Post-cartel Medellín is a beautiful place. Over the past two decades, the metropolis once known as the center of the world’s cocaine trade has blossomed into a clean, progressive city. Surprisingly, the biggest point of pride for paisas (locals) isn’t their coffee or flowers— both exported by the ton—but their Metro, one of the best in the world. It’s as easy to coast to the top of one of the many mountains and hike through leafy Parque Arví as it is to zip downtown to wander Fernando Botero’s voluptuous sculptures.
The Charlee, located in the pulsing El Poblado district, stands out in Medellín’s young hotel scene. On weekend nights, the whole city seems to congregate in the blocks surrounding it. Buy an Aguila cerveza and stroll past twinkling lights and open-air bars. Or Uber to Eslabón Prendido, where salsa bands accompany dancers who pause only for shots of aguardiente, the local firewater.
A block from the Charlee is the freewheeling Provenza neighborhood, ground zero for the city’s evolving design community. Shop for Colombian ceramics and lingerie printed with original artwork at Vida Augusta, and get beauty products made with foraged botanicals (rose, bay leaf) upstairs at Anima Terra. Dine on tamarind-glazed pork belly at the city’s favorite restaurant, Carmen.
On Sundays, head for the country. Technicolor homes and vendors selling salted green mango line the streets in the town of Guatapé. It’s a 90-minute drive from Medellín, but here’s the payoff: Climbing the 740- plus steps to the top of La Piedra del Peñol, a monolith with sweeping views of Guatapé Lake.