My Favorite Places in and Around Medellin: Part One
While I’ve been living in metro Medellin full-time for the past 10 years, I’ve been traveling here off-and-on for more than 30 years, mainly to visit family – especially during the year-end holidays.
Over that time, I’ve gradually built up a list of favorite places in and around Medellin as well as in the surrounding Antioquia department.
1. Restaurants in the city of Medellin (in my order of preference): El Cielo, Carmen, La Provincia, Brulee, Naan, Toscano and Tabun. I happen to be vegetarian and I’ve had excellent meals at all of these restaurants, even though none of them are “vegetarian” per-se. My wife, who is not vegetarian, endorses all of these places as “favorites.” The first four are definitely “haute cuisine,” while the latter three are downright bargains. Note: I waited years for Medellin to get a decent Indian restaurant. Thank God for Naan!
2. Restaurants east of Medellin (Las Palmas highway and beyond): 1. Podesta, the longest-running, best real Italian restaurant in the entire metro area; 2. El Correo, featuring a fantastic Argentinian cheese-plate called "Provoleta a la Parilla" -- which includes Papiapa and smoked Provolone, both grilled like steaks. Both Podesta and El Correo are located in the Indiana Mall at the top of Las Palmas; 3. El Zocalo, in the gourmet mall above the El Retiro roundabout – the only “Mexican” restaurant in the entire metro area worthy of the name. Delicious.
3. Hardware stores: If you’re a Harry Homeowner like me, then you’ll inevitably migrate to any of the Home Center macro-stores. My three favorites of the chain are at Avenida Las Vegas (next to Monterrey computer center); the first Medellin store at Avenida San Juan (with a huge, drive-in lumber and piping section); and the newest store in Rionegro, adjacent to the San Nicolas Mall.
4. Historic sites: El Castillo, which is reached via the Los Balsos highway going uphill about three to four kilometers east of the Los Balsos intersection with El Poblado avenue. Not only is this a spectacular castle with a great tour, but also the grounds host an easily-viewed nesting site of Scarlet Macaws, inside the trunk of a giant, dead palm tree. Seeing Scarlet Macaws flying around a city of nearly 3 million people is unbelievably thrilling.
5. Theaters: The Teatro Metropolitano features live performances not only by the local opera, symphony, and philharmonic companies, but also fabulous traveling-performance groups and companies coming from Europe, North America, Asia and South America. Just this year, my wife and I saw a live performance of world-famous violinist Joshua Bell playing with London's fantastic Academy of St. Martin in the Fields orchestra. To give an idea of the variety at the Metropolitano, we also saw a splendid performance by the U.S.-based HBCU Legacy Voices Choir, consisting of 40 singers from three of the U.S.'s historically black colleges and universities: Alabama A&M University, Central State University and Prairie View A&M University. The entire audience jumped to their feet, joining the choir in a rousing rendition of O Happy Day!
6. When you can't get to the Met in Manhattan: The CineColombia theater at Mall Santa Fe (see picture, above) has live, high-definition, big-screen broadcasts of the entire opera season from Lincoln Center at the Met in Manhattan. You want to see and hear the world's greatest opera artists, live, for US$20? These performances often sell out early, so CineColombia offers advance sales for the entire season.
7. The aquarium at Parque Explora: We've been to lots of aquariums around the world. This one is one of the best.
8. Tango Week: You can see some very good tango shows in Medellin year-round, as paisas are the world's second-most fanatical about tango, after Argentinians. This happened mostly because the world's most famous tango singer, Carlos Gardel, died in a plane crash in Medellin in 1935. Great artists from Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia come to Medellin every year for Tango Week, with bandoneon, violins, piano and voices accompanying some spectacular, professional tango dancers.
9. Feria de las Flores: This 10-day-long spectacle draws 2 million Colombian and international tourists. (Yes, you read that correctly.) Besides the jaw-dropping Desfile de los Silleteros, which closes the fair typically on the second Sunday of August, the annual orchid show at the Botanical Garden is heavenly. Get there at opening (8 a.m.) to avoid the huge crowds.
10. Nature reserves: San Sebastian de La Castellana is a favorite because unlike some others, it's easily accessible once you figure out how to enter. This reserve is actually owned by the municipality of El Retiro -- although its only access is via the El Escobero highway, which runs through (and is owned by) the city of Envigado, adjacent to Medellin.
The reserve is maddeningly difficult to find (no sign at the foot-path entrance) and yet is occasionally invaded by moto-cross motorcycles, breaking the peace and the patience of bird-watching nature lovers such as myself. To get there, I park my car in a weed-covered parking lot in front of an apparently abandoned, log-cabin-style building, which is next to the Tienda Agora mini-mart and also next to the new (and only) Texaco gasoline station at the top of El Escobero. This lot is about 150 meters from the San Sebastian footpath, where the Escobero road splits into downhill and uphill lanes (at the Pavezgo advertising sign).
If you park at the old log cabin (that’s on your left if you’re driving uphill from dowtown Envigado, or on your right if you’re coming from the toll-booth near the intersection of the Las Palmas extension toward El Retiro), then walk toward Escobero’s downhill lane-split (toward the Pavezgo sign). The unmarked pathway entrance is on your left. Get there early (around 5:30 a.m.) to see some great birds. I’ve seen Masked Trogon, Chestnut-Crowned Antpitta, Green-and-Black Fruiteater, Grass-Green Tanager, Black-Billed Mountain Toucan, and dozens more at this special place.
11. Bird-watching with the Sociedad Antioqueño de Ornitologia (SAO). The monthly bird walks are lovely, instructive, and a great bargain. The best walk in which I’ve participated so far is the Angelopolis amble. You’ll need an expert guide if you try to do this on-your-own.
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