - it’s an excellent hangover cure.
Best eaten at La Casa de Beto, Cra. 37 #8a-28, Envigado, Medellín
Food in Medellin
It may surprise you, but Medellin is widely regarded as having the hottest culinary scene in Latin America right now. The abundance of chef-owned and operated restaurants throughout the city make for vibrant and cheap places to eat, everywhere you go. Here are the dishes you have to check out: