Medellín, Colombia – Travel Guide

A view across Medellin from high up  

Updated February 20th, 2019.

Bustling Medellín, Colombia is known as the City of Eternal Spring, due to its pleasant year-round climate, but peace and tranquillity have not always been the city’s defining characteristics. During the 1980s  Medellin gained a terrible reputation as the murder capital of the world as notorious Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar and his gangs ruled everything from politics to public spaces.

With the obvious positive attitude and happy outlook of the Medellín people, it is hard to believe that everyone you meet over the age of 30 lived through such horror, with people being killed (including civilians) on a daily basis in a pointless power struggle.

Today, locals are extremely proud of the transformation that their city has made in the last ten years. Tourism has spiked an incredible 70% over the last five years, meaning that what was once a crime-ridden centre is now a place of progress and success.

Medellín is now being pinned as one of the most progressive cities in South America with its innovative metro/cable-car system, impressive libraries, innovative improvements in education and renovated public spaces. It is a city filled with hope for the future rather than fear of the past and it is a pleasure to be a part of it – even just for a few days.

A fast metro connects the whole city, even sprouting off into cable cars to connect the metropolis with an abundance of natural scenery. Open air funky cafes, bars and restaurants line the lively streets (particularly in El Poblado) and nightlife pulses on into the early hours of dawn. People are open, with rich histories and stories filled with hope and positivity.

For backpackers, the city is not crammed with sight-seeing opportunities, rather it is a place to absorb street life, atmosphere and look carefully under the skin of. Some people say it is a place to live, rather than travel – and with so much vibrancy in the air and welcoming Paisas (locals), you may want to do just that! It wasn’t so long ago that Medellin was a no-go area, but now with a ‘corazon abierto’ (open heart), this resilient city is back on the map!

Medellín, Colombia - A view of the city and a cable car.
Medellín, Colombia – A view of the city and a cable car.

Where to Stay in Medellín

El Poblado

The backpacker hub of El Poblado is full of budget-friendly options covering a whole gamete of different quality options. This is hands down our favourite area to stay in the city, conveniently close to restaurants, transportation, nightlife, and more impis one of the safest areas of the city. You’ll find trendy restaurants, hipster cafés, a great vibe with both locals and travellers enjoying the street life. You’ll also find some of the most popular backpacker hostels in El Poblado.

A trendy café in El Poblado, Medellín, Colombia.
A trendy café in El Poblado, Medellín, Colombia.

Top 5 Medellín Backpacker Hostels!

1. The Garden of Blues Hostel – El Poblado (From $12 US)

A beautifully designed hostel with an outdoor terrace and bar area, Garden of Blues gets superb reviews from most guests who stay here. There are loads of cosy seating areas where you can chill and meet fellow travellers, a communal kitchen, a TV room, hammocks and, as the name suggests, gardens. There are dorms or private rooms, all clean, with tasteful cute design and all the comforts you could ask for. A delicious breakfast is included in the price, with fresh fruits, juices and a variety of cereals. Great community feel.

2. Happy Buddha Hostel – El Poblado (From $10 US)

Right in the heart of El Poblado, this party hostel has a spacious bar area with a pool table and table football. It’s a great place to meet travellers before heading out to the trendy bars in the area. The staff are super friendly and can help you to book a variety of tours in Medellín, from walking tours to a night out at a local football match.

3. Los Patios Hostal Boutique – El Poblado (From $17 US)

This super cool and modern hostel has everything a young backpacker could ask for. There’s a chilled atmosphere, a trendy bar and restaurant area and loads of activities designed to help travellers to meet and mingle. The rooftop gym, co-working space, spanish classes, table tennis table, TV room, walking and cycling tours, yoga, gastronomy evenings and other random activities are a bonus for solo travellers. As for the rooms, they are perfectly clean and the beds are comfy. All in all – a superb hostel and worth paying extra for.

4. Rango Hostel Boutique – El Poblado (From $19 US)

With an ideal location close to the bars, cafés and boutique shops of El Poblado, this hostel manages to be hugely popular whilst retaining a very personal, homely feel. The design of the hostel is cool, modern and minimalist and the beds are comfortable with big lockers and spacious rooms. There’s a patio and common areas for travellers to mingle. Breakfast is included with a variety of delicious breads!

5. Black Sheep Hostel – El Poblado (From $12 US)

A little further away from the main El Poblado ‘village’ (15 minute walk from bars and restaurants) this hostel is clean, friendly and cheap! The spacious rooms are perfect for couples looking for a bit of peace and quiet away from the party-party hostel scene. There’s a communal kitchen, outdoor space, and a spacious TV lounge and terrace where you can hang out. The staff are friendly and can arrange tours and activities in Medellín for you!

Check out more hostels in Medellín on Booking.com.

Top 7 Things to Do in Medellín, Colombia

1. Real City Walking Tours

This is no ordinary city walking tour. Forget following a boring tour guide with an umbrella through the streets and a load of other tourists with cameras strapped around their neck. This tour is unlike any other that you will have before experienced!

Founded and ran by the young and charismatic Medellín native (Paisa) Pablo, the tour is non-stop energy, insight and passion from the very beginning to the end. Sit with Pablo in Medellín Railway Station as he acts out a very animated and fascinating history of Paisa and its capital Medellin from the arrival of the Spaniards to the coffee boom, invention of the railways, dark days of the drug lords to today’s innovations in politics and education.

Pablo, Tour Guide at Real City Tours in Medellín, Colombia
Pablo, Tour Guide at Real City Tours in Medellín, Colombia.

As Pablo guides you around the city through both the manicured and the grittier areas, he will force you to look twice and look differently at areas and people you may not have given a second glance. At times, Pablo’s pride and deep emotion for his city will have you almost in tears as you realise that he grew up in a time when he was afraid to be out in the day in public spaces – in public spaces where he is now delivering what we believe to be one of the best City Tours out there!

2. Visit Parque Arvi

Take the cable cars all the way to the end of the line, up over the mountain and far outside the city, to Parque Arvi. A valley of 1761 acres, this expansive park is an amazing spot for hiking and exploring. Impressive on its own, the fact that it is so close to a modern city is a huge bonus for residents and tourists alike!

Views from the cable car Medellín Colombia
Impressive views from the cable car Medellín, Colombia – on the way to Parque Arvi.

At the park, you can hire bicycles (free) or even explore by horse! There is also sometimes a farmers market at the point where the cable car disembarks and you can pick up some local fruits and treats. The cable car journey itself is an amazing travel experience as you pass over some areas of the city that you’d be unlikely to see otherwise. The entire journey will set you back 8,000 pesos there and back! A hugely worthwhile experience.

3. Museo and Parque Botero

Recognized internationally this talented artist of fresh concepts and unique design esthetic could only have come from such a unique and complex city. Fernando Botero is known for making sculptures of chubby women, oversized guitars, and fat conquistadores riding in on horses! El Museo de Antioquia is well worth a visit, but more fun is the Parque de las Esculturas in front of the museum where backpackers can climb right up on the statues, posing for some quintessential traveller pics!

Botero horse statue, Medellín
Botero horse statue, Medellín.

4. Go Paragliding

Nestled in the mountains the thermal winds around the city make this a great place to take to the sky! Check out the companies ‘Colombia Paragliding’, ‘Paraworld’ or ‘DragonFly’ who offer sessions for complete beginners and it isn’t too expensive either. An amazing way to view the city!

5. City Bike Tours

A great way to explore the city of Medellín – take in some of the highlights as you pedal on by as well as some of the more local areas where backpackers rarely visit. In this city of 4 million people, it can be hard to get to grips with the downtown areas, the barrios and the outskirts – an informative guide and two wheels can certainly help you to understand the city better!

6. Alumbrado Navideño

Happen to find yourself in Medellín for the months of December or January and you are in luck! Each year the city competes against Bogotá to put on an impressive show of lights along the river. Come for the atmosphere, gobs of greasy street food, and of course the show of lights.

Alumbrado Navideno Medellín Colombia
Feliz Navidad Colombian style!

7. Cafe Culture, Bars and Nightlife

As in most of Colombia, the city really comes alive on Friday and Saturday night with a relaxed atmosphere during the week. Have an afternoon coffee or start an evening off in El Poblado sipping cocktails at the trendy bars and quirky pubs.

For backpackers wanting to join a crowd there are organized Pub Crawls on Wednesday and Saturday nights – check out ‘Medellín Pub Crawl’ on Facebook. For those looking to get dressed up, head for Salsa in the swanky Las Palmas district – Medellín has something for everyone!

Getting to Medellín

  • Bus: There are two bus terminals in the city, one heading to the north and one to the south. Buses head to all major cities, as Medellín is a huge transportation hub.
  • Fly: Medellin, Colombia’s international city, is a great place for booking flights both domestically and internationally. It’s important to know that there are two airports. Aeropuerto Jose Maria Cordoba is the main option, this airport lies one hour outside of the city and is accessible by bus (departs from behind Hotel Nutibara- located near the Botero sculpture park) or taxi.

Our Recommended Travel Resources

  • Join Our Facebook Group: South America Backpacker Community
  • Travel Insurance: True Traveller and World Nomads.
  • Flight Search: Skyscanner.
  • Accommodation: Booking.com and HostelWorld.
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