Medellin, Colombia hip travel guide! Colombian street art, Elcielo restaurant & luxe hotel, Chef Juan Manuel Barrientos.

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That feeling when you finally make it to Medellin, Colombia!

For years, I’d heard fabulous tales of Medellin’s vibrant street art and restaurants. In November, I was honored to be invited to spend time in the City of Eternal Spring, and experience the best of its food and culture.

I wrote a foodie’s guide to Medellin, Colombia in my debut for TravelAgeWest Magazine — and here’s an extended diary of everything that inspired me during my stay!

el cielo restaurant interior medellin michelin star chef

As I wrote in my Travel Age West magazine piece: “Ask a food blogger or chef about the world’s best cities for dining out, and chances are that Medellin, Colombia, is at the top of their list. Over the past decade, the South American metropolis has developed an energetic food and drink culture in which the U.S. dollar goes a long way.”

Photos by me and DC-based photographer Albert Ting (@pootie_ting on Instagram), who was on the trip with me.

el cielo hotel freestanding bathtub bath medellin

Can you tell I loved staying at the luxurious and chic ElCielo Hotel? I love my baths, and this freestanding bathtub with lights was an Instagrammable dream.

You’ve got to stay at El Cielo hotel in El Poblado (the nightlife/hip/upscale area) if you come to Medellin (I recommended it as one of my fav hotel rooms ever, in this interview with Alibi Zine.)

colombian avocado breakfast room service elcielo

Elcielo Hospitality is known for its diverse range of restaurants in Colombia and the US — so of course, the hotel’s room service was delectable. I’m still reminiscing about the omelet with indigenous microgreens, and a generous side of Colombian avocado! 

medellin hip chic luxury hotels el cielo el poblado

Every space made the most of Medellin’s native plant life — one of the elements I loved most about this green South American city in the mountains.

medellin modern architecture hotel design

Love the clean and natural aesthetics at Elcielo hotel, such as the spiral staircase from the upper level lobby to the rooftop bar…

medellin colombia best rooftop bars elcielo hotel roof

This was my happy place during my Medellin stay, surrounded by greenery.

elcielo hotel el cielo swimming pool bar

I came up to Elcielo’s gorgeous rooftop pool multiple times to dip my legs in the water, and sip on an iced Colombian coffee with almond milk (and later, a pisco sour).

juan manuel barrientos juanma colombian michelin starred chef

It was a delight to meet Juan Manuel Barrientos, or Juanma – the young Michelin-starred chef and entrepreneur behind Elcielo Hospitality. (It’s a family run business; his dad is responsible for operations.)

elcielo fine dining medellin colombia

Chef Barrientos has a rock star presence that carries over to his visually arresting dishes at Elcielo, his much-lauded fine dining restaurant in Medellin. (There are locations in Bogota, Miami and DC as well.)

The appetizers included Colombian corn crisps topped with edible flowers, gold foil and a cheese emulsion from the town of Paipa — and small bites like tapioca cubes, served with animal heads!

colombian michelin starred food top restaurants

We sat down to 17  “experiences” with playful visuals, including a beet rose salad, and a demo of fresh corn tortillas made right at the table.

tree of life el cielo dining restaurant juanma

As I wrote: “Chef Barrientos loves to put an imaginative spin on native products, such as by molding yucca bread into what looks like a Tree of Life from the Amazon. Between plates, El Cielo offers eye- opening sensory “moments” such as washing one’s hands in warm chocolate and coffee grounds: guests are encouraged to play with the sweet liquid and lick it from their fingers.”

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Feeling tropical amidst the living green wall and plants in Elcielo.

vegan restaurants medellin colombia vegetarian kai

I continued to eat my way around Medellin, which has become a hub for inventive plant-based cuisine. I was knocked off my feet by Kaime Restaurant run by Sara Barrientos and her mother, who have been plant-based for decades.

kaime medellin plant based pesto pasta vegan restaurants

The women have channeled their years of personal experience into creative dishes like this ridiculously tasty pesto vegetable pasta, as well as vegan burgers and cocktails. Kaime’s Colombian-vegan dishes are such a hit that they are opening a US location soon.

colombia visit coffee farm tour santa isabel

More of my writing: “Colombia is famous for its coffee, which is the country’s third-largest export and has a distinct citrus, chocolate and nut flavor. Trek to Hacienda Santa Isabel farm in Fredonia, about a 1.5-hour drive from Medellin, to see how coffee is produced at high altitudes with the help of donkeys.”

colombian coffee farm donkey tours

The views from the coffee farm were unforgettable… and the polite resident donkeys followed us to say goodbye!

medellin sushi japanese restaurant cuon asian food

At Cuon restaurant, chef Juanma puts a spin on Asian cuisine such as sushi rolls and sake cocktails.

asian cocktail bar medellin colombia cuon

The cocktail menu features Asian flavors like lemongrass and passionfruit, with cool presentations that involve dry ice and flames.

la sere italian restaurant colombia

Impressed by Chef Barrientos’ range… His Elcielo Hospitality Group has several restaurants within walking distance in El Poblado, the best dining area of Medellin. Here’s La Serenissima, which focuses on Italian favorites. (His sister is behind the chic restaurant/hotel interior designs.)

colombian coffee best coffeeshops medellin latte

Can’t get enough of Colombian coffee… it lives up to its global reputation.

medellin italian restaurants la sere

Happy to indulge in burrata pizza and prawns with handmade pasta.

comuna 13 project medellin street art walls

After all that eating, I was excited to get to know the artsy side of the city through a walking tour.

Comuna 13 Graffiti Tour guide history

I joined a Comuna 13 graffiti tour, in which a local shows you around the formerly dangerous neighborhood (now transformed into a street art living canvas).

medellin goth gothic heavy metal bars clubs

Comuna 13 is filled with art galleries and murals in all styles. Here are two of my Gothic favorites.

colombia street art neighborhood houses colorful comuna

The rainbow-painted houses on the side of the mountain are a sight to behold.

medellin instagrammable locations instagram spots travel

My Dutch braided hair matches the colors of this Comuna 13 art wall.

art district street style medellin

I felt safe during my Medellin travels — just be aware of your surroundings, and you’ll have no trouble in places like Comuna 13 and El Poblado / Parque Lleras where travelers tend to go.

 fashion blogger medellin colombia

Much of the artwork reflects on Comuna 13’s revitalization, and themes of local history and politics.

comuna 13 viewpoint panorama

Nothing like the eclectic skyline of Medellin, with the jungle and Andes Mountains in the distance.

botero sculptures medellin colombia

And I had to see the “thicc” sculptures of 20th century Colombian artist Fernando Botero! 

Museum of Antioquia botero museo

At Plaza Botero in the old quarter, you can walk around dozens of giant bronze statues made in his signature “plump” style. (The area is a tad seedy, so watch out for your belongings.)

botero weird offbeat statues art museum in Medellín

Botero aimed to emphasize volume and form in his works, which are a delight to behold.

fernando botero sculpture park garden

The cute, rotund animals were my favorites.

Museo De Antioquia botero art paintings devils satan

Then, pop into the Museum of Antioquia to see more of Botero’s works including devilish paintings.

botero religious paintings jesus cross strange odd weird artist

There are elements of surrealism and humor in Botero’s art, especially the religious paintings. I’m a fan after seeing his works at Museo de Antioquia in Medellin!

Agua Fresca Taqueria y Mezcaleria elcielo colombia

The city has a vivacious nightlife and late-night dining culture. Here’s the spooky decor at Agua Fresca Taqueria y Mezcaleria, a Tulum-style Mexican restaurant.

medellin best mexican restaurant tulum agua fresca

Be sure to order the dishes with “avo” —  like the guacamole topped with local microgreens, with tortilla chips and a plethora of house-made sauces. The local Lorena avocado is round and creamy, and I could eat it by the bucket.

medellin tacos cocktails margaritas el cielo restaurants

The modern Mexican restaurant also serves fresh-milled corn tostadas and tacos piled with generous portions of creamy avocado. Goes down great with a paloma or margarita.

skulls day of dead goth gothic medellin spooky haunted

Cheers to the day of the dead skulls found throughout. Photos by me and Albert Ting (@pootie_ting). 

El Peñón de Guatapé stairs

We packed a lot into our Medellin journey — including a drive to El Peñón de Guatapé. The giant granite rock looks like an alien monolith, and you can go up 649 stairs to get to the top.

guatape view colombia nature tour

Instead of doing the “Stairmaster” to El Penon, we took in the surrounding views and snacked on Colombian street food.

medellin roof hotels with view pools

You can’t help but be inspired by Medellin, with rooftop views like these.

satan devil graffiti art colombia demon

And there’s street art everywhere you turn. Here are some Satanic and Gothic favorites… how sweet is the baby devil?

plush baphomet knit toy amigurumi knitted toys satan

Be sure to do some shopping as well — Oviedo mall is my favorite, and is known for its emerald jewelry stores.

At the “Kinky” store, I couldn’t resist getting this kawaii Baphomet amigurumi (crocheted plush).

occult pentagram magic medellin satanic satanism

Satan is indeed everywhere… The houses in Guatape are decorated with bright friezes, including this occult alien pentagram pyramid wall.

cute kawaii medellin colombia art

Speaking of Goth matters… I did an interview with Cherry Chu magazine about the Japan Gothic subculture, favorite clubs, clothing lines and more.

devil couple kissing mural coolest murals medellin

Hail Medellin! Such an energetic and warm city.

elcielo hotel swim pool hippest hotels luxe

I will always think back to my lazy early afternoons at the Elcielo Hotel rooftop pool…

colombian avocado Lorena aguacate avo toast

Relaxing poolside with fresh avocado and these views.

el cielo hotel colombia food restaurants juanma

Must come back here… ahh!

legs in air freestanding bathtub egg bath tub

What do you think of my offbeat, artsy and foodie travels in Medellin? Leave a comment if you have any questions about coming to Colombia.


  1. Nikki_boagreis
    Posted March 3, 2023 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    I love your dutch braided hair, it look’s absolutely beautiful. I think you need more pictures on your blog of your lilac lavender colored hair. I love photos that show your hair, how naturally flowing and bounce it has. Your hair is gorgeous, and im not just saying that. Your hair is absolutely gorgeous, i love the hair color it’s very flattering and fashionable. Best of luck in your travels and i look forward to seeing photos of your naturally flowing hair. Love your blog sooo much.

  2. Sandra from Spoo-Des
    Posted March 17, 2023 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    I have not been to Colombia, but to Peru and Ecuador in South America – it is the same world and yet another…. different atmosphere. You have made bautiful photos – but the most I like the last one.

    • lacarmina
      Posted March 18, 2023 at 1:12 am | Permalink

      Thanks! My fav pic too – taken with a remote function for my Sony A7iv!

  3. Eric
    Posted June 22, 2024 at 4:33 am | Permalink

    Hey, I was looking at that hotel, do you by chance have a code for bookings? It does look very impressive.
    I’m thinking about heading out June 2025 for two weeks. Thanks for your blog, it looks like you had a blast in Medellin. :D

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