Envigado’s an awesome change of pace from Medellin, especially if you know what to look for. We loved living there, and hopefully this guide of our favorite foods, sights, and things to do in Envigado will have you loving it too.
Wonderful Old-School Envigado
This post is part of our Medellin Travel Manual, a collection of blog posts that reveal the real Medellin.
We lived in Envigado for two months loved it.
Located right next to the high-flying, rapidly-modernizing El Poblado district of Medellin, Envigado remains a hard-working, urban, unpretentious town that’s yet to be swallowed up by globalism. It is to Medellin what Brooklyn is to Manhattan (or was before the hipsters invaded).
It still has a true neighborhood feel. Residents still say “buenos dias” and shop at the local butcher and market, kids play on the streets, and old-timers sit on street-side tables drinking coffee (or aguardiente) while playing cards.
Since you probably don’t have the two months we had to explore everything, we’ve put together this guide. It gives you a quick intro to the city and shares all of our favorite places to go, foods to eat, and things to do in Envigado.
Envigado Guide Outline
Know Before You Go
Map of Envigado Highlights
This map shows the location of all of the highlights we’ll cover below. Follow these instructions to save this map to Google Maps on your phone.
What is Envigado?
Literally, viga is Spanish for rafter, so Envigado means “raftered.” Don’t all you architects get too excited though; there’s nothing special about the rafters in Envigado.
Physically, Envigado is one of ten municipalities in the Aburra Valley Metropolitan Area. It’s bordered by Medellin’s El Poblado district to the north, Sabaneta to the south, the Medellin river and Itagui to the west, and the mountains, Caldas, and El Retiro to the east.
Demographically, it’s a city of about 200,000 people. It’s one of, if not the, wealthiest (or least-poor) municipalities in Colombia.
How to Get There
The center of Envigado is just over 5 km (3 mi) straight south from the center of El Poblado. Here are your options for getting there:
- Bus from El Poblado: Quick, cheap, and easy. On Avenida El Poblado, jump on any bus that has “Sabaneta” or “Envigado” in big letters in front, pay the driver 2,100 pesos ($0.65 USD). It’ll take 20 minutes with no traffic.
- Taxi or Uber: Tell the taxi driver “El Parque de Envigado, por favor” or type in “Parque Principal Marceliano Velez Barreneche” into Uber.
- Metro: The Envigado metro station is a 25-minute walk from the city center. It’s safe but not particularly interesting. You might want to take a bus from the metro station to the main square. And if you’re coming from El Poblado take the bus instead.
- Bike, Walk, or Run: On Sundays from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., Avenida El Poblado is closed to vehicles for what’s called Ciclovia. This makes it pleasant to get to and from Envigado by man-power.
Tip: Don’t go to or from Envigado (or anywhere in Medellin, really) between around 4:30 and 7 p.m. The traffic is a disaster. Relax, have an empanada and beer, and wait it out.
The Best Neighborhoods
The three most wander-full neighborhoods in Envigado are:
- El Dorado: El Dorado has a true neighborhood feel, with smaller houses that have shops, bars, mini-markets, and other small businesses all along its narrow streets.
- Central Envigado: Envigado’s small but busy “downtown” feels like you’re not in Medellin anymore, which was indeed the case not too long ago.
- Northern Envigado (San Marcos / La Magnolia): These residential neighborhoods may have less street life than El Dorado, but they do contain Envigado’s fine-dining / entertainment district, La Calle de la Buena Mesa.
For tons more info about these neighborhoods, nine other favorites of ours in Medellin, and how to decide which will appeal most to you, check out our Medellin neighborhood guide.
The Envigado neighborhoods we just mentioned are just as safe, if not safer than any in Medellin.
Unlike elsewhere in Medellin, in these neighborhoods we never felt people were watching us, nobody approached us to offer cocaine (like in El Poblado especially), and it’s always bustling so you rarely find yourself wandering empty streets by yourself.
According to multiple amigos Envigadeños, it’s so safe because of the local mafia called La Oficina de Envigado. They’re kind of like the Yakuza in Japan. They pull the strings but keep a low profile. In Envigado any illegal activity—robbery, drug dealing, violence—must be okayed by La Oficina first… or else. And they mostly leave the public alone—especially the tourists—to avoid unnecessary heat.
Who knows how true this is. We felt it was in our best interest not to be nosy and ask around. We’re bloggers, not journalists after all. You’re probably best off doing likewise.
Lastly, and to be clear, just because we feel Envigado’s safe doesn’t mean you can feel free to walk around wearing Flavor Flav-like gold chains talking on two iPhone 10s at the same time. You’re still in Colombia. Be as discreet as you would anywhere else. That way you’ll be extra safe.
The Dark Side of Envigado
Here are some of Envigado’s not-so-good aspects:
- Pollution: Especially in the downtown part, the streets are busy and narrower than most parts of Medellin. It’s no big deal at all for a few days, but Kim especially was affected by it after a few weeks.
- Location: Envigado’s a couple metro stops south of El Poblado, which is itself south of the city, so if you make it your base you’ll be going (farther) north every time you want to go somewhere. If you’re visiting it’s no big deal, but we got tired of always having to bus/Uber/metro to get to more “happening” (with the expat community at least) areas.
- Workspaces: Unlike areas like El Poblado and Laureles, there are no coworking spaces and only a couple cafes where you can get work done in Envigado. And the cafes are only in La Buena Mesa (like Cocolatte mentioned above), which isn’t convenient if you’re staying in El Dorado.
- Noise: Downtown can be particularly noisy due to the large number of buses, taxis, and motorcycles. For peace and quiet, head the neighborhoods like El Dorado that are a little away from the center.
Best Things to Do in Envigado
✓ Hit the Markets
We don’t know about you, but we like checking out what types of meats, fruits, veggies, bread, and pastries are, and how their prices compare to back home. Envigado is a great place to do so. Start off at Envigado’s main produce market, which is a mini version of Medellin’s Mercado Minorista, then wander up and down and in and out of the neighboring butchers and pastry shops.
If you’re looking to actually buy produce, go across the street to marvel at the low produce prices and the staff who add up the bills in their heads instead of using a cash register.
✓ Head for the Hills
- The hike in Arenales is just a bus drive away and absolutely beautiful. You can see what’s left of Escobar’s old prison, La Catedral, too. We shared all the info here.
- Parque El Salado is nice if you’re less active or adventurous. Near there is another hike we covered, to the Higueron “caves” and waterfall. There’s also a catch-your-own (if you want) trout restaurant, Truchera Arcoiris, near there that’s fun on weekends. See our guide here.
- Do a coffee farm tour at Finca La Leona. It’s run by a French Olympic speed walker named Fabian. Kim went with her family and they all enjoyed it. You’ll also be surprised how such a rural farm can be so close (less than 15 minutes) to the busy city. Call Fabian in advance at +57 311 609 7327 to arrange a tour.
✓ Visit La Casa de las Piedritas
We’re not going to spoil this one for you. Just go there, knock on the door and be friendly, curious, and as generous with praise as the owners of this house are with their hospitality. It’s worth it.
If you don’t speak Spanish, go with someone who does.
✓ Work Out at La Cancha
Join (or watch) youth futbol teams playing on the turf soccer field and covered basketball court, tattooed (but very friendly) dudes pumping their muscles at the outdoor workout area, and bright-spandex-wearing people jogging around the track at this neighborhood public fitness facility.
✓ Feel the (Caffeine) Buzz
Casa Museo Otraparte is without a doubt our favorite spot to have a coffee or limonada de coco (see our post on Colombian drinks) and either do some work or hang out. It’s located in what was once the home of a famous local poet and philosopher named Fernando González. Now, his house is a museum and the gardens transformed into a cafe. The only problem with Otraparte is the internet is spotty and the coffee’s nothing fantastic.
For much better coffee and internet, but not the same garden atmosphere, go down the street a few blocks to Cocolatte by La Calle de la Buena Mesa.
Or, for horrible coffee and zero internet but great people watching, pull up a seat at one of the cafes on the main square.
✓ Have Some Christmastime Fun
In December, Envigado’s main square and streets are delightfully decorated with over-the-top Christmas decorations. And while the decorations get all the publicity, Kim and I enjoyed the nativity scenes—mini, but often intricate, models of Biblical times—the most. To find the best ones you’ll have to wander around the neighborhoods.
Also, grab a bite from the street vendors along Carrera 43 by the main square, which is closed to traffic and filled with vendors.
✓ Meet Envigadeños
Go for a haircut and get in a spirited discussion/debate about religion and the distinction between a girlfriend and a wife like Chris did, play three-ball pool at one of the numerous pool halls, or say hi to the groups of bored men who sit around on the main square waiting for something interesting to happen and gossip about.
Do something out of the ordinary and you may get extraordinary results.
✓ Enjoy the Nightlife
Envigado is not a party place, but for a chill evening there are good times to be had.
- At Colombia Immersion’s Friday Language Exchange, we guarantee you’ll meet new people. There’s always a good mix of locals and foreign Spanish students and there’s always an ice-breaker game to make it easier to talk to them. Beer’s cheap too. At around 10 p.m., a bunch of party people (so not us) head to El Callejon, a nearby reggae and hip-hop bar.
- La Cabana del Recuerdo. On Wednesday and Thursday nights, this tiny tango bar full of memorabilia feels even tinier when it’s packed with patrons and a live band. You’ll have to get there early and buy a mandatory bottle of booze for the rights to a table.
- Or go to one of the little bars around the main square, pull up a table, and fill it up with bottles of Pilsen and guaro (a.k.a aguardiente. Ugh) like the old-timers do.
- La Mayoria. In all of our months living in Envigado, we never made it here but, by all accounts, it’s quite the spectacle. Please somebody go and report back!
Our Favorite Envigado Restaurants
✓ Giant Hunks of Colombian Meat:
La Gloria de Gloria and Trifasico
When Anthony Bourdain came to Envigado to film No Reservations, he made a mistake. He went to Brasarepa instead of La Gloria de Gloria or Trifasico. These two places serve bandejas with such big hunks of chicharron (a.k.a mega-bacon) that they deserve to be called legendary.
✓ Pizza Party:
Burro, Antica Italia, and Celestina
Fitting in with our New York comparisons, the three best pizza places we tried in Medellin are in Envigado (sorry, Cafe Zorba).
- Pizzeria Antica Italia is a tiny laid-back, buy-it-by-the-slice joint with traditional flavors and New York-style thin crusts
- Pizzeria Burro in El Dorado was Chris’ favorite because it had a huge ball of buffalo cheese on it. Chris isn’t alone in loving Burro. Burro won the city-wide Pizza Master competition in 2017.
- Celestina by Barrio de la Buena Mesa has generous toppings and a local neighborhood vibe.
✓ Envigado’s Fine Dining District:
La Calle de la Buena Mesa
La Buena Mesa (The Good Table) is Envigado’s little dining district. It’s only a couple square blocks, so your best bet is to walk along, check the menus and pick what interests you most. A few worth considering are Chiclayo (Peruvian), Zacatecas (Mexican – also a couple blocks away), Trifasico (as previously mentioned), and Antonio’s Gelato (for dessert). Lemoncillo, an authentic Vietnamese restaurant a few blocks down the street, is loved by seemingly everyone who goes there… except us. We didn’t get what the fuss was about.
✓ Better than Buena (Mesa)?
El Dorado’s Neighborhood Restaurants
The restaurants in El Dorado give the ones in La Buena Mesa a run for its money. Check out Pedacito de Amor (Steakhouse), Pizzeria Burro (previously mentioned), Ragazzi (pasta and craft beer), or La Burger Bar (burgers).
✓ Healthy Lunches:
Casa Antonio’s and Prana
Offset all the fried meat you’ll find elsewhere by going for a healthy vegan lunch at one of our two favorite menu del dia lunch spots, Casa Antonio’s and Prana. Both serve creative, colorful, and cheap lunch menus of soup, a main course, a freshly pressed juice, and a small dessert.
Where to Stay in Envigado
There is probably no stronger piece of evidence we can give you to argue just how un-globalized Envigado is than this:
Until 2017 Envigado, a city of over 200,000 residents, had zero hotels.
Now… there’s one. Yay.
It’s called the Arame Hotel. We didn’t stay there nor do we know anyone who did, so we won’t pretend to know or try to sell it to you to get a commission for booking there. It has good reviews, but, as you can see on the map, the location’s not that convenient.
Other than the Arame, your options are to stay in El Poblado—or anywhere else in Medellin for that matter—or at an Airbnb, which is what we did. (This one. It was an amazing deal and location. Send Mafer our regards!)
Airbnb isn’t technically legal in Envigado but, like everywhere in the world, that doesn’t stop anyone. Check out what’s available here. And if you’ve never used Airbnb before, save yourself $45 or so while supporting our next trip at the same time by using our referral link here.
For all the ingredients you need to put together a magnificent Medellin trip—where to stay, what to do, what to eat, where else to go in Colombia—see our Medellin Travel Manual.
And if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions to share with other readers, please share them in the comments!