Medellin, now sprawling with more than three million people as Colombia’s second city, is fast becoming an ultra-modern conurbation of rapid transit, experimental architecture, and rising seas of skyscrapers. So it’s comforting to know that you can take the city train to a well-preserved (well, mostly fabricated) monument to Medellin’s quaint colonial past.
The absolutely adorable Spanish pueblito (“little town”) of Paisa, founded in 1978, crowns 80m (262ft) Cerro Nutibara, a natural landmark named for legendary Cacique (Chief) Nuibara. It would worth climbing just for the views. Today it is home to a perfect central plaza, surrounded by colonial adobes rescued from an actual Spanish outpost since flooded by the Penol-Guatape Hydroelectric Project. The beautifully restored buildings, complete with flower-draped wooden balconies and ceramic tejas tiles, is centered on the single cutest Catholic chapel you’ve ever seen.
While originally designed to depict businesses you’d find in a typical rural community—pharmacy, tobacconist, barber—as well as a school and city hall, have been largely replaced with souvenir shops, and the place is populated by a surprising number of mimes and living statues, especially on weekends.
Be sure to visit the Parque de Esculturas, next door, displaying the artistic inclinations of modern Medellin and Latin America, an interesting contrast to the idealized vision of the city’s colonial past.