You might already know that Medellin, Colombia was once one of the most violent cities in the world, infamous in the early 1990s for it’s drug cartel leader Pablo Escobar. We won’t delve into this part of history, though, because there’s so much more to the city.
Instead we’re going to talk about the remarkable renewal of Medellin in the early 2000’s that turned the city into a renowned symbol of success for social transformation and urban planning.
In this episode, you’ll hear from a photojournalist who has spent his whole career covering the ongoing social conflict of the country, a designer who partners with Colombian indigenous communities to create ornate jewelry pieces, and an entrepreneur whose business model is quickly disrupting the local coffee culture.
Click play to hear their stories, plus their tips for what to see, do, and eat in Medellin.
FEDERICO RIOS PHOTOJOURNALIST
Why are we fascinated by him?
He tells stories you won’t see anywhere else, like this transgender beauty pageant deep in the Amazon jungle.
He travels via boat/plane/donkey/
And finally: he’s sharing with the world his nuanced, transformative stories of Colombia through outlets like the New York Times. See below for a sample of his photos published around the world.
Listen to the episode to hear about his favorite spot in Medellin to snap a few shots of the sunrise.
"THE CITY IS MUCH MORE OPEN NOW. YOU CAN TRAVEL AROUND THE CITY. THE GOVERNMENT HAS MADE A BIT EFFORT, BUT THE PEOPLE FROM MEDELLIN ARE MAKING AN ENORMOUS EFFORT TO OPEN THEIR HEARTS."
PEDRO ENCHAVARRIA, OWNER OF CAFE PERGAMINO
Why we’re fascinated by him:
You might already be drinking his coffee! Pedro works with Blue Bottle, Stumptown, and Vigilante Coffee.
He’s all about breaking the longstanding cycle of rural poverty. Step one: creating well-paying jobs for everyone involved in Pedro’s coffee beans, from the field workers to the servers at his cafe.
He has pride for his city. “We have this pioneer mentality, because we were kind of stranded in the middle of a freaking mountain,” he says.
Pedro tipped us off to a valley in the middle of the mountains about four hours outside the city Urrao, Antioquia. Tourists don’t typically end up there, but it’s an opportunity to see a part of rural Colombia and enjoy a cup of coffee.
"COFFEE IS A VERY ACCESSIBLE LUXURY. IT'S ABOUT CREATING EXPERIENCES FOR PEOPLE THAT GO BEYOND JUST SHARING A CUP OF COFFEE BUT UNDERSTANDING WHERE THAT COFFEE COMES FROM."
MARIA PAULINA ARANGO DESIGNER OF MAKUA
Why are we fascinated by her?
She’s multitalented. Before designing jewelry, she studied architecture, designed swimsuits for Victoria’s Secret, and worked the fashion worlds of Paris and Buenos Aires.
Her designs with indigenous groups across the country are original, gorgeous, and truly collaborative. We love these necklaces.
She mixes old and new: these pieces combine centuries-old designs and traditions from indigenous groups with modern styles.
For more Colombian designs, Maria Paulina recommends you visit Medellin concept store, Makeno.
“WHEN THESE DIFFICULT MOMENTS STOPPED, EVERYTHING STARTED TO GROW OUT FROM THE ASHES. IT WAS LIKE, WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO WITH THIS BEAUTIFUL CITY, THE CITY OF ETERNAL SPRING?"
PRO TIP: ORDER THE BANDEJA PAISA WHEN VISITING MEDELLIN.
ILLUSTRATION BY: JACKIE DIEDAM
Ready to order bandeja paisa? Prepare for a plate filled with red beans, rice, shredded beef, fried pork belly, sausages, several fried eggs, arepas (Colombian corncakes), baked plantains, and an avocado. We discuss the significance of the bandeja paisa in the episode.
If you're looking for the perfect spot in the city to try this dish, check out El Rancherito. It's Federico's favorite for bandeja paisa and other tradition Colombian dishes.