Medellin has become a hot spot for travellers and rightly so, once you go there it’s easy see why. Surrounded by stunning mountains and set in a narrow valley, Medellin has a spring like climate, all year round. If you are looking for a destination that has plenty of sightseeing, tons of history and a buzzing nightlife, then Medellin is the place for you.
Gone is the stigma that Medellin is too dangerous to visit following the tragic troubles in the 90’s and has reinvented itself as a trendy cosmopolitan city. The locals however, seem baffled that tourists want to visit their city, they are extremely friendly and love to say hello, ask where you are from and why you have travelled to Colombia so it’s handy to brush up on some basic Spanish before your visit.
Generally, most travellers stay in the hip area of El Poblado which has cool cafes, restaurants and nightlife. It’s also located close to the metro station which makes getting around the city pretty easy. Most people spend a week here as there is so much to see and do! Here are my top things to do in Medellin.
Free Walking Tour with Real City Tours
Our favourite thing to do in Medellin was the free 4-hour walking tour with Real City Tours. It was our first experience of walking tours so we were a little unsure of what to expect. This company are rated the number 1 thing to do on Trip Advisor and luckily, we had the pleasure of being guided by Pablo, the owner of the company.
Pablo is extremely passionate about taking you to the ‘real’ Medellin, although he hates his name and will refer himself to the same name as a famous Colombian criminal. He said that many locals will tell you to avoid certain areas of the city as they are ‘too dangerous’ and put an X over these areas on your map, but Real City Tours takes you to these places. They are not scary or dangerous, but like any major city you just need to have your wits about you.
If you are interested in the history of Medellin this tour explains the troubles and the reinvention of the city whilst taking you on a tour of downtown. Some of the stories are really moving and it’s hard to believe the troubles were only 20 years ago but with all the terrible violence the local people have faced, they keep a positive and hopeful outlook on life and get excited by the little things, such as Colombia winning a football match, or a Colombian doing well in the Tour de France, or Colombia doing anything really. They love to celebrate and there are plenty of public holidays.
Places are limited and book up fast so make sure you make your reservation online at www.realcitytours.com at 6pm the day before you want to go on the tour. The tour is free but the guides work for tips so be sure to take some cash.
Free Comuna 13 Graffiti walking tour
Now that we’re fans of walking tours we decided to book on to the Comuna 13 free walking tour with Zippy tours. Once rated the most dangerous neighbourhood in the world due to the city’s terrible past with drugs, gangs and violence, this ‘barrio’ has since been transformed into a place of hope for the future through street art and music.
The government also installed escalators to help elderly and pregnant residents visit different points of the neighbourhood as it is built high in the hills of Medellin. The guides live in Comuna 13 and tell the heart-breaking story of the dreadful violence they have seen throughout their lifetime. Highly recommended free tour, just remember to tip the girls.
Go to a football match
You have never experienced a football match until you have been to see Medellin play. There are two teams in Medellin, Deportivo Independiente Medellín also known as DIM and Atlético Nacional.
It just so happened that the match we went to was a derby (el classico) between the two teams. Usually if both teams are playing, only one set of fans can go to the match, however, on this occasion they decided to trial both teams being allowed in the stadium. We made the mistake of supporting DIM and heading into the drinking area of Athletico National fans hang out.
Another thing to mention is that after the match they close metro stations to opposite fans so make sure you check which metro station you can use depending on which team you are supporting! I’m not sure if this is just relevant when it’s a derby or with every match but it’s worth finding out so you don’t get caught up with a huge group from the opposite team like we did.
Matches are generally every Wednesday and Saturday and you can either book with a tour agency which includes transport or book the tickets on your own and make your own way there. We booked tickets in the Oriental stand which had a great view of the entire pitch.
Get fit on the Ciclovia
To promote healthy living, certain major road through Medellin are closed on Sunday’s and public holidays so that locals and tourists have space to walk, run, cycle or skate. The main route goes through Avenida Poblado between 7am -1pm, there is no real direction to start you can just walk down one way and back the other. It’s definitely worth checking out and it’s great to see so many people taking advantage of this service.
Spend a day riding the cable cars to Parque Arvi
No trip to Medellin is complete without a trip on the Cable Cars. The first journey from Acevedo station to Santo Domingo is included in your metro ticket but the second journey from Santo Domingo to Parque Arvi costs 5,200COP and the journey takes about 20 minutes. The journey up the mountains is really quite an eye opener as you reach the poorer barrios which are a stark contrast to the high-rise buildings and fancy apartments in other parts of the city.
Parque Arvi is huge and you will need a day to explore the full park. We thought it was just a small park where we could go and chill out so when we arrived and saw how huge it was, we decided to just have a sit in the sun… until a huge rainstorm came and dampened our plans. The park is closed on Mondays and on Tuesdays following a public holiday.
Take a day trip to Guatape
Many people spend a few nights in Guatape, but we decided to go for the day from Medellin, as once you have seen the sights, there is not that much to do there. Don’t get me wrong, it’s stunning and 100% worth a visit. There are heaps of day tours to Guatape but it’s super easy to get there on your own and for a fraction of the price.
Take the metro to Caribe station and then walk across the bridge to the North bus terminal. From there look for the ticket booth that says Guatape (usually window 14) and the ticket should cost around 12,000COP each way. Buses leave every 30 minutes and takes 2 hours.
We decided to take the bus to La Piedra which is closer to the huge rock with the stunning view point. Just let the driver know you are getting off at La Piedra and they will tell you when it’s time. The walk to the rock takes about 15 minutes, there are tons of tuk tuks which you can take for 5,000COP but it’s honestly not that hard to walk. Entry to the rock costs 18,000COP which is only around £4.50.
The rock is advertised as having 659 steps to the top, but the best surprise is you can climb even higher! There is a total of 740 zig-zag steps to the impressive 360-degree view point. I was happy enough climbing those bad boys once, but Chris decided to run back down and attempt to run up the steps! Safe to say he was almost dying when he reached the top for the second time.
Once your legs have regained some feeling, you can visit the town of Guatape either by walking, taking a tuk tuk or hopping back on the local bus. We decided to walk but it was a quite boring 45-minute walk down a main road without a path. It would probably be a better, and cheaper offer to take the local bus for 1,500COP each or a tuk tuk for 5,000COP.
We were blown away by the beautiful colonial town of Guatape. There is so much colour everywhere! All the buildings have been painted bright colours and there is a cute little square with plenty of places to stop and have lunch.
Getting back to Medellin is easy. Just stand by the road and hail down the bus as it goes past, if you want to buy your ticket before-hand, you can do so, either at the place you were dropped off in La Piedra or the ticket office located by the river in Guatape, but we just paid on the bus.
Enjoy a night out in Medellin’s El Poblado
Known for its colourful nightlife, you can’t really go to Medellin and not enjoy a night out. Our first stop was the very trendy, but secretive trendy bar and restaurant, Alambique. This place is not widely advertised and has no sign outside so you really need to know about it. Located on Carerra 41, #106, you will climb the stairs before being greeted by a hostess. This place is seriously cool! We stopped by for a few cocktails on a Friday night and the place was packed! We wish we hadn’t eaten before-hand as the food looked incredible. Definitely not cheap, but the cocktails are so strong I was already a little drunk after 2.
Following Alambique, we headed for the main drinking area of Parque Lleras which has so many bars and restaurants, you will be spoiled for choice. I actually have no idea where we went but we definitely had a good time!
So, there we have it, my top things to do in Medellin. You can easily spend a week here exploring the city. Make sure you try the local dish, Bandeja paisa which is basically a heart attack on a plate! It contains pork belly, ground meat, sausage, chicharon (pork scratchings) friend egg, rice, plantain, red beans, arepa (which is a corn like tortilla), black pudding and avocado.
Chris and I absolutely loved this city and could easily see ourselves living here. I hope you like it as much as we do. If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below. If you want to know more about Colombia, check out my other blogs here.
Keep on wandering.