Medellin, the 2nd largest city in Colombia, has received much attention from the traveler community over the past several years. It has recently been named one of the top cities to visit in the world.
The appeal is no mystery as the city caters to every type of traveler. From a vacation to an extended stay, Medellin is a prime destination for sightseers, expatriates and digital nomads alike.
Here is a complete Medellin guide to help you navigate this immense city.
Medellin is a large city with hundreds of “barrios” (read: neighborhood), and a population of over 2 million people. It’s not hard to be overwhelmed by the vastness of the city. Here are some travel tips to help you navigate this metropolitan paradise.
How to get to Medellin from the airport
Getting from Jose Maria Cordova International Airport to Medellin itself is about a 45-minute journey. Fortunately, there are several options to get from point A to B. Here they are from cheapest to most expensive.
Medellin Airport Bus – 9,000 COP ($3)
This green and white bus sits just outside the arrival terminal that takes passengers from the airport to downtown Medellin, just a couple blocks from a metro station. The only caveat is that the bus waits until it is entirely full to leave, which typically takes about 20-30 minutes.
Airport Colectivo – 13,000 COP ($5)
This is a small van that takes passengers from the airport to a small gas station by San Diego Mall, which is about a 10-minute walk from Exposiciones Metro Station, or around the corner from a major taxi stop.
Taxi from Medellin Airport – 70,000 COP ($24)
There is always the option to catch a taxi from the airport to wherever you plan to go in Medellin. The price ranges from 65,000-70,000 COP.
Medellin Airport Transfer – 90,000+ COP ($30+)
The newest service to arrive in Medellin, Medellin Airport Transfer is a private car service that screams convenience. Choose the service you’d like, then book online with your card or via Paypal. You can even choose the type of car. If you have a group or special request, they cater to that as well.
Medellin is generally safe for tourists, which may explain the influx in tourism over the years. Most neighborhoods that travelers frequent are full of people and business, and are well-lit areas with very little crime. Some of the most common neighborhoods for foreigners are El Poblado, Laureles, Envigado, La Floresta and Ciudad del Rio. These are all well-kept areas that are almost always safe.
(Read: Is Colombia Safe?)
The best way to stay safe in Medellin, like with any major city, is to stay with others when in unfamiliar areas, keep valuables hidden and don’t walk around alone at night.
There is also the option to sign up for the U.S. Department of State’s STEP Program that provides safety reports and travel warnings.
Best time to visit Medellin
The best time to visit Medellin is year-around. Colombia sits close to the equator, which translates to very little fluctuation in the climate throughout the year. In fact, Medellin is known as the “city of eternal spring” for this reason. There are, however, “wet seasons”, where the city will experience daily bouts of rain lasting for a short period of time.
In general, the weather in Medellin is relatively moderate and sunny. The city sits at an altitude of 1495 meters and is surrounded by mountains, providing a picturesque, 360-degree backdrop.
From high-end hotels in Poblado to Airbnbs in the residential district of Laureles to boutique hostels in the Floresta and Belén neighborhoods, Medellin has all types of accommodations for every type of traveler. All of the aforementioned are the best places to stay in Medellin as they offer a balance of authentic Colombian living and foreigner community.
Good hostels in Medellin
These are the best hostel options in the most safe and popular tourist areas in Medellin.
Ondas Hostel in La Floresta
Not only is Ondas a well-designed hostel, but it’s also a café, co-work space and popular meeting point for foreigners. Ondas features a beautiful rooftop furnished with artistically renovated recycled materials and a bar. Downstairs you will find a quaint café with outdoor seating and some of the best coffee in the city, not to mention an outstanding menu.
Wandering Paisa in Laureles
Wandering Paisa is set up for the solo traveler (or anyone really) who wants to make connections in Medellin, both local and foreign. The hostel hosts weekly events, like language exchanges, salsa lessons and karaoke nights to help its guests get acquainted with the area and meet new people.
Casa Articulada in Belén
Casa Articulada was designed by artists for artists (although everyone is welcome). Between the meticulous designs to the beautiful décor, everything about this hostel has an artistic feel. The patio and tree canopy over the outdoor hammocks are just bonuses.
Happy Buddha in Poblado
Looking for a party hostel? You’ll find it here. Between the onsite bar, constant music and high energy, Happy Buddha is everything you’d want in a party atmosphere. Guests call it the perfect mix of entertainment and serenity; you can be the judge.
Hotels in Medellin
There are hotels scattered throughout the city, but if you’re looking for the best quality hotels in the area, then Poblado will be the place to go. Hotel Charlee has a luxurious lobby area with a patio the looks out onto Parque Lleras, as well as a swanky rooftop bar with a pool in the center. Hotel Poblado Plaza is an 84-room, luxury hotel with an indoor pool and onsite casino that sits a few minutes from Poblado Park.
Things to do in Medellin
The absolute best tour in Medellin is the free walking tour. The tour goes over the main sights and historical buildings as well as provides historical and cultural context. Anyone who wants to gain a comprehensive prospective on Medellin should sign up for this tour.
Other great tours include the Exotic Fruits Tour, which comes in handy because Colombia has some of the most diverse and unique fruits. There’s just no way to keep up without a proper introduction.
Toucan Tours also provides a great tour of Comuna 13, a revitalized neighborhood that was once one of the most dangerous areas in the city. The neighborhood features graffiti art and paintings from some of the most talented artists in Colombia. The tour shows not only the art, but gives perspective into the area and how it developed. Even the Paisas (aka people of Medellin) find it insightful!
Parks in Medellin
The infrastructure in Medellin is absolutely wonderful. The city provides a variety of free and useful services for the public. For example, most public, outdoor spaces have free WiFi. Not to mention, visitors can find parks with free workout equipment scattered throughout the city in almost every barrio.
Estadio is a state of the art complex that features an Olympic swimming pool, full track and field, a skate park, a gymnastics gym, volleyball courts and more. The facilities are not only in impeccable condition, but they are also 100% free to residents and visitors alike.
The park in Ciudad del Rio is a common gathering space. Guests go to enjoy various activities, including picnics, Frisbee bike riding, skateboarding and even Acro Yoga. It’s easy to just show up here and find something fun to do!
How to get around Medellin
Medellin has a vast selection of transportation options, all depending on your budget.
All taxis in Medellin have meters so you don’t need to worry about getting swindled. The meter starts between $2,700-3,000 COP ($1). Plus, they are everywhere and you won’t have to venture far from wherever you are to flag one down. They usually don’t speak English and aren’t always good with addresses, so it’s best to have a landmark or main street that you can give them.
Uber or Cabify
The metro takes you to every part of the city and costs $2,100 COP ($0.70) per ticket. You can use a single ticket to go anywhere and as far as you need to, as long as you don’t exit the turnstile. The Medellin metro is a clean and organized form of transportation. Just try to avoid riding during rush hour, or you’ll be packed in pretty tight.
MetroPlus is much like a city bus, except that it has its own lane on the street and can bypass a lot of the traffic (which gets pretty bad in Medellin). The tickets cost 2,000 COP. It can be a bit confusing as a new rider, but there are always guards there to help you navigate the system.
The Cable Car (aka Metrocable) is an extension of the metro. The mountains that surround the city are full of barrios and the metrocable goes to these areas. It is also great to ride just for fun and the best way to see the entire city from an aerial view; try it at night!
City buses are a good way to feel like a local. The buses will have their destinations listed on a placard in the front window, and, when in doubt, you can always ask (which you should do before the bus arrives). Most rides cost between 1,800-2,000 COP. Be forewarned, these buses drive fast, make abrupt stops, and the drivers typically aren’t the most patient people in the world, but the same goes for all Medellin drivers.
Things to do in Medellin with kids
Medellin is a family-friendly city with tons of things to do with kids. Most parks offer play sets for children as well as the occasional fair.
Parque Zoológico Santa Fe focuses on conservation and education. It also caters to the younger crowd with Science clubs, kids discovery area and tours geared for children. Kids under 2 are free and children up to 12 years of age are 7,000 COP ($2).
El Salado Ecotourism Park
This park is on the edge of Envigado. There is an entrance fee of 6,000 COP ($3) that gives access to a gated park with kiddie zip-lines, lookout points, manicured trails and a calm river.
From water fountains to massive sandbox, this park is sure to keep the kids busy while parents can relax. It may go without saying, but no shoes allowed!
EPM Water Museum
What kid wouldn’t enjoy playing in giant soap bubbles, mini tidal pools and interactive tunnels?
Top Medellin Attractions
The metrocable is technically commuter transport for people who live in the remote neighborhoods up the mountain. But it’s also a very scenic way to see the city. A normal metro ticket will take you up the metrocable, and you’re free to take a round trip ride on the cables. It is absolutely worth it, especially at night when the entire city is lit up.
Museum of Antioquia
The Museum of Antioquia tells the story of the history of Antioquia, the district where Medellin is located. The museum is located near to Parque Berrio Metro Station. Foreigners can visit the museum for 18,000 COP ($6) and the museum offers several guided tours.
Botanical Garden of Medellin
The Botanical Garden is a beautiful example of Colombia’s biodiversity. Within the 14 acres of gardens, it holds 1,000 living species and over 4,000 species of flowers. The botanical gardens are accessible from Universidades Metro Station.
Zona Rosa Medellin
Zona Rosa is known as the most exciting area in Medellin for nightlife, shopping and social events. It is located in the Poblado neighborhood, which is home to the largest concentration of foreigners in the city. This is the area where you can find the most niche restaurants, fun nightclubs and trendy cafes.
Arví Park Medellin
Parque Arví in Medellin is a nature reserve and archaeology site with campsites, trails and waterfalls. The only way to access the park is by metrocable. Take the metro to Acevedo station and get off at Santo Domingo. Then, you will need to pay an additional 5,000 COP to ride the L line up to the park. Once you get off, there will be a market with delicious traditional foods and handcrafted goods waiting for you. Then you can venture into the park to observe the nature and get away from the city life for a bit.
Nightlife in Medellin
Parque Lleras Medellin
Parque Lleras and Provenza are well-known areas in Poblado famous for their lively nightlife scene and abundance of bars and clubs. These are the places to be on a Friday or Saturday night if you’re looking to drink, dance or have a night that you might forget. It is consistently a great time with lots of people.
Clubs in Medellin
Outside of Parque Lleras, there are some other great clubs to go out for an evening. Avenida 33 has several open-patio bars and discotechs that offer a variety of fun adventures. La 70 is a street in the Laureles neighborhood that features food, bars and a couple dance clubs, making it easy to bar hop and choose a variety of options for the night. El centro (downtown) also has a few fun dance spots, especially for salsa.
What foods to try in Medellin
Bandeja Paisa is a must-try while you’re in Medellin. It is a platter of various foods—a taste of Antioquia—that includes ground beef, fried pork, sausage, beans, rice, arepa, plantain and avocado. As if that weren’t enough, it is often accompanied by soup. You’ll either need to share the plate or be carted away after entering a food-induced coma, but it will be worth the experience. The Bandeja Paisa experience will cost you about 20,000 COP ($7).
Arepas are a staple in Colombian cuisine and one that will be easy to find during your trip to Medellin. It is a thick patty made of ground corn that is often stuffed with cheese and/or other items, like meat, avocado and veggies. Arepas come in various forms, but the best ones can be found on the streets and will cost around 4,000 COP ($1).
It’s rare to venture to a Latin American country without finding some form of empanada, and Colombia is no exception. Most include carne (beef) and potatoes. The best versions are thick and deep-fried. Opt for the freshly-made empanadas—they’re warm, crispy and delicious. You can typically grab an empanada for around 1,200 COP ($0.30).
Sancocho is a very traditional soup in Colombia, typically found at large gatherings or celebrations, although most restaurants will have it on their menu. The broth base is complemented with boiled Yuca, shredded chicken, fresh corn and other vegetables. The soup comes with a side of rice, avocado and arepa, just in case the soup alone isn’t enough. A large bowl of Sancocho will run around 10,000 COP ($4).
Places to see near to Medellin
Guatapé is home to the famous, 700-step, monolithic rock, El Peñól, that is every bit worth the arduous climb. It is possible to take on of the many tour options in Guatapé, but arriving at and climbing the rock is doable on your own. Don’t forget to check out the lively outdoor market along the river where you can find food, rent jet skis, take a boat road or even zip-line.
Salento is in Colombia’s coffee region. It encompasses the breathtaking Valle de Cocora, which is a green, mountainous landscape rich with wildlife and flora. The weather in Salento is typically much colder and cloudier than in Medellin, which is perfect for coffee-growing conditions, but could be a rough transition.
A trip to the country’s capital, Bogotá, is reachable by a 10-hour bus ride or 1-hour flight from Medellin. Bogotá also tends to be much colder than Medellin, but it’s worth it to brave the chilly temperatures. There are a few must-do activities when in Bogotá, including the free walking tour, Botero Museum, La Candelaria and Monserrate.
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