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Vibrant, fresh, local and authentic—here are the 3 best farmers markets in Medellin to visit if you want a taste for Medellin, Colombia.

18 percent of the world’s birds

600 species of bees.

130,000 varieties of plants and orchids

Fair to say that biodiversity is one of Colombia’s strong suits.

With all that blooming, buzzing and cross-pollination going on, it’s no surprise that Colombia is also famed for its fresh produce. Even in the heart of Medellin, the country’s second largest city, it’s impossible to overlook Colombia’s obsession with fruit and veg of all shapes and sizes.

Every refrigerator in Colombia is brimming with vibrantly coloured tropical fruits, many of which are grown in Antioquia Department, Colombia’s fruit bowl, and sold through Medellin’s humming wholesale markets.

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A fruit vendor and a crate runner at Plaza Minorista.

Never one to pass on a pineapple juice, and with a serious mango habit I have no intention of kicking (three years living in Southeast Asia will do that to you), I came to Medellin fully prepared to embrace fruit culture. But we haven’t had the best luck so far—our first market adventure left us with a bag of plantains (nope, those aren’t oversized bananas) to slice up on top of our breakfast porridge

Figuring we still had a thing or two to learn, when Medellin City Services invited us to join their Local Fruits and Market Places Tour for a guided look at three of the biggest and best produce markets in Medellin, we couldn’t say no.

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Colombia: It’s all about the fruit

People in Medellin don’t really drink juice when we go out. We much prefer Coca-Cola, our guide, Steven, told us. It might sound counterintuative, but there’s an easy explanation: Paisas (people from Medellin) usually have so much fruit at home, there’s no need to spend money on juice when they go out.

Fruit is beloved in Medellin. Locals like Steven swear by the high Vitamin C content of certain tropical fruits for keeping their immune systems strong through Medellin’s unpredictable weather. The rich soil and temperate climate in this part of Colombia provides the perfect conditions for growing fruit 365 days a year. The fruit trade is a lucrative export business and has made wealthy dynasties out of many a Medellin family.

Of particular interest to visitors are Colombia’s exotic fruits – some recognisable, but most totally foreign. For the uninitiated it can be dangerous territory: Not all fruits are sweet, some should only be juiced, and others still need to be peeled or chopped in a particular way to be palatable. Some fruits look as if they could be wielded as deadly weapons. Sometimes nature’s sleight of hand turns something you think you know into something else altogether (hence our banana-plantain predicament).

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Market culture in Medellin

For as long as there has been fruit, there has been some form of marketplace in Medellin. Organised markets popped up around the same time as Spanish colonisers. It was the conquistadors who introduced the concept of convening at a set place and time to trade produce—before then, as Plaza Minorista so gracefully puts it markets were more of a verb—an activity, a process—than a noun. Under the Spanish, markets in Medellin evolved into a once-weekly outdoors affair at the city’s main meeting place, the Plaza Mayor

Medellin’s first undercover market (still in use today and the final stop on our market odyssey) opened in 1881 before a series of smaller daily markets were constructed throughout the city. Throughout the tumultuous years, markets helped keep Medellin running by providing a means for displaced people from rural areas to earn a living in the city. Markets have continued to play a major role in urban development, expanding and mushrooming as Medellin has developed into the city it is today.

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For a first-time visitor to Colombia, a lot can be learned about Medellin, it’s culture and people just by visiting a few local markets.
Tour details
Para poder trasladarse con mayor rapidez de unos barrios a otros (Medellín se divide en estratos, de más pobres a más ricos) los paisas utilizan un peculiar medio de transporte: el metrocable. Es un teleférico que cruza la ciudad en 15 minutos y que cuesta lo mismo que vale un ticket de metro (el equivalente español a un euro).

While it is possible to visit these markets in Medellin independently, I highly recommend going with a guide if you want to understand what’s going on, interact with the vendors, and most importantly, sample some fruit. We chose the Local Fruits and Market Places tour with Medellin City Services—one of few companies that visits multiple markets in one itinerary, and the only provider I know of that goes to Mayorista. Their local guides offer an excellent insight into the markets and other aspects of local culture. Our guide, Steven, was especially knowledgeable—Medellin born and bred, he actually comes from a family that’s been involved in the fruit business for several generations.

Cost: 55 USD per person (minimum 2 people).

Time: Daily at 9am and 2pm (I highly recommend requesting an earlier departure to see the markets in their full glory). The tour lasts approximately 4 hours.

What’s included: Full narration by a local guide; pick up, drop off, and transport between the three markets by private car; unlimited fruit samples.

How to book: Visit the Medellin City Tours website to make a booking.

Tips for visiting: There can be quite a crush at the markets in Medellin, especially in the early morning, so take care to stay out of people’s way. Beware of wheely trolleys which can do some serious damage to your ankles and toes if you’re not careful (I recommend wearing closed-in shoes for this reason). We felt safe inside the markets, but do take care outside Minorista in particular (the street from the metro station to the market is quite shady). If you have a backpack, make sure it’s locked and wear it on your front whenever you’re waiting in a queue.

Bring with you: Small change for buying extra fruit; tissues or wet wipes for those sticky fingers; your camera!