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Exploring LGBTQ+ Medellin, Colombia

The City Of Eternal Spring

by Mark Chesnut
Panoramic view of Medellin at Night (Photo by Oscar Garces)

Medellin, which is often referred to as the City of Eternal Spring, thanks to its pleasant climate, has gained a reputation as a haven for international tourism

Panoramic view of Medellin at Night (Photo by Shooting Star Studio)

It’s one thing to attend an LGBTQ+ pride parade. It’s another thing entirely to ride a float in one, as I discovered during my most recent visit to Medellin.

Experiencing such a festive event while enjoying the bouncing, thumping beats of a giant float hosted by Oráculo, one of the Medellin’s top LGBTQ+ nightclubs, provided a great vantage I point to see just how friendly this magnificent Colombian city is.

I gained access to the float thanks to Out in Colombia, a gay-owned, Medellin-based tour operator that specializes in customized LGBTQ+ tours and experiences in various Colombian destinations. Attending the pride parade was just one very memorable part of the company’s six-night Medellin and Santa Marta package, which includes multiple nights in Medellin as well as in the beautiful Caribbean coastal city of Santa Marta. This wasn’t the first time I’ve traveled with Out in Colombia, so I already knew that they’d arrange experiences that would have been difficult to organize on my own. As with any destination, it helps to have a local connection.

In recent years, Medellin, which is often referred to as the City of Eternal Spring, thanks to its pleasant climate, has gained a reputation as a haven for international tourism, expat living, and LGBTQ+ travel. It’s a stark contrast from the city’s earlier history, to be sure. Colombia’s second-largest city, Medellin was founded by the Spanish in 1717 in the Aburrá Valley, a picturesque region of the Andes mountains. The city became wealthy, based first on gold and then coffee production, but the region faced challenges that lasted for decades. For much of the later part of the 20th century, Medellin was considered one of the world’s most dangerous cities, thanks to its role as home to the Medellin drug cartel funded by Pablo Escobar. Some called it the murder capital of the world because of the shockingly high crime rate.

Colorful Street in Medellin (Photo by Mark Chesnut @departure_level)

Colorful Street in Medellin (Photo by Mark Chesnut @departure_level)

Happily, the situation has improved immensely. Medellin has become a model of urban reinvention, a city that has invested heavily in infrastructure (including city parks and the Metro and MetroCable transportation systems), education, security, and beautification. LGBTQ+ travelers will be especially interested to know that Medellin also benefits from Colombia’s decidedly progressive stance about human rights; same-sex marriage was legalized in the nation in 2016, the same year that a major peace accord was signed to end armed conflict in Colombia.

“The change really happened after 2016, with the signing of the peace accord,” said Sam Holdren, owner of Out in Colombia. “It signaled to the world that Colombia’s doors were now open to visit. It also signaled to the local population that we could talk about other issues and not just our own safety. Having conversations about other social issues, we started seeing much more expression.”

The city’s increased safety and attendant freedom of expression, combined with Colombia’s overall progressive stance regarding human rights, has resulted in a more visible LGBTQ+ community. “Now you see so much expression and so much involvement,” Holdren said. “You see the city government involved, showing a lot more support.”

Juan David Borja, operations manager at Out in Colombia, is a Medellin native and also praises the city’s evolution, saying that the surge in international visitors has also played a role in the city’s renaissance. “Tourism has helped,” he said. “This city always has something to do. The people who live in Medellin always want to show off their best.”

Medellin’s acceptance of diversity is evident on a social as well as a governmental level; the mayor’s office provides detailed information about Medellin Pride (medellin.gov.co), which takes place the first weekend in July (unfortunately, it usually takes place on the same day as pride in Bogota, making it impossible to attend both events) and in 2023 attracted more than 85,000 people. PROCOLOMBIA, the nation’s tourism organization, also provides LGBTQ+ travel information about Medellin on its website (colombia.travel/en).

Indeed, Medellin has made significant strides in promoting LGBTQ+ inclusivity, creating an environment where diversity is celebrated, and you can easily immerse yourself in this welcoming vibe, even if you can’t make it to pride. The LGBTQ+ scene in Medellin is centered mostly around the neighborhoods of El Poblado and Laureles, both of which are home to a plethora of LGBTQ-friendly bars, clubs and cafes.

El Poblado, in particular, is known for its lively nightlife, excellent restaurants and hotels. The neighborhood attracts legions of expats and international visitors and it’s not uncommon to hear English spoken on just about any block.

Overall, Medellin is perfect for a sophisticated, big-city vacation in a naturally beautiful setting that’s graced with lush vegetation, an ideal climate, and expat-friendly neighborhoods dotted with great restaurants, unique shopping, and abundant queer nightlife. I’ve visited Medellin several times, and on every trip, I discover new ways to enjoy this fascinating metropolis.

Medellin tends to impress from the very moment you lay eyes on it. On this trip, I was met at José María Córdova International Airport by a guide from Out in Colombia and we were soon traversing the new tunnel that now connects this region with the city itself, cutting the previous airport transfer time by more than half. Regardless of how many times I’ve visited Medellin, the first glimpse never fails to impress me. The road snakes down a mountainside toward a spectacular valley, offering views of breathtaking cityscapes filled with verdant flora, soaring mountains, and shimmering architecture.

WHERE TO STAY IN MEDELLIN

Medellin has an array of interesting accommodation options. For this trip, I checked into one of my absolute favorites: the Click Clack, a super stylish hotel with clever and quirky design elements. The property is set around a large central courtyard that’s rich with greenery and multiple dining and drinking venues.

Plaza Botero (Photo by Alejo Miranda)

Plaza Botero (Photo by Alejo Miranda)

In recent years, Medellin has gained a reputation as a haven for international tourism, expat living, and LGBTQ+ travel.


Ethereal ambient music oozes into the hallways, creating a rather otherworldly experience en route to the well-designed guest rooms. I stayed in XS room 204, a small-but-stylish space with cool décor, wonderful mood lighting and (I especially loved this) a minifridge with free items, including high-end snacks and bottled water. Click Clack (which also has a hotel in Bogota) is a good choice because of its prime location in the heard of El Poblado, one of Medellin’s coolest and most walkable neighborhoods that is home to tons of nightlife.

Other noteworthy hotels include the InterContinental Medellin, which offers brand-name luxury as well as wonderful city views from its hilltop location. The property features an outdoor heated pool, tennis court, spa, and multiple upscale restaurants. Also flying the flag of an international brand is the Medellin Marriott, which has an outdoor swimming pool, spa and fit- ness center, as well as an Asian restaurant, Nau, that specializes in sushi.

Another reliable choice is the Hotel NH Collection Medellín Royal, which offers an array of amenities including a swimming pool, gym, and spa. The DuParc Royal is yet another great option in El Poblado with a spa, while the Hotel Novotel Medellin El Tesoro, located in the El Tesoro shopping park, has a bar, restaurant, and spa, and offers easy access to shopping.

For a happening atmosphere with a view, consider the Charlee, which is known for its rooftop pool and lounge/bar called Envy Roof Top. The property hosts themed events with guest artists throughout the year, and if you’re really looking to indulge, consider reserving the Acqua or Envy room, each of which has its own hot tub.

MEDELLIN ATTRACTIONS AND ACTIVITIES

If you’re staying in El Poblado, a quick walk around the neighborhood is a pleas- ant way to get oriented. Parque Lleras is a small park where many people gather, and street vendors and musicians are a common site. The surrounding blocks are dotted with an interesting variety of cafes, restaurants, boutiques, and bars.

Food Vendor in Medellin (Photo by Mark Chesnut @departure_level)

Food Vendor in Medellin (Photo by Mark Chesnut @departure_level)

Art lovers may be especially interested in heading downtown to Plaza Botero, which is named for Fernando Botero, the Colombian artist who was born here. It’s easy to spot his work, since a bunch of his wonderfully pudgy sculptures stand in the square. The adjacent Museo de Antioquia, one of the city’s largest cultural institutions, also exhibits a number of his most impressive works.

For a taste of Medellin’s artistic pulse, the Museo de Arte Moderno is yet another cultural must-see. The facility showcases a diverse collection of contemporary Colombian art and hosts exhibitions that push boundaries, making it a haven for art enthusiasts.

Anyone interested in art as well as urban success stories should also head to Comuna 13, a once-dangerous neighborhood that’s been reborn as a popular tourist attraction, thanks to its colorful public murals, small shops, and restaurants. Once notorious for its high crime rates, this area has undergone a radical transformation, with vibrant street art and a series of public escalators that wind up the hills. Visitors can join guided tours to explore the vibrant murals, learn about the community’s history, and witness the resilient spirit of the residents.

The potentially negative effect of Comuna 13’s surging popularity, of course, is over-tourism. To help combat that, and also to bring economic benefits to equally deserving neighborhoods, Out in Colombia has begun offering tours to another fascinating neighborhood: Moravia. We began our visit at the Centro Cultural Moravia, where we learned about the area’s recent history as a landfill, as well as its rebirth as a vibrant neighborhood filled with street art and small businesses, thanks to impressive community efforts as well as government support.

I loved strolling the streets of Moravia during our walking tour, and I took pho- tos of the beautiful murals, including work by artists like Jefa (instagram.com/jefa.art.medellin), a talented artist with cerebral palsy. Moravia is also a fun place to shop; a variety of small, independent shops sell items by the local creative community, including artwork, clothing, and handmade jewelry.

Visitors can learn more about Medellin’s complex history at the Casa de la Memoria, a museum that explores the city’s most difficult decades while honoring the memories of residents who lost their lives.

EXPLORING NATURE AND PLANNING A SIDETRIP

Medellin may be a city of more than 2.5 million, but nature is seamless- ly woven into its fabric, evident in the lush greenery and botanical wonders that grace the city. Nature lovers should make time to visit the Jardín Botánico de Medellín, which is home to thousands of plants including stately cacti and gorgeous orchids, as well as fauna including butterflies and dozens of bird species.

Jardín Botánico de Medellín (Photo by Fotos593)

Jardín Botánico de Medellín (Photo by Fotos593)

Another must-see in the city’s nature circuit is Parque Arvi, a 16,000- hectare park in the mountains of Medellin. Taking the scenic sky gondola to reach the park is a fun part of the experience, and once you’ve land- ed back on land you’ll find peaceful hiking trails, excellent bird-watching spots, and breathtaking views of the city below.

If time allows, I also highly recommend a day trip or overnight trip to Guatapé, a town that offers a stunning counterpoint to Medellin’s urban buzz. The town’s colorful streets and breathtaking vistas have made it into lots of Instagram feeds, and for good reason. Guatape bursts with a kaleidoscope of hues, thanks to the many homes decorated with unique, hand- painted zócalos—murals depicting the residents’ history, passions, and mischievous sense of humor.

Guatapé is also famous for its proximity to El Peñol, a colossal, monolithic rock that soars 650 feet. Conquering its 740 steps is a rite of passage, rewarding intrepid souls with panoramic views that never fail to leave me breathlessly snapping photos from every angle as I aim to capture the best shot of the tiny emerald islands that dot the lake below.

El Peñol (Photo by Tripulante)

El Peñol (Photo by Tripulante)

Regardless of your interests, working with a tour operator like Out in Colombia is an ideal way of getting recommendations and make planning easier. Out in Colombia, for example, offers everything from culinary tours to cooking classes and nightlife tours of the city, as well as side trips to surrounding towns.

THE FLAVORS OF MEDELLIN

Medellin’s culinary scene tantalizes the taste buds with a vibrant mix of traditional Colombian flavors and modern twists. The city offers count- less opportunities to indulge in traditional favorites, international delights, and innovative fusion dishes that combine Colombian classics with international influences. Whether you’re craving bold street food or elegant dining, there are gastronomical adventures awaiting.

The city’s upscale food halls are one way to sample a variety of flavors. Mercado de la Playa and Mercado del Rio both feature a variety of interesting cuisine from Colombia and beyond.

During my most recent visit, I also enjoyed a tasty lunch at Lavocaderia, a wonderfully creative restaurant that’s billed as Colombia’s first avocado bar, where I dug into a burger where fresh avocado took the place of buns. We also enjoyed a mouthwateringly sophisticated dinner at Test Kitchen Lab, a stylish international Colombian cuisine hotspot in El Poblado.

Avocados also play an important role at Aguafresca Taqueria, a con- temporary Mexican restaurant where fresh guacamole, freshly made corn tostados, and tacos are among the top draws.

For a truly upscale experience, reserve a table at Elcielo, which is headed by Chef Juan Manuel Barrientos, a Michelin-starred Medellin native and culinary guru who’s garnered much praise for his restaurants in Miami and Washington, DC. Expect an elegant evening of dining experiences with a menu based on fresh local ingredients, Colombian traditions, and international flair. Chef Barrientos’s sister, Sara, runs another well-respected eater called Kaime, and her expertly crafted, plant-based menu has attracted a loyal following, even among meat eaters.

Tasty Italian cuisine is the draw at Ammazza, which has three locations in the city, and the pasta bolognese and risotto are some of the most recommended dishes.

We also enjoyed a fabulous group dinner at Náufrago, a bar and restaurant at the Click Clack Hotel. The extensive cocktail menu features intriguing concoctions like Cactus N’ Tonic and Naidí Highball, while the food options includes salmon with carrot puree, calamari sliders, and quinoa crusted tuna.

For after-dinner drinks, one of the city’s more interesting venues is Siete Pulgadas, a bar where a large collection of vinyl records is as big a draw as the excellent craft cocktails.

It would be impossible to talk about drinks in Medellin, of course, without mentioning coffee. Coffee in Medellin isn’t just a beverage, it’s a heartbeat. The region surrounding Medellin is the birthplace of Colombia’s modern coffee industry, and its residents wear this legacy like a badge of honor. From small, family-run shops to trendy specialty cafes, Medellin boasts a coffee scene as diverse and vibrant as its people.

Enjoying Colombian Coffee in Medelllin (Photo by AJR Photo)

Enjoying Colombian Coffee in Medelllin (Photo by AJR Photo)

For visitors, tasting Medellin’s coffee is more than just a culinary experience, it’s a cultural immersion. To provide an insider’s peek at the region’s rich coffee-making traditions, Out in Colombia whisked us to Capilla del Rosario, a 45-hectare coffee farm with some 60,000 coffee plants, where visitors are treated to a behind-the-scenes tour and also get to sample the final product. Chatting with baristas is a great way to learn more about Medellin’s caffeine-fueled traditions.

Medellin’s extensive LGBTQ+ nightlife mirrors the city’s own transformation. The once-marginalized after-dark scene is now a thriving community of inclusivity and celebration. In the 1970s and 80s, under the shadow of conservative societal norms and rampant violence, queer spaces existed in hushed whispers, hidden in discreet bars and private homes. These clandestine dens, though vital for community safety and connection, couldn’t fully embrace the city’s full spectrum of identities and expressions.

As Medellin began its remarkable journey toward peace and progress, so did its LGBTQ+ community. While there were some gay bars in Medellin during the late 20th century, the tide truly turned in the 2000s, thanks to growing societal acceptance and legal advances like same-sex marriage. LGBTQ+ nightlife burst into the open, with neighborhoods like Laureles and El Poblado witnessing the birth of bars and clubs catering to diverse identities and preferences.

“There are a number of good options in Medellin,” said Out in Colombia’s Borja. “What determines the success of a place is its creativity and its music, and there are so many places that are innovative and capture the attention of the public.” One of the longest-running gay bars in the city (and the one where I always seem to begin my night out) is Donde Aquellos Bar. Founded in 2000, Donde Aquellos is a pleasant, open-air bar in El Poblado, with lots of seating and a friendly crowd.

Another favorite nightspot is Club Oráculo. With a name that’s a bawdy play on words in Spanish (ask a Spanish-speaking friend to explain if you need to), Oráculo packs in revelers with its small dance floor and excellent music.

Another perfect stop for late-night dancing, and probably the city’s best-decorated LGBTQ+ dance club, is BarChiquita, which first had its start as a gay party called Banana Splitters, then opened as a tiny bar, and more recently moved to a much larger space with lots of room for dancing and drag shows (they’ve even opened up a branch in Bogota).

I’ve also spent fun evenings at Purple Club Medellin, one of the city’s largest LGBTQ+ nightclubs, which is located in Laureles neighborhood. Purple attracts a wide following with music that ranges from electronica to urban, with go-go boys and drag queens providing lots of great visuals. In a similar vein is Industry Club, a lively dance club that plays a range of music in Spanish and English and hosts drag shows and theme parties.

 

Photo by MNStudio

Photo by MNStudio

SHOPPING IN MEDELLIN

Medellin might surprise you with its diverse shopping scene, which ranges from glistening modern malls stocked with international brands to bustling marketplaces, each offering a unique taste of Colombian creativity. Sure, you can get standard souvenirs like artisan bags, hats, and colorful ceramic versions of the chiva party buses. But you can also fill your shopping bags with local flair and handcrafted charm, adding some stylish new additions to your wardrobe or home décor. We enjoyed a fabulous Out in Colombia cocktail party, complete with a DJ and dancers, at Orozco Clothing (Carrera 36 # 10b – 65, El Poblado. Tel: +57-30-5484-1031. orozco.com.co), a clothing store that’s a must-visit for anyone looking for Colombian fashion from local designers. This imaginative brand actually has multiple shops and offers a variety of eye-catching styles, from formal wear and wedding designs for men and women (including LGBTQ+ couples) to jeans. Also worth a browse are Mon y Velarde, Calle 8 #37-25. Tel: +57-448-4115. monyvelarde.com) a menswear retailer, and Wanitta (Carrera 37 N° 8A – 32. Tel: +57-4-311-5756. www.wanitta.com) a womenswear label that has become so popular it’s opened a store in Miami. The brand has several locations in Medellin that stock beautiful blouses, dresses, skirt and accessories.

For large-scale shopping, El Tesoro Parque Comercial (Cra. 25a #1a Sur 45, El Poblado. Tel. +57-60-4321-1010. eltesoro.com.co/en) is one of city’s biggest retail centers. It’s a good place to find international brands and even catch a cultural performance at the outdoor theater.

 

Medellin Resources

INFORMATION

Celebrating Pride in Medellin (Photo by Mark Chesnut @departure_leve)

Celebrating Pride in Medellin (Photo by Mark Chesnut @departure_leve)

Medellin Pride. The mayor’s office pro- vides detailed information about Medellin pride. medellin.gov.co

PROCOLOMBIA, the nation’s tourism organization, also provides LGBTQ+ travel information about Medellin. colombia.travel/en

LGBTQ+ BUSINESSES

BarChiquita, Carrera 37 # 8a – 88, El Poblado. Tel. +57-31-1786-4505. barchiquita.com

Club Oráculo, Carrera 36 #8A-123. Tel: +57-316-744-8466. instagram.com/cluboraculo

Donde Aquellos Bar, Carrera 38 #9A-26, Parque Lleras. Tel: +57-304-340-5198. dondeaquellosbar.com

Industry Club, Calle 26A 43F 72. Tel: +57-30-2845-2365. facebook.com/ industryclubmedellin

Out in Colombia, U.S. Tel. + 1-602-399- 7433. outincolombia.com

Purple Club Medellin, Avenida 33 # 78- 107. Tel. +57-32-4582-6383. facebook.com/purpleclubmedellin

HOTELS

Charlee, Calle 9A #37-16, El Pobado. Tel: +57-444-4968. thecharlee.com

Click Clack, Carrera 37 #10A 29, El Poblado. Tel. +57-60-4604-3232. click-clackhotel.com

DuParc Royal, Calle 9 #41-36. Tel: +57-4448-4505. hotelduparc.com.co

InterContinental Medellin, Calle 16 #28-51. Tel +57-4444-8106. ihg.com

Medellin Marriott, Calle 1a Sur #43a-83. Tel: +57-4444-3636. marriott.com

NH Collection Medellín Royal, Carrera 42 # 5 Sur – 130, El Poblado. Tel. +57-604-448 5700. nh-collection.com

Novotel Medellin El Tesoro, Carrera. 25a #1 a Sur 45, El Poblado. Tel. +57-60-4604-8156. all.accor.com

RESTAURANTS AND CAFES

Aguafresca Taqueria, Carrera 40 #10a- 30, El Poblado. Tel. +57-30-5235-6515. aguafrescataqueria.com

Ammazza, Carrera 34 #7-40, El Poblado. Tel. +57-31-7440-2707. instagram.com/ammazzagingarden

Capilla del Rosario, no street address. Tel. +57-30-5462-8804. instagram.com/cafecapilladelrosario

Elcielo, Calle 7d #43c-36. Tel. +57-32- 0681-4821. elcielorestaurant.com

Kaime, Carrera 40 #10 a 21, El Poblado. Tel. +57-4479-7029. instagram.com/ kaimerestaurant

Lavocaderia, Calle 13 43d 23 Barrio Manila. Tel. +57-30-2440-6404. lavo- caderia.co

Mercado de la Playa, Calle 51 N° 40 -35. Tel. +57-31-0521-6079. mercadode- laplaya.com

Mercado del Rio, Calle 24 #48-28, El Poblado. Tel. +57-60-4261-1584. insta- gram.com/mercadodelriomedellin

Náufrago, Click Clack Hotel, Carrera 37 #10A 29, El Poblado. Tel. +57-30-5359-0937. instagram.com/naufrago_mde

Siete Pulgadas, Carrera 43C #10 – 60, El Poblado. Tel. +57-31-4864=3296. instagram.com/sietepulgadasbar

Test Kitchen Lab, Carrera 34 #8a-10, El Poblado. Tel. +57-30-2337-8653. insta- gram.com/testkitchenlab

ATTRACTIONS

Casa de la Memoria, Calle 51 #36-66 Parque Bicentenario. Tel. +57-4520- 2020. museocasadelamemoria.gov.co

Centro Cultural Moravia, Calle 82A #52–25. Tel. +57-60-4213-2809. centroculturalmoravia.org

Jardín Botánico de Medellín, Calle 73 #51d-14, Aranjuez. Tel. +57-60-4444- 5500. botanicomedellin.org

Museo de Antioquia, Calle 52 #52-43, La Candelaria. Tel. +57-60-4251-3636. museodeantioquia.co

Museo de Arte Moderno, Carrera 44 #19 A 100, Ciudad del Rio. Tel: +57-60-4444-2622. elmamm.org

Parque Arvi, Corregimiento de Santa Elena, Vereda Piedras Blancas, Sector El Tambo. Tel. +57-4444-2979. parquearvi.org

 


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