Shopping & Markets in Medellin
Close to Parque Lleras you will find several options for buying your daily essentials and general groceries. Exito is Colombia's largest supermarket chain, they have a massive store just before the Poblado Metro station, you'll find everything you need there. There are also a couple of smaller "Exito Express" one opposite Casa Kiwi hostel and the other on Avenida Poblado, they sell daily essentials, but not much in the way of fresh produce.
Exito also have a higher end supermarket called Carulla, located on the corner of Ave Poblado and Calle 10A and have a wider range of imported products if you're looking for a taste of home.
Along Calle 10 you also have a small mini market called Merka 10 which have a bit of everything. And on Avenido Poblado alongside the Exito Express you'll find D1 (pronounced "De Uno") a cut price budget supermarket where you'll find nice surprises like bottles of wine at half the price of Exito.
There are plenty of modern shopping malls (“centro comerciales”) around Medellin. The most prominent being El Tesoro, Oviedo, and the newest Santa Fe. All are conveniently located in Poblado. These malls are considered “high end” and very beautiful, often with stunning thematic displays around Christmas and during the Feria de las Flores (Flower Festival).
The malls are probably not too different to what you might be used to back home. There are many international brands that you will be familiar with such as Diesel, Gap, Calvin Klein, Speedo and even Crocs. However, the cost of these goods may be at or even higher, than what you're used to due to import taxes and prestige status.
Walking around the mall during the daytime, you might wonder how the shops stay in business with very few people actually inside the stores despite the abundance of window shopping. The reason these businesses can stay open is that, after five and on the weekends, the place fills up considerably. Especially on weekends, Colombians flock to the mall and meet each other for a Juan Valdez coffee or perhaps for some of the best ice-cream served in town, at Crepes and Waffles.
If you are looking for good quality clothing at reasonable prices, local brands, such as Tennis and Gef, have a good selection of everyday clothing. Otherwise Forever 21, Berhska and Pull & Bear are great international options at reasonable prices. (As a guy, buying a nice, black t-shirt from Pull & Bear is only a few dollars and can be worn virtually everywhere and look great.) The Spanish company Zara also have several stores here that may be worth a visit.
If you need a new backpack or wallet, Totto may be a good place to check. If you’d like upmarket leather shoes and/or handbags, try the Colombian companies Bosi and Velez. If you’re looking for a large department store that sells most anything, from bedding to electronics, you can try Falabella (Sante Fe and San Diego) .
All the malls have large food courts. Eating out at a shopping mall is a popular thing for families and couples to do. Typically, you have a section for the cheaper take away style restaurants, which are mostly parrillas “grilled meats”, chinese food (Colombian style), and of course McDonalds. Then there is another separate section for slightly more fine-dining-esque establishments. One of the most common restaurant you’ll see is Crepes & Waffles, which employs single mothers and serves delicious food - particularly, you guessed it, crepes and waffles. Most visitors to Medellin are surprised by the cost of fast food options which may be just as expensive as the nicer restaurants.
Most Colombians buy their clothing from chain stores in large shopping malls. However, if you’re looking for something a little more unique, then Via Primavera (Carrera 37), one street east of Parque Lleras, is your best bet. It’s a small, trendy street that is known for it’s small, independent designers, mostly female clothing and shoes. When you’re tired of shopping, the lovely Pergamino and Velvet cafés are also located on the same street.
If you’re looking for electronics, you could try the stores Exito Tecno or Ktronixs. Alternatively, the Monterrey Shopping Mall, near the Poblado Metro station, is a mecca for electronic products such as desktops, laptops and computer games. You can bargain a little bit but don’t expect too much difference between the shops. You can also obtain pirated software.
Souvenir and Gifts
The biggest dilemma on a holiday is often what to bring back home to family and friends. If you’re looking for food or beverage related treats, then specialty Colombian coffee is the most popular and easy to get gift option. A quick visit to Juan Valdez (the Colombian Starbucks) is usually the way to go. However, if you’re looking for much better quality coffee, many smaller cafes around Poblado will have their own freshly roasted beans which you can buy, grind and take home to share amongst your loved ones. We recommend buying coffee from Pergamino, Velvet or the Toucan Café.
Another traditional food gift is “Arequipe”, the Colombian version of caramel. It comes in various presentations and combinations as well as offering a “lighter” version. There's also a coconut sweet which makes a mouthwatering treat, it's called Copelia.
Lastly, a bottle of Aguardiente (fire water) or Medellin Ron (rum), will surely put a small on most everyone’s face who enjoys drinking. Because Aguardiente is mostly thought of to be an acquired taste, it may be a great gift solely for the reactions after a first shot.
If you want handmade crafts and cheap, interesting nick-nacks (think fridge magnets) then there’s Colombia Mia on Calle 10, opposite the Diez Hotel and Bancolombia. Alternatively, you could head to Avenida Junin, the main pedestrian shopping street downtown. As you almost reach Parque Bolivar, there are many side malls selling all sorts of souvenirs like t-shirts to tea towels. If you’re there on the first Saturday of the month, you’ll find the San Alejo Market in Parque Bolivar selling jewelry, wristbands, incense and antiques.
There was a time where it was impossible to buy many products that we sometimes take for granted. Like crunchy peanut butter. However over the past 5 years, and especially with the recent free trade agreement with the USA, the choice of foreign products has been growing.
Pricesmart - needs no introduction, with all the products you know and love at great prices
Exito / Carulla / Jumbo Supermarkets all have a "International Food" sections.
Pesqueira - apart from having the best selection of seafood in town they also specialize in Japanese and Asian products. You can find rice paper, soya & teriyaki sauces as well as ready to fry gyoza and bottles of saki.
Nuez Moscada - this small shop near Parque Poblado sells all sorts of spices and Asian products.
Ábrete Sésamo - is a small specialist importer and distributor based in Manila, not far from Parque Poblado. If you're looking for some obscure spice and Nuez Moscada don't have what you're looking for then Ábrete Sésamo will most likely have it.
In Colombia the majority of Asian foods are distributed by Best Choice, a Bogota based company. They have a catalog online and even show you were you can buy their products, just click on "Detalles" and then "Donde Comprar". Actually they supply most of the shops above.
Markets in Medellin
Minorista - this is a huge commercial market located downtown and home to endless stalls selling meats, fish, grains, fruits & vegetables, through to electricals and second hand clothing. In the Minorista you can find an abundance of fruits and vegetables - some impossible to find in normal Colombian grocery stores like “Exito” and many that you will have never seen before. To get there you can walk from Parque Berrio or Prado Metro Stations. However because of it’s downtown location and the number of homeless people, making a living out of recycling the waste of the market, it might be safer and more comfortable to take a taxi.
Central Mayorista - this is the largest market in Medellin. It’s comprised of five different grocery stores as well as numerous minor stores and restaurants that surround it. You can reach the Mayorista by taking the metro to the Ayura station which is in Envigado to the south of Medellin. The hours of operation are Mon to Fri 7:00 am - 12:00 pm, 1:30 pm - 5:30 pm and Sat 8:00 am - 12:00 pm.
San Alejo (Parque Bolivar) - is a colorful craft market perfect for strolling around and purchasing cheap souvenirs. Located in Parque Bolivar, the market is held on the first Saturday of every month and is always filled with a mix of locals, hippies, travelers, smiling faces, music and children playing. After you’re done perusing the market’s goods feel free to take a trip down Junin, the famous and historic pedestrian street.
Every weekend you can find the local farmers market, Mercados Campesinos, in 16 local parks scattered around town. Popular with locals and visitors alike the Mercados Campesinos are great little markets for stocking up on farm-fresh veggies, breads, spices, sauces & preserves and other fresh treats. Even if you are not planning on cooking, browsing the stalls and snacking on the fresh empanadas, tamales, chorizos and arepas is an excellent way to spend a sunday morning in Medellin. If you’re hungover try the guarapo, sugar cane fed through the mechanical press and mixed with lime and ice - one of the most refreshing and thirst quenching drinks you could ever wish for, especially great for hangovers.
If you are staying in the Poblado area the Mercado Campesinos can be found at Parque Presidenta (alongside Dann Carlton Hotel) and Canal Parque Gabriel García Márquez (behind the Telemedellin building) both run 8am to 1pm Sundays. If you're staying closer to Envigado you can visit the market at Santa Maria de Los Ángeles on Saturdays 8am to 1pm.
The markets are an initative by the Mayors office and give local farmers from 5 regions around Medellin the chance to sell their product direct to the public, cutting out the middle man and corporate supermarket. The farmer gets paid more and the consumer pays less and gets a fresher product.