The journey to my Airbnb in Medellin felt like an Orwellian experience.
Yes, Colombia is quickly becoming a tourist hotspot and Medellin is far from the city it was in the 90’s. But, it is still hard to shake the eeriness that is undeniably in the air.
Arriving at the customs line entering the country I was a bit nervous. I hadn’t completed my arrival card, and I couldn’t understand half the words. Duolingo was failing me, there were no questions that I’d been practicing with.
The customs hall was particularly sterile.
It was white, with bright neon lights. It felt like a waiting room in a hospital from the Soviet Union. The line was dead quiet.
I passed through quickly, no questions, fortunately. I’d shown my temporary return ticket leaving the country and walked through.
Colin and I got picked up by a private taxi, but the driver wasn’t who we’d anticipated. We were cautious, but continued. She turned out to be a kind woman who brought us to our apartment. As we descended into Medellin, a military van loaded with soldiers and machine guns swung into the street. Definitely different.
The apartment we rented didn’t like that we were there for a temporary stay. Turns out, Airbnbs aren’t entirely legal here.
Now, despite all of this – Medellin is one of the best cities I’ve ever been to.
It feels genuine and edgy.
Poblado (where the majority of travelers and white people hang) is happening.
Restaurants, bars, clubs, stores, cafes, hostels, co-working spaces, hotels – it’s packed with cool things that are affordable and tasteful.
I spent 3 weeks in Poblado. I ate, I drank, I adventured. Here are the reviews.
An incredible experience.
Great and recommended.
Good but not necessary.
Great exterior, awesome set up, mediocre tacos, solid hot sauce. Worth visiting, but there are better tacos in the city. Rumour has it, the experience was once more of an authentic taqueria years ago. But Pablado is gentrifying so there’s that.
Weekend nights this place is bumping with all sorts of ages getting their drunken fix.
Top notch cafe, on par with some of the best places I’ve visited in San Francisco, New York City, Montreal, Vancouver, etc. They provide a consistent coffee experience with many options. Three roasts on rotation for your chemex, aeropress, french press, or syphon. Espresso and latte art on point. Service is arguably the best I’ve experienced. Knowledgable staff, they bring your ground coffee for order confirmation prior to brew. One of the only places I kept going back to.
Dope vibe, great music, delicious food. DJ playing electronic music that had people getting up to dance. But this wasn’t a supper club or anything, just people getting up because the music was that solid. I was even bobbing my head. Tried their fish and chorizo tacos, certainly recommended.
Selina Co-Working Space
I stayed a night in Selina San Jose, but spent weeks working and hanging out at Selina Medellin. This place is great. It gave me an office environment with aesthetic, decent coffee, good desks, supportive chairs, and excellent WiFi. A killer combo for the remote worker. Equipped with a fridge, an outdoor space, plenty of places for calls it delivered on all the essentials and the nice-to-haves of your working environment.
There was also a bar, tattoo parlour, barber, and yoga classes on site. The bar was hip, had a great happy hour, and a pool table for some afterwork headspace.
I went to a Tejo spot to play with Colin and a few people from Remote Year. Simple game, throw rock-puck-things into the air trying to hit a bullseye. If you hit it, gunpowder goes off. I hit the bullseye once, and retired immediately after. Interesting history with the game, originated with the native population in Colombia. Worth trying if you’re looking for a cultural experience.
Grille Better Burgers
Meh. I mean, I went here, I ate a burger.
Vegan burrito was on point. Decor was okay, but all the food options were solid. I can recommend the horchata too. They sold these little vegan chocolates, too. I grabbed one (because I'm a fiend). Just another thing I can recommend from this place.
El Tesoro Shipping Mall
Throughout high school, I worked at a kiosk in the mall. It was a really diverse experience, overall I enjoyed it. Whenever I go into a mall, it’s a bit nostalgic. El Tesoro is a beautiful mall, with floors and spaces exposed entirely to the outdoors. It feels like an organic blend between concrete and jungle. I recommend just for the architectural experience.
Guatape, El Peñol
I took a bus ride outside of the city on a tour. It was my first time taking an actual tour, with a guide, and all that jazz. There were quite a few backpackers, so it didn’t feel all that touristy. Reality is, Colombia is a good place to travel with some guidance.
The tour brought everyone through a few places (an overlook of the city, Marinella, old El Peñol, new El Peñol, the rock of El Peñol, and Guatape) for COP65,000.00 ($23).
All in all, a full day experience but you were exposed to many different things, the rock of El Peñol and Guatape are worth it alone. The rock has magnificent views of the region while Gutape provides a look at a very special city that’s overflowing with color. It’s a bit touristy, but manages to keep an authentic vibe.
Plus, you may just meet some neat people.
Medellin’s Graffiti Tour brought a small group of people through several part of the city. You saw one of Escobar’s homes (that’d been blown up), his graveyard, escaleras electricas de la comuna 13, and a quick cable car ride. Speaking with locals, I learn quickly that I personally wanted to avoid supporting “Escobar tourism.” La Comuna 13 is very neat though. It’s a poorer part of the city that has escalators built into their public transit. This part of the city is covered with graffiti. We were surrounded by tourists, but it would be interesting to explore the more intimate side streets. Unfortunately, not highly recommended for tourists.
Medellin is surrounded by mountains which creates an interesting public transportation challenge. In addition to escalators, they’ve build ski lifts to provide access to other low income communities. This greatly helps people get into the city for work opportunities.
Random Arepa Place
I’ve tried to figure out what this place is actually called, but haven’t got a clue. Neither does Google. Maybe it doesn’t even exist. Took forever, and the actual arepas were okay. I ordered two – one was good enough to finish, the other was not. There was an ice cream place right next door that offered free samples. The ice cream was pretty bad too, but the lady who owned the place was adorable. She gets 5 stars, her ice cream though....
One night while hanging with a friend we needed a place to go. This was our nearest escape. We ordered 2 beers and some plantain chips with guacamole. The food was pretty good, but the service was not. When it was time for us to leave, we waited longer than we’d planned for our bills. I'd give it another try though, I don't think my experience depcits what this place realy has to offer. The interior was nice, though.
I’ve been here twice and I’ve ordered the same thing both times. That’s usually a good sign. The chicken giro is wrapped in a thick pita, with a tzatzkiki sauce inside, apples, fries, and grilled chicken breast. Other ingredients include things typically found in giros. The interior and patio were great, too. Clean, nicely designed, eat and enjoy the space.
I never shy away from ice cream. We’d passed this place previously and it intrigued us. Their gelato is highly recommended, genuinely top notch ice cream. One of the few places I’d come back to time and time again. They have these neat ice cream sandwhichs, too. Everything is good.
Solid aesthetic, great espresso. I’d hoped to go back but Pergamino was hard to leave. This place seemed special simply because there were quite a bit less people.
Selina International Music Summit
Selina was hosting some sort of musical festival and conference over the course of a few days. I hadn’t attended any of the talks, but I went for a night of music. I think it costed around $10. It was nice to experience a bit of the local music scene. There were no artists to write home about, but they made good use of the space.
When you’re on the road for a while (or at least when I am), I appreciate vegetarian meals more. I tend to feel like I’m getting something that’s healthier. Marietta provides a daily 3 course meal and a drink for $6. It’s honestly impossible to beat this deal.
The Korean style tacos were unreal. We ordered two servings. The main itself wasn’t spectacular. I had the fish of the day with muscles, a giant shrimp, scallops, and a delicious curry. The dessert was balanced and enjoyable. Overall though it did’t match what I had expected for a fine dining experience. Unfortunately, I was there during elections so I was unable to try to the tasting menu paired with wine. This seems like it would have been a more promising experience.
I enjoyed it. I’d go back again. Who doesn’t love a good poke bowl? No one. It was a bit more expensive than the typical meal in Colombia, and fish is pretty far away, but overall it delivered what I came for.
Honestly, arguably the best pho I’ve had. Ever. As I sit finishing this piece on the plane to Mexico it’s one of the dishes that keeps coming back in my mind. Broth was on point, beef was perfectly cooked rare, aesthetic felt authentic, and the owner/chef was a Vietnamese guy from LA. Kinda hard to beat.
National State Park that’s connected to the city via public transportation. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do any serious hiking due to timing and all of that jazz. Getting to the park is fascinating. You travel by metro to a gondola lift that brings you up the sides of the cities. Eventually, you transfer and take another gondola directly to the park. How neat is that? Really neat. That's how.
Chef Burger Poblado
Guys, it’s a burger. The best burger in Medellin is okay. Not going to write home about it. You want a great burger? Go to Worthy Burger in Vermont.
Great pizza. All made in this neat oven. Nice aesthetic. The more I think about it, the more I recommend it.
Museo El Castillo
Really nice gardens, neat interior, reminds me of a poor man's Hearst Castle. Unfortunately, I couldn't understand the guide (and to be honest, I don't think I would have enjoyed the tour). I liked wandering around, I enjoyed the exterior, but overall it's not something I'm going to continue writing about ending this sentence right here don't care if it's a run on stop it guys.
José María Córdova International Airport
Leaving Medellin wasn't as intimidating as arriving. Maybe I got used to the city's edginess and I'm just hard AF now. The architecture, particular this beautiful ceiling was incredible to look at. They had a Pergamino Cafe inside too, so it gave me a little treat as I left. I just regret not buying one of those damn hoodies. If only it were in black....
If you've made it this far, I'm honestly fucking impressed. That (up there) is a lot of words.
I'll tell you one thing – I don't think I'm ever writing such a long Travel Guide again. Gotta set a limit because that was less fun than the last two.
As usual, all photos shot with the Google Pixel 2 XL (Google if you're reading this, sponsor me).