While many of you know that Medellin isn’t my favorite city in Colombia – it does have its own attractions. I am not talking about the spectacularly breath-taking ride up to Parque Arvi on the metro cable or the Botero museum.
It’s the shopping – Medellin is the New York of Colombia and much of Latin America. As home to Colombia Moda and the Colombian textile industry, the array of shopping opportunities are mind-boggling. Most tourist guides will direct you to the upscale, brand name only shopping malls in the wealthier enclaves like El Poblado. While these malls are worth seeing, I advise visitors to go in the guise of a museum-seeking tourist.
That is to say – go to look (at the sculptured gardens, majestic views and boutique brands) and maybe for a light lunch at one of the elegant eateries but save your cash for the real shopping mecca, in El Centro. Wear comfortable shoes – and plan to finish shopping before 6 pm..
To get here: Take the Metro (train) to Station San Antonio. That will put you in the center of the shopping district.
Biggest Open Air Shopping District in Latin America
At least, according to the banner hanging over one of the cobbled pedestrian streets. But it seems pretty accurate as I wander street after street of an amazing array of goods.. If it isn’t here – than you won’t find it in Colombia.
There are streets filled with row after row of sidewalk vendors selling a multitude of items. A whole street devoted to shoes.. Sidewalk vendors selling ornamental sandals with adjacent stores sell every kind of shoe ever made..
Street after street with store after store of Shoes.. Appliances.. Clothing.. Cosmetics.. Electronics.. DVDs.. Porn… Lingerie.. Hats. Costume Jewelry. Fabric. Ribbons. Yarn.. Several stores filled to the brim with beads. Pastry and cake shops. Any kind of soccer (futbol) jersey you could ever want (and not because it’s the world cup – these stores are always here.)
Whole malls (centro commercials) for bridal wear.. Others filled with row after row of beauty salons.
Dollar stores for all the items you forgot to pack.. Luggage stores for extra space to bring back your fabulous finds..
About the only thing I didn’t see was a street devoted to mascotas (pets) but that’s probably just because I didn’t wander far enough.
Calling all Colombian travel agencies! Fashion and textile guided tours
Add this to my wish list for Colombian tourism businesses – or other ways to make Colombia accessible to tourists on a whole new level. For people who are familiar with Colombia, the tours would just be a nice, relaxing way to have someone else take care of the details… Not everyone lives in El Centro and has the ability to walk a few streets right into the commercial heart of the city.
But for first-time visitors; wives of travelling businessmen or people unfamiliar with this part of the city – a guided tour to the heart of Medellin’s fashion district would be absolutely essential, particularly as the area gets kind of sketchy after 6 pm. Tours for fashion sewers, crafters and knitters along with general shopping and factory tours just sounds like a fun way to spend a day. Throw in a typical Colombian lunch (not the enormous banda paisa but something featuring all of the great local fruits and vegetables) and a mixed group of tourists (Colombians, and foreigners from several nations) as well as a knowledgeable, bilingual guide – and I think there would be a line of people ready to sign up..
I think it would go along with my dream trip to Bucaramanga for a weekend guided factory tour and shoe-shopping adventure.
Alas! I am not a marketing genius – just a lover of fashion, sewing and crochet. But just for fun – I am going to add a survey here where readers can let me know what they think of this idea.. If I get enough interested responses – I’ll pass it along to someone in the tourism industry.
Proexport advertises Shopping Tours but they are short on details..
If you are interested in a personal beauty consultant – and shopping.. a bit pricey but here’s the link. (link is a bit short on details too..)
Tips for Shopping in El Centro:
– Wear comfortable shoes
– Don’t bring extras: jewelry, cameras, smart phones. (This is a high crime area).
– Bring mainly small bills: 2ooo, 5000 and 10,000 peso bills. It’s problematic to pay for a 3,000 peso purchase with a 50 mil bill for shopkeepers and may be impossible for outside vendors.
– keep your belongings secure – I recommend a zippered purse. Backpacks should be worn on the front. Messenger bags work for me – so I can keep the strap across my chest, and the bag close to my body.
– Try not to be too loud and (gringo-ey) in El Centro.. While most Colombians like Americans, in this instance, you don’t want to attract too much attention.
– Be prepared to leave by 6 pm – and don’t stay in El Centro after dark unless you are with a native paisa (person from Medellin). It is easy to get lost – and dangerous at night.
In general, use commonsense – have fun and good luck on your shopping adventures!