Medellin, Colombia, is one of the largest, most historic cities in Colombia; and yet, it remains virtually unknown to anyone unfamiliar with Colombia. In fact, what it is probably most well known for is being one of the more dangerous cities in the world in the late 80’s and early 90’s during the reign of Drug Lord Pablo Escobar.
However, Medellin has put tons of effort into changing their image, funding their town, and ultimately building a tourist destination for everyone that gives the ultimate experience of Colombian culture.
Getting To Medellin
Medellin is on the northwest coast of Colombia, a 10 hour drive from the capital city of Bogota and about an hour and a half fly from both Bogota and Barranquilla. Many people choose to Fly to Medellin from the capital city of Bogota, or take a bus, as it is cheaper to fly into Bogota internationally. You can often find very cheap tickets to fly to Medellin with LATAM and Avianca airlines; often for 40-80$ round trip per individual.
Traveling Within Medellin
Once you arrive in Medellin, you’ll be happy to find that it’s home to one of the more advanced public transit systems. El Metro, or the Subway line that runs through central Colombia, is fast, efficient, and covers much of Metropolitan Colombia; different from many public transit systems in South America.
Because Medellin lies in the middle of a valley, the Metro connects with cable car lines that will take you up to the top of the valley. It’s usually rare that you’ll need to rent a taxi in Medellin, but when you do, you might be better off taking an Uber than a local Taxi as they tend to overcharge tourists.
Communicating in Spanish
When in Colombia, it’s helpful to know a little bit of Spanish in order to communicate a little bit of what you want to do. Make sure to spend a little bit of time on Duolingo in order to learn to say simple phrases. Better still, you can learn Spanish using Rosetta Stone. Colombia does cater pretty well to English speaking tourists, but once in a while, out in the boonies, you’ll need to know a thing or two to get around.
Here’s an easy 3 day Medellin itinerary for any potential travelers! We’ve covered anything and everything there is to do in Colombia; from the party scenes, to the nature views, to the incredible art and culture all around Medellin.
Day One will start out visiting much of the parks littered around central Medellin.
The first one we recommend you visit is Arvi Park. Arvi is at the top of the canyon, a ways away from the central metropolitan area. It is only accessible to tourists by cable car. This allows you to have an incredible morning view of the unique geography that cradles Medellin.
You’ll notice that much of the neighborhood is built up around the mountains.
Santa Fe Zoo
Afterwards, take the cable car back to the central to see the Santa Fe Zoo. Much of the animal life in Colombia is unique to South America, like Anaconda. You may see animal species you never knew existed before.
The Botanical Garden is another amazing feature close to Santa Fe Zoo. There, you will see wood structures and amphitheaters built to showcase the local talent in Colombia.
Some nights, you may find extravagant weddings, dance shows, or local musicians showing their talent to local passerbys.
Plaza de Botero/ Museo de Botero
Francisco Botero is an extremely well known artist and sculptor known worldwide for his unique designs. You’ll notice his artwork is usually plump, engorged royalty surrounded by Colombian geography; it’s a very unique style and Medellin is proud to call Botero one of its residents.
The Plaza de Botero and Museum de Botero both showcase much of Francisco Botero’s work. Nearby the Museum of Modern Art also displays many of the local artists that Medellin takes pride in.
To end the day, we recommend catching a soccer match from local club Atletico Nacional. Soccer in Columiba (and really in Latin America) is huge, and going to a soccer match is an exciting experience. Medellin locals live and die for their team; the passion is palpable.
El Penol de Guatape
El Penol de Guatape is a gigantic rock formation near the town of Guatape outside of Medellin. There are several options for bus tours in Medellin that will take you to the formation.
A narrow set of stairs is carved on one side of the rock and if you’re decently fit, it shouldn’t be a problem for you to walk to the top. Once you arrive at the top, you’ll witness an incredible view with many small ponds and islands surrounding the lakeside town of Guatape.
Afterwards, the bus tours taking you to the Penol will usually stop in the picturesque city of Guatape. Seemingly frozen in the colonial era, this small town thrives on it’s tourists and attracts them with beautiful architecture and bright colors.
Guatape is always a great stop for souvenirs and food, and afterwards, you’ll be able to enjoy the beautiful views of the coffee fields outside of Medellin.
Arepas are a must have in Colombia. The traditional cornmeal food is a delicious meal that can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and comes in sweet forms, or savory forms.
You’ll likely be able to find Arepas at any street stop or restaurant. You might be lucky asking locals where to get the best arepas.
At the end of the night, we highly recommend visiting Barrio Poblado. If there is one thing that Colombians love to do, it’s parties. The Poblado district is rich with clubs and bars, and is perfect for the tourist looking to experience the party culture in Medellin.
There are interesting alcoholic beverages native to Colombia, salsa dancing, and even a party bus that looms around the barrio packing up and dropping off bar hoppers. It’s a must visit if you’ve got the energy, and definitely better as the weekend arrives!
Breakfast de Bandeja Paisa
On the beginning of your last day in Medellin, it’s important that you try our personal favorite dish in Colombia; the Bandeja Paisa. Spanish for “native plate” this breakfast is a composite of eggs, beans, fried pork skin, and avocados. You can find Bandeja Paisa at any restaurant in Medellin; the locals are incredibly proud of it!
Pablo Escobar Tour
Taking up most of the day on your last day in Medellin is the Pablo Escobar tour.
Escobar, an infamous drug lord who hailed from Medellin in the early 90s draws many mixed emotions in the city; while his reign was terrible and the effects were catastrophic, he also did much for the lower class of Medellin, helping with the construction of the cable car system and erecting schools and soccer fields all around the city.
The Pablo Escobar tour will take you around many destinations within the city that were associated with Escobar. It will also venture off the beaten path to Hacienda Napoles, Escobar’s home residence and hub of many of his narcotraficante meetings.
There it was said he kept many different animals such as hippos and tigers, a bullring, and a racetrack.
While Escobar should never exist as a hero, it will be interesting to learn about the history behind Medellin and how Escobar played into that.
Oh, and if you’d like to see an interesting reconstruction of Pablo’s Escobar’s raise to power and his subsequent fall, Netflix has a binge-watch-worthy series for you. Trailer below:
To end your trip, we advise you to take a trip from el Metro to the Metrocable, which exists on the more northern parts of the Metro line. The Cable cars are a unique Colombian mode of transportation that give you a wonderful view of the massive metropolitan area of Medellin. A great ending to the consummate experience.
Where to Stay
When in Medellin, there are many options to choose for lodging, and it really all depends on what your situation is. Hostels are popular with many solo or duo travelers, as they are a cheap option and very friendly for backpackers looking to make friends.
Otherwise, you’ll probably be able to find cheap group rates or family rates as long as you look in the right places. Most younger travelers stay in the Barrio Poblado area, while families tend to stay in more upscale hotels in north Medellin.
Planning for Your Trip
Before heading to Medellin, or Colombia in general, make sure to change your currency over as most places in Medellin do not accept cards. Colombia uses the peso system, however, their pesos are much less valuable per unit, so it’s a common mistake to overestimate the cost of things. 30,000 pesos is in fact, equivalent to around 10 USD.
You won’t need to plan much in the realm of public transport, as Medellin has a great transit system that you can pay very small amounts to use.
Medellin is quite hot year round though, so shorts, sandals and t-shirts will suit you just fine. Enjoy your trip!