Medellin Is A Great Place To Be

Located in the Aburra Valley of Colombia, Medellin is the perfect place for travelers looking to explore beautiful landscapes, experience the vibrant culture, and indulge in delicious food.

It is one of the most exciting cities in South America, and it’s no surprise that I would celebrate my birthday with friends there. From exploring its many attractions to tasting local dishes, there are so many things to do in Medellin, Colombia.

BRIEF MEDELLIN HISTORY

Medellín, the second-largest city in Colombia, has a rich and varied history.

It was founded in 1616 by Francisco de Herrera Campuzano, a Spanish conquistador, and was initially named San Lorenzo de Aburrá. The city grew slowly in its early years, but it began to prosper, first by the rise of the robust coffee industry and then becoming a central hub for textile, steel, and chemical industries. 

However, Medellín’s prosperity came at a price.

In the 1980s, Medellín became an important center for the illegal drug trade. The Medellín Cartel, led by Pablo Escobar, was one of the world’s most influential and violent drug cartels. The cartel’s activities brought violence and instability to Medellín, and the city became known as one of the most dangerous cities in the world. The city’s rapid growth led to widespread poverty and inequality.

In the 1990s, the Colombian government launched a major crackdown on the Medellín Cartel.

The cartel was eventually dismantled, and Medellín began to rebuild. The city’s government invested heavily in infrastructure, education, and social programs. Medellín’s economy continued to grow, and the city became a major center for tourism and business.

Today, Medellín is a thriving city with a population of over 2.5 million people.

It is a major center for industry, commerce, and culture. Medellín has been praised for its urban planning and public transportation system. The city has also been recognized for its effective measures to reduce the city’s poverty and inequality.

Medellín is a city on the rise, and it is an example of how a city can overcome its challenges and become a model for other cities around the world.

HOW TO GET TO MEDELLIN

Medellin is a dynamic city located in the northwest region of Colombia, making it an attractive destination for tourists from all over the world. Here are the most popular ways to get to Medellin:

By Air:

Most travelers will fly into Medellin through its international airport, Jose Maria Cordova (MDE), located in the nearby city of Rionegro. The airport is serviced by several airlines, including Avianca, LATAM, and Copa Airlines, and receives flights from several international destinations like Miami, New York, and Madrid.

Upon arrival, tourists can take a shuttle bus, taxi or Uber to their destination in Medellin. The journey typically takes around 45 minutes to one hour, depending on traffic conditions.

By Bus:

Those traveling from other cities such as Bogota can take a bus. Bogota’s bus ride is about nine hours and offers stunning views of the Colombian countryside. Consider an overnight ride in a bus with lie-flat seats. Be sure to wear extra layers as they tend to crank up the AC through the night. For more bus information, check out sites like:

WHERE TO STAY IN MEDELLIN: BEST NEIGHBORHOODS

Choosing the right neighborhood to stay in when visiting a new city is crucially important for a comfortable and convenient trip. Medellin has several neighborhoods with distinct characteristics, each offering their unique benefits and experiences. Here are the best neighborhoods to stay in when visiting Medellin:

El Poblado

El Poblado is one of the most upscale and vibrant neighborhoods in Medellin, making it a popular choice for tourists. It is located in the south of the city and is known for its trendy restaurants, cafes, bars, and clubs, making it perfect for those interested in nightlife. El Poblado is also home to several parks, including Parque Lleras, which is the epicenter of the city’s nightlife scene. El Poblado offers a range of accommodation options, from high-end hotels to hostels and affordable guesthouses.

Landmark Hotel

Hotel York Luxury Suites

Laureles

Laureles is a popular neighborhood among local residents and expats and offers a more authentic experience of Medellin. It is located in the west of the city and is known for its tree-lined streets, colorful buildings, street markets, and parks. This neighborhood has plenty of restaurants, cafes, and bars that cater to both locals and tourists. It offers a mix of accommodations, from budget-friendly hostels to high-end hotels and apartments.

Hotel Asturias Medellin

Hotel Casa Laureles

Envigado

Located just outside of Medellin, Envigado is a charming and quaint neighborhood that offers a more relaxed and laid-back atmosphere than the main city. The streets in Envigado are lined with restaurants, cafes, and shops, and there are several parks and green spaces to enjoy. This neighborhood is an excellent option for those who want easy access to the city but prefer a quieter place to stay. Envigado offers a range of accommodations, including boutique hotels and guesthouses.

Casa Hotel San Lucar

El Centro

El Centro is the historic center of Medellin, and it is an excellent choice for tourists interested in the city’s rich history and culture. The neighborhood is known for its colonial architecture, museums, and landmarks, like the Palace of Culture and Plaza Botero. El Centro is also home to several restaurants and shops, and it is a vibrant and bustling area. 

This neighborhood is excellent for very affordable accommodations.

Centro Hostel

BEST THINGS TO DO IN MEDELLIN

01 | Take a Walking Tour through Medellin’s City Center

The free walking tour in Medellín is an amazing way to explore the city and learn about its vibrant culture. Led by experienced local guides, this tour takes you through some of the most iconic sites such as Parque Bolivar, Plaza Botero, and La Candelaria. You’ll get to experience quintessential Colombian hospitality while discovering interesting facts about the city’s past and present.

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Despite being free, this may have been the best walking tour I’ve ever taken. As the guides are supported by tips, they select for guides that have the best interpersonal skills and have a solid understanding of their city and country.

Real City Tours

02 | Hop on A Bike For A Thrilling Medellin Tour

If you’re planning a trip to Medellin, Colombia, I highly recommend taking an e-bike tour of the city. Not only is it a fun and unique way to explore the city, but it’s also a fantastic way to see all of the sights and sounds that Medellin has to offer.

One of the biggest advantages of taking an e-bike tour is that it allows you to cover a lot of ground in a relatively short amount of time. You’ll be able to see more of the city than you would if you were walking, and you won’t have to worry about getting stuck in traffic or dealing with public transportation. 

Additionally, e-bikes are environmentally friendly and don’t produce any emissions, so you can feel good about minimizing your carbon footprint while exploring the city. Overall, an e-bike tour of Medellin is a great way to experience the city in a way that’s both fun and environmentally responsible.

03 | Explore the bustling El Poblado neighborhood

El Poblado is an upscale neighborhood located in southeast Medellin, Colombia. Known for its affluent residents, modern buildings, and lively nightlife, the area has become one of the city’s most popular destinations for tourists and locals alike.

El Poblado was originally a rural settlement but experienced explosive growth in the 20th century. The neighborhood became a prime location for wealthy families and foreign investors to build homes and businesses, resulting in the array of luxurious apartment complexes, restaurants, and bars that exist today.

Panoramic of El Poblado in Medellin City
Panoramic of El Poblado in Medellin City

El Poblado also contains numerous shopping centers, giving visitors plenty of chances to pick up souvenirs or find something special for themselves. With its incredible architecture, fascinating history, and tantalizing food culture, El Poblado is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in experiencing all that the city has to offer. 

04 | Admire the Views on Medellin’s Metrocables

The public transportation in Medellin is excellent, but the most noteworthy part is the Metrocable. Visitors can take a ride on the cable car for stunning views of the city and the surrounding mountains.

Panoramic view of Medellin from Cable Car

It was designed to reach some of the city’s informal settlements on the steep hills that mark its topography. The system has been credited with improving the quality of life for residents of the informal settlements, by making it easier for them to get to work, school, and healthcare.

They are very affordable and efficient. Be sure to hop on one when you visit Medellin. 

Headed to Comuna 13? On your way back to the metro, Take Line J from San Javier Station for a panoramic view

Checking out Parque Arvi? Skip the Uber and hop on lines K then L to get there. 

Check out the official Medellin Metro Website for more details.

05 | Explore the Vibrant Streets of Comuna 13

Comuna 13, formerly one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Colombia, has transformed itself into a thriving tourist destination. It is located on the west hills of the city and is densely populated with thousands of brick and cement homes.

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In 2002, the Colombian government implemented initiatives to revitalize impoverished and cartel-riddled neighborhoods and empower those communities with economic opportunity. This operation was successful in reducing crime and violence in the area, allowing for new businesses to open up and for locals to feel safer.

Today, Comuna 13 is a popular tourist destination due to its unique history and culture. Visitors can explore its colorful streets lined with graffiti art or take part in one of many tours offered by locals who will share stories about their experiences living there during its darkest days. 

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There are also plenty of restaurants, bars, shops, and other attractions to enjoy while visiting Comuna 13. Whether you’re looking for an authentic cultural experience or just want to learn more about this fascinating place, it’s worth taking some time to explore this unique corner of Medellin.

06 | Day Trip to Guatape

Guatape is a small, picturesque town located just a couple of hours outside of Medellin, Colombia. Known for its colorful buildings and stunning natural scenery, Guatape is a must-visit destination for anyone in search of tranquility, beauty, and history.

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Guatape has a rich history dating back to the pre-Colombian era when the region was inhabited by indigenous tribes. The town itself was founded in the early 1800s when Spanish settlers arrived in the area. The town’s colorful buildings and churches feature designs and elements that reflect both Spanish and indigenous influences.

El Penol, view of the towering rock formation from its base
El Penol in Guatape, Colombia

For panoramic views of the area, visitors can climb the 740 steps to the top of El Peñol de Guatape. From the top of the rock formation, visitors can enjoy stunning views of the town and the surrounding lakes and mountains. Afterward, visitors can explore the town center, which features colorful streets, vibrant markets, and a beautiful town square with cafes and restaurants.

The view from the top of El Peñol in Medellin, Colombia
The view from the top of El Peñol in Medellin, Colombia

To learn more about a Guatape Day Trip, please stay tuned for my upcoming post.

For now, here are some tour options:

07 | Explore Colombian Coffee Culture

As a country that produces some of the best coffee in the world, Colombia is the perfect place to learn about the art of coffee-making. If you’re visiting Medellin, a coffee tour is an excellent way to experience Colombian coffee culture and learn about the process of cultivating and roasting the beans.

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Just a tad creepy, no?

There are several coffee tours available from Medellin, each with their unique offerings. The tours typically include a visit to coffee plantations, where visitors can learn about the different varieties of coffee and see firsthand how the beans are grown, harvested, and processed. Some coffee tours also offer tasting sessions where visitors can sample different types of coffee and learn about the nuances of flavor.

08 | Feel Like Royalty at El Castillo Museo de Jardines

El Castillo Museo de Jardines in Medellin is a museum and garden complex located at Parque El Castillo in the north side of the city. It is an iconic landmark, expertly blending modern and traditional architecture into its design. The museum houses an impressive permanent collection of art from all over Latin America as well as a variety of rotating special exhibits and events. 

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Just a tad creepy, no?

There are also plenty of gardens, offering tranquil retreats for visitors to relax and enjoy the beauty of nature. Visitors can explore the themed gardens, featuring plants, trees, flowers, and sculptures inspired by local culture and traditions. Guests can also discover interactive elements like water features, labyrinths and footbridges that add to the experience. 

09 | Visit Museo Casa de la Memoria

Museo Casa de la Memoria (Museum House of Memory) is dedicated to preserving and sharing the memory of people affected by the Colombian armed conflict. Through its exhibitions, interactive media, and educational programs, the museum seeks to bring attention to the individual lives and stories of those affected by the conflict, helping to create a more peaceful future for all Colombians.

Museo Casa de la Memoria stands as a reminder of one of Colombia’s most difficult times while also serving as a platform for education, peacebuilding and reconciliation. Its mission is to ensure that no Colombian forgets their past in order to build a better future for all citizens.

Open Tuesday through Sunday. Check out TripAdvisor for more details.

10 | Immerse in Nature at Parque Arvi

Parque Arví is a vast natural attraction located on the outskirts of bustling Medellin, Colombia. This ecological nature reserve stretches out over 39,500 acres and offers a variety of activities for visitors who want to escape the city and experience nature at its finest.

Parque Arvi (Arví) with water stream and surrounding foliage, located close to Medellin, Colombia

The park is home to an incredible biodiversity of flora and fauna, including many species of birds, butterflies, and mammals. Some of the outdoor activities you can enjoy here include hiking, bird watching, fishing, horseback riding, mountain biking, and camping.

Bridge and surrounding forestry at Parque Arvi in Medellin

The best part about getting to Parque Arvi is the use of the metro cable system. Alternatively, you can also take a taxi, but you’ll be missing out on all the scenic views!

Check out the Parque Arvi website for more details.

11 | Catch A Fútbol Match At Estadio Atanasio Girardot

If you’re a soccer fan, then watching a match in Medellin is an absolute must-do when visiting Colombia. The city is home to two major football teams – Atlético Nacional and Independiente Medellín, both of which have a passionate and dedicated fan base. 

Watching a soccer match in Medellin is an unforgettable experience that showcases the passion and spirit of Colombian football fans. So, join the locals, sing their chants, and cheer on your favorite team to victory!

For tips on buying tickets, check out this informative guide by Real City Tours.

12 | Visit Museo De Antioquia & Plaza Botero.

Museo de Antioquia is one of the most important cultural institutions in Medellin, Colombia. This museum was founded in 1881 and has a vast collection of historical and contemporary art that showcases the cultural heritage of Antioquia and the rest of Colombia.

Museum of Antioquia in Medellin, Colombia

The museum is situated in a beautifully restored building, which was originally constructed in the 19th century. It has a wide array of exhibitions ranging from pre-Columbian and colonial art to contemporary works of art. One of the most popular exhibits is the permanent collection of works by Medellin’s most famous artist, Fernando Botero, including his famous sculptures and paintings depicting people and animals in an exaggerated, larger-than-life style.

You’ll find more of Botero’s works in the Plaza Botero. The best known sculpture is a bird, badly damaged due to a bomb explosion that killed around 20 people in 1995. In response, Botero donated an identical sculpture that now lives side-by-side with the mangled remains of the other one.

Plaza Botero in Medellin, Colombia

13 | Check out Medellin’s Botanical Gardens

Jardín Botánico de Medellín is a 14-hectare botanical garden located in the center of Medellin, Colombia. The garden features a vast collection of diverse plants and flowers, making it a must-visit destination for nature lovers and anyone looking for a relaxing escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Visitors to the garden can stroll through diverse ecosystems, from bamboo forests to orchid gardens to collections of palms and tropical fruits. The garden also features several greenhouses with rare and exotic plant species, and a butterfly house where visitors can observe these beautiful creatures up close.

Sign at Jardin Botanico in Medellin, Colombia.

The garden offers a range of activities and events throughout the year, including guided tours, nature workshops, and outdoor concerts and performances. Visitors can also rent bicycles and explore the garden at their own pace. Additionally, the garden hosts an annual orchid fair, where visitors can admire and purchase a wide variety of orchids.

14 | Take a Cooking Class

One of the best ways to explore a new culture is through its cuisine, and Medellin offers plenty of opportunities to dive into the delicious world of Colombian food. Taking a cooking class is a unique way to fully appreciate the flavors and techniques of Colombian cuisine and is a must-do experience for any foodie in the city.

There are several cooking classes available in Medellin, ranging from more casual home-style cooking experiences to formal classes led by professional chefs. Whatever type of class you choose, you can expect to find classes that focus on traditional Colombian dishes such as bandeja paisa, a hearty platter that includes rice, beans, meat, and plantains, or are focused on iconic Colombian snacks and refreshments like arepas and aguapanela. Many classes also offer vegetarian and vegan options, so there are plenty of options to meet various dietary needs.

15 | Enjoy Medellin’s Amazing Food

As a vibrant and culturally rich city, Medellin has plenty of delicious and unique dishes to offer visitors. From traditional street food to fine dining restaurants, the city is a haven for foodies and lovers of Colombian cuisine.

Traditional Colombian Dishes

No trip to Medellin is complete without trying these traditional Colombian dishes:

Bandeja Paisa: A hearty platter of rice, beans, meat, chorizo, plantains, avocado, and an arepa.

Arepas: Thick, round patties made of cornmeal that can be filled with various ingredients like cheese, meat, or beans.

Empanadas: Fried or baked pockets of dough filled with meat, cheese or vegetables.

Lechona: A whole roasted pig stuffed with rice, peas, and spices.

Table with different Colombian dishes in Medellin, Colombia
Bandeja Paisa and other amazing dishes we tried.

Street Food

One of the best ways to experience the local flavors of Medellin is through its street food. Some of the best street food in the city includes:

Chuzo: Grilled skewers of meat and vegetables served with potato or yucca.

Arepa de choclo: A sweetcorn-filled arepa that is a popular breakfast snack.

Salchipapa: A combination of French fries, thinly sliced beef or chicken sausage, and a variety of toppings like cheese and guacamole.

Mango Biche: Green mango that is seasoned with salt, pepper, and lime juice for a tangy and refreshing snack.

Traditional Colombian Arepa de Choclo
Arepas de Choclo — Tasty looking right?

Amazing Restaurants

For a more upscale dining experience, Medellin has a variety of high-end restaurants that offer incredible culinary experiences. Some of the best fine dining options in the city include:

El Cielo: A restaurant that specializes in molecular gastronomy and serves a multi-course tasting menu.

Carmen: A contemporary restaurant that showcases local ingredients and flavors in creative and innovative dishes.

OCI.Mde: I was lucky to book this place last minute for 6 people, and this was the most delicious meal I ever had in Medellin! This was definitely a memorable start to my trip there.

Cafes and Bakeries

Medellin has a thriving cafe culture with plenty of great options for coffee lovers and those with a sweet tooth. Here are a couple of great cafe options:

Pergamino: Serves artisanal coffee blends and a selection of pastries and desserts.

Velvet: Offers a variety of sweet treats, cakes, and desserts, perfect for indulging your sweet tooth.

Café Zeppelin: This quirky German-owned cafe offers typical cafe items and a large co-working space. 

Whether you want to get out into nature or explore cultural hotspots – there’s something for everyone in Medellin. Let me know what you think! 

Medellin, Colombia: A Travel Guide To This Enchanting City

Malcolm
Writer & Blogger

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