Updated March 20th, 2020.
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 and the atmosphere. 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!
Where to Stay in Medellín
The backpacker hub of El Poblado is full of budget-friendly options covering a whole variety of different quality options. This is hands down our favourite area to stay in the city, conveniently close to restaurants, transportation, nightlife, and more importantly, 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. This is also the location of some of the most popular backpacker hostels.
Top 7 Medellín Backpacker Hostels!
1. The Garden of Blues Hostel – El Poblado (From $10 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 $7 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. The Somos – El Poblado (From $20 US)
The Somos fits right into the bustling area of El Poblado in Medellin perfectly. It’s situated in an edgy and modern building, covered in industrial metal mixed with tropical foliage. There are private or dorm rooms across the floors and all have the same modern and sleek style. The dorms have bunks with power outlets, lockers for your small items and there are also additional lockers near the bathroom should you need them. The hostel is so nice to look at that you’ll feel more like you are in a hotel not a backpacker hostel! Great for flashpackers and couples.
4. 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.
5. Rango Hostel Boutique – El Poblado (From $17 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!
6. Black Sheep Hostel – El Poblado (From $11 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!
7. Selina Medellín – Antioquia (From $12 US)
The digital nomad favourite is back again! Selina offers a variety of rooms, from dorms to privates, all with access to amazing common areas and onsite facilities. They have a communal kitchen which guests can use to cook and they also run their own restaurant on site. As you would expect from anywhere which markets itself as a cowering space, the internet is fast and reliable. There are also yoga sessions which guests can get involved in!
Check out more hostels in Medellín on Booking.com.
Top 11 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 necks. This tour is unlike any other that you will have experienced before!
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.
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. Go Paragliding
Medellin 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 ‘Colombia Paragliding’, ‘Paraworld’ or ‘DragonFly’ who offer sessions for complete beginners for reasonable prices. It’s an amazing way to view the city!
3. Watch a Football Match
Don your best green and white outfits (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 going to cheer 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 the months of 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!
5. 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 organised 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!
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 Medellin and more are still popping up to meet the international demand for craft beer. Here are a few of our favourite breweries:
- Three Cordilleras (Calle 30 #44-176)
This is one of the big breweries in Medellin and on Thursday and Friday nights they offer their brewery tour. A local band also performs at the brewery on these evenings. The price and band differ each night, but to give you an idea of what to expect, when we last visited on a Friday, it was 30,000 COL per person which includes entrance and five beers of your choice.
Three Cordilleras has a range of six different beers with everything from wheat beers to stout so this means you can try them all 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!
- Cerveceria Libre (Carrera 44 #25 – 31)
These guys are open Wednesday to Saturday and as well as offering around six different beers they have brewed themselves, they also offer several others. 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 beer with flavours of passionfruit.
- 20 Mission Brewery (Calle 16 #43F-66)
This brewery not only has a selection of amazing beers on tap but they also double up as a restaurant. You heard it here first… the food they serve is AMAZING. The menu has been created to compliment 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 of the beers and food.
7. Visit Parque Arvi
Take the cable car 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 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 sometimes a farmer’s market at the point where the cable car disembarks and you can pick up some local fruits and other snacks. 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.
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. 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!
9. Learn Spanish
Medellín is a great place 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.
Everybody knows that the best way to learn a language is to fully immerse yourself in it. Blink Spanish Immersion Experience offer a classic package which is great for backpackers looking to master the basics with a week of intensive study. Accommodation in their student-only hostel is included, as are meals, group classes and two hours of private tuition. They even host weekly activities for travellers to help them see the less touristy side of Medellín. Book your intensive 1 week Spanish course with Blink here.
10. Visit Comuna 13
Once known as the most dangerous neighbourhood of Medellin 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 somewhere a tourist would never be safe to a bright and colourful place filled with community events, beautiful artwork, music and great food.
A tour through this area will provide insight into how it was and how it has changed over the years. You can’t go to Medellin 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.
We recommend Zippy tours. They are run by locals and work on a tip-based income with some of the donations going towards community events. These in turn help to keep the area safe and the people that live there, happy.
11. City Bike Tours
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 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!
Where to Eat in Medellin
To really get to know a place is to know their food. Walking through Medellin you will see many different restaurants. During the hours of 12-3 pm, most will advertise their ‘menu del dia’ or ‘menu of the day’. These are set dishes for a very reasonable price, usually between 10,000 and 20,000 COL per person. They generally include soup, main and a 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 did to be the same everywhere you go through, all of the restaurants have their own unique twist on it.
Here are a few of our favourites which are mostly based in the Poblado area. However, good restaurants can be found all over the city!
- Dharma Vegan restaurant and Bistro – Carrera 43B #8-31
- Helecho Cocina Vive – calle 10 #43A-30
- Verdeo – Carrera 36 #10B-33
- Franchyes – Carrera 37 #10-42
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.
Where To Go Next?
Cartagena: Backpacker favourite Cartagena is a must-visit destination. The Old Town has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site and there is plenty to see and do there…including, beaches! That’s right guys, it is time to top up that tan!
Bogotá: Head to Colombia’s capital for culture, architecture and of course, food and drink! Party the night away in La Candelaría where the drinks never stop flowing!
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?