Updated May 15th, 2018.
Bustling Medellin 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 Medellin people, it is hard to believe that everyone you meet over the age of 20 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%, meaning that what was once a crime-ridden centre is now a place of progress and success. Medellin 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!
Places to Stay in Medellín
The backpacker area of El Poblado is full obudget-friendlyfriendly options covering a whole gamete of different quality options. The area is conveniently close to restaurants, transportation, nightlife, and is one of the safest areas of the city. Some of the major hostels here are Casa Kiwi and Happy Buddha Hostel (we stayed here and enjoyed it!) and a little further near the metro the popular Black Sheep Hostel.
Things to Do
Real City Tours:
This is no ordinary city 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 26-year old charismatic Medellin native (Paisa) Pablo, the tour is non-stop energy, insight and passion from the very beginning to the end. Sit with Pablo in Medellin 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 he 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!
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 it’s own, 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 (free) or even explore by horse! 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!
The amazing city of Medellin in all its glory from the ‘Cable Metro’.
Farmer market stands at the entrance to Parque Arvi.
Museo and Parque Botero:
Recognized internationally this man of fresh concepts and unique design esthetic could only have come from such a unique and complex city. Botero is known for making fat beautiful, chubby woman, 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 traveler pics.
Taking pictures with Botero’s chubby giants is a Medellin must!
Happen to find yourself in Medellin for the months of December or January and you are in luck! Each year the city competes against Bogota 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.
Feliz Navidad Colombian style.
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!
City Bike Tours:
A great way to explore the city of Medellin – 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!
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 ‘Medellin Pub Crawl’ on Facebook. For those looking to get dressed up, head for Salsa in the swanky Las Palmas district – Medellin has something for everyone!
Getting there and away
- 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 Medellin 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.
By Tyler Protano-Goodwin