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, Medellín gained a terrible reputation as the murder capital of the world. The notorious Medellín Cartel ruled everything from politics to public spaces and it was a terrifying time for the residents of the city.
Those dark times have since passed and today, locals are extremely proud of Medellín’s transformation. It’s now one of the most progressive cities in South America with an innovative metro/cable car system, impressive libraries and renovated public spaces.
Medellín is filled with hope for the future rather than fear of the past and it’s a pleasure to be a part of it – even just for a few days.
Medellín Travel Guide
Medellín Map & Resources
Where to Stay in Medellín
The backpacker hub of El Poblado is hands down the most popular area for travellers. It is one of the safest parts of Medellín and hosts a range of budget-friendly accommodation options.
This is our favourite area in Medellín, located close to restaurants, transportation and nightlife. If you plan to spend most of your time in El Poblado, you’re unlikely to need too many Ubers!
You’ll find trendy restaurants and, hipster cafés along every road, not to mention an equal mix of tourists and locals.
Home to Medellín’s university district, this area sits on the west bank of the river. Much like El Poblado, it is close to bars and restaurants however, there is a much more local vibe here.
It is still a safe place to stay – there is a good police presence in the evenings which keeps trouble at bay but definitely sees fewer international tourists than El Poblado. The area is conveniently connected to El Poblado and La Candelaria (you may know this as El Centro or downtown Medellín) by line B of the metro system.
La Candelaria (Downtown Medellín)
Many Paisas will argue that this is where the beating heart of Medellín can be found. Known for the famous Botero Square and the Museo de Antioquia, this is a popular area with tourists looking for the cheapest accommodation.
The downside of staying here is that there is more petty crime than in the aforementioned areas. While violent crime is still rare, pickpocketing is commonplace – I caught someone with their hand in my pocket within two hours of getting off the metro in the centre!
Top 5 Hostels in Medellín
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This super cool and modern hostel has everything a young backpacker could ask for. There’s a chilled atmosphere, trendy bar and restaurant area and loads of activities designed to help travellers to meet and mingle. These include walking and cycling tours, gastronomy evenings and Spanish classes – great for solo travellers.
There’s also a rooftop gym, co-working space, TV room and table tennis, meaning you don’t even have to leave the hostel if you don’t want to! As for the rooms, they are perfectly clean and the beds are comfy. All in all – a superb hostel and worth paying extra for.
More like a hotel than a hostel, this place offers well-kept dorm rooms and spacious privates. A breakfast buffet is included in the room rate and is guaranteed to fuel you for a day exploring the city. The staff are really helpful and can help guests with arranging tours. The best thing? The on-site swimming pool of course!
While Medellín Vibes Hostel is within easy walking distance of El Poblado, it isn’t in the centre of the action. This means that the backpacker district is around a 15-minute walk away – ideal if you are looking for a good night’s sleep.
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 Rango Hostel Boutique 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 bread served!
The South America digital nomad favourite is back again! Selina offers a variety of rooms, from dorms to privates and even apartments, all with access to amazing common areas and onsite facilities. They have a communal kitchen and run their own restaurant on-site.
As you would expect from anywhere that markets itself as a coworking space, the internet is fast and reliable. There are also yoga sessions and other events that guests can get involved in!
If you’re looking for a sociable, budget-friendly hostel, look no further than Yolo. Situated in the Poblado neighbourhood but a bit more out of the action than other spots, it is quiet at night while still being close to nightlife.
Solo travellers love the bright communal areas which are a great place to share a beer with other backpackers. They have their own tour desk and can also arrange taxi transport for travellers, ideal for those flying out to other locations.
“If you’re staying longer in Medellín and studying at one of the Spanish schools, Airbnb can be a budget-friendly option. Make sure you double-check what is included in the stay and make sure you choose somewhere in a safe area that is well connected by public transport. There are loads of Airbnb places in El Poblado, however, there is some bad feeling between international Airbnb owners and the locals who believe they are being pushed out of their city.”
Top Things to Do in Medellín, Colombia
For backpackers, there are fairly limited sightseeing opportunities in Medellín. Rather this is a place to immerse yourself in the culture and set up base for a while. The Paisas (locals from the northwest of Colombia) are so welcoming that you may find you don’t want to leave!
It wasn’t so long ago that Medellín was a no-go area, but now with a ‘corazon abierto’ (open heart), this resilient city is back on the map! Here is our pick of the top things to do.
1. Embark on a Real City Walking Tour Downtown
Forget following a boring tour guide as they drone on about the city’s architecture, Real City Walking Tours are dynamic, funny and brimming with emotion.
Founded by the young and charismatic Medellín native Pablo, the tour is non-stop energy, insight and passion from beginning to end. Watch as your local guide acts out a very animated and fascinating history of Antioquia and its capital Medellín. Spanning the arrival of the Spaniards, the coffee boom, the invention of the railways and the dark days of the drug lords, the narrative will take you right up to today’s innovations in politics and education.
All the guides at Real City Tours are locals so they’ve experienced Medellín’s transformation firsthand. At times, their personal accounts and pride for their city will leave you almost in tears. Medellín is much changed from the days when the locals were afraid to leave their houses… Instead, they’ve reclaimed their streets which now act as the setting for one of the best city tours out there!
2. Go Paragliding
Medellín is nestled in the mountains and the thermal winds around the city make this a great place to take to the sky! Check out the companies ‘Paragliding Medellín’ or ‘Dragon Fly Parapente Medellín’ which offer sessions for complete beginners at reasonable prices. It’s an amazing way to view the city!
3. Watch a Football Match
Don your soccer stripes (or buy a Jersey from one of the many street vendors) and head to a game at Estadio Atanasio Girardot. There’s a game pretty much every weekend where you can join the thousands of passionate locals cheering on their team!
You will find that regardless of who the away team is, you generally only see local supporters watching the match. This is because the passion of the fans can quickly tip over into something else more physical. Did somebody say ‘fight’?!
Expect to hear singing and chanting throughout the entire game whilst you watch these skilled players battle it out on the field. Don’t worry, even if your Spanish is slightly lacking, you won’t be able to resist joining in!
4. Alumbrado Navideño
If you happen to find yourself in Medellín during December or January, 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, mouthfuls of greasy street food, and, of course, the light show! Get off the metro at the Industriales stop and follow the lights!
5. Café Culture, Bars and Nightlife
As with most of Colombia, the city really comes alive on Friday and Saturday nights with a relaxed atmosphere during the week. Have an afternoon coffee or start your evening off in El Poblado sipping cocktails at the trendy bars and quirky pubs.
If you’re wanting to join a crowd of like-minded backpackers, you won’t have to look far if you’re in El Poblado. There are loads of nightlife, from Colombian-style clubs, hipster bars and discotecas. For those looking to get dressed up, head for salsa in the swanky Las Palmas district – Medellín has something for everyone!
6. Tour the Breweries
What better way to escape the heat of the city than to indulge in a few craft beers!? There are a few breweries in Medellín and more are still popping up to meet the international demand for craft beer. Here are a few of our favourite breweries:
- Cerveceria Libre (Carrera 44 #25 – 31)
These guys are open Wednesday to Saturday and offer their own beers as well as those brewed elsewhere. This is a much smaller establishment so brewery tours are run upon request. If you visit, be sure to taste the original beer that got them into the business, as well as, Pasìon, a delicious passionfruit beer.
- 20 Mission Brewery (Calle 16 #43F-66)
This brewery not only has a selection of amazing beers on tap but also doubles up as a restaurant. You heard it here first… the food they serve is AMAZING. The menu has been created to complement one of their six types of beer.
They are open Tuesdays to Saturdays and have a very large area where they host events regularly. There is always something happening here and many hours can be whiled away sampling all the beers and food.
- Tres Cordilleras (Calle 30 #44-176)
This is one of the biggest breweries in Medellín and they offer brewery tours five times a week. A local band also performs at the brewery Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. The price differs depending on when you visit, but you should expect to pay somewhere between 48,000-54,000 COP per person, which includes the entrance fee and five beers of your choice.
Tres Cordilleras has a range of six different beers with everything from wheat beers to stout and you can sample them whilst listening to some great music. Limited opening hours mean that the line to get in can be pretty long but be patient as it’s a great night out!
7. Visit Parque Arví
Take the cable car all the way to the end of the line, up over the mountain and far outside the city, to Parque Arví. A valley of 1761 acres, this expansive park is an amazing spot for hiking and exploring. Impressive in its own right, the fact that it is so close to a modern city is a huge bonus for residents and tourists alike!
At the park, you can hire bicycles for free or even explore by horse! There is also a farmer’s market at the point where the cable car disembarks where you can pick up some local snacks. Although it is possible to explore some of the park independently, it is easy to get lost. Therefore, a guide is recommended if you want to explore some of the many hiking trails.
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 return journey will set you back approx. 25,000COP! It’s a hugely worthwhile experience.
8. Museo and Parque Botero
Recognised internationally, these fresh concepts and unique design aesthetics could only have come from such a unique and complex city. Colombian sculptor Fernando Botero is known for making sculptures of chubby women, oversized guitars, and fat conquistadores riding chunky horses!
El Museo de Antioquia is well worth a visit, but more fun is the Parque de las Esculturas in front where backpackers can have their photos snapped with the statues, posing for some quintessential traveller pics!
9. Learn Spanish
Medellín is one of the most popular cities in South America to learn Spanish! Not only does the city boast beautiful weather but the friendly locals are more than willing to help you practice your skills! Owing to the recent growth of the expat scene in Medellín, Spanish schools have never been in higher demand and the competition means that the quality of these schools is generally very high.
10. Visit Comuna 13
Once known as the most dangerous neighbourhood of Medellín where murders, gang wars and drug deals were a regular sight, this area of the city has been given a facelift. Comuna 13 has gone from being a no-go zone to a bright and colourful place filled with community events, vibrant artwork and great food.
A tour of this area will provide insight into its history and how it has transformed over the years. You can’t go to Medellín without seeing this intriguing and interesting part of the city and doing it via a tour will give you all sorts of information you wouldn’t know otherwise.
Although tours are offered by companies all over the city, we recommend Zippy Tours. Run by locals who have firsthand experience of living in the Comuna, they work on a tip-based model with a portion of the money going towards funding community events.
Good to know! You may notice that there are a number of Pablo Escobar tours available in Medellín. Sometimes advertised as ‘Rude to Say His Name Tours’, the very existence of these tours is controversial among the locals and as the name indicates, even saying his name out loud is distasteful. With the obvious positive attitude and happy outlook of the Medellín people, it is hard to believe that almost everyone you meet over the age of 30 lived through the Medellín Cartel’s culture of fear, and bombings, killings and violence were a daily occurrence here. Many people are deeply offended by tourists’ fascination with this drug lord when he is directly responsible for so much suffering and anguish. Bear this in mind when putting together your Medellín itinerary.
11. City Bike Tours
For a great way to explore the city of Medellín, take in some of the highlights as you pedal! As well as visiting some of the main attractions, these tours also take you to some of the more local areas that backpackers rarely visit.
In this city of over four 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 understand the city better!
12. Take a Day Trip to Guatapé
When it comes to the most popular day trips from Medellín, there is one clear winner: Guatapé. This tourist town is located around two hours from the city and is visited as a day trip by many travellers.
Famous for its bright streets and imposing rock (Piedra de Peñol) that offers incredible views of the lake below, Guatapé is a favourite among tourists and is incredibly busy around the clock. We’d recommend spending longer than a day if you can but you definitely shouldn’t miss this cute colourful town!
“While plenty of backpackers visit Guatapé on an organised day trip from Medellín, I definitely recommend spending a few nights there. Famous for its colourful streets, there is more to do in Guatapé than you may expect, from walking tours to jet skiing and climbing El Peñol. If you’re a solo traveller, you bound to enjoy the late night bars and clubs too!”
13. Experience Feria de las Flores
Held every year in early August, the flower festival is the biggest event in Medellín. Taking place over an entire week, numerous events make up this festival including a pageant, concerts and horse parades. If you’re in the city during the celebrations, don’t miss the Desfile de Silleteros, when crowds of farmers carrying huge baskets of blooms descend from the mountains to join the parades.
Also read: Amazing South American Festivals.
14. Visit the Jardín Botánico
Spanning 34 acres, Medellín’s Jardín Botánico houses 1,000 different species of plant, making it a must-visit spot for anyone interested in the country’s biodiversity. Keep an eye out for wildlife too – iguanas roam free and some locals say it is even possible to see sloths here! The gardens are free to enter and can be reached easily by metro. Simply take Linea A and disembark at Universidad.
Where to Eat in Medellín
To really get to know a place is to know its food. Walking through Medellín you will see many different restaurants. If you’re on a budget, try to stick to ‘glass box’ food. These fast food options include empanadas, pasteles and other deep-fried goods. They might not be good for arteries but they are delicious and cheap – a shoestring backpacker’s best friend.
During the hours of 12-3 pm, many restaurants advertise their ‘menu del dia’ or ‘menu of the day’. These are set dishes for a very reasonable price, usually between 12,000 and 30,000COP per person. They generally include soup, a main and fresh juice.
The menu del dia tends to be a speciality of the restaurant and will usually be made using local produce like beans, rice and plantain. Don’t expect the menu del dia to be the same everywhere, all of the restaurants have their own unique twist on it.
Here are a few of our favourite restaurants which are mostly based in the Poblado area. However, good restaurants can be found all over the city!
- Hello! Burgers and Beer – Does what it says on the tin!
- Mondongo’s El Poblado – Traditional Antioquian cuisine.
- Bonhomia – Specialises in mouthwatering charcuterie boards.
- Cambalache Parrilla Argentina – For Argentine meat feasts!
- Lezzet Cocina Turca – Turkish food which doesn’t disappoint.
- Kaime Restaurant – Amazing vegetarian food options (hard to come by in Colombia).
There are a few food delivery services available in Medellín, the most popular of which are Rappi and DiDi Food. Many hostels don’t allow them so enquire in advance whether your accommodation is happy to allow you to order food to your door.
Getting Around Medellín
The local Paisa people are very proud of their metro system. It connects the whole city, even sprouting off into cable cars to connect the metropolis with more remote hillside areas. The metro is cheap and easy to ride, simply buy a ticket and ride the line.
Taxis are available in Medellín but should not be hailed on the street. It’s much safer to ask your hotel or hostel to call for a taxi on your behalf. Even safer than taking taxis is to arrange your transport via a Ride Share app. Even though Uber isn’t legal here, it is widespread. You will need to sit in the front seat and familiarise yourself with the name of your driver in case you’re pulled over.
If you are staying in El Poblado or the other most touristy neighbourhoods, it is generally safe to walk around. However, you should avoid flashing anything valuable while you’re out and about. A money belt and anti-theft backpack come highly recommended for extra piece of mind.
“My boyfriend was nearly pickpocked in downtown Medellín at a set of traffic lights. To avoid this happening to you, make sure all of your belongings are securely stored away – not just shoved in your jeans pockets!”
Getting to Medellín
Bus: There are two bus terminals in the city, one heading to the north and one south. Medellín is a huge transportation hub so buses head to major cities all over the country.
Fly: Medellín is a great place for booking flights both domestically and internationally. There are two airports in the city. The one you are likely to arrive at if you are flying in from Europe is Aeropuerto Jose Maria Cordoba. It lies one hour outside the city and is accessible by bus (departs from behind Hotel Nutibara – located near the Botero sculpture park) or by taxi.
The second airport Olaya Herrera is a more popular option for domestic flights. Those coming from destinations such as Capurganá will likely arrive here.
Where To Go Next?
Jardín: Located around three hours from Medellín, the small town of Jardin is often overlooked by travellers to the country. Similar to Guatapé but before the tourism invasion hit, it’s known for its colourful streets and delicious coffee.
Capurganá: This beachside destination is a little challenging to get to but well worth the effort. Head here for sun-soaked days relaxing on la playa and to experience some of Colombia’s very best dive sites.
Salento: An eight-hour bus journey will take you to Salento, home of the world’s largest wax palm trees. It’s time to pull on your hiking boots and get exploring! Or if trekking is not your thing, why not embark on one of the area’s famous coffee tours?