Far from the heady days of the 80s when Pablo Escobar terrorized the population contemporary visitors to Medellin will find a thriving modern city and welcoming natives looking to change a tarnished reputation one smile at a time.
Things to do in Medellin
Taking a trip to Park Avri is a cool way to kick back to nature for a day. While there are some nice forest tracks at the top, the best part of this place is getting the metro cable up. The nature view as you ride the metro cable is absolutely stunning. The metro cable also gives you a birds eye view of how the locals live as you pass communities on the way up. Take the metro cable first to the community of Santo Domingo. You can explore Santo Domingo for a while and taste some traditional street food including arepas and plantains on your way to Park Avri. This section of the metro cable costs 2200 pesos per person. From there, take a second metro cable to Park Avri for 5000 pesos. If you are so inclined, you can even experience some adrenaline junkie sports such as zip lining at Park Avri. The hours of operation of the cable going to Park Avri are 9.00am to 6.30pm.
Plaza Minorista Fruit Market
If you want to try all the exotic fruits the country has to offer be sure to take a trip to the Plaza Minorista fruit market. This place is also your best bet if you want to score some good deals on fruit. To get to the market, take the metro to Minorista. You can go to the market alone or if you are interested in knowing more about the fruits at this market then you can always sign up for an exotic fruits tour for 45,000 pesos per person.
If you are looking for a trendy area to enjoy a beer in the park or a nice hipster restaurant to eat, look no further than Lleras park. While this area is practically dead during the day, it comes alive at night and is definitely worth checking out.
Parque San Antonio
Perhaps the biggest reminder of Medellin’s past as the worlds most dangerous city can be seen at Parque San Antonio. Here, two bird sculptures of the famous Columbian artist Fernando Botero stand. In 1995, one bird was blown by a guerrilla group killing 20 people. These days the sculptures stand as a symbol of the progression the country as made – from a country living in fear to the Medellin of today where people walk around the street without fear.
Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica
This cathedral was once dubbed the biggest in the world by a prominent travel advisory who hadn’t bothered to visit the city. While this claim is in fact incorrect, the cathedral is still worth half an hour of your time as it is just gorgeous inside.
In Plaza Botero, you can admire many of the statues of the artist Botero which play with size proportion and surround Palacio de la Cultura Rafael Uribe, a gothic checker board pattern style building designed by a Belgian artist.
Plaza Cisneros is yet another example of the transformation of the city of Medellin. The area used to be dangerous and plagued by drug violence. However, nowadays light columns have been inserted to symbolise the hope and prosperity of the city. If you visit at night, the columns illuminate with light. There are also complimentary bathrooms in the area.
Go on a free city walking tour
The free city walking tour will take you to many attractions including Parque San Antonio, Metropolitan Cathedral, Plaza Botero, Plaza Cisneros among other things. Our guide taught us many interesting facts about the city including not to offer Papaya, meaning if you give someone an opportunity they will take it. In other words, take care of your belongings or someone will take the opportunity to take them from you. The tour is free but the guide expects a tip for his or her time at the end. If you prefer to hear more about the transformation of the city, a better tour may be the Pablo Escobar Tour which costs around $60 per person.
A day trip to Guatape
Just two hours outside of Medellin lies the gorgeous, colourful town of Guatape where you can experience the best view in the world. To find out more about Guatape, read our full guide here.
Where to stay?
Most tourists chose to stay in the El Poblado area of Medellin. This is primarily due to the safety of the area and the proximity to bars and restaurants. We would highly recommend staying in this area. You can get a clean and comfortable double room for $20 -30 USD a night. We stayed at a place called Guest House Poblado which we would highly recommend because it was clean and comfortable.
What to eat & drink?
Medellin is a very cheap city by Western standards. However, it is a little more pricey compared to other cities in Columbia. Expect to pay between 10,000 to 30,000 for a meal at a cheap to moderate restaurant in the city. A beer usually costs between 3,000 – 6,000 pesos depending on where you go and what you order.
A trip to Medellin wouldn’t be complete without trying the typical Columbian dish Bandeja Paisa. You can buy the dish all over the city. We would highly recommend trying the restaurant Mondongos. It costs 30,000 for a huge dish that could easily feed two. If you want to keep costs low, Medellin also has some great street food to try. On virtually every corner, you can buy an Arepa or a fried plantain with cheese (our personal favourite) for around 3000 pesos. Another interesting thing to try in the city is the refreshing Columbian drink, Guarapo, which you can buy off street vendors in the city centre for only 1000 pesos.
Columbia is also home to some of the world’s best coffee so if you are a coffee lover you are sure to find a good cup while in Medellin. For great Columbian coffee in the Poblado area, try Velvet cafe. For a place with great wifi, Starbucks has recently entered the Medellin market and sells coffee (by Starbucks standards) at bargain basement prices.
How to get to Medellin?
From Medellin, there is easy bus connections to Bogota, Cartagena and Salento. For a detailed description of how to travel between Medellin & Salento see our guide below.