May 2nd, 2019
10 BEST things to do in Medellín
In February of 2019, I spent 5 weeks living in Medellín with Remote Year and stayed in the Poblado Comuna (neighborhood).
When I first told friends and family that I would be traveling to Colombia, many of their first thoughts included cocaine and Pablo Escobar. Although the cartel is a part of Colombia's history, the country has seen a major transformation away from drugs and violence. Medellín is known as the city of eternal spring and the weather is just one of the many wonderful things it has to offer. Here are my top 10 recommendations for anyone visiting Medellín!
1. Visit Comuna 13
Comuna 13 use to be known as the most dangerous neighborhood in Medellín but is now a popular tourist destination and another example of Colombia's transformation. I visited through a tour organized by Remote Year, but, various companies will do tours of this community like this one (don't go on your own).
Our guide, Manny, grew up one block away from Comuna 13 or as he calls it, Comuna 12.9. As a young boy, he witnessed explosions go off and people lose their lives. He speaks about Comuna 13 with passion and a sense of pride seeing how far the community has come. The neighborhood is now known for its beautiful graffiti art which Manny likes to call murals and the neighborhood now has a large system of outdoor escalators that are meticulously maintained. They have helped people who were once living remotely in the hills have easier access to town. On the tour, look out for the legendary Comuna 13 Break Dancers, plenty of vendors selling treats like homemade mango biche popsicles and a fun slide built into the cliffside community.
2. Take a Day Trip To Guatapé
Guatapé is known as the most colorful town in Colombia and is an ideal place to walk around and explore. You can also climb the 740 steps up Pierda Del Peñol to see stunning views of little islands that were formed when a hydroelectricity dam was created. I highly recommend the "Do it ON a Van" Tour. It was a full day of surprises, where we rode on TOP of the van, went bridge jumping, and had a musical guest appearance. You can read about my exciting day on the tour here.
3. Ride the Metro
This might seem like an odd thing to put on your itinerary, but, it is even on tripadvisor and worth putting on your list. For $2,550 pesos ($.78 USD) you can easily access many different parts of the city. The metro has also played a pivotal role in the country's transformation providing a major urban transportation system for the working class. It has, additionally, helped bring new opportunities to marginalized portions of the city that had limited transportation options. It is possibly the cleanest Metro I have ever seen and rides above ground giving you views of other parts of the city.
4. Soar up to Parque Arví
Parque Arví is an ideal place to hike, bird watch and explore the native flora and fauna. They offer different guided tours which take about two hours and can be done by foot or with a rented bike. One of my favorite parts about visiting is how you get there. The park is accessible by taking the Metro to the Acevdo station and then transferring to the cable cars. The cable cars provide 360 degree views of massive trees, graffiti art and small communities as you sail up the mountainside.
5. Take a FREE Walking Tour
Yes, another free tour (I love doing these). Real City Tours run daily tours and meet at the Alpujarra Metro Station (yay, another opportunity to take the Metro). It is a three and a half hour tour spent walking around Medellin's downtown area known as El Centro. Our guide explained the political complexities that have shaped the country and gave a hallowing tale of the constant violence that once crippled the city.
There are several large metal sculptures in the area that were made by artist Fernando Botero. The most notable one is the Birds of Peace Sculptures. In the 1960, a bombing occurred that damaged the original Bird sculpture and killed 29 people, 3 of those being children. Botero requested the statue be kept in the public and created a new identical statue to put next to it. The birds now stand side by side and serve as both a memorial to those who lost their lives and a reminder of the tragedies this country has endured. The tour was inspiring, informative, and the guides work off tips so be prepared to leave a cash tip of $30,000-$50,000 pesos ($10-$15 USD).
6. Museo de Los Artes
The 20,000 pesos ($6 USD) entrance fee gives you access to a collection of art that is both thought-provoking and educational. It will leave you with a deeper understanding and greater appreciation for how far this country has come. Even the building to the museum is a work of art. On the final Friday of each month, the entrance is free from 6-10pm, but, you can expect long lines and lots of visitors at this time.
7. Order Menu del Dia
There is no shortage of delicious (and beautifully decorated) places to eat, especially in the Poblado Comuna. Several restaurants will have a "Menu del dia" (Menu of the Day) for lunch that consists of a drink, an appetizer, a main dish and sometimes dessert. It changes daily, is available for lunch and is very inexpensive. These falafel balls with grilled veggies over hummus, side salad and hibiscus tea ordered from Justo Restaurante was only $14,000 soles ($5 USD). My other favorite food spots include Veg Station, Lenteja Express, La Bronca, Kai and Azul Selva, just to name of few!
8. Eat All the Fruit
Columbia is home to many exotic fruits! Remote Year arranged a private fruit tasting for us, where we sampled 20+ fruits and learned that adding lime and salt to enhance the flavor of the fruit was always a good idea. You can also take an Exotic Fruits tour with Real City Tours for $21 USD or check out a grocery store or farmers market. My favorite fruits included granadilla, cherimoya, guanabana, guava, lulo (warning, it is sour), maracuyá, tomate de arbol, uchuva, zapote, and papaya. For some reason, the bananas tasted especially good in Colombia too so make sure to try those as well!
You will find fruit stands throughout the city, many of them selling fresh cut fruit and a drink called Salpicón. This is a fruity drink that consists of an assortment of banana, papaya, watermelon, strawberry, pineapple, and mango chunks. This is mixed with watermelon juice and you can add a drizzle of crema de leche for some extra sweetness.
9. Check out the Nightlife
Salsa dancing and cheap drinks are only part of the exciting Medellín nightlife. Walk around Parque Lleras, Medellín's #1 nightlife district, for a variety of clubs to suit whatever music you are looking for! Look out for talented street performers, people selling edible ants (Hormiga Coluna), and club promoters trying to get you into their club with different offers. Make your way towards Calle 8 and stop in at La Octava Bar for their giant ball pit! If you jump in, be prepared for flying balls and stay calm as you maneuver your way through it (it is harder than it looks).
*I'm having fun but also scared that I would be stuck in the pit forever.
10. Live Like a Local
After an exciting Saturday night, unwind on Sundays with the local Farmers Market opened from 8am-2pm and located in Parque La Presidenta. Order an Arepa de Chocolo, a sweet corn tortilla heated up on a comal (flat griddle), topped with mantequilla and fresh cheese. The combination of sweet, salty, hot and cold is delightful. Try the homemade empanadas, freshly made peanut butter, coffee, and juices. You can also do some grocery shopping and pick up fresh fruit, veggies, and eggs. Everything is pretty inexpensive and a cellist plays classical music creating a relaxing shopping experience.
Then head to ciclovía on Avenida Poblado. Ciclovíai is when roads are closed off to traffic between 7am-1pm for patrons and families to walk, run, skate, rollerblade and get outside to do some exercising. The road is closed all the way from Envigado until El Centro and there is no particular start or end, so jump on in wherever you can.
In the evening, head to El Social Tienda Mixta Desde 1969, order a plate of traditional Colombian snacks, have a drink and chill out. This place used to be a convenience store but, over time, it transformed into a place where locals gather to unwind. The store still carries some everyday essentials for purchase like toilet paper.
Once you've had the privilege to visit this beautiful country for yourself, I hope you are left with a new perceptive of Colombia. Bring what you've learned and seen back home with you and when people bring up Escobar, let them know about the other many sides of Colombia. As a visitor, you can help with Colombia's transformation and aid in the creation of a new identity for this wonderful place.
Special Note: I also wanted to say a few words about what was happening in the country in February of 2019. Colombia was experiencing a large influx of immigrants from Venezuela as the situation under president Maduro became severe. The value of the Venezuelan dollar had greatly decreased, so much so, that it was practically worthless and I would see people handing out Venezuelan money for free. Be kind (and generous if you can) to these struggling families who you may see asking for money or selling goods, candies, and other items.