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This is not the Medellín you know from Netflix's Narcos. From local food to jewellery to housewares, Colombia offers lots to see and bring home
Medellín is undergoing a transformation. The city and country are working hard to rebuild after decades defined by violence and drug cartels. You can see and feel and hear the exuberance on the ground—an upward swing is escalating quickly. As a visitor, this is an exciting time to explore a city that’s embracing tourism like never before.
Click through for my top 5 souvenir picks from my recent trip to Medellín.
This souvenir could be the best because it’s free. Medellín’s skyline is sprawling and spectacular, especially when it sparkles at night. Get yourself to a rooftop patio for the best vantage point.
Envy Rooftop Bar at The Charlee Hotel is nestled in the heart of the city’s entertainment district, so you feel perched atop the action. The views (and cocktails) are amazing here and worth a visit, day or night. And while you’re here, take the stairwell down to see an incredible display of graffiti artwork done by local and Colombian artists (this is worth a visit alone).
The Charlee Hotel, Calle 9a #37-16, Medellín, Colombia
Colombians are gorgeous, and most urbanites grew up immersed in an accelerated culture that blends traditional folk arts with modern, international influences. Their sense of style is wholly unique and buying local clothing and jewellery makes for the perfect wearable-art souvenir.
Andrea Landa is a second-generation Medellín designer whose clothing reflects European influences (after studying in Paris, Florence, Barcelona and London) combined with more traditional Colombian handicrafting techniques. Definitely check out her deft leather work and innovative use of digital prints.
Makua (pictured above) is a jewellery line that directly works with two local indigenous communities: the Embera Chami, known for their artisan embroideries with crystal beads; and the Kuna Tule, famous for their textiles featuring applied embroidery. Each Makua piece is one-of-a-kind, created with the legacy of indigenous design and the craftsmanship of modern jewellery-making techniques.
Both designers, along with many others, can be found at Makeno, a Medellín fashion incubator for local emerging and established artists.
Carrera 37 #10-35, Interior 403, Medellín, Colombia
Forget bringing back coffee beans (the best ones are still exported). Medellín tastes of tropical fruits, and guava is probably the most common one (though, don’t pass any opportunity to indulge in fresh soursop or passion fruit). You can’t bring back fresh guava, but you can bring back guava paste, conveniently sold in small, dense bricks. This is also something you can easily pick up at the airport.
Guava paste in Medellín is commonly served as an accompaniment to dishes like corn soup (pictured above) or as a pastry filling or alongside queso blanco (fresh white cheese). To incorporate it at home, try switching out the quince paste for this when serving cheese—delicious.
My favourite souvenirs are ones I use daily back at home and housewares rank highly on my shopping list. The Blue House in the centre of Medellín is a contemporary space that showcases artisan housewares, textiles and art from local and Colombian talent.
If you have the space for it, the ceramics are eye-catching and lovely; if not, look out for the large silk-blend scarves that drape beautifully and feature unique graphics. If your timing’s good, you may even catch an art exhibit—definitely worth inquiring about because it’s a terrible feeling to have just missed it by a day (speaking from experience).
The Blue House, Calle 10a # 38 31, Medellín, Colombia
A visit to the Museo de Antioquia to see the paintings, drawings and sculptures by Fernando Botero is a must. We’re all familiar with the “fat” people often depicted in his artwork—but what’s perceived as “fat” is actually “fullness.” Botero’s intention is to show people and lives that are full, robust and vivacious.
Every piece in this permanent exhibition was gifted by Botero. Even his generosity is larger than life, and it’s this overwhelming sense of joy and passion for everyday life that you’ll want to bring back with you. Stop by the gift shop on your way out for a small trinket to remind you of this passion for life.
Museo de Antioquia, Calle 52 #52-43, Medellín, Colombia