You know those moments when you’re starving, the food is finally brought to your table and you decide to forego all the manners you learned at your grandmother’s table and inhale like, reenacting the footage you may have seen of a whale eating a TicTac and someone across from you, watching in complete horror or amazement asks, “was it good?” but you don’t know because you were so hungry you forgot to taste it? Well, hell, that was Medellin – almost. We almost weren’t sure if the city was amazing or if we were just desperate for a trip. It was both.
The months leading up to the trip stacked more and more burdens on each of us, making this trip nothing short of a lifesaver. It came at the moment when a trip was so desperately needed, any of us probably would have showered and rinsed our mouths out like Andy on Netflix’s Fyre Festival documentary just to make sure the trip happened without a hitch.
We arrived just after midnight and decided to eat whatever was available on the way from the airport to our hostel, just so we wouldn’t have to sleep with empty stomachs. Juan Paolo, our incredible driver, took us to a burger spot full of Mario Brother paraphernalia and we chowed down on those burgers, chicken sandwiches, and fries, knowing our true adventures wouldn’t begin until the following day.
Where We Stayed:
Hostel & Café Ondas. Carrera 81 45G 52, Medellin, Colombia.
I absolutely love hostels because travelers gather in them to connect, exchange culture and language, share stories about our favorite places and places to avoid, and they’re cheap. This hostel is no different. In fact, some of the most amazing travelers were here, including Lauren from Australia whose spirit and kindness felt like home, and Tequila Sunrise (Liz), who worked at the hostel to build relationships and practice her many languages before going after her chef dreams full force. I miss them most of all.
What We Did:
1. Real City Walking Tours: We wandered around the center of the city for 3 hours, learning the history and future plans of the city, and why it’s just not cool in many areas to mention Medellin’s most notorious gangster. The tour is free, but tips at the end are greatly appreciated, especially since the guides are all pretty amazing!
2. Plaza Botero: Artist Fernando Botero’s plumb sculptures sit around this busy area, and they’re pretty amazing to see. And there’s plenty of food around and people to watch. You can also wander into the Rafael Uribe Palace of Culture while you’re there and see the beauty inside.
3. Plaza De San Antonio: There’s not a lot that happens here, but you can see the Botero bird that was blown up in a terrorist attack, then left to serve as a reminder that bad things happen, but the future will come and bring goodness.
4. Ride the Cable Car: This is a two-parter. (1) When you arrive at Santo Domingo Station, hop out and check out the amazing view of the city. The neighborhood looks a bit sketchy, but the people aren’t and the food is dope! Hope back on, go higher, and end up in the middle of:
5. Parque Arvi: This nature park is definitely for the hikers, horseback riders, picnickers, wanders, and dreamers. Because it’s way up, you can catch glimpses of the city, but still feel surrounded by the beauty nature offers. There is no mediocrity in nature.
6. Salsa Dancing: Oh! You thought you’d come to this city and not hop on the dance floor and move your arms, hips, legs, and soul? We were offered free Salsa lessons at Ondas, but you can happily head to any of the infamous Salsa clubs in the city and get free lessons from one of the hundreds of dancers who’d love to teach you! It’s easy to get the basics. Throw in your own flavor. Son Havana and El Eslabon Prendido came highly recommended.
7. Pub Crawl of Laureles: The night-lifers will all tell you to head to Laureles for fun and noise and the party crowd. Do it! Friday nights are for those who want to live! That’s YOU! Start at one pub and work your way down until you’re not quite sure if you’ll make it home. Drinks are cheap, the crowd is alive, and the music can get your heart going, or keep it going.
8. Sneak Into A Pool: The level of finesse it took to get us into that amazing hotel pool with that absolutely amazing view was nothing short a James Bond film! And it was everything we needed on the hottest day in Medellin.
We made the early morning ride to Guatape because we couldn’t imagine leaving the city without seeing the beauty people said was there. And boy! They were right! We heard the stories about La Piedra (The Stone) in El Peñol and its 750 stairs to the very top, and with hesitation, we told Juan Paolo, “take us to the rock!”
Things To Do In Guatape:
1. La Piedra: Climb to the top at your own pace. 650 stairs to the top of the rock. Another 100 stairs to the lookout tower! You can do it! I almost lost my lung, foot, and life. But I made it and so will you!
2. Pueblo de Zócalos: Wander around and enjoy the beautiful colors covering the architecture, the mom and pop craft shops perfect for souvenirs, and the snack shops. Clearly I love food.
3. Take a Boat: There are boat tours lined up, waiting for you to give a nod. Ignore them and hire a private boat for nearly the same price, and take your time out there. We brought a bottle of rum with us and partied like we owned the boat. The houses that sit on the green islands are beautiful, especially the little bungalows on Fantasy Island. Just wow! 1.5-2 hours is perfect for this.
4. Rent Motorbikes: Check out this beautiful town at a different speed. The streets are much safer for outsiders to ride on than the streets of Medellin, and the people a little less aggressive with their cars. There are several random rental spaces along the walk.
5. Chase Waterfalls: There are beautiful waterfalls along the hiking trails, and there are very affordable tours that will get you to each one of them. Wear your good walking shoes.
Can’t Forget The Food:
1. Hacienda: I typically steer clear of recommending chain spots because I’m never sure if they’re as typical as McDonalds and I don’t want folks to think I’m basic, but this place is so damn good. I ordered the trout on our first full day and talked about it every day until we left. So yeah, find a Hacienda and make it happen.
2. Buñuelos: These golden brown balls of absolute joy stole my heart. They were slight sweet and slightly savory and all the way delicious. You can even grab them on random corners, but make sure you grab them while they are piping hot!
3. Mercado Del Rio: Calle 24 No. 48-28, 050034 Medellín, Antioquia. This food hall has all the good vibes and all the good foods you’ll want with the best customer service. I’m guessing about 50 stalls of food vendors and plenty of seating, including at the bar upstairs with the tasty drinks and big screens if you want to catch a game of whatever your sport is.
4. Arepas: I’ve never met an arepa I didn’t devour! And to have them in Medellin is to have some of the best arepas you’ll even have. Pair it with an apple flavored Postobon for the ultimate tongue treat!
5. Bandeja Paisa: The locals who love food and know what you need are gonna push this dish on you, and you’re gonna want to listen. You’ll see it on every menu. It’ll come with a variety of meats, an egg, plantains, beans, rice, avocado, and a sauce. Basically, this is the soul food of Medellin.
6. Ask a Local to Cook: If you’re an amazing person and you love meeting new people, ask one of the locals you’ve come across to prepare a meal for you. You provide the goods, and let them do the work. And of course, pay them for their time. Make sure they’re good at the task and dig in!
7. Colombian Black Cake: Our guide, Hernan, told us about this cake and how it was soaked for months in rum, and instantly, we needed it. There are so many delicious shops in the city to grab this cake, but If you ‘re in the city center, head to Resposteria Salon de Te (Cra. 49 Junín #5284, Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia) and try theirs.
We needed Medellin. On our last night, the stars and the lights in the hills found us sitting on the rooftop at Ondas, talking about life, sharing music with the great folks we turned into friends, and laughing until one-by-one we made our way downstairs to the room. I think what I loved most about Medellin is it’s ability to open everyone up just enough to make friends, whether you came alone or already with a great group of people.
Yeah, go. I’ll be back.