Carmen: A Fun, Friendly Town in Colombia


Walk down Carrera 30 in El Carmen de Viboral, toward Parque Principal, and look to your right after you pass Calle 32. Look for a tiny bar, about the size of a walk-in closet. If it’s open, you’ll get the chance to meet one of the town’s friendliest residents.

They call him Flaco. The skinny guy. He seems to know everything and everyone when it comes to his hometown. I almost got whiplash turning to watch who was waving to him every few minutes as we sat there and talked about the town.

The tiny city of less than 50,000 about an hour east of Medellín is known for its ceramics. There are stores throughout the town that sell them and let you watch how they are made. Take a look at the buildings and other structures there too. You’ll probably see plates in the walls, or tiles around the base of a lamppost.

It seems like anyone there would be happy to tell you about it. Most of the people are like Flaco, very friendly, happy to help you, to give you advice, share stories about their culture.

You’ll notice something else too: the majority of them have green or hazel eyes. I thought Medellín had its fair share of people with light eyes, until I went to Carmen, where — I am not exaggerating — I would guess that at least two-thirds of the people have ojos verdes.

Carmen was my first stop when I returned to Colombia after a recent visit to Florida. As soon as my plane landed in Rio Negro, home to Medellín’s international airport, I called my friend Lucas to ask him to come pick me up. Fortunately, he was in Carmen, just 20 minutes south of the airport.

“Do you have to get back to Medellín immediately,” he said after greeting me curbside.

I told him no.

“Good,” he said. “We’re going to Carmen.”

I arrived at the perfect time. Lucas, his friend Larry, and Flaco had just made some ceviche and it was on ice, waiting for us when we got into Carmen, some of the best ceviche I’ve ever had. Later we stopped at a little hole-in-the-wall place across the street from Flaco’s hole-in-the-wall bar and we bought some empanaditas. I love these tiny businesses.

As we sat at Flaco’s bar, some of the passersby decided to stop by, to have a few drinks with us. As usual, I answered questions about Hawaii (the place I grew up), what I am doing in Colombia (teaching English and trying to develop Medellin Living into the best travel blog it can be), and how long I plan to stay (not sure, but probably mucho tiempo, a long time). I never get tired of answering those questions. I love that the paisas are as curious about my culture and me as I am about theirs and them.

We lost track of time as the daylight eventually faded into darkness, and now I’m counting the days until I can return to that beautiful town.

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  1. Seems like a nice place – what is the road like to get there – could I cycle the 50 miles. I’ll put Carmen on my list to visit when I come to Medellin in March, many thanks for this

  2. The explanation for the green/hazel eyes thing is that most of those towns (Granada, Marinilla, Carmen and others) stayed “untouched” for long times, so the spanish who came to those places during colony times (specially the ones that are surrounded or up in the moutains) had families and children among them, they barely mixed with other spanish or indigenous people outside those towns until recent times (I mean 80-100 years ago). That’s why even when they are mixed now (not 100% european) there are some features that remained.

    You can even notice in some town that they mostly look the “same” LOL, really similar facial features.

    By the way, excellent article, I enjoy a lot more your articles, they’re different than Dave’s (more cultural and people focused). You should try San Antonio de Pereira and La Ceja if you liked El Carmen del Viboral (complete name LOL)

    • i figured it was the european influence. but i didn’t want to assume anything. thanks for the tip. and thanks for your kind words about my writing. i love the people here so i try to make them focal points of my writing. and sorry i made a mistake on the name. i’ll see if i can fix that. sometimes i find different ways to spell different things in different places and i’m not sure which one to choose. oh, and i definitely want to see san antonio de pereira and la ceja too!

  3. Amazing post Ryan!!
    As I Paisa myself living in Montreal, Canada, I found your blog very inspiring.
    I left my home town (El Carmen de Viboral) when i was 16 to move to Medellin, where I lived for 10 more years before moving to Canada.
    Being both my dad and mom families from el Carmen I can tell how accurate your description of the town and people is. You really captured the true soul and feel of my land and people.
    Im currently a MBA candidate and i work for a huge Canadian company, one that makes airplanes ;), but allow me to say that everytime i read one of your blogs I feel like leaving the world behind me and going back… 🙂
    It is also great to see how now, you as many others have become a Paisa, because even if we are far from perfect, deep in all of our hearts Mi tierrita is and will always be the best place on earth and that passion is shown in every one of your posts.
    PD 1: People that get to know me never guess I’m Colombian, they always go for Spanish, Italian or Greek, even the Spanish, the Italians and the Greeks.
    PD 2: You my friend are a Paisa, because a Paisa is not only a person born in this beautiful land, but also someone whose heart belongs to this land and its people.
    Thank you for your posts, and hopefully one day we might have a beer either In Medallo, El Carmen or why not In Montreal!!

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  5. Hello:

    This looks like a great and interesting town to visit. Do you have any sense if restaurants, shops, cafes, etc… will be open on Easter Sunday? We’ll be arriving in Medellin on that Saturday and are looking for a nice day trip on Easter Sunday. Many thanks for any thoughts.