It wasn’t all that long ago that Medellin was considered one of the most dangerous places in the world; being the notorious hideout of Pablo Escobar, an infamous Colombian drug lord and cocaine trafficker, it’s hardly any wonder why. But today there is a tangible feeling of hope that pervades the city. Paisas (people from Medellin) are extremely proud of their home—even if it does still have its flaws—and more and more travelers and expats are finding themselves extending their stay in the red brick metropolitan valley.
Despite our unfortunate incident in Bogota on our last day in the country, Colombia remains to be one of our favorite places in the world. And of the few places we visited in the country, Medellin was without a doubt our favorite. Paisas are kind, funny, warm and hospitable, and though we only spent about two and a half weeks in the city, we formed many wonderful relationships we’ll remember for much longer.
You can see all of Medellin’s tourist attractions in just a couple of days, but we highly recommend prolonging your visit to have more time to sample the food, meet the people, and allow the City of Eternal Spring to fully win your heart.
What To Do
Go For A Ride On The Metrocable
If you do one thing in Medellin, make it riding the metrocable up to the Biblioteca Espana. A ticket on the metro system takes you to any stop, including the top of the cable car, for under a buck. The cable car offers one of the best views of the city, with vistas extending out to the surrounding mountains and valley below. What’s even better, the addition of the cable car to the metro system has helped bring affordable transport to the surrounding favelas, connecting the marginalized slums and underdeveloped barrios to the city center.
Explore The Cultural Center
A great place for a photo opportunity and a unique place to explore is the Biblioteca Espana, the impressive community center at the top of the gondola. Don’t be afraid to take a glimpse inside the massive complex while you’re there. This awesome free resource gives the community access to computers, a library, seminars and all sorts of great stuff for kids and adults. It’s an amazing example of community development and education.
Go For A Hike
For an extra fee of just 4,200 Colombian Pesos (just over $2 USD), you can take the cable car onward to Arvi Park. Medellin’s signature eternal spring weather offers the perfect opportunity to get outdoors, and Arvi Park is a great place to do it. The 1761-acre valley contains various attractions, including hiking trails and an archaeological site. While we didn’t explore in depth, we did have the chance to hike along one of the park’s many trails. The park contains both paved and unpaved trails, and is open from 9am to 6pm from Tuesday to Sunday. We recommend going during the morning hours to avoid hitting the heat of the day.
Go For Drinks In El Poblado
On the other side of the city center is the neighborhood of El Poblado. A stark contrast to the favelas on the way to Arvi Park, this fancier side of Medellin is host to some of the city’s best bars, restaurants and shops. This is where a lot of expats live, so you’ll find plenty of places that cater to foreigners. For an action-packed night, head to Parque Lleras where you’ll find the younger crowd drinking in the park while others sip their cocktails from the many bars in the area. And shots…expect lots of shot bars.
Photograph The Parroquia Nuestra Senora del Perpetuo Socorro
Talk about a name! The Parroquia Nuestra Senora del Perpetuo Socorro is an impressive looking church located adjacent to the metro line at the Exposiciones stop. Honestly there is no need to exit the metro line as you can see the church perfectly well from the passing train and the Exposiciones train platform.
Experience El Centro
The heart of the city can be found at the Parque Berrio metro stop. Start here and walk towards San Antonio and you’ll go right through a good portion of Medellin’s highlights.
Wander Through Statue Park and Botero Museum
In the center of town is the popular and whimsical Botero Statue Park, a plaza comprised of 23 sculptures by Botero. Botero is a Colombian artist famously noted for his “volumous representations” and the way he plays with sizes and proportions in both people, animals and things. Judging by the unique characteristics of his work, it’s understandable that Botero is one of the most recognized and quoted living artists from Latin America.
The park is situated adjacent to the equally impressive Rafael Uribe Uribe Palace of Culture and the Museum of Antioquia. The museum houses over 100 pieces of Botero’s artwork and sculptures that he has generously donated.
While walking around centro you’ll find heaps of cheap quality but cheaply priced shops and stalls. The brand names are actually just knock-offs, but you’ll find designer shoes for 15 bucks and t-shirts for 5. You’ll have to hunt hard to find the good stuff that doesn’t include sequins or some obscure picture, but it’s always a fun afternoon out.
Parque de Las Luces
Continuing on the pedestrian road you’ll end up at Parque de las Luces and Edificio Vasquez. These are the old warehouses where Pablo Escabar used to process his massive cocaine exploits. Today the area has been transformed into a historic site with an adjacent park which lights up spectacularly at night. It’s a beautiful symbol that demonstrates the people of Medellin investing in their city to reshape their future.
Get Wet At Barefoot Park
Hang a right through Parque de las Luces and a bit further down the street you’ll find Barefoot Park. A family-friendly spot in town, the park features a “no shoes allowed” sandbox and waterfall, encouraging people to get grounded and connect with the earth.
Travel Through Time At Pueblito Paisa
Opened in March of 1978, Pueblito Paisa is a town replica built to look like a typical Antioquia town. It is positioned on top of Nutibara Mountain, smack-dab in the middle of Medellin. The direct translation of Pueblito Paisa is ‘little town,’ and that’s precisely what it is. The ‘town’ is only made up of a few buildings, but all are made to feature the unique and colorful Antioquia style. The main features include the central square with a fountain, church, rectory, barbershop, and schoolhouse. While the town may be small, the views are quite expansive. Several viewpoints around the area offer a 360-degree view of the city and surrounding mountainside.
Cheer On Your Favorite Team
If you really want to mingle with the locals, you can’t find a better spot than a local soccer match. Soccer is like a form of religion in Latin America and the same holds true in Colombia. Fans go all out for their teams, cheering and chanting throughout the entire match. If you’re looking for something a little more laid back, check out the sports complex nearby the stadium that hosts all sorts of sports like break dancing, wheelchair handball, martial arts and outdoor skateboarding.
Climb El Penon de Guatape
It’s basically a gigantic rock, but after conquering all 659 steps to the top, you’ll be wowed by the amazing 360-degree views of the surrounding lakes and islands. What’s even better, it costs just $5 USD to climb to the top.
Once you’ve gotten your fair share of photos, head back into town for a colorful and vibrant walk through town. The buildings are covered in brightly colored wall art, and the town boasts a fresh, clean and friendly atmosphere.
Guatape is about a two-hour scenic bus ride from Medellin, which can be reached from the North Terminal. The bus costs $6.75 USD. The trip can be done in one day, but it is recommended to stay the night so as not to feel rushed.
Where To Stay
Medellin is famous for its artistic and eclectic style, so it was only fitting to stay at a hotel that was equally chic and creative. We chose the conveniently located and relative new comer to the El Poblado area Hotel Le Parc.
From the moment we walked in we knew we were in for a treat. The stylish lobby set an elegant tone, with couches and a coffee table that we were able to lounge in while the eager staff took care of getting us checked in. The staff spoke impeccable English and was very helpful, able to provide a map and explain all of their favorite spots in the area. Once we were finished checking in, we were whisked away to our room, our bags already there to meet us.
The rooms are spacious to say the least, and we might go so far as to say that Le Parc has the best dollar-to-floor space deal in the entire city. (Which of course thrilled Casey as she had plenty of room for her hotel room yoga!) The room can basically be broken down into three sections that all flow seamlessly together:
On the far side of the room is an enormous and comfortable bed. We appreciated the full-length window that helps to bring in plenty of that famous Medellin sunlight.
Beside that was a coffee table and sofa chair facing a big screen TV that literally welcomes you by name when you turn it on.
Adjacent to that was the kitchen and bar area complete with stove, fridge, coffee maker and coffee. We were surprised though to find that even though we had a stove, there were no pots or pans with which to cook with, nor any plates or utensils to eat with. We do hope these accessories will be added later as it’s always a nice to have the option to eat in.
The bathroom was crystal-clean and well-equipped. We did have some trouble with the hot water during our stay, but the hotel staff was quick to act and had maintenance in our room within 5 minutes. In the end we had to switch to the adjacent room while the maintenance crew went to work on the hot water, but we were impressed with the quick and courteous staff eager to fix our problem.
Breakfast is served on the second floor, complete with omelet bar, fruit, various juices, meats and pastries.
Hotel Le Parc is located just over a minute’s walk from Parque Lleras. It’s the perfect spot to be able to walk up the street to get to the most popular bars and restaurants in Medellin without catching all the noise of the street parties. We would definitely stay here on our return visit and recommend it to anyone traveling to the city.
Where To Eat
If you only eat one dish in Medellin, make it Mondongo. While it might not be the most delicious dish, it gets bonus points for its uniqueness. The soup consists of diced trip (cow’s stomach) and slow-cooked vegetables. If you’re going to give the dish a try, be sure to sample it at the famous restaurant by the same name, Mondongos. It wasn’t our favorite soup in the world, but it was worth a try for sure.
Another Colombian specialty is Bandeja Paisa. We ventured out to Brasarepa to give the massive platter at try, an unassuming restaurant just outside the city that was first made famous by Anthony Bourdain. Bandeja Paisa consists of soup, meat, fried plantains, fried egg, chorizo, chicharron (thick pork fat), beans, avocado, rice, and a small salad—basically a whole lot of sodium, cholesterol and fat inevitably resulting in a food coma. It’s totally worth it though, especially to indulge in once!
And that sums up our quick and dirty guide to Medellin! Again, don’t forget to schedule in some time with the locals while you’re there—the friendly and hospital people are always the highlight!
Have you been to Medellin? What did you think?
We were guests of Hotel Le Park. All thoughts and opinions to eagerly return are entirely our own.