Colombia’s second-largest city, Medellín, has experienced a major transformation in the last 20 years. Once notorious for crime and violence, the “City of Eternal Spring” is now winning acclaim as the poster child for innovation in Latin America, drawing tourists, investors and entrepreneurs from around the world, thanks to significant government investment in transportation and technology.
Step back in time. Get a taste of traditional nightlife at La Fonda De Toño, a saloon-style bar in Sabaneta. Enjoy shots of aguardiente and salted mangos while listening to ranchero music, and watch skilled patrons show off their horses’ gait in a runway alongside the bar (half bottle of aguardiente, $13).
Sample a craft brew. On Thursday and Friday nights, the 3 Cordilleras brewery is open to the public for live music, dancing, and of course, beer. Try the Mestiza, which has a nice hoppy flavor. ($6-$8 entry with samples).
Stop and smell the roses. Colombia is one of the world’s top flower producers, and Medellín celebrates with the annual Feria de las Flores, which takes place from July 29 to August 7 this year. Festivities include parades, exhibitions and music (free).
Cool off with a guarapo. On Sunday mornings until 1 p.m., Avenida Poblado is closed to motor vehicles. Join the crowd of pedestrians, runners and cyclists, and stop at the farmers’ market in nearby La Presidenta park for a refreshing cup of guarapo, pressed sugar cane juice with lots of ice and limes.
Eat like a paisa. Antioquia residents’ favorite dish is bandeja paisa, which includes ground beef, rice, beans, chicharrón (fried pork belly), plantain, chorizo, avocado, fried egg and arepita (corn meal fritter). Warning: A food coma will follow.
Scale a rock face. Just a 90-minute ride from Medellín is the town of Guatapé, whose main attraction is El Peñón de Guatapé, a vertical rock formation more than 720 feet tall. Walk up some 700 steps for an unobstructed panorama of the lush green hills and lakes below ($4 entrance fee).
Join the party. Parque Lleras, in the Poblado neighborhood, is a people-watching mecca by day, but on weekend nights — from Thursday through Saturday — it buzzes with partygoers checking out bars and clubs.
See award-winning architecture. The Spain Library Park, located in Santo Domingo Savio — once one of the most dangerous neighborhoods of Medellín — symbolizes the city’s transformation. The library won an architectural award for its three buildings that resemble jagged black stones.
Ride a cable car. Parque Arví, an ecological nature preserve, offers hiking, biking and nature tours. Getting there is part of the experience: Medellín’s innovative cable car stops at the park and offers great views of the city (Metrocable prices vary).
Check out the sculptures. The Plaza Botero, just across from the Museum of Antioquia, houses 23 monumental bronze sculptures donated by Medellín-born artist Fernando Botero.
Photo courtesy of Joel Duncan (www.joelduncanphotography.com)