Medellin is a city that truly surprised me. Most known for its infamous drug cartel leader Pablo Escobar, cocaine, crime and violence, it was only less than 20 years ago that it was named the most dangerous city in the world. Medellin has worked very hard to change this image and has become a great city to visit with more and more tourists coming every year. Everyone was very friendly, warm and extremely happy that we were there visiting, giving their country a chance to build a positive reputation. As always in any city, there are good and bad areas, so travel smart and you’ll be fine.
At first I was a bit intimidated by the sheer size of Medellin. Having come from smaller cities like Cartagena, Santa Marta and San Gil, where you can pretty much walk everywhere, Medellin was a shock. It reminded me of being in New York, there were so many taxis, ridiculous traffic and people everywhere.
Once we got our bearings, we started exploring this big city one chunk at a time. Here are the top things to do in Medellin:
This beautiful, lush garden has all kinds of flowers, fauna and flora. It’s truly a beautiful place to visit and the best part is, it’s free!
A mountain in the middle of the city, Pueblito Paisa offers stunning views of the city. You can walk up the hill or take a cab up. It’s pretty steep and there are a lot of stairs so be prepared to be out of breath if you opt to walk up. Once at the top, there’s a square with a church and stores and of course vendors everywhere. There’s an area where you can buy food and also a huge space on the other side where you can walk around and see the city from different views.
After walking around at the top (touristy area), venture out and choose a hiking trail. Once on the trail and away from the hordes of people on the top, you truly do feel transported out of the big city of Medellin and into your green oasis. I recommend packing a blanket, lunch, cards and a portable speaker to have a picnic somewhere along the trail.
Cost: Free to enter. 2-3K COP for a ride to the top
Time: 1-4 hours
Park Arvi is a huge park with several different trails you can hike. You can even camp there overnight and we saw many families doing this! There are small waterfalls and a creek to play in and it’s a beautiful park to walk through while seeing how locals spend their spare time. You can only get here by the metro cable so if you’re afraid of heights it may be tough, but totally worth it. Once at Park Arvi, visit the information booth to sign in and get a map of the park with the different trails. There are 5 different trails/points on the map, you can walk or take a bus to some of them as well.
Time: 5 hrs (If coming from Poblado station it takes about 1 hr to get to Park Arvi.)
Cost: Metro 2300 COP + Park Arvi Metro Cable 5200 COP = 7500 COP
To get Park Arvi on the metro: Take the train the Acevedo Station, then transfer for free onto the metro cable and get off at the last stop: Santo Domingo. Once at Santo Domingo station, you’ll have to pay another fare of 5200K COP for the metro cable up to Park Arvi.
Ride the metro/cable car
The cable car is a big deal because it’s connected the people who live in the mountains (usually farmers/people with less income) to the big city of Medellin. For one metro fare, they are able to get anywhere in the city which is HUGE! While in the cable car, the views are amazing and you can see a different side of Medellin from the people who live up in the mountains. If you’re short on time or don’t have a huge budget you can ride the cable car up and come back down on the same fare.
Cost: Metro ticket 2300 COP
Viewpoints of the city at night
There are 3 viewpoints along the highway into Medellin, where you can chill with friends while having food or the famous hot chocolate with cheese and looking at the amazing view of Medellin at night. Our cab driver told us about this and I had to try it! It cost 5K COP and is super weird but the cheese is delicious and it actually tastes so good! Ask your hostel for the location, as our cab driver stopped there while bringing us from the airport so I’m not quite sure the location.
Real Medellin Free Walking Tour
Get a feel for the city and learn about the amazing history on a free walking tour with Real Medellin Walking Tour. It’s a great tour and takes you through several points of interest down town starting from Alpujarra Station. Sign up at least a day or two before online to reserve your spot as they book up fast!
Time: 4 hours
Cost: Free but it’s tip based usually recommended to give 20-30K COP
Guatape Day Trip
Guatape is a colorful little town about two hours from Medellin. The tour included a small breakfast, transportation there and back, lunch, a tour in the town of Marinilla, a tour in guatape, a boat cruise in the reservoir and a stop at the rock Piedra Penon with an optional add on was to climb to the top of the rock.
Cost: 79K COP
Time: All day – 8:30am-6pm
El Penol – I highly climbing up to the top of the rock. The very top is 775 steps up and there are points where you can stop and take a break. When you reach the top there are several little cafes where you can buy a drink and relax. To reach the very top you have to climb up through a narrow, winding staircase, but once up there the view is spectacular. Definitely worth it.
Cost: 18K COP
Time: 1.5 hours
Explore Downtown – Park Berrio
Berrio is one of Colombia’s most famous artists. He donated a bunch of his sculptures to the city and they are on display in Park Berrio. His work features plump people with disproportionate bodies. It’s quite humorous and it’s a great spot to take a few pics.
This day trip includes a tour of Escobars holiday home, paint balling on the grounds, lunch, a boat trip to Guatape and you can add on the entry to climb the famous El Penol rock. It’s super fun and a must do in Medellin!
Cost: 80K COP
Time: All day 8am-6pm
Park of the Lights (Parque del las Luces) at night
This park was created to improve this part of the city which was once filled with drugs, crime and brothels. The Lights represent the bright future that Colombia has despite their dark past and at night when they’re all lit it’s really beautiful to see.
Park Lleras – The party spot
Grab a bottle of aguardiente or a Club Colombia beer and spend your evening drinking on the steps of Park Lleras. It’s a really nice gringo/local spot filled with bars, restaurants and clubs. The best night to go is Saturday night when it’s filled with people and all of the bars are full. It’s a fun place to spend time people watching and predrinking before dancing the night away at one of the many clubs nearby.
Envy Rooftop Bar
A fancy- and pricey- bar at the top of the hotel in Park Lleras. Go for one drink (20-30k COP) and enjoy the view, music and vibe of the city. It gets really full on a Saturday night so call/email to get a reservation.
If you have the budget, you MUST go here for dinner. This restaurant is expensive but takes you on a gastronomic journey. It was one of the best meals I ever had and the presentation of it all was amazing. Read about it in detail here.
Cost: 125-200K COP
Time 2-3 hrs
Santa Fe Mall
I’m not usually a mall person but if you have some time to kill, go and walk around in Santa Fe mall. It’s one of the biggest, most modern malls I’ve ever been in. On the top floor is the food court which has tons of options and on a clear day the roof is open allowing a flood of natural light. There’s an outdoor terrace as well which offers a great view of the city which munching on your lunch.
Go to a soccer game
Unfortunately they didn’t have a game while we were in the city but plan ahead and get your tickets because there will be nothing like it. The people of Colombia love this sport and love their team even more. The energy in the stadium will be electrifying and I’m sure it will be a highlight of your time in Medellin.
Comuna 13 Graffiti Tour
Comuna 13 was once one of the worst neighborhoods which has been transformed. This tour will take you to several spots and teach you about Colombia’s past and how they are changing their future for the better. It is sure to inspire you.
Cost: 70K COP
Time: 4 hours