Reflecting back to 2009, my first week in Medellin was a whirlwind of Couchsurfing meetups, punctuated by a big party in Sabaneta on a Saturday night.
On the walk to the party, I remember seeing a bunch of horses tied to a pole outside a small bar, where their owners were having beers.
This struck me as odd enough to warrant a photo. We were still in the big city, after all, and here were people riding horses into town on a Saturday night.
Welcome to Antioquia.
The Couchsurfing party was held in the common area of someone’s apartment building. We talked and snacked, before moving the party to an outdoor bar in the plaza principal (main plaza) a short walk away.
More than four years passed before I returned to Sabaneta this past Easter Sunday to get to know what a paisa friend of mine calls “the future of Medellin” a little better.
When asked why he thought this, his response was that there was more room to build there.
Indeed, space is increasingly limited in Poblado, so developers are turning their attention toward the southern end of the valley.
The potential for Sabaneta, Colombia’s smallest municipality according to Wikipedia, helps explain why the metro was recently extended past Itagui.
If you’re looking to escape Medellin for a day, and get a feel for pueblo life without leaving the valley, consider a visit to Sabaneta.
How to Get There
The metro is the easiest way to reach Sabaneta. Just take the main line south until you hit the Sabeneta station.
When you exit the station, turn right and walk across the pedestrian bridge over the highway. It leads to a street you can turn left up and follow almost directly to the main plaza.
You can usually follow the lead of others exiting the metro and walking in the same direction, or just ask someone for the “plaza principal” to get pointed in the right direction.
Plenty of buses head down there too, but with costs being equal, the metro is the more comfortable option.
Taxis are a third and necessary option if you plan to take advantage of Sabaneta’s well-regarded nightlife. A one-way ride from Poblado to the main plaza is about 15,000 to 17,000 pesos ($8 – $9).
Note: Google Maps still doesn’t reflect the new Sabaneta and La Estrella metro stops.
Points of Interest
There’s not a whole lot of sightseeing to do in Sabaneta. Like visiting a pueblo, it can be fun to just hang out over a coffee or beer, and watch the people.
Parque Principal (main plaza)
The center of daily life in Sabaneta is this tree-filled plaza no larger than one square block. The Igelesia de Santa Ana takes up one end, with the rest surrounded by bars and restaurants.
Iglesia de Santa Ana (also referred to as Maria Auxiladora Catedral)
Located in the Parque Principal, this Roman Catholic church was constructed between 1897 and 1930.
As we were standing outside the front door, Viviana mentioned this is the church were the sicarios are known to pray. The thought of assassins asking for forgiveness struck me as ludicrous.
She referred me to a well-known Colombian movie, shot in Medellin, called “La Virgen de los Sicarios.”
Centro Comercial Aves Maria
This centrally located mall, 4-5 blocks from the Parque Principal, offers a variety of stores, as well as movie theaters, but the best part is the indoor/outdoor food court on the top floor, which offers scenic views of Sabaneta and the valley.
The Wikipedia page for Sabaneta also references the Faro-Monarca building, but I could find little else (in English) about this project. I made it a point to confirm whether it was actively being built.
According to a taxi driver we asked, plans to construct Colombia’s tallest building in Sabaneta were trashed after it was learned that illicit money (presumably from drug trafficking) was going to be used to help fund the project.
The video above shows what it would’ve looked like had it been built.
La Doctora Restaurante – Calle 75B #40-20
When I asked readers on Facebook for suggestions, I was referred to La Doctora, which one person said served up the best meat in Sabaneta.
Indeed, it turns out the restaurant is something of an institution, and most taxi drivers will know it by name. If you want to walk, it’s about 10 minutes from the main plaza.
The menu features everything from breakfasts to desserts, with a variety of steaks, chicken and fish on offer.
Under the typical meals section, you’ll find bandeja paisa, and some of the gnarlier options, like morcilla (blood sausage), chicharron (pork fat), oreja (ear), and lengua (tongue).
Both Viviana and I opted for a full portion of ribs, Costilla La Doctora (26,500 pesos, or $14.50).
As you can tell from the photo above, these are large portions, served with a few fries and patacones. We each managed to eat about half our ribs, and took the rest to go.
Restaurante El Viejo John – Carrera 45 #70 Sur-42 (half block from Parque Principal)
Another restaurant which has been recommended to me by several people, especially on Tuesday nights around 6 PM, is El Viejo John.
It’s a half block from the main plaza, and therefore easier to stumble across, and features more typical Antioquian food.
I intend to eat here on my next visit, though I’m still not sure what makes Tuesday evenings so special.
Canalon Bar & Carbon – Behind La Doctora Restaurante
There’s not a lot of information in English on Sabaneta’s nightlife, but Canalon was a name I spotted. It features both a bar area (pictured), as well as a larger discoteca behind it.
Fonda Sitio Viejo – Parque Principal. Drinks only.
When I walked into Sabaneta’s main plaza again, for the first time in over four years, I instantly recognized it, as well as the row of tables and chairs lined up outside Fonda Sitio Viejo. This was where I’d sat, drinking beers with the Couchsurfing group!
Only now, they had prettier tables with the caricature of a paisa on them. The location was still perfect. For nostalgia’s sake, I sat down for a beer and some popcorn.
Fonda La Herreria – Adjacent Fonda Sitio Viejo
Around the corner from the park, and adjacent Sitio Viejo, is Fonda La Herreria. The view isn’t quite as nice, since it faces a main street, instead of the park, but the atmosphere is similar.
La Tienda Tocayo – Carrera 45 #68S – 64
Located a block from the main plaza, La Tienda Tocayo is another traditional fonda-style bar. With its painted facade and hanging plants, it looks as though it was taken right out of Guatape.
But given the sign indicates it was established in 1928, it’s dates back to the days when Sabaneta was itself a little pueblo.
Tropical Cocktails – Carrera 48 #65 Sur 95
Tropical Cocktails is a chain of bars in Medellin, and I clearly recall their location in Sabaneta as being a hot spot on Sunday evenings.
Often tired from going out on Thursday, Friday, and/or Saturday nights, I never did make it there to verify whether it lived up to that reputation.
For up-to-date information on what’s going on in Sabaneta, check out En Sabaneta (Spanish).
Do you have a favorite bar or restaurant in Sabaneta? Share your recommendations in the comments below.