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A Medellín City Guide: Travel Tips + Activities.

This is a travel guide for my favourite city in the world: Medellín. Read on to find out where to stay in Medellín, reasons to love Medellín, and all the fun things to do in and near the 'City of Eternal Spring'.



CONTENTS




Street Art has revitalised a lot of Medellín's more deprived areas
Street Art has revitalised a lot of Medellín's more deprived areas

 


About Medellín


Medellín is not the capital of Colombia, but it is perhaps the most famous city. In Colombian Spanish, LL sounds like a J - so you actually pronounce Medellín as Medejeen.


The jaw-dropping city of Medellín spreads outwards from a bowl-shaped valley in the region of Antioquia - in the northwest of Colombia in the Andes mountains.

Being in the hills - the climate in Medellín is pretty amazing - it’s basically spring all year round with temperatures not venturing too far outside an average of 23-25C every single day.


The people of Medellín and surrounds call themselves Paisas - they have a very strong cultural identity and they love their home. Until recently and for various reasons Medellín was not a safe place to visit, and in the early 90's especially it was dubbed the most dangerous city on earth.


Times are now changing, and the relatively fresh and new tourism industry marks an era of peace and positivity for Colombia, so I assure you, you will be VERY WELCOME to Medellín.


Medellin rooftops
The outskirts of Medellín

 

Not sure what to pack for your trip to Colombia? Check out the I Dream of Mangoes article:



 


The Elephant in the Room


Let's quickly address the elephant in the room.


If you were born before 1990, you've seen Narcos, or you're just generally aware of pop culture and world news, you'll recognise the name Pablo Escobar.


He is a drug trafficker who basically 'owned' Medellín through the 80s until he was assassinated on the rooftops of Los Olivos neighbourhood in 1993. His cartel and the business of Cocaine have caused the deaths of roughly 800,000 Colombians since coke became a thing in the late 70s, and the people of Medellín have suffered the most from this industry and his tyranny.


The locals here have been through so much, and many are mortally offended by the mere mention of him - so this is the first and last time I will bring him up in this guide, and if I can offer one piece of advice, it’s to avoid any tourist activities related to his name.



 

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Is it Safe to Travel to Medellín?


A Resilient City


The struggle of the people of Medellín is not only cartel-related, but the poorer neighbourhoods like Comuna 13 have also served as a base for the extreme-left wing guerillas, and the conflict between the different groups and gangs often came to the streets. The civilians of Medellín would always end up being 'collateral damage' at the hands of the government, the far-right, the communists, and the cartels.


Things are on the up, as in 2016 a peace deal between the government and the left-wing rebel group FARC was signed, and the victory of Gustavo Petro in the 2022 presidential election represents the arrival of the left in power for the first time in the country’s modern history.


So yes, there are still armed groups operating towards the Pacific, the drugs trade is still 5-10% of Colombia's GDP, and there is still a fair amount of corruption, but it's safe to say this is the most peaceful phase of Colombia's history since the Spaniards arrived - so now is the time to visit, support the economy, and support local people.

These days Medellín Is a thriving hub of art, nightlife and beautiful people. The narrow streets are electric with life, all set to the backdrop of a dramatically beautiful mountain-scape.



There is something interesting around every corner in Medellín
There is something interesting around every corner in Medellín

 


A Medellín City Guide: Travel Tips + Activities

Getting into Medellín


The closest international airport (José María Córdova) is actually in Rionegro, a smaller town about a 30-minute drive from the city.


We took an Uber from the airport to the city which cost about £15, although technically illegal, people still use it.


When you arrive at the airport you’ll get the usual cacophony of people competing to give you a taxi, but they are not pushy, which is a relief.


In fact, all Colombians we met in our two months there were welcoming, patient, and refreshingly uninterested in us.


For super-budget travellers, there is a bus from the airport to Medellín city centre for 13,000 COP (£2.50)



 


Where to Stay in Medellín

The two districts where it’s at:

EL POBLADO & LAURELES

We stayed in both, and we preferred El Poblado.


Both areas are safe enough, as long as you follow the usual precautions and travel tips; don’t wear flashy jewellery and don’t walk around alone at night (although I wouldn't do that in many places as a woman anyway.)


We didn’t encounter any begging, but there are lots of guys on the street trying to make some money in creative ways, like selling individual sweets or giving you a personalised rap performance. Again though, they were never pushy.

In both El Poblado and Laureles you can find decent budget accommodation for under £20 per night, I usually put my trust in booking.com.


Another travel tip for Medellín is in crowded areas, switch your backpack to your front and remove things from your pockets, as pick-pocketing is pretty rife in the city, especially since Covid, as many people have fallen on hard times.



 

Activities in Medellín

There are so many things to do in Medellín! Here are some of the activities we did during our two visits to the city, with the total amount of time spent in Medellín being 10 days.



1. Comuna 13 Grafitti Tour


This was our favourite thing to do in Medellín, we saw a side of the city that we never would have discovered on our own.


Our local guide, Walter, took us via cable car to Comuna 13 up in the hills, where we learnt all about this neighbourhood's gritty past and saw the transformation enabled by graffiti and other aspects of hip-hop culture, we were lucky enough to see a local break-dancing troupe and finished the tour with a beer watching the city turn from day to night.


This was a truly fantastic experience, lasting about 4 hours, priced at 90,000 COP (£18). You can Book here.



Comuna 13
Comuna 13


2. The Cinema!

My good friend Ed loves going to cinemas in different countries so that he can see the different snacks they offer. We actually watched the Barbie movie at Multiplex Unicentro.


Tickets were 13,000 COP (£2.50), Barbie was great.


3. Restaurant Carmen


For a special treat, we visited Restaurant Carmen in El Poblado, which is currently considered Medellín's best restaurant. It's actually one of the best meals I have eaten ever - and while expensive for Colombia it's not off the charts. We paid around £120 for starters, mains, and cocktails, and a premium bottle of wine for two people.


The tortellini stuffed with coffee and plantain served with the fish of the day is a must-try!



Restaurant Carmen
Restaurant Carmen

4. Real City Tours


Another eye-opening tour of Medellín, Real City Tours offers a look at the non-tourist-facing side of life here, all woven together by stories told by a local. This was another of our favourite activities in Medellín.


Our guide was named Juan, and over 4 hours he told us all about the political history of Medellín while showing us around the more 'dangerous' areas. It was fascinating, but not for the faint-hearted.


This is a tip-based tour with a recommended donation of 50,000 COP (£10) per person.



5. Cafe Perganimo


So co-working spaces have popped up all over Medellín as the city becomes a more popular spot for digital nomads year by year. Some get it a little wrong, but Cafe Pergamino gets it so right.


There's one in El Poblado and another in Laureles, and both are large, airy, light spaces, with comfy chairs, beautiful decor, and lovely staff who don't pester you to keep ordering things if you want to spend half the day there. With great coffee and good food, Cafe Pergamino is the perfect place to rest your feet after a morning of pounding pavements!



6. Botanical Gardens


Jardín Botánico is filled with plenty of sights and activities to enjoy. Whether you’re a nature lover or simply looking for something free to do in the city, the gardens are ideal any day of the week. If you’re planning a trip on the weekend it's best to arrive early to secure a good spot on the grass. Sundays are typically when groups of Paisa families picnic here!


The gardens are open 9am-4pm and entry is free.



 

Places to Visit Nearby Medellín


Within two hours by bus with excellent public transport links, you have Guatapé and Cocorná. In Guatapé you can climb the steps of the Piedra del Peñol or hire a boat and tour the beautiful lake.


In Cocorná you can experience a traditional Colombian town where you could try paragliding, hiking, or basking in the pools of Tierra de Agua.


For unbeatable views of the mountains, I strongly recommend staying at El Soplo del Tambo, where Joe and I volunteered for two months!



Guatape lakes and trees
Guatapé

Cocorna town with mountains in the background
Cocorná

 


Thank you for reading my city guide to Medellín with travel tips and activities!


Joe and I fell so in love with Colombia, we have decided that's where we want to build our home, and we can't wait to go back and explore more of the country, starting with the Caribbean coast and the islands of San Andres and Providencia.


If you're looking for more travel inspiration for Latin America check out my post on the Ultimate Yucatan Road Trip!


If you enjoyed reading, please consider subscribing to my blog where I post 1-2 articles a week on my current trip around the world.


Happy Travels

xx



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Disclosure:
I Dream of Mangoes is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. That being said, I only link to products I use and love.

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