Dotted with towering brick buildings and a mountainous green backdrop, Medellín’s El Poblado neighborhood is a picture-perfect postcard from any spot in the city.
Beyond its timelessly aesthetic appeal, the affluent barrio has established itself as party central in a city that is becoming more and more beloved as an international destination. Anchored by the effervescent hotspot of Parque Lleras, cultural institutions galore and a growingly international culinary space, now is the time for a vivacious El Poblado adventure.
Drinking and dancing in Parque Lleras
Ask any Medellín local where to party and you’ll certainly hear these spots: Parque Lleras, La Setenta, La 33 and Barrio Colombia. Parque Lleras, a stair-filled, tree-covered, tiny park in El Poblado, should always be listed first, as it is the wild epicenter of Medellín nightlife. Quiet by day and a sprawling, thumping zoo by night and through the early morning, the park is lined with restaurants, bars, clubs and everything in between.
For a truly cultural experience, you can’t go wrong with cracking open an Aguila (staple Colombian beer) or shareable bottle of Aguardiente Antioqueño at a street-side liquor store. For that, Licolleras is a prime central spot and its staff is super-welcoming.
When you’re ready to turn things up a notch (translation: you want a colorful and unique shot), Shupa Shots and Chupitos will get the buzz going. Each of the spots offers liquor shots bedazzled with colorful syrups, whipped cream, gummy animals, spices, creams and more. At Chupitos, while you’re waiting for your drink to be made, the bartenders like to have some fun, meaning you may be bonked on the head with an inflatable mallet or have a leaf blower blown in your face.
On the club front, Bolívar Bailadero & Fresquería is a multifaceted, multicultural gem. Inspired by the movie Scarface, Miami in the mid-80s as well as Cuban and Puerto Rican elements, Bolívar has a vast dance floor, surrounded by lush greenery, white columns and windows and a retractable roof.
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A far-from-typical shopping experience
Malls are their own cultural experience in Colombia – in addition to regional and international brands, they are kept pristinely clean and there is typically a larger-than-life display or attraction to experience in each one.
In El Poblado, El Tesoro Parque Comercial and Centro Comercial Santafé are the premier shopping destinations. El Tesoro has more than 400 stores, a massive Afterland arcade/theme park on its top floor and permanent amusement ride area for kids. Santafé also has more than 400 shops, a retractable roof for enjoying the city’s year-round temps and, often, a central experience of some sort, which in recent times has included a massive ball pit and sandy beach-inspired area.
For local boutiques with goods from Colombian artisans and designers – spanning clothing, accessories and unique souvenirs – Vía Primavera is the stretch. In addition to this tree-lined street (located one block west of Parque Lleras), you’ll want to weave through the boutiques on the four streets west of Via Primavera for unique finds as well.
Foodie finds with local and international flair
No day in Medellín is complete without an arepa or empanada. And, for the most delightfully crispy empanada in town, El Machecito is the unassuming destination. Around the clock, this El Poblado walk-up spot is lined with folks spanning full-on families to workers on motorcycles popping by for a bite. To add to the crisp, pile on its homemade spicy ají sauce for an extra kick.
On the more elegant front, Medellín culinary institution Carmen celebrated its 10-year anniversary in 2019. Offering contemporary cuisine inspired by Colombian ingredients, Carmen’s dishes feature the freshest of meats, vegetables and specialty cocktails, often incorporating a quaint flower or two on top. Its dark and modern layout make for the perfect date-night or fancy meal before a night out on the town.
For a post-dinner coffee (or morning coffee, for that matter), El Poblado is loaded with specialty coffee destinations offering pour over delights, lattes with Colombian pizzazz and locally curated bites. Memorable cups of joe can always be found at staples Pergamino Café, Urbania Café and El Laboratorio de Café.
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El Poblado’s cultural destinations
From the booming confines of Parque Lleras, Medellín’s hillside castle, Museo el Castillo is a 2.6km (1.6 miles) urban trek south. And, yes, it’s a literal castle planted in the middle of the city with Gothic architecture, stained glass and prized Colombian antiques throughout. Built in 1930, the castle is open for tours daily (which are in Spanish) and its vast, green grounds make for quite the scenic picnic afterward.
Tucked in the Northwest corner of El Poblado proper is the Museo de Arte Moderno (MAMM). In addition to the museum itself being a work of art – clad in a mix of concrete, rusted metal and the periodic green plant jutting out – it houses thousands of contemporary pieces, including more than 250 paintings from famed Medellín native, Débora Arango.
Post-museum hit the nearby Mercado del Río for a snack, pour over coffee at Amor Perfecto or full-on meal at one of its nearly 50 internationally inspired stalls, which include a tapas bar, Belgian waffle shop and Indian restaurant.
Tour companies throughout the city are offering more and more “Graffiti Tour” excursions to Medellín’s emerging hillside barrio, Comuna 13. While certainly a vivid spectacle and memorable trek in itself, there are streets fully painted with one-of-a-kind graffiti art to be found throughout El Poblado.
Among the most perfect streets for that next Insta shot is Carrera 43C between Calles 8 and 9. Your photo opps include a massive “Calles de Medellín” mural and larger-than-life cut-out of the word “Medellín.”
Where to stay in Medellín
The dark wood-clad Charlee Hotel towers 18 stories over Parque Lleras, offering expansive balconies that overlook the neighborhood, an open-air, first-floor restaurant with a colorful breakfast buffet, trendy rooftop pool/dayclub, and a modern gym on an upper floor that serves guests and health-conscious locals alike.
On the most raucous and loud Parque Lleras nights, you may need some earplugs to catch some z’s, but in terms of location and amenities, Hotel Charlee remains a top choice.
For a slightly quieter upscale option in El Poblado, Click Clack is located three blocks north of Parque Lleras. Its first location – in Bogotá – features a black, cube-y exterior with rooms spanning varying amenities and literal “sizes,” from a snug XS to massive 2XL.
Its Medellín outfit, which opened in 2019, boasts a similar vibe, including four restaurant concepts spanning a North China street food counter (Big Baos) and the Mediterranean influenced EGEO bar.
Amid hostels galore scattered throughout El Poblado’s hilly confines, Los Patios is the party spot with a view. Its rooftop has panoramic vistas of the Medellín skyline and a popular bar for hotel guests and city-wide visitors. For laptop warriors, there is a coworking space, too.
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Getting to El Poblado
To get to El Poblado from José María Córdova International Airport (MDE), a four-person taxi will cost you approximately 70,000 COP. What was once an incredibly windy, 45-minute mountainous journey, now takes approximately 25 minutes thanks to the new 8.2km Tunel del Oriente that was carved through the mountains and opened in 2019.
Within Medellín, El Poblado is accessible via the city’s sparkling Metro system. A one-way standard trip costs approximately 3,000 COP and connects you with all Medellín has to offer.