Colombia Travel - Medellin City Guide (Things to Do and Places to See)
After covering things to do and places to see in the the capital city, Bogota, we quickly turn our attention to Medellin, another highlight of Colombia travel. Travelers who visit quickly realize that Medellin has transcended beyond its cartel and criminal past; nobody associates the city with Pablo Escobar anymore; it’s all about design, art and innovation.
Explore this vibrant and scenic Colombian city on a private tour with a Colombia travel expert. Beautiful hillsides, a thriving arts scene, eco-friendly parks, a variety of adventure activities, and plenty of pulsating restaurants and bars to keep you entertained, that's what Medellin is all about these days, so make sure you include it as a part of your larger Colombian itinerary.
Once considered to be the most notorious city in the world, Medellin has emerged strong from its dark past of criminal unrest. In the past 20 years, the city has gone through a major transformation which has opened doors for travelers worldwide. Its change has been so extraordinary that mayors from all over the world come to Medellin to learn how to successfully transform a city.
Apart from the eradication of drugs-related violence, the government also signed a peace treaty with the Marxist forces (after 5 decades of conflict!) in 2016; the city has now become an attractive hotspot of tourism, with its beautiful mountains, super friendly locals, excellent weather and a vibrant culture.
No matter where in Colombia you visit, the weather is usually perfect and consistent, and Medellin is no exception. The city sits perfectly in the Andean region of Colombia at an altitude of 5000 feetr, where the weather is cool and dry throughout the year, with a profusion of blooming flowers wherever you look; it is precisely due to its pleasant spring-like climate that Medellin is called 'La Ciudad de la Eterna Primavera' ('The City of Eternal Spring).
We recommend you visit Medellin during the Festival of the Flowers in August; this is probably the most colorful, vibrant and important event of the city; visitors can enjoy parades with colorful floats full of flowers, vintage cars exhibition, beauty pageants and musical concerts.
How to get around
Travelling in Medellin might seem a little intimidating; Colombia’s second largest city is a pretty big metropolis, but getting around is very easy. In actual fact, Medellin has one of the most complete, economical and supremely efficient public transport system in all of the Americas which includes busses, a metro, tram, public bicycle service and the metro cable service.
Taxi: Like Bogota, hired taxis and local cabs are, for the most part, the most trusted and safest option. It’s always sensible to book a taxi in advance, and in general, chances of you getting ripped off are quite minimal.
Bus: The bus network in Medellin is same that operates throughout Colombia; either you wait for them at the bus stop or hail one down on the middle of the street.
Metro: The pride and joy of Medellin is the metro rail system. It is arguably one of the fastest and cleanest in the world, and helps connect far away areas of the city, bridging great distances easily. Another massive project that took place with the Metro in recent years was the addition of the Metro Cable. It has since become a national icon that connects the most popular neighborhoods with poorer comunas of the city up in the hills. Apart from being a great way to get around, it is also one of the primary tourist attractions; the views of the city are exquisite. We strongly recommend this way to get about in Medellin, as it covers all the major points of the city. You only need buy a ticket and look on a map to see where you’re going and go there.
Things to do and places to see:
Walking Tour of the City
Almost all the prominent highlights of Medellin can be covered in a free walking tour; it's the best way to discover the city and understand all about its turbulent past and present.
Some Notable Highlights:
Discover the world’s largest collection of Fernando Botero paintings (Botero is a famous Colombian figurative artist and sculptor), as well as works of other famous Latin American artists at the Museum de Antioquia. You can even admire his towering sculptures in Parque de Bolivar.
Explore Botero Plaza, named after the great man himself, and wander through Medellin’s historic city center to see more of his larger-than-life figures.
Pablo Escobar Tours
People who have seen the hit TV show Narcos (or followed one of the biggest news stories of the 80s and early-90s) are aware of the legend of renowned drug lord Pablo Escobar. Depending on whom you ask, he either tormented the city and created civil unrest for decades, or he was a local Robin Hood-esque champion of the poor. While some people see him in a positive light, others just want to erase his notorious antics that shadowed his horrifically violent reign.
If you are a fan and wish to relive the fun and games back in the day, customize your itinerary to include this tour (typically lasts for around half a day); you will learn all about the brutal past of this city on a fully narrated tour with a seasoned guide. Learn all about Escobar's extensive cocaine operation and visit few historical sites like the Monaco Building, where Escobar's was killed in a brutal 20-minute shootout with Colombian security forces. Also visit Escobar’s grave, located on the outskirts of the city.
Visit the Comuna 13 Neighborhood
The neighborhood of Comuna 13 has a really interesting story; it used to be one of the most violent neighborhoods in Colombia and possibly the entire world. The streets were filled with gangs, drugs and crime, with a negligible amount of police presence, if any at all. But today Comuna 13 has gone through a complete transformation. The streets have been cleaned up, the community has been rebuilt, and what's most impressive is the innovative use of street art to tell this story of transformation.
From top to bottom, the neighborhoods are covered in incredible graffiti with images of beauty, loss, family and love that tell real stories of real people. Put on your good walking shoes and take a couple of hours to tour Comuna 13.
Try Adventure Activities
Madellin is also an ideal destination for adventure lovers. Paragliding off the green hillsides, go mountain biking or rent an ATV and tear over the rugged topography of the city’s hilly, wooded outskirts. Just watching a soccer match in Medellin will get your adrenaline surging.
Experience the Flower Festival
If you can make it to Medellin at the end of July/early August, you will get to witness the awesomeness that is La Feria de Flores or the Flower Festival. It is Medellin's biggest festival and lasts a little over a week. But literally, every single day is a big party in the city.
There are parades of colorful floats, spontaneous stree-dances, and lively concerts at night featuring the hottest performances in music.
Important Tip: During the first day of the festival, Colombian cycling companies throw a massive bicycle competition where hundreds of people compete to win the best and most creatively decorated bikes. After the competition, the city shuts down half its roads as thousands of people jump on their bikes and ride together in joyous celebration from Parque de Las Luces to Plaza Gardel.
Sample the World’s Best Coffee
There’s a huge fascination among travelers about Colombia’s world-famous coffee culture. From chic urban coffee shops to local coffee plantation centers, there are numerous ways to learn about, sample and enjoy the various brews of this refreshing Colombian specialty.
Editorial copyrights: Vashti Hallissey
To taste the best quality java in the city, we highly recommend the Juan Valdez Café, Colombia’s answer to Starbucks. Over the years the franchise has grown and expanded to a number of countries (you can even find one in Manhattan). Sample delicious coffee and delight your sweet tooth with tasty pastries. If an Indie coffee shop takes your fancy, try the Pergamino Cafe in Parque Lleras. It has received great praise from locals and expats alike.
If you want to know more about the sourcing and production of coffee, then don’t hesitate to include a tour of a local coffee farm in your itinerary. Your travel experts will take you to an authentic working coffee farm in Antioquia 1.5 hours away from Medellin, past landscapes of stunning green. At the farm you will learn the complete process of making coffee the traditional Colombian way; sample different varieties from the vast spectrum of beans and flavors available.
Take leisurely walks through the Botanical Gardens
Medellin is known for its eco-friendly parks and gardens, which are nothing less than calm oases in a busy city, bursting with an amazing variety of flora and fauna.
With beautiful butterfly houses and great places to stop, sit, and admire nature, these eco-friendly gardens are ideal to visit and unwind for a few hours.
Do Visit the Pueblo of Guatape
Any trip to Medellin is incomplete without visiting a couple of pueblos that surround it. These are nearby small towns that provide locals, expats and travelers, a quiet haven from the city’s chaos. One such pueblo worthy of mention is Guatape. Serene and colorful, this small town is located about two hours from Medellín. It’s an ideal weekend gateway with plenty of things to see and do. Take speed boat rides around the lakes or get a guided tour of one of Pablo Escobar’s mansions.
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Our pueblo excursions don’t end here. A 15-minute rickshaw ride from Guatape will get you to the Guatapé monolith known as El Peñón de Guatapé, a major highlight of Colombia. This giant free-standing monolith weighs 10 millions tons and was worshipped by the ancient Tahamies Indians. Test your endurance by climbing 700 concrete stairs to the top of this mammoth rock to get a breathtaking 360-degree view of the region. If you're up for a bigger challenge, there is a rock-climbing option also available.
Discover Colombian Food
If you read our guide on the must try foods in Colombia, you would know that Colombians have an incredible selection of lip smacking dishes. There are a variety of restaurants, from swish fine-dining establishments to little local eateries, throughout the city to sample authentic Colombian dishes; even beyond the food, these places have an excellent atmosphere and prolific service.
Take a culinary tour of Medellin; your local experts will recommend the best restaurants in town where you can enjoy a typical Colombian lunch on the shores of Guatape Lake, followed by a leisurely boat ride which will take you past cultural and historical sites along the way.
Brace yourself for traditional dishes such as Empanadas and Arepas and unique dishes such as Buñuelos and the famous Bandeja Paisa (Colombia’s national dish). You can even modify your tour by exploring the colorful neighborhood street markets to sample exotic and mouthwatering tribal fruits which can be only found in Colombia.
Discover the Nightlife at Parque Lleras
Situated in the vibrant neighborhood of El Poblado, Parque Lleras is the ideal stomping ground for party goers any day of the week. You can find a great range of venues, from small salsa bars to bigger, mainstream clubs in this area. Whatever you’re looking for, you’ll find it here; just make sure to bring your dancing shoes.
Important Tip - Try Salsa: Your favorite night in Medellin will the Salsa night which can be any or every night of the week. There is no shortage of banging salsa hotspots, where dancers of all levels come out and have a great time. And even if you don’t know how to salsa, trust us, you want to get involved.
You can design a customized tour of Medellin with a local expert right here.