Medellín City and Culture

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Medellín City and Culture
Medellín’s unique passion and verve is epitomized by its diverse dance scene, stunning flower festival, and expansive festive light displays. But don’t forget to explore the extraordinary work of figurative artist Fernando Botero.
By Simon Willis, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by César Lucas Abreu/age fotostock
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    Dance the Night Away
    Nights out in Medellín are all about the dance floor. Whether you are searching for a new lover or stoking the fires in your current relationship, dancing is the best form of seduction. The city boasts countless bars and clubs, but El Eslabón Prendido is among the best for salsa enthusiasts. Every Tuesday night this small bar, located in the heart of downtown, bursts with locals and tourists dancing to a live band, often spilling out onto the street. El Tibiri, a basement bar located close to El Estadio, is a traditional salsa club where you can watch seasoned dancers working up a sweat.
    Photo by César Lucas Abreu/age fotostock
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    Park Life
    In Medellín, the parks and plazas are a social center. Parque Lleras in Poblado is popular among tourists, and it’s easy to see why. Every weekend, the fashionable and fancy-free descend on the bars, restaurants, and clubs that line its streets. Salsa, reggaeton, electro, and pop pulsate from the buildings, while wandering bands play traditional music in the center of the tropical park. On a Sunday, head north-east to Parque de los Deseos (Park of Wishes) where families swarm the street vendors for ice cream and popcorn—the perfect accompaniments to the Sunday evening movie which is projected outside.
    Photo by Simon Willis
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    Explore the World of Boterismo
    While Medellín’s sumptuous weather and flair for nightlife receive most of the acclaim, its museums are a pleasant surprise for visitors. Located downtown, next to Parque Berrío metro station, Museo de Antioquia exhibits work from the figurative artist and sculptor Fernando Botero. His style, known as "Boterismo," portrays people in a voluptuous form, and renders extremely eye-catching pieces of work; check outside for the statues. The recently renovated Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellín is spacious and hosts ever-changing exhibitions from local artists. The museum is located next to Parque Ciudad del Rio, a trendy park boasting a new array of food trucks and wandering musicians.
    Photo by Oscar Garces/age fotostock
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    La Feria de las Flores
    Medellín is not one to hold back when it comes to partying and entertainment, but certain times of the year further accentuate this indulgence. La Feria de las Flores (the Festival of the Flowers) is one of the most attended and renowned festivals in Colombia. Held every August, this week-long event paints the city in exhibitions of wonderful exotic flowers. Residents young and old from the nearby town of Santa Elena carry giant, colorful wreaths (silleteros) down to the city on their backs as a symbol of the end of slavery. Live music, car exhibitions, and diverse parades are other highlights spread around the city.
    Photo courtesy of Diomar Arenas
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    Local Cuisine
    Simple yet hearty food makes up the local gastronomy in Medellín, with most dishes symbolizing some part of the Antioquia region's history. Bandeja paisa, for example, usually consists of pork belly, beans, egg, ground beef, sausage, avocado, rice, and sweet banana—a plethora of ingredients to provide essential calories for field workers. The best places to gorge are at El Rancherito—close to the international airport at Rionegro, among other locations—and at La Fonda del Pueblo in Pueblito Paisa. Make sure to sample the arepa, a cornbread which is close to every local’s heart.
    Photo by Simon Willis
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    Lavish Festive Season Lights
    If you are lucky enough to be in Medellín for the festive season, you will not be left wanting for entertainment. During December, the city is lit up with El Alumbrado (The Lighting), one of the most expansive light displays in South America. One section of the river, which splits the city, is lavishly illuminated in a different theme each year and attracts hordes of starry-eyed visitors every night. Dozens of parks are also decorated, and the main street downtown is festooned with lights and filled with live music. Also watch out for Día de las Velitas (Day of the little Candles) on December 7, when almost every street, doorstep, and balcony is lit up by flickering flames.
    Photo by Simon Willis
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    The World's Finest Coffee
    Colombian coffee is sumptuous, robust, and highly addictive—and Medellín is the perfect place to indulge. Dotted around the city are the iconic maroon canopies representing Juan Valdez coffee shops, where the rich aroma of fine arabica coffee permeates the air while people relax in the luxurious surroundings. Independent cafés are also worth trying, especially the chic hangouts that line the streets in the upper reaches of Parque Lleras. Try one of the legendary chocolate cocktails at Me Late Chocolate. Over in nearby Envigado, look for the delightful Café de Otraparte; stay long enough and you should catch some live music. Alternatively, become a real Paisa and grab a quick tinto (black coffee) pick-me-up from the street.
    Photo by Juanma Aparicio/age fotostock
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    A Night at the Theater
    Although a night at the theater is not the first thing that springs to mind when planning a trip to Medellín, the burgeoning scene is certainly worth a look. Located close to the center, Teatro Metropolitano José Gutiérrez Gómez opens its doors to those seeking diverse classical music, theater, and dance. With its tall red-brick walls and quaint bars, the building is classy and sophisticated. Every September, Plaza Mayor next door hosts the annual jazz festival, MedeJazz; it also puts on various exhibitions throughout the year. Pablo Tobón Uribe Theater is the oldest theater in Medellín and hosts concerts and plays as well as yoga classes.
    Photo courtesy of Teatro Metropolitano