With a violent past and hopeful future Medellin is one of those cities you kinda fall in love with straight away. The streets are bright, colourful and teeming with people day and night, the food is incredible and the locals are super friendly. Plus there are just so many fun things to do in Medellin, you can find yourself entertained for over a week.
Heading to Colombia? Here’s everything to fill your time in this super cosmopolitan city
1. Get to know the city with the Free walking tour
As usual, one of the first things I do in any city is jump on a free walking tour. And the Medellin walking tour run by Real City Tours has garnered a reputation for being one of the best in South America. I have to say they did not disappoint. Providing a thorough run-down of all the top things to do in Medellin Colombia; while teaching us about the city’s dark history and promising future; and giving an insight into the current culture and political climate. Our guide was knowledgable and enthusiastic and I couldn’t recommend taking this tour highly enough. One thing to note is you need to book this tour in advance. Bookings only open 1.5 days before your selected tour and book out really fast. So make sure you’re on the ball. I met a few people who disappointingly missed out. You can book your tickets here.
GETTING THERE: The tour starts from Alpujarra station. You’re most likely staying in Poblado. So head to the Poblado Metro station and take the train 3 stops to Alpujarra in the direction of Niquia. From here turn left and head out of the station. You’ll see a bunch of gringos congregating just near the pedestrian bridge. That’s your tour.
COST: However much you want to tip (I’d recommend $20,000+ COPGet high on the cable cars
2. Get high on the cable cars
One of the most fun things to do in Medellin is to spend a morning on the Cable cars. Rising high above the city and giving you unique birdseye views of the local communas you can’t travel Medellin Colombia and not take a trip on the cable cars. And luckily they are super cheap, the two main cable cars are included in the price of your metro ticket ($2,300 COP). With the third cable car that takes you all the way up to the Parque Arvi (A National Park just outside of Medellin) costing $5,200 COP. The extra price is totally worth it. As it takes you all the way up to the pretty National Park. Which on Sunday mornings hosts an awesome farmers market, with locals selling, fruits, local street food and homemade jams and spreads.
Getting there: Assuming you’re coming from El Poblodo, jump on the metro in the direction of Niquia and ten stops to Acevedo Station. From there follow the signs to the Teleférico (which is spanish for cable car).
Cost: $2,300 for your metro ticket, plus a further $5,200 to go to Parque Arvi.
3. Take a tour of the previous warzone of Communa 13
I have to say, I really didn’t expect much from this tour, however, it might be one of my favourite things to do in Medellin. Comuna 13 is one of the main comunas that surround the city. Similar to the favelas in Brazil. And at one time just as dangerous. The neighborhood was stormed for four days back in 2002 during the height of the civil war with police facing off against the gorillas and gangsters and killing over 6,000 people, a lot of them innocent bystanders. In recent years the local government has really invested to improve the life of its residents. Building the world’s first outdoor escalators. As the Comuna is right up in the hills, the escalators help the elderly get around. It’s also the home to some of the best street art in Colombia.
But the thing that stuck out to me the most on this tour was just the vibe of the whole area. Grannies sitting on their balconies looking over at you and waving hello. Teenagers break dancing and schooling tourists and locals on the art. And kids just running around everywhere enjoying the area. Our free tour was run by Stairway Storytellers. And our guide Estaban was incredible. His passion, knowledge, and enthusiasm for the Comuna was infectious. Making it one of the best tours I think I’ve ever done. Don’t leave Medellin without taking it.
GETING THERE: The tour leaves from San Javier metro station. Take the train from El Poblado in the direction of Niquia to San Antonio station. Then change trains and take it all the way to the end of the line at San Javier. Your guide will collect you from there.
COST: Free + tip (I’d recommend $20,000+)
4. Take a day trip to Guatape
Guatape is a little town surrounded by lakes and mountains about two hours away from Medellin. And I have to say that it stole my heart. I actually ended up staying for six days, when I’d planned on two. Swimming in the lake, hiking around and people watching in the cute brightly painted town. However, if you’re short on time a day trip to this stunning location is totally possible. Once you’re there, the must do’s include; climbing the 740 steps to the top of ‘ The Rock of Guatape’ (or El Peñón de Guatapé in Spanish); Exploring the cute little town, which has been painted in all sorts of colours; swimming in the lake; and having a bit of fun on the little zip line through town.
GETTING THERE Most of the hotels and hostels run day tours. However, it’s totally possible to do by yourself. Take the Metro to Caribe Station and then walk across the bridge to the Southern Bus Terminal. Then jump on the next bus to Guatape. They run about every 20 minutes. And will set you back $14,000 COP. The first bus leaves at 6 am and the last bus back to Medellin leaves Guatape at 7 pm.
COST $27,000 return trip. And $18,000 to climb the rock.
5. Party in el poblado
One of the best things to do in Medellin is party. And one of the first things I noticed after arriving on a Friday afternoon and jumping on the weekly pub-crawl run by Los Patios Hostel was just how ripe partying locations were. The streets near Parque Lleras and further up near the Happy Buddha Hostel Are teeming with people from Wednesday to Sunday. Just strolling around with a Michelada (One of Colombia’s signature drinks – beer with lime juice and a salt rim) and listening to the music flowing out of all of the bars, watching couples salsa and trying to do so yourself is an activity in itself. For those that want to join in the fun, and who wouldn’t? Some awesome places to check out include; 37 Park, a trendy bar with outdoor seating in the park next-door; Envy Rooftop at Charlee Hotel which has a rooftop pool, La Octava which has a ball pit inside; And many, many more.
GETTING THERE: Parque Lleras is in the middle of Zona Rosa and a 15-minute walk from the heart of Poblado. Chuck it into Maps.Me and you’ll find it easily
COST: However much you want to spend on drinks. It can get expensive. So I’d recommend hitting up your nearest Exito for some pre-drinks.
6. Scream yourself horse at a soccer match
One of the most fun things to do in Medellin is to head to a local soccer match. While the standard isn’t great (according to every European I spoke to. I actually wouldn’t have a clue) The atmosphere is incredible! You can either buy tickets yourself from the stadium on or before the day. Or many of the hostels offer tours, which while are expensive (around $80,000 COP) just make the whole experience much smoother and heaps more fun as you’ll be in a big group. Medellin has two teams Atletico Nacional and Independiente Medellin. And if you’re lucky you might be able to catch them in a derby. Although Atletico Nacional usually wins pretty easily.
Getting there: Estadio Atanasio Girardot is located in central Medellín just west of the downtown area. And is easily reached by the metro. Just jump off at Estadio Station.
Cost: $40,000 – $80,000 COP
7. Explore the real history of Pablo Escobar
You can’t go to Medellin Colombia without getting into a discussion about the infamous Pablo Escobar. Unfortunately, this
asshole guy is a massive part of Medellin’s culture. And thanks to ‘Narcos’ every tourist knows his name. There are a number of tours you can do about Pablo. But I’d say the most culturally appropriate and interesting tour is the Pablo city tour with Top 10 Tours (which can be booked through Los Patios Hostel). It’s a four-hour tour where you’re taken to a number of spots that make up part of the history of the Medellin Cartel in the 1980’s including the ‘jail’ that Pablo built to serve his jail time in 1991.
And while there’s a lot of debate about whether this kind of tourism is responsible, considering the violence of the past and whether it puts Pablo Escobar on a pedastool. I found this tour was really interesting as you learn a side to Pablo that isn’t explored in the Narcos series. A dark, evil and honestly disgusting side to the infamous mobster, that I just don’t think they could have included in the show.
GETTING THERE: The Top 10 Tour company will pick you up from your hostel/hotel. Super easy!
COST: $60,000 COP or $55,000 if you have more than 4 people.
8. Spend those dollies at some of the huge shopping centres
If like me, you’ve traveled all the way up South America to get to Colombia you probably haven’t experienced good shopping in quite a while. Being the cosmopolitan city it is one of the best things to do in Medellin is rid your wallet of a fair few dollies. The best malls are El Tesoro, Oviedo, Santa Fe. And they have awesome shops like Forever 21, Zara and Victoria’s Secret. Ummmmm take my money!!
9. Feed that food baby at some incredible restaurants
Hungry and wondering what to do in Medellin? Well, fear not. As Medellin has some of the most delicious food and coffee I’ve encountered in a while. And there are just so many options. For a local option and to try one of Colombia’s signature dishes – Bandejo Paisa (basically a bunch of different meats collected on one plate with plantain, avocado, beans, salad and rice) I’d recommend Mondongos; Naan Indian is serving up some of the best butter chicken I’ve ever had; And Café Zorba makes the best pizza in South America. There’s also a really great food court with a bunch of options just below Los Patios Hostel.
Where to Stay: For those with a bit more disposable LOS PATIOS is an awesome option. With a cute rooftop bar, heaps of activities like pub crawls and art appreciate nights, this modern hostel is social and comfortable. Dorms start at $62,000 in high season. But you can check current prices and book here.
For those looking to scrimp without sacrificing on experience, THE SUGAR CANE HOSTEL is an excellent option. The owner Gunther is an absolute legend. He’s the kind of guy that knows everyone’s name in the hostel and is more than happy to help your plan your time in Medellin or just a night out on the town. The hostel is comfortable and has a social rooftop terrace with free and generous DIY breakfast. You can check the latest prices here.
Daily budget: I found Medellin to be one of the most expensive places in Colombia. Due to the amount of food and booze I consumed. To have a good time while still being a little measured on spending you’re probably looking at about $40 USD per day.
Getting in and away: Getting to Medellin is super easy from pretty much anywhere in Colombia. VIVA COLOMBIA offers super cheap fares and the local bus network is super easy to use. Just head to your closest bus terminal to book your ticket.
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