Colombia's Paisa Region

A Paisa is someone from a region in the northwest of Colombia, but specifically, this region includes Santa fe de Antioquia, Caldas, Risaralda and Quindío, but we will cover the Eje Cafetero departments (Caldas, Risaralda and Quindío) in Coffee Region Guide.


The name of "Paisa" derives from the Spanish apocope of Paisano (one from the same country), although the people of this region also call themselves "Antioqueños." Even though some consider Paisa's a distinct ethnic group (raza Antioqueña or raza Paisa), they are singularly Colombian. Paisa's are unique in that the majority of their ancestors originated from rural Spain. Thus they brought their work ethics and enterprising qualities with them. Paisa's are independent, pragmatic and very family-oriented and have a strong business acumen. Their Catholic faith permeates everything they do and they have passed all these qualities down through the generations.


Paisas have a particular way of speaking Spanish to the point that some writers refer to it as "español antioqueñ.” Paisa people speak Spanish with an apicoalveolar “s” like that of northern and central Spain and they use vos rather than tú for the familiar singular "you" pronoun. Other differences are that they pronounce “s," “z” and “soft c” almost the same and make no distinction between Spanish “ll” and “y.” There is another quality to their "dialect" that is a little harder to define. Paisa’s have a slightly different, more provincial “sing-song" way of speaking Spanish that is quite pleasant and charming and easy to identify once you hear it.


Cuisine:  Paisa cuisine is influenced heavily by their traditional rural and agrarian background. It is similar to other Colombian-andes cuisine with abundance of beans, rice, maize, pork and beef, tropical fruits, potato, yucca and several types of vegetables. The dish that is most commonly associated with the Paisa Region, and indeed one of the most identifiable dishes in all of Colombia is "Bandeja Paisa." It is generally composed of beef, chicharrón (fried pork rind), rice, red beans, a slice of avocado, sweet fried plantains, a fried egg, a small white corn arepa, and sometimes chorizo (sausage).


Other common Paisa dishes include Sopa de Mondongo (diced tripe slow-cooked with vegetables such as bell peppers, onions, carrots, cabbage, celery, tomatoes, cilantro and garlic), Empanada Antioqueña (thin wheat or corn dough stuff with meat, potatoes rice seasoned Hogao o chimichurri sauce), Mazamorra (warm corn “soup” with milk and cane sugar), Arroz con Pollo (chicken and rice) and Arepa Antioqueña.

Medellín:  Nestled at almost 1,500 m above sea level and having a population of 3.5 million residents, Medellin is known lovingly as the “City of Eternal Spring” due to its perfect spring-like weather year round. The combination of warm days and cool nights helps to make this, the second largest of Colombia's cities, a top destination in Colombia for Colombians, international tourists and business people. Many visitors describe this metropolis as having a unique and friendly vibe, thanks to the city's resident Paisanos (as the people of the region call themselves).


The local government has worked tirelessly within the last 10 years to modernize the city, make it a safe place for visitors and residents, and finally rid its negative, drug-fueled and violent image. Now, with crime under control, pioneering community projects, modern infrastructure and a booming economy, Citi Bank and The Wall Street Journal honored Medellín with the title of the most “Innovative City of the Year,” beating out fellow finalists Tel Aviv and even New York City. Medellín


History in Brief:  History: Medellin is located in the Aburrá Valley, and when the Spaniards first arrived, it was populated by the Yamesíes, Niquías, Nutabes and Aburaes indigenous peoples. The first actual settlement, named Lorenzo de Aburrá, was founded in 1616 at the site occupied by present day Barrio El Poplado. Then in 1675, by order of the Queeen of Austria, the small settlement was renamed Villa de Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria de Medellín. In 1826, Medellín replaced Santa Fé de Antioquia as capital of the department of Antioquia. The city grew slowly and is one reason it lacked a significant colonial center like many other cities and towns in Colombia. The 19th century coffee boom and the arrival of the railroad in 1875 ushered in a new era of economic expansion.


Despite the hard working ethics and values of the Paisa people, Medillín’s economic development suffered severe setbacks at the hands of drug cartels in the 1980's. Pablo Escobar’s narcotics empire controlled roughly 80% of all cocaine smuggled into the USA during the 1980’s. At one point, it was estimated that seventy to eighty tons of cocaine were being shipped from Colombia to the U.S. every month. This illicit drug money was used to bribe, control or extort government officials and business leaders at all levels. Those who could not be bought or controlled were summarily murdered. This resulted in the deaths of hundreds of individuals, including civilians, policemen, state officials and three presidential candidates. The war against Escobar ended on December 2, 1993 when he was shot and killed during a police raid.


The following is a brief tour of sorts highlighting our favorite landmarks within the city and surroundings:

+ Zona Central

Many of Medellín’s top sites are clustered around the city’s downtown central zone. This is where many corporate headquarters, municipal offices, departmental government buildings and original architecture are located. The area will give you a nice feel for the city's renaissance transformation into a successful business hub and popular tourist destination. Central Administrativo la Alpujarra is a good place to begin a tour of the city and is where the Gobernación de Antioquia is located.

+ Parque De Los Pies Descalzos

This tranquil and beautiful “zen” inspired public park located in the administrative area of the city, adjacent to the Medellín Metropolitan Theatre, and the Medellín River, was designed by architect Felipe Uribe de Bedout. The design of the park is meant to foster peace, tranquility and reflection. The path through the park begins with a walk through the grass, and a forest of bamboos meant to “envelop you with its shadow and lull you with the sound of wind through the trees." It continues through a sandy area meant to exfoliate your feet, and finishes in the water fountain where kids can play, and you can rinse off your bare feet. Parque Pies Descalzos


Parque De Los Pies Descalzos is surrounded by exquisite restaurants and has a wide square to enjoy cultural events and recreational activities that take place at different times of the year. The park is next to EPM Interactive Museum, and nearby are several other landmarks, including Teatro Metropolitano, Plaza Mayor and Edificio Inteligente.


The Park has an area of exquisite restaurants and a large public square set aside for the many cultural events and recreational activities that take place throughout the year. The park is adjacent to EPM Interactive Museum, and nearby are several other landmarks, including Teatro Metropolitano, Plaza Mayor and Edificio Inteligente.

+ Museo Interactivo

Connected to the Plaza de las Pies Descalzos is Museo Interactivo EPM. The museum provides an educational tour spread throughout 22 rooms and four buildings with technology explained in an entertaining way, and allows guests to interact with the physical principles of water, energy, gas and telecommunications. The idea of the museum is to promote awareness on the importance of environmental issues and the interaction of natural, social and economic factors in order to better preserve the natural environment.

+ Plaza Bótero

Plaza Bótero is a famous public plaza next to the Museum of Antioquia and the Uribe Palace of Culture. On display are 23 of Botero’s bronze sculptures donated by one of the most beloved artists of Colombia, Medellín born Fernando Botero himself. Some of the most popular on display are “Man on horseback,“Maternity,"“Eve,"“Roman Soldier” and “The Hand," to name a few. Many of these statutes were once on display at museums in Paris, Madrid and New York City. Medellín


The Plaza spans some 7500 m2 and is shaded by several tree species, including native ceiba, yellow lignum vitae and tall palm trees. The park also contains two cascading water sculptures, seating areas and pathways. The sculptures themselves are loosely divided into five core thematic blocks, including human body parts, (“the Hand, a human head and a mutilated woman, and the Confrontation of Man and Woman), domestic animals, mythical creatures, and a collection of women in various sensual poses.


In the plaza, you can get up close and actually touch the sensuous curves of each stature, which, according to local legend, will bring you good luck and fortune. Touching the genitals of the “Soldato Romano” is believed to bring love and sex to men and touching the breasts of the “Reclining nude” does the same for women.

+ Museo de Antioquia

Museo de Antioquia, one of Colombia’s most important museums, is housed in a beautiful art-deco building that once housed the City Hall and Municipal Council. The museum contains an impressive array of Pre-Hispanic, colonial, and contemporary paintings, drawings, photographs and sculptures by Colombian and international artists. In addition the museum contains a stunning collection of art from Fernando Botero, a room full of paintings by Antonio Francisco Cano, as well as art by another famous Medellín born artist, Pedro Nel Gómez.

+ Palacio de la Cultura Rafael Uribe Uribe

Palacio de la Cultura Rafael Uribe Uribe is a spectacular Flemish Gothic style building with a distinctive checkerboard façade and was designed and built by Belgium architect Augustín Goovaerts in 1937. The building was formally the Governor’s office and was completely restored in 1998. It now houses many of Medellín’s historical archives (sound archive, library , documentation center )and also serves as an Antioquian cultural center, museum of art and its dome serves as an auditorium and cinema house.

+ Iglesia de la Veracruz

Iglesia de la Veracruz was built in 1682 by early Spanish settlers, and thus is Medellín’s oldest and only colonial era church. The church was declared a Cultural Heritage of Colombia in 1982 and is most famous for its original main alter, brought all the way from Spain. The church has an attractive, yet simple calicanto-style façade. In the square outside, there is a statue of Antanasio Girardot, a hero of the Indepencia and Colombian revolutionary leader who fought with Simón Bolívar in the Campaña Admirable and other battles.

+ Parque de Bolívar

Two blocks north of Plaza Botero is Parque Bolívar, a 10,395 m² area of dense green hedges and trees, paved bike and pedestrian paths, urban furniture, benches, water fountains and several sculptures. The park was dedicated to the great liberator, Simón Bolívar in 1892. In the center of the park is a life-sized bronze statue of Bolívar mounted on his trusty steed. The artists of this magnificent sculpture were Giovanni Anderlini and the Italian sculptor Eugenio Maccagnani. The park is considered one of the landmarks of the city because of its historical and cultural symbolism. Parque Bolivar

+ Catedral Basílica Metropolitana

Dominating the northern side of Parque Bolívar is the Romanesque style Catedral Basílica Metropolitana de la Inmaculada Concepción de María. Built between 1875 and 1931, it is one of the largest brick structures in the world and one of the largest cathedrals in South America and was declared a national monument in 1982. The cathedral is the principal church of the Archdiocese of Medellin, home of the Archbishop and Metropolitan Chapter. Medellín


The interior of the church is impressive with a marble altar and intricate Spanish stained-glass windows. There are several large oil paintings of Gregorio Vásquez de Arce in addition to a small museum of religious art located in 4 rooms adjacent to the basilica. The rooms are open to the public and contain more than 40 paintings and 15 sculptures dating back to the 17th, 18th, and 19th century. On the first Saturday of every month there is a large arts and crafts flea market in the Cathedrals main plaza.

+ Parque de Berrío

Parque de Berrío is the epicenter of Medillín and where the Basilica Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria is located. Built in 1776, it is Medellín’s most significant church and famous for its beautiful coffered ceiling, Señor Caido statue, and its Spanish-colonial style Virgin de la Candelaria Painting.  Medellín

+ Estación Ferrocarril de Antioquia

The history and progress of Antioquia passed through the beautiful French neoclassical styled Estación Ferrocarril de Antioquia. The station was built between 1907 and 1914 and has a statue of Francisco Javier Cisneros, the Cuban engineer who was in charge of much of the station's construction, silently guarding the entrance, and in the center of the station is an old but beautifully preserved locomotive. The building currently houses public and private entities, temporary exhibits and several restaurants and cafés. Along with many other of Medellín’s historical buildings, it was declared a National Monument in 1982. Medellín

+ Prado Centro

Prado Centro is a heritage preservation neighborhood with beautiful ambiance and architecture dating back to the 1930’s. The area was once among the most prestigious neighborhoods in Medellín featuring buildings and houses in the Republican, Mediterranean, European and Colonial styles. Along its peaceful, tree lined and perfectly manicured streets are several art-house theaters, small museums and nice restaurants, all housed in restored old mansions.

+ Jardín Botánico de Medellín Joaquín Antonio Uribe

Medellín’s Botanical Gardens is about 14 hectares of gardens exhibiting a vast collection of orchids preserved in a scenario called Orquideorama, along with many tropical flowers, plants and trees. The Garden has the status of being a center of culture and environmental education for Colombia’s diverse plant botanical species. On display are more than 1,000 distinct species and 4,500 individuals broken into several categories, including tropical, desert, medicinal, palm trees, semi-aquatic and orchids. The covered area for display of flowers, a huge beehive shaped hexagonal lattice, is an architectural marvel.


The Botanical Gardens is the principal venue for the week-long flower festival, Feria de los Flores, held beneath the Orquideorama in the first week of August. Botanical Gardens

+ Parque Explora

Adjacent to the Botanical Gardens is Parque Explora. This is a great place for both young and old to learn about biology, physics, geography and chemistry through a number of high-quality interactive exhibits. Upstairs is a world-class aquarium with 25 tanks exhibiting the vast species diversity of Colombia’s lakes, rivers, streams and oceans. In addition, the museum features a small vivarium exhibiting several species of poison dart frogs, snakes and lizards.

+ Parque de los Deseos

Parque de los Deseos is a tree-lined public space that serves as a meeting place and holds many events and concerts. On the park's grounds is the Planetario de Medellín, one of the most modern Planetarium museums in the world. It features high-quality immersive digital dome experiences as well as areas and exhibits where you can learn about earth sciences, our solar system, astrobiology and the immense universe.

+ Casa Museo Pedro Nel Gómez

Nel Gómez was a leading humanist and a pioneer in Colombian public art. He was famous for his controversial, yet socially conscious murals depicting the lives of hard-working Paisa countrymen. Between 1935 and 1938, he decorated the Museo de Antioquia with 11 spectacular murals on the theme of "life and work."


The Casa Museo Pedro Nel Gómez, located in the middle class neighborhood of Aranjuez is the former house and studio of Nel Gómez. The museum maintains the house's original decorations and furnishings and features 1,500 of his drawings, oils, watercolors, and sculptures. Many of the walls are covered in murals of nudes, one of Gómez's favorite themes. Inside glass cases you will find documents and archives that provide details of the artist's life.

+ El Poblado y Parque el Poblado

El Poblado is where the orginal Spanish settlement was established back in 1616. Today it is among Medellín’s most upscale areas and neighborhoods where the city’s ritziest hotels, condos and stores are located.

+ Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellín

Just to the north of Parque el Poblado is Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellín. The old building was once a steel mill but has been transformed into a stylish museum featuring a large variety of permanent and temporary art exhibits.

+ Parque Lleras

Otherwise known as the city’s Zona Rosa, Parque Lleras is a snazzy tree-lined park that has become the hub for the city’s nightlife. Bordering the park are many upscale bars, nightclubs and restaurants. At night and on the weekends, the place comes alive with partiers from all over the city (but mainly the upscale parts).

+ Zoológico Santa Fé

Zoológico Santa Fé houses around 1000 animals representing 238 different species. Some of the animals are native to Colombia, such as monkeys, tapirs and peccaries, but the collection also includes animals from Africa and other parts of the world. The zoo features a nice aviary, vivarium and pond where the life cycle of the poison dart frog is featured, as well as a butterfly house full of multicolored butterflies. In addition, the zoo features more than 500 species of trees and shrubs.

+ Museo el Castillo

Just to the south of the park is the French Gothic styled Museo el Castillo. Inspired by a Loire Valley Chateau, it was built in 1930 by a wealthy land owner who filled it with artwork and antiques from all over the world.

+ Cerro Nutibara and Pueblito Paisa

Cerro Nutibara features an outdoor stage for open-air concerts and a sculpture park with exhibits from several Latin American countries. The mountain top is also the home of Pueblito Paisa, a reconstruction of a typical colonial - but tiny - Antioquia village complete with cobblestone streets, a fountain in the center, city hall, shops, bars, houses and restaurants serving regional dishes. Pueblito is guarded by statue of Cacique Nutibara designed by artist José Horacio Betancur. From the hilltop, there is a very nice view of the city below.

+ Cerro Volador

Cerro Volador sits at more than 1,600 m above sea level, and the area was once inhabited by indigenous people and is the location of an important indigenous burial ground. Dozens of trails weave through the ancestral lands and is a good place for bird watching and hiking. On the weekends, people bring their mountain bikes, fly kites and have outdoor barbeques and picnics while enjoying the beautiful surroundings and great views of the surrounding countryside and city.

+ Cerro Santo Domingo and Metrocable

No visit to Medellín would be complete without a ride on the city’s famous Metrocable. The neighborhood where the Metrocable is located was once among the most crime ridden and violent barrios in Medellín. The area is now perfectly safe (as long as you don’t flash large wads of cash) and boasts the most iconic example of Medellín’s incredible urban transformation – the Parque Biblioteca España. This is a unique trio of cubist buildings that look like giant boulders jutting out of the hillside. The buildings house an art gallery, computer learning center, daycare center, auditorium and an extensive library complete with more than 14,000 books. Medellín


The Metrocable itself is broken up into several lines: the K, J and L lines. Line “K” serves Acevedo, Andalucia, Popular, and Santo Domingo stations. Line “J” is 2.7 km of cable serving San Javier, Juan XXIII, Vallejuelos and La Aurora stations. Line "L" will take you on an incredibly scenic journey all the way up Parque Arvi. Medellín

+ Santa Elena

Santa Elena is a rural farming community nestled in the mountains above Medellín, 17 kilometers from the city's center. There, local farmers grow potatoes, blackberries and strawberries and produce milk and cheese. Santa Elana is also one of the main places that produce the regions flowers, especially those for the Medellín’s annual flower festival. The scenery around Santa Elena is spectacularly beautiful with rushing streams, waterfalls, rolling green hills, canyons and forests.

+ Parque Arvi

Close to Santa Elana, on the road to Piedras Blancas is Parque Arví. This is a beautiful 16,000 ha nature reserve where you can ride horses, go mountain biking, kayak, trek or just relax with a picnic or barbeque and enjoy the crisp mountain air and incredible natural scenery. In addition to ample natural treasures including a large diversity of flora and fauna species, lush forests, waterfalls, lakes and crystal clear streams, the park also contains several pre-Hispanic ruins and the Camino Cieza de León, a stone path dating back at least 1,400 years.

Guatapé is a remarkable lakeside colonial town painted with, what appears to be, every color of the rainbow. Most of the buildings and houses in the small colonial town are painted with bright colors, and many feature carved “zocalos” around the boarders on the lower part of the building. Zocalos are embossed murals depicting various scenes from the town’s history, political events, animals, farm life or geometric patterns. In the center of town is a nice plaza with a picturesque white and red Greco-Roman church, Parroquilla Nuestra Senora de Carmen. Near the plaza are also the best representative Zocalos in the town.


Just outside of Guatapé is the extraordinary El Peñon de Guatape. This is an impressive 300 m tall bullet shaped boulder which towers over a manmade lake called Embalse de Peñol. The view of the immense Embalse from the top of the rock is truly extraordinary and should not be taken for granite. Medellín

Santa Fe de Antioquia is located about 78 km Northwest of Medellín, and is a national monument and still retains much of its colonial charm and former grandeur as the former capital of the department. It has many beautiful colonial mansions, with wooden balconies and charming cobble stone streets. Medellín


In the center of town is the impressive Catedral Basilica de la Inmaculada Concepción. The cathedral dates back to 1837 and is known for its sculpture of the "Last Supper." An even older church, Iglesia Santa Bárbara was built in 1728. This church has a beautiful but simple brick facade.


Another "must see" in Santa Fé de Antoquia is the Puente Colgante de Occidente. This attractive narrow suspension bridge was built in 1895, making it one of the worlds first suspension bridges, and spans almost 300 m over the Río Cauca. It is mostly used for foot traffic or the occasional motorcycle - cars are not encouraged to drive over it. The bridge was designed by José Maria Villa, a Colombian architect who studied in the USA and even contributed to New York's Brooklin Bridge. Medellín

Located about 130 km south of Medellín, Jardín is a picture perfect Paisa town nestled in a valley surrounded by verdant green hills covered with forests and cultivated crops of banana and coffee. The town is considered one of the most beautiful towns in all of Colombia and still retains much of its original colonial architecture.


In 1985, the main square and church of Jardin were declared a national monument by the Colombia Minister of Tourism. The immense neo-gothic styled Templo Parroquial de la Inmaculada Concepción towers over a central plaza, complete with a nice fountain and lined with flowering trees and shrubs.


The town's colonial buildings are white washed with splashes of blue, green, yellow and red. Many people describe Jardín’s central plaza as having a relaxed and friendly “vibe.” The plaza attracts people of all ages – children playing with the pigeons, teenagers gossiping, dignified old men in cowboy hats watching the world go by. This is a magical place and well worth the almost 4 hour drive from Medellín.


A five minute scenic ride by cable tram will take you to the top of a small mountain and provides for amazing views of Jardín and the surrounding green countryside. If you are feeling more adventurous, you can go on a trek to Cueva del Esplendor (The Cave of Splendor), which sports a spectacular waterfall within a cave.

Canyon Rio Claro Natural Reserve (a.k.a "El Refugio") is located on the south eastern slopes of the Central andes Mountain range, about 160 km southeast of Medellín in the department of Antioquia, and 57 miles from the mouth of the Magdalena river. This beautiful private nature reserve was one of the first nature reserves founded in Colombia. It is a place of immense natural beauty and diversity of flora and fauna. The pristine state and isolation of the reserve is reflected in the crystal clear waters that flow through an impressive 150 m deep marble white canyon. The canyons are a great place for nature treks, river rafting, swimming or just relaxing and enjoy the tranquility of the place.