Medellin is without a doubt my favourite city so far in Latin America (from this trip…..Rio probably tops it slightly). I’d genuinely love to live here and am currently trying to figure out how I can make that happen.
Why is it so amazing? It’s difficult to explain. It doesn’t have any particularly world famous sights that you need to tick off your bucket list or anything, but…
Once the most dangerous city in the world, this city is now so friendly, beautiful, accessible and leafy. It is so clear to see how much it has transformed since the 1980’s and the transformation is incredible and inspirational. People here are incredibly proud of their city and they should be!
It’s a struggle to convey why it’s such a likeable place; you just need to visit and find out for yourself. And here’s my top must-do activities for when you’re there:
This is my “must see” Medellin and ideally you’ll need around 4-5 days to see everything here. If you’ve got even more time, then there’s so much more to see and do, and I’ll write another post for that in the future.
1. DON’T DO: Pablo Escobar
First of all you need to listen up…. I want to get this out of the way! This city is as cool as it is, not because of it’s awful past with the most famous Escobar, but in spite of it’s awful past. You’ll quickly see that the locals want to forget about him (I even feel guilty writing about him here). It’s a taboo to even mention his name or bring him up in conversation in much of Colombia. This is a city/country that deserves to forget it’s past and focus on it’s massively successful transformation for the future.
So don’t be a dick and show up in Medellin wanting to do all the shitty, cringe-worthy, “gringo-wanker orientated” tours (like paintballing in his mansion); you’ll only be fuelling his memory, and often filling the pockets of his family.
I have been in Colombia now for four months and have managed to avoid all Escobar related tours and I’m not sitting around thinking “What a shit country?” – quite the opposite!! It’s not necessary! OK!?
Now let’s focus on the good stuff...
2. Paragliding (160,000p or less)
For me, this was one of my fondest memories of Medellin. I know there are plenty of options around Colombia and South America in general to Paraglide, but the location of Medellin; nestled amongst the mountains makes the views from your parachute particularly exciting; you’re getting landscape and cityscape for your money.
The flights are accompanied, and all you have to worry about doing is *running like hell* to take off and lifting your legs up to land.
I went through “paraglidingmedellin.com” and it was 160,000pesos for a 20minute flight. I was happy to pay this, as it seemed like a really professional setup, but it is possible to get it cheaper if you just show up in San Felix (a taxi is about 40,000pesos). I heard of people paying only 120,000p.
3. Communa 13
This barrio (neighbourhood) of Medellin was once one of the most dangerous in the world, but has had a lot of investment from the government and is on the rise.
Why go? AMAZING ARTWORK/GRAFFITI, VIEWS OF THE CITY, COOL ESCALATORS
At the time of writing, Communa 13 is a bit of a war zone with loads of trouble going on between gangs and the advice is that you MUST go with a group tour (the tour guides have a lot of respect within the community there and know how to keep tourists safe).
But I personally went there on a date which was great and it felt totally safe at the time I went.
MORNING/AFTERNOON SELF GUIDED TOUR:
- Go to San Javier on the metro, then take the cable car on a full circle back to San Javier (i.e. don’t get off) for great views of the city. From San Javier ask for buses/taxis to the top of the Communa 13 escalators and walk back down into the city using the famous escalators, around which the most of the graffiti or artwork is centred. A great and easy way to combine the MetroCable and Communa13 escalators into one self guided daytrip.
4. Brunch in Poblado
After spending 6 months in Central America suffering refried beans, Poblado became this shining light of culinary delight. The area directly around Parque Lleras is, in my opinion, a bit trashy. Go a few streets north towards Carrera 36/34 and you’ll find some amazing restaurants/cafes/bars.
In particular, try the “Aquacate Encrostado” (served up to 12pm) at Botanika. Go to Bohemia for Sandwiches/Pizza/Cured Meats. Enjoy a coffee at Pergamino.
5. Barrio Boston On The Tram & The Museum of Memories
Use the tram from San Antonio Metro station to get up to Boston. Make sure to go when you’re hungry – because in the main park there are loads of street food venders selling very delicious Chorizo and other foods such as loveable/hateable Colombian dessert “Oblea” which rather oddly includes loads of grated cheese.
Now Barrio Boston is a vibrant and very “local” area of the city, and it is home to the museum of memories which tells the story of the city’s violence within the context of the wider country. This is done in an interactive and interesting way and the building itself and surrounding park is just very cool!
6. Free Walking Tour
Absolutely, without a doubt do the Real City free walking tour. You MUST book in advance online HERE.
TOP TIP: sign up for 8.30 morning tour, then you’ll finish in downtown around midday. From here you can then go on the MetroCable up to Communa13 and have a really productive day!
7. Cable Car
The MetroCable has been really important to the re-generation of what was once the worlds most dangerous city. Allowing locals of the poorest barrios in Medellin to cheaply and quickly get down into the main city for work has opened up opportunities for many.
For us tourists, the views offered from this impressive social-project are astounding. I think combining the San Javier metro cable with a tour of Communa13 is the best way to experience them. But you can also head north out of the city to Parque Arvi on the other MetroCable line.
8. Trilogia Live Music
I ended up feeling basically bullied into going here by this guy I got chatting to in the hostel who basically made me go with him. But they say the best nights are the unplanned ones and this place was awesome!
The live band is on a rotating stage in the middle of the venue, creating an awesome atmosphere with anything from traditional Colombian classics to Adele/Grease (yes, Grease). The atmosphere here is incredible.
TOP TIP: best to book a table ahead for large groups. FYI: they are a bit funny about letting groups of only men in.
9. Sunset at Segundo Mirador de Las Palmas
A great spot to watch the sunset over the city! Ask your taxi driver to head here, it’s quite a trip so will cost around 20,000p in a taxi; but pull a group together and it becomes more reasonable. The mirador is a big lay-by on the side of the road to the airport with street food vendors. Try the panela de queso… a panela based tea with cheese in it… seriously! 😉
10. Parque Arvi
Heading north out of the city on the Cable Cars you’ll end up in Parque Arvi which is a great place to take a wander, though they will try and tell you that you need to pay for a guide. If you don’t want to take a guide, then just try and ignore their scathing glares and keep going yourself.
These two districts/zones of Medellin are situated in the south of the city and are really nice areas with much less of a touristy feel. Saboneta is a great place to go for breakfast, sit on the street and watch the world go by with Chorizo, Eggs and Pandebono.
The central park/plaza in Envigado often has events, street food and music on. I visited at Christmas time and the Christmas display in Envigado is spectacular and centres around the aforementioned plaza.
12. Botanical Garden (free)
Although quite small, the botanical gardens are definitely worth a visit, for the central “structure” which is really cool to see. To get here, you need to take the metro to “Universidad”.
The area surrounding the Gardens is also a nice place to explore. There are some big shopping malls, if thats your thing, as well as some great open spaces to get an ice cream and sit on a sunny day!
If you do the Free Walking Tour with RealCity, you’ll see downtown. But it’s just a quick whistle stop tour. And it’s worth coming back here when you have more time to wander.
Visit the converted Justice building, which is now a shopping mall but for fake items. It’s just fun to walk round and see the stuff, and the building itself is very beautiful.
Head to some of the museums and building around Botero Plaza. In particular…go inside and onto the roof (free) of the “Cultural Building” for a great view of downtown Medellin.
Go to “Hacienda” on Carrera49 for the most authentic Bandeja Paisa in a lovely restaurant with balconies over the street below.
In my honest opinion, unless you have bags of time to kill, Guatape is best visited as a day tour from Medellin rather than staying over there. But either way, don’t miss it!
I’d recommend toursguatape.com who I went with. You can book online.
For only 79,000pesos (£20/$27) you get all this included:
- Collection from Parque Poblado
- Visit a small typical village on the way
- English/Spanish speaking guide
- Climb the rock
- Lunch (very good!)
- Boat ride
- Tour of Guatape town
- Return to Medellin
Whist Poblado gets all the tourist attention for a good reason with all it’s bars and restaurants, I’d suggest that a better area in which to stay would be around Estadio/Laureles. These areas are some of the nicest in the city, with far less tourists, are cheaper and more centrally located if you look at the city as a whole. Consider getting an Airbnb in this area, although there are plenty of hostels and hotels.
Around the two main Parks in Laureles, “Primer Parque de Laureles” and “Segundo” are plenty of bars, cafes and restaurants ranging from basic to high end. It’s a great area to go for dinner outside of the much louder and hectic Poblado.
16. Salsa on 70
Running right down through the middle of Estadio towards Laureles is Carrera 70. The road is lined with bars and restaurants, some great, some good and some downright shit. But it’s a great place to enjoy more of a “local” experience when it comes to some saturday night boozing. Lunches are cheaper here too.
17. Party in Poblado
Whilst some people don’t like the gringo-heavy party scene of Poblado, many people love it! And it’s definitely not “all tourists” as some people try to say. This is a place where locals come to party in their droves as well. My favourite spots:
- 37 Park Medellin – sit outside amongst the trees in this beautifully done out bar
- Bogota Beer Company/Medellin Beer Factory – both of these offer artisan ales in cool surroundings which are often hard to come by in Latin America. Be warned it’s a tad pricier.
- La Octava Bar – is just ridiculous! There is a big swimming pool out back that’s been converted into a ball pit. The crowd is a bit young for my liking, but it’s definitely worth a few beers here for the laughs.
- LicoDeluxe – for live music and dancing
- Carrera 35 & 36 – for swanky cocktail bars
- Donde Aquellos – this is the gay bar of the area
Where to Stay
Don’t miss my Medellin Accommodation Guide to help you understand where to stay.