In late 2018, Toucan Café & Tours, an LGBTQ-friendly café that also offers Spanish language classes, debuted a small coffee museum that showcases the history and production of the famed beverage, which you can also sip on site.
Shopping is yet another gratifying experience in Medellin, especially if you’re into clothing, thanks to the fact that many garments are designed and produced here. The gay-popular Canadian men’s underwear brand called Pump!, for example, manufactures its clothing here. And there are stylish sartorial options around the city. Small shops and designers include Mon y Velarde, which stocks casual men’s clothing; Wanitta, which features colorful creations for women; and Orozco, which is an especially stylish men’s clothing designer that can even custom design menswear for grooms who are planning same-sex weddings.
Another exceptional way to experience Medellin is through its mouthwatering and increasingly diverse cuisine. Out in Colombia provided me with an especially memorable, and tasty, excursion called the CookingOut Experience, which started with a visit to a bustling local market, where the talented (and handsome) Chef Esteban Gil showed me around, explaining the variety of fruits and vegetables, with plenty of opportunities for sample tastes. A knowledgeable bilingual guide accompanied us, as well as Castañeda, Out in Colombia’s owner, who picked out some of his own favorite fruits and vegetables. Afterwards, we all headed to a professional kitchen, where Chef Gil showcased his skills while teaching us how to make cocktails and a delicious dish of chicken slathered in sauce made with pineapple and coffee.
Out in Colombia also made recommendations and reservations for me at a variety of worthwhile restaurants throughout my visit. Among my favorites were Osea, a small-and-stylish venue, decorated in a cream color palette, with a menu of Colombian and internationally influenced dishes that changes every month.
Meanwhile, Oci.mde offers a completely different experience, with eclectic “world food,” served in an elegant, partially open-air environment with candles and a black-garbed wait staff. Choose one of their seafood or beef dishes and an expertly prepared cocktail from the extensive menu, and you’ll be in good shape. Medellin even has a decidedly upscale food court: Mercado del Rio, which offers a trendy and diverse array of vendors, with everything from barbecued ribs to paella to sushi.
Visitors to Medelllin can enjoy lots of different culinary styles, from brick-oven pizza at Café Zorba’s to Middle Eastern dishes at El Tabún, where meals are accompanied by belly dancing. For high-end variations on traditional Colombian favorites, top choices include Carmen (which offers six- and eight-course tasting menus); El Cielo (which also has a branch in Miami); and La Hacienda, where favored Colombian dishes include sancocho (a hearty stew) and the bandeja hacienda (an especially filling dish that includes red beans cooked with pork, white rice, ground meat, pork cracklings, fried egg, and plantain).
Coffee drinkers can’t leave Medellin without sampling some of Colombia’s legendary brews, of course. Colombia’s version of Starbucks, Juan Valdez Café, has an extensive presence throughout the nation. In Medellin, a local favorite is Velvet, which is Belgian-owned but Colombian-focused; and Urbania, which is set creatively in a former garage and roasts its own beans.
ENOYING THE SCENERY IN GUATAPE
For first-time visitors, one of the best excursions is a day trip to Guatape, a town and municipality that sits along a giant reservoir created when the government built a hydroelectric dam in the 1960s. This region offers plenty of postcard-perfect scenery and lots of outdoor activities, and it’s also home to one of the world’s largest monoliths: La Piedra del Peñol. I joined a day trip with Out in Colombia, to make sure that I didn’t miss any of the top attractions. It’s a scenic drive out of the city, as you climb into the mountains and pass through lovely valleys and small towns. My cell phone and camera got a major workout, thanks to the irresistibly colorful buildings and picturesque, narrow streets graced with flowers. Guatape has small shops that sell lovely handicrafts and artwork, as well as handmade chocolate and other sweets. Dining is another recommended activity here; fresh seafood is a local favorite.
We also enjoyed a scenic boat ride on the reservoir, where the guide pointed out gorgeous waterfront vacation homes, some of which once belonged to notorious narco traffickers. The most breathtaking experience of a visit to this region, however, is the climb up the Piedra de Peñol, a stone monolith that rises nearly 700 feet from the earth. I was nervous that I might get vertigo as I climbed more than 700 steps to reach the top, but I made it just fine and was rewarded with stunning views of the surrounding countryside.