When mathematics professor Sergio Fajardo made a commitment to effect change in Antioquia, Colombia, he ran for office, became the mayor of Medellín and, eventually, the governor of Antioquia. In the 13 years since he took office, signs of transformation can be found in every part of the region. The campaign "Antioquia Las Mas Educada" has inspired the building of new libraries and greater access to transportation, museums and activities. Since the South American Games in Medellín in 2010, state-of-the-art sport centers have remained open to the public. Skate parks across the city attract kids eager to practice their skateboarding skills.
In Medellín's city center, known for its stunning and massive Botero sculptures, new businesses are cropping up throughout the area. Below you'll find a few spots to kick off any visit to the temperate and welcoming Colombian metropolis.
Heading into the El Poblado neighborhood, the small, winding streets are home to a growing number of shops and cafes including the recently opened Pergamino on Via Primavera. Owner Pedro Echavarria was born and raised in Colombia and attended Tufts University in Massachusetts before returning to Medellín to help run his family's coffee business. Their thriving farm and love of coffee inspired Echavarria to open a café that specializes in single origin beans from his family farms, and some of their favorites from around the world. The friendly baristas make excellent coffee and espresso drinks, and the modern space with a La Marzocco Strada espresso machine and sleek raw wood cabinets would impress coffee aficionados anywhere. The café also has a connecting door to Lasierpe, a rustic boutique featuring handmade pieces by Colombian jewelry designers.
Exotic Fruit Tasting at the Plaza Minorista and City Tour with Su Casa Colombia
Marcela Swenson of Su Casa Colombia gives tours of the Minorista marketplace, where the fruit vendors will slice open local fruits like pitaya, ochuva, mora, curuba, lulo, guanabana and granadilla to taste. Some are filled with aromatic seedy pulp while the interior of the guama pods look more like a spider sac than a sweet treat.
Swenson and her husband Noah Bleicher also open their family's 1960s-era Medellín home as a bed and breakfast. The cozy rooms at Su Casa Colombia come with their warm hospitality and the option of booking local adventures, including their city tour with the exotic fruit tasting, paragliding and weekends at their family finca farm house.
Modern Art Museum of Medellín (MAMM)
Housed in the in the former Talleres Robledo steel mill building, the Modern Art Museum of Medellín features a giant center gallery space surrounded by smaller galleries. MAMM's permanent collection includes works by Débora Arango, Enrique Grau, Leonel Góngora, Manuel Hernandez, Olga de Almaral, Beatriz Gonzalez, and Hugo Zapate. Don't miss Tienda, the museum gift shop with art by locals including Marcela Restrepo. Near the museum, look for the vibrant wall of city sanctioned street murals and the large park surrounding the building that is a favorite of local skateboarders and BMX bikers.
Situated among the quaint shopping streets in El Poblado, Animalista features windows filled with adorable shoes and accessories. The inventory at Animalista is fashioned from entirely synthetic materials, meaning no animals were harmed in the making of their candy-colored shoes, handbags and belts. Lace-up boots, deck shoes, sneakers, loafers, oxfords and moccasins line the shelves, waiting for a pair of feet to take them to a festive party.
Me Late Chocolate
The small and cozy Me Late Chocolate space feels like a sweet and cozy escape. One wall pays homage to chocolate in world history with information about the Aztecs, the legend of Casanova and famous chocolate addict Agatha Christie. Small, decadent, artisanal truffles and fruit-and-nut-dotted chocolate bars fill the cases. Customers can sit in the café to order elaborate desserts, fondues and chocolate cocktails from their rich menu.
The Metrocable cable cars are helping transform modern day Medellín in many ways. The free skyway system serves as both transportation for locals and gives sight-seeing access to the ultra-modern cubist buildings of the Biblioteca España libraries designed by the Colombian architecture firm Giancarlo Mazzanti. The breathtaking panoramic views of Medellín from the libraries and a nearby bamboo bridge make a trip up the Metrocable a must. The entire system of 93 cars runs on electricity with zero emissions. The cars also help get the working class communities into the city—previously they were forced to rely on extremely unreliable buses on narrow roads—a development that serves as testament to Fajardo and the commitment of the city government to make the city more accessible to all.
Designed by Juan Manuel Pelaez and run by chefs Carmen Angel and Rob Pevitts, the restaurant Carmen serves as an oasis to celebrate their passion for food. Working with primarily local ingredients, they find unique ways to make some of their favorite dishes from around the globe including their version of bahn mi, tacos and curries. While eating there, we were served amberjack collar with fried rice topped in egg yolk. During a tour of the kitchen, Pevitts hacked open the amberjack spine and offered the chance to taste the marrow. The bartenders make cocktails with infusions of local fruits including the Pisco con Granadilla. At Carmen, meals are served in one of their many dining areas including upstairs by the bar, at a counter by the kitchen, in the dining area by the garden and at one of the romantic tables tucked around their lush garden. If Carmen is any indication, Medellín has a bright future and many new food-hungry fans on their way to visit the city.