Medellin is the second largest city in Colombia, and we strongly advise you to visit it. Formerly considered very dangerous because of drug cartels, it has now completely changed, and it’s a key area of tourism.
This city is very developed at the cultural level, and its transportation network is much more efficient than that of Bogota. Medellin is also the gateway to the Pacific coast, as well as to the coffee region. The inhabitants, called “paisas”, are extraordinarily warm-hearted, and you can make authentic encounters. In other words, go for it !
What to do in Medellin
1. The historic city center
Start with the unmissable Plaza Botero, where there are about twenty sculptures of the artist. These voluptuous statues are truly unique and fit perfectly in the center of Medellin.
Stroll along the pedestrian street of Carabobo to admire the architecture of the city. Continue with a walk in the shade of the trees of Bolivar Park. If you are curious about the story of Pablo Escobar, many agencies organize tours of the key places in the life of the “king of cocaine”.
2. The Antioquia Museum
Always in the center, don’t miss the Antioquia Museum. It’s a national monument that houses many works of Fernando Botero, but not only. There’s also a collection of thousands of art objects from artists in the region and Latin America in general.
3. The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
This basilica built in the early 1900s is a place of worship very important for the inhabitants. Its neo-Romanesque style is sober, but its ocher bricks give a particular character to the building.
4. The Museum of Memory
This museum will help you understand Medellin’s recent past. Through poignant testimonies of inhabitants, you will see how the city was a few decades ago. Violence, drugs, cartels and poverty are addressed, but in an interesting way and with respect for the victims. It’s not the most joyful of visits, but it will immerse you in history, and allow you to better appreciate your stay in Medellin.
5. Cerro El Volador Eco-Park
On the outskirts of the city lies an oasis of nature where you can relax and do some physical activity. This eco-park is both an archaeological site testifying to the presence of the Aburraes natives, a place of observation of the city and the valley with a panoramic view, and an ideal place for hiking or taking a picnic.
6. Comuna 13
Comuna 13 was one of the most violent neighborhoods in Medellin, but in less than 20 years it became a must-see tourist spot in the city.
Comuna was controlled by the drug cartels during the 1980s and was not appeased after the death of their leader Pablo Escobar in 1993. The establishment of state initiatives, but also local ones, the new urbanization plan and new public spaces greatly contributed to the transformation of Comuna 13.
Street art (Graffiti) has become a means of expression and liberation for the inhabitants. It allows them to show their joy, their story and their dreams through graffiti.
The Comuna 13 is today an example of social success for the city of Medellin.
7. Pueblito paisa and Cerro Nutibara
If you climb the summit of Cerro Nutibara, you will discover a typical Colombian village in the heart of Medellin. This pueblito is located in height, and is therefore relatively isolated from the turbulence of the city. To access it, you will have to make a rather pleasant walk. You will be rewarded with the 360-degree view of Medellin and the visit of houses and other shops in the village.
8. El Castillo Museum and its Garden
This small castle is rather atypical in the landscape of Medellin. It was built at the beginning of the twentieth century on models of castles of the Loire, with works of art and typically French gardens. It has several exhibition halls where there are collections of works of different styles.
9. The Botanic Garden
It’s a place of freshness and greenery well appreciated, in the heart of the city, while you visit Medellin. Here, you can admire the biodiversity of Colombia through its most beautiful endemic plants. It’s also possible to take a walk in the butterfly house, an experience of great beauty. Finally, you may come across iguanas that roam freely in the garden.
10. Admire salsa dancers and take a class
At first sight, Medellin has no particular reason to be a Latin dance capital of the world, yet it is. Tango and salsa are extremely popular here and many professional dancers practice their art. You can admire them at Eslabon Prendido, a legendary bar with breathtaking shows. The Tibiri is also an excellent reference for salsa dancers. Why not take the opportunity to sway, too?
This little-known neighborhood will make you think outside the box. It was once an open-air dump that was turned into an eco-neighborhood with community gardens.
In just a few years, locals have done everything to turn the nauseating slum into a green space where you can grow your vegetables. The neighborhood has changed enormously thanks to this powerful desire to live in better conditions. Don’t hesitate to talk with the gardeners that you will meet to explain in detail the history of Moravia.
Full day trips
There is already quite a lot to do in the center of Medellin, but if you still have some time for excursions, here is a small selection of the best day trips.
Guatape and Piedra del Peñol
If you only have to make one excursion, choose this one. Only two hours from Medellin by bus or private transport, you will discover the beautiful city of Guatape. Its multicolored houses and its warm atmosphere will delight you for sure.
It’s one of the most beautiful places in Colombia, and it reserves an even more majestic surprise: El Peñol monolith. This huge rock of more than 200 meters high is accessible by a staircase built on the wall. The ascent is a must for any stay in the region of Antioqua.
San Sebastian de Palmitas
For those who prefer places more hidden from tourists and more oriented towards nature, San Sebastian de Palmitas is a good compromise. In an hour from the city center, you will arrive in a quiet village offering activities such as horseback riding, or visiting farms where the panela is produced. This block of cane sugar is present in all Colombian houses, and you will certainly have to taste it. The community of San Sebastian will offer you a pleasant day of ecotourism, and close to the inhabitants.
Paragliding from San Felix
If you have never done paragliding, or if on the contrary, you are an adrenaline rider, the site of San Felix is perfect for a jump. You will have an exceptional view on the valley and the city, as well as on the surrounding reliefs, in particular the famous Cordillera of the Andes.
This village is a little far from Medellin (4 hours), but it’s well worth the trip. It’s simply the most beautiful village in Antioquia. The architecture, the painting and the kindness of the inhabitants are fabulous.
In addition, you can walk in the nature, to discover endemic bird species and waterfalls. Finally, don’t miss the delicious culinary specialties of the corner, such as trout and milk jam.
Our trip ideas to visit Medellin
A week-end in Medellin
I would say this is the minimum stay to visit Medellin. The best is to start with a free tour of the city. In a few hours, you will fly over its history from the historic center, and you will discover the essential tourist points. Visit the cathedral and one or two museums, not forgetting Plaza Botero. Finally, go out at night to soak up the vibrant nightlife of the city, and go dancing salsa in a typical bar.
In 5 days, you will already have a good overview of the city, and you can choose some excursions. Make absolutely the detour by Guatape and the Piedra del Peñol. Then, you can either focus on the coffee region, or opt for something much more exotic. In one hour of flight, you will find yourself on the Pacific coast, in Nuqui. There, the jungle, surf spots, beaches and whales await you. It’s up to you to see if spending two days in paradise is on your bucket list.
If you have at least a week to visit Medellin and its surroundings, you will have plenty of time to visit the coffee region. Between Medellin and Armenia, there are many villages nestled in the plantations, which deserve a glance and a tasting of the famous beverage.
We recommend the heritage city of Salamina or the coveted Salento. Anyway, you can explore the coffee fields at leisure and learn how to grow and prepare it, with experts in the field.
Places to know in Medellin
Where to sleep in Medellin?
- Novotel Medellin El Tesoro (5-star): located in the central area of El Poblado, this prestigious hotel has a magnificent terrace with pool and views of the green valley.
- Foresta Hotel Medellin (4 Star): Also located in El Poblado area, this hotel is ideal for discovering local Medellin food and cuisine.
- Terra Biohotel (4 stars): Located in the Conquistadores district, the hotel is 500 m from Pueblito Paisa and 5 minutes from Plaza Major. The eco-friendly Terra Biohotel features vertical gardens, solar-heated water and LED lighting.
- Monte Helicon Ecolodge & Spa (3-star): this establishment is focused on ecology and well-being. There is a garden and a spa area with sauna, jacuzzi and steam room.
- Apartahotel Avanti (3-star): this aparthotel is located in the Laureles Estadio area, towards the Arvi Ecotourism Park. The rooms are composed of a bed, a private bathroom and a well-equipped kitchen area. Ideal for a stay on a tight budget.
Where to eat in Medellin?
- Mondongo: this restaurant is an institution of Medellin. You will be served hearty typical Colombian dishes, in a friendly atmosphere. The reputation of the establishment is that good that there is often the queue to get a table.
- Carmen: here you will eat excellent gourmet cuisine from Colombian and American cultures. The setting is particularly neat, with retro decor and exuberant tropical plants. The addition is however quite salty.
- Saludpan: In this restaurant, vegetarian cuisine is elevated to the rank of art. Lovers of fresh fruits and vegetables prepared with taste will be thrilled.
Markets and other unique places to visit Medellin
- Mercado del río: this place is a kind of gastronomic market in which there are dozens of restaurants offering various specialties. It’s the perfect place to come to eat after a visit of the city.
- Exotic fruit tour at the Minorista market and La Placita de Florez covered market: if you don’t want to spend a fortune to taste local products, take a tour of the markets and discover the Colombian flavors with ease. You will discover surprising fruits and tastes, as well as unpretentious cooks who prepare typical and inexpensive dishes.
- Salon Malaga: to finish on a note more festive, the Salon Malaga is a place very famous for its coffee and its musical evenings. Come spend a night dancing to Latin rhythms in this old-fashioned place.
How to get around Medellin
If there is one thing that the city is proud of, it’s its subway! In fact, it’s not really one since it is on the surface, but that does not matter. It is still very convenient to move in the most tourist areas.
When you visit Medellin, you can also use the very extensive bus network, taxis and subway-cable cabins. These serve the heights of the city, once very isolated and far from everything. From now on, this solution has allowed the most modest inhabitants to have easy access to the city center, and this gives tourists the opportunity to admire the view from the sky. All of its options are relatively easy to organize and inexpensive.