31 Things to Do in Medellin (plus everything you need to know before visiting)
Planning a trip to Medellin and looking for ideas of what to do?
Want to experience the city authentically and NOT simply hit up all the major tourist sites?
I think you’ll agree with us when we say the best we to get to know a city is to get outside of the tourist zones and mingle with the locals.
We live in Medellin (one of us grew up there) and so we know ALL of the best things to do in Medellin because, well, these are the things we do them ourselves.
In this guide we cover ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING you could every possibly need to know when planning a trip to Medellin (we believe this is the most comprehensive guide out there).
Where to eat, sleep, how to get around, festivals, nightlight, the main sites, how to go off-piste and even what films to watch before you come.
We hope you enjoy!
Over the years Colombia has remained a hidden gem of the South American tourist scene.
But things are changing rapidly and it is quickly becoming one of the world’s best holiday destinations.
Lurking beneath the negative, fear-inducing headlines is a country packed with stunning natural beauty from shimmering sands to plush tropical jungles and bustling metropolitan cities to tiny indigenous villages high up in the mountains.
It’s a country known for its vibrancy, coastlines, culture, creativity and – unfortunately – the drug cartels.
At the epicentre of it all is city: a city brimming with wonder and known as the City of Eternal Spring. Welcome to Medellin.
If you’re planning a trip to Colombia then Medellin has to be the top of your itinerary.
It has an incredible amount to offer its visitors and you could easily spend an entire week in Medellin, roaming the historic streets, chatting to locals, learning Salsa, enjoying the nightlife and getting lost on wild adventures.
And since Medellin is our home we’ve got what can only be described as an EPIC list of things to do in Medellin.
When we started writing this we wanted to feature all the ‘best bits’ of Medellin for you to enjoy.
But, we quickly realised that there is just so much that we love about this place that it quickly turned into something more.
Unlike other lists out there we’re using our local knowledge and experiences to provide the ultimate guide to Medellin.
What We’ll Cover
With notorious stories of the drug cartels, the legacy of Pablo Escobar and the painful effects of Colombia’s civil war spanning over 5 decades it’s not surprising that Medellin was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
But its troubled past is exactly what gives the local people an unyielding resilience in what feels like an eternal quest to remain happy and upbeat.
They welcome foreigners with open arms and are always eager to show off the undiscovered beauty of their majestic city.
And while today it remains a city of huge contrasts – modern high rise towers stand tall against the backdrop of overpopulated shanty towns in the distant mountains – Medellin is most definitely a city on the way up and quickly becoming THE ‘place-to-be’ in Latin America.
It’s set in the most splendid of locations, in a picturesque valley nestled deep in the Andes mountains (the ‘Valle de Aburrá’ ).
It’s surrounded by some delightful little villages and towns, and has gained the favourable nickname of ‘the city of eternal spring’ due to its more than agreeable climate.
The city is absolutely brimming with energy and personality, is served with an innovative modern infrastructure, and is full of chic boutiques, cool cafes and delicious restaurants.
And it’s home to the ‘Paisa’ people – famed in Colombia for their endless hospitality, entrepreneurial spirit, beautiful women and their love of la rumba (partying).
The word is slowly getting out about this somewhat ‘untouched’ gem so make sure you get it onto your travel plans so you can experience it in all of its AUTHENTIC glory.
Let’s take a look at the things to do in Medellin.
Transport and Getting Around Medellin
Arriving at the Airport
Since most international and domestic flights come here it’s likely you’ll be arriving at José María Córdova International Airport.
From here you’re a short 40-60 minue drive away from Medellin and this is your chance to take in the epic views on your journey down the mountain and into the valley.
There are plenty of options for transportation including, the shuttle bus, shared taxi, Uber and official airport taxis.
Buses and shared taxis are cheaper but normally very busy and without English speakers so we recommend getting in a white airport taxi which will take you straight to your hotel.
You should be able to get this for a fixed price of 70,000 COP which is roughly USD $25 / GBP £20.
Avoid using the ‘random’ people offering their services.
Instead, walk straight past them and get into the official taxi queue. Write your address down on a piece of paper because most taxi drivers don’t speak English.
Arriving at the Bus Terminal
If you’re arriving by bus here’s what you need to know.
TERMINAL DEL NORTE
(If arriving from Bogota, Cartagena, Guatape or Santa Fe de Antioquia):
If you want to catch the Metro the bus station is connected to Caribe Metro station, from here you can get the metro to El Poblado and other any stations within the metro network (COP 2,300).
There is also a taxi rank outside the bus station with a queue of yellow taxis which will cost around COP 10,000 / $4 / £3 assuming you’re going to El Poblado.
TERMINAL DEL SUR
(If arriving from Cali, Armenia or Salento):
Although there are no metro options from this station there is a taxi rank outside which will cost the same as above for a ride to El Poblado.
A taxi is definitely a cheap and hassle free way to travel. Probably what you’re going to need after a long journey.
Getting Around Town
Whilst you’ve got good transport options including the Metro, Taxis and Uber you should be aware that it’s best to never flag a cab on the street.
Always ring ahead and book your taxi (or use UBER) so you can be sure that it is official.
The Best Places to Stay in Medellin (LOCATION)
Medellin has a neat – if not slightly complex – system of dividing the city.
The urban area of Medellin is divided into 6 zones, which in turn are divided into 16 communas, which are then divided into barrios (neighbourhoods).
The rural areas are then divided into 5 corregimientos, which are subsequently divided into villages. The good news is that if you’re visiting Medellin on vacation then there are only really a couple of areas worth staying.
El Poblado is the wealthiest area in Medellin where you’ll find the city’s young, trendy and beautiful.
Although it’s quite a large area we suggest staying in and around Parque Lleras or Parque Poblado if you want to be at the heart of Medellin’s nightlife scene or around Provenza if you’re looking for something a little more chilled.
Provenza is definitely my personal favourite.
El Poblado is filled with tree-lined streets, modern shopping malls, boutique designer stores, cool cafes, trendy restaurants and lively nightlife.
If you’re looking for a cosmopolitan experience you’re in the right place.
El Poblado is also the mecca for travelers in Medellin.
Here you’ll find plenty of hostels, hotels and airbnb rentals making it the home of many travelers and expats.
Having said that it isn’t overrun with tourists like your typical tourist destinations and still maintains its original charm.
If you’re looking for a chance to mingle with the locals and immerse yourself in Colombian authenticity there’s still plenty of opportunity here.
Laureles is the main alternative to El Poblado, with a much more residential and chilled out vibe and here you’re definitely more immersed in real-life Colombia.
Like El Poblado it offer many boutique stores, small cafes, restaurants and bars.
There are literally new places opening daily.
You’ll probably find less accommodation options in Laureles compared with El Poblado but it still has a decent choice.
Again, this is a large area so make sure you’re staying somewhere around Avenida Jardin, El Primer Parque, or El Segundo Parque.
It’s a great location for getting to experience the real Medellin and is perfectly located for getting around the city and only a 15 minute taxi ride to El Poblado.
Estadio, Belen and Envigado
If you’re lucky enough to be planning a lengthier stay then these areas are also a great option and well worth considering.
However, they’re located a little further from the action if you’re only here for vacation and want to be well positioned for exploring the city.
El Centro, or downtown, contains many of the city’s best tourist sites but it is also one of the more dangerous parts of the city and is best avoided altogether after dark.
We therefore recommend not booking accommodation in this part of the city.
The Best Places to Stay in Medellin (ACCOMMODATION)
You’ll find most of the popular and coolest hostels dotted around El Poblado and Laureles.
Many of these hostels have been converted from traditional houses which give them a nice authentic feel. Some of our personal favourites are:
THE BLACK SHEEP: (El Poblado)
Located near to the Metro and the University the Black Sheep offer a range of mixed dorms and single occupancy rooms ranging from $15 – $40 per night.
CASA KIWI: (El Poblado)
Boosts an impressive range of facilities including a tree-canopy roof-top terrace with a small pool, spectacular views, a two-story open-air hammock area, a wood deck on the 1st floor with bar service and a creek.
Prices range from $13-$40 per night and offer a mix of dorm and single occupancy rooms.
MALOKA: (El Poblado)
This is a beautiful boutique style hostel with a range of dorms, single and double rooms with mostly shared bathroom facilities.
It’s clean and the staff are super friendly.
HAPPY BUDDHA BOUTIQUE: (El Poblado) This is a lively top rated boutique hostel located in Poblado.
With a full bar and great entertainment the Happy Buddha is a happening place and great place for meeting other travelers.
THE WANDERING PAISA: (Laureles)
Awarded the ‘Best Hostel in Colombia’ by Hostelworld and Trip Advisor awarded it with a certificate of excellence in 2016.
Information about pricing and booking can be found at Booking.com and
You can check out individual review and rating for all of these places here.
If you’re looking for something a little more relaxing there are a number of cool hotels that we’d recommend.
ART HOTEL BOUTIQUE: (El Poblado)
Stylish boutique hotel and a great option for those on a lower budget.
Minimalistic in design, with an industrial architecture complemented by vivid art exhibits, this hip hotel is a short walking distance to Medellin’s nightlife.
Room prices start at around $60 per night (check this link for a more detailed review of Art Hotel Medellin
KOLOR BOUTIQUE: (El Poblado)
Really small boutique hotel located on a quiet residential street 10 minutes walk from the restaurants in Provenza.
Each room is themed on a different color and prices start at $90 per night.
Good option for light sleepers who want to get away from Medellin’s noisey traffic.
DIEZ HOTEL: (El Poblado)
Very well located in Poblado, close enough to the action but not right in the middle of it.
Larger hotel, more Colombian in style, and decked with bamboo and greenery throughout giving it the feel of a tranquil Eco Lodge.
Awesome rooftop terrace with great views over the city and this is the place we recommended to our overseas wedding guests coming to Medellin, so you know we like it.
Rooms start at around $100 per night
HOTEL CHARLEE: (El Poblado)
This is the hotel if you’re looking for a more luxurious stay in Medellin.
It’s swanky and sophisticated with stylish rooms (many with their own jacuzzi), a rooftop swimming pool and some of the most spectacular views you’ll find over Medellin.
And it’s located right in the middle of the madness in Parque Lleras. Rooms start at around $200 per night.
HOTEL ASTURIAS: (Laureles)
This is a good budget option for anyone looking to stay in Laureles.
It’s a small, clean & modern hotel well located in a residential area nearby many cafes, restaurants and bars.
Prices start at around $30 per night.
INNTU HOTEL: (Laureles)
Another good hotel option in Laureles, similar to the above but in a slightly larger and more expensive hotel with prices starting from $80.
It also has a nice rooftop terrace with good views.
Medellin has a well established and great range of high quality Airbnb apartments on offer.
Typically for the same price as a hotel you can rent a super-cool apartment with awesome views over the city (this is what our family normally do when they come stay).
When booking it’s a good idea to do a little research.
Firstly, make sure you look into the specifics of the area as El Poblado and Laureles are actually very large with good parts and not so good parts.
Aim to stay nearby the areas we’ve highlighted above.
Always check out the review on Airbnb before booking and if you’re traveling alone in Colombia then you might want to consider staying in a hotel or hostel where there’s going to be plenty of opportunities to meet other travelers.
You don’t want to be walking through the quieter (more residential) parts of town alone at night.
Things to See in Medellin (OUR TOP PICKS)
If you only have a few days in Medellin or it’s your first visit then these are the highlights which you absolutely should not miss.
Think of this as your whistle-stop tour.
Take a stroll through the downtown area of Medellin and experience first-hand the hustle and bustle of the commercial heart of the city.
It’s both hectic and amazing!
Below are the best spots to check-out.
PARQUE DE LA LUZ (aka Plaza Cisneros):
Check out the 300 gigantic light poles sprouting out of the ground (up to 24 metres high).
This was was constructed back in 2005 and it was an instrumental project which helped spark the rejuvenation of the city.
‘EL HUECO’ (the hole):
Don’t be put off by the name.
‘The hole’ is a sea of market stalls, vendors, street food and just about anything else you can think of.
Don’t be shy about trying out some of the local delicacies! Yum!
For me personally this is the highlighight of downtown.
The square is filled with spectacular sculptures of Medellin born artist Fernando Botero all created in his absolutely unique ‘Boterismo’ style.
When you see them you’ll know instantly what this means.
MUSEO DE ANTIOQUIA:
If like me, you become fascinated by the Botero sculptures, pop into the museum next door for an extensive exhibition of Colombia’s most heralded artist.
Here you’ll really get a feel for that Paisa culture.
You’ll hear the locals play their traditional music, watch games of chess, and see countless old friends catch up over a cup of Tinto.
PARQUE SAN ANTONIO:
Now that you’re feeling like a Botero statue expert then you should head here to see some more.
They never get boring.
Round off your tour of El Centro by checking out one of Medellin’s oldest squares (late 1800s) which is home to the imposing Catedral Metropolitana and is also a great spot for people watching.
Important note –
While El Centro is definitely a ‘must-see’ it is also very well-known for being a bit of a ‘dodgy’ part of the city and where much of the crime happens (my Colombian family only come here when they really have to).
We recommend you go with a tour and avoid altogether at night.
Real City Tours do an awesome walking tour which is also super informative.
And above all remember – ‘No Dar Papaya’.
Metro Cable to Santo Domingo
It may seem a little strange that riding the public transport is a highlight but trust us, this is an unforgettable experience.
Back in 2004 a gondola style lift system was introduced to connect the poorer communities, located high up the mountain, with the rest of the city.
Until then it was very challenging for them to reach the city.
The innovative project was a first of its kind in South America and has inspired the spread of similar creative transport projects throughout the region.
The metrocable carries more than 30,000 passengers per day and is a great way for visitors to really experience the contrasts of life in Medellin.
Catch it from the Avecedo metro station and get ready for some stirring views.
You will pass over some of the poorest neighbourhoods in Medellin which is both humbling and sad, especially when in the distance you see can still see the ever growing, luxurious high rise towers of El Poblado.
It’s surreal and definitely touching. Get off at Santa Domingo station, which is a barrio halfway up the mountain, and go have a little wander around (although we recommend you don’t go too off-piste without a tour group or a local).
This ecological nature reserve can be reached by continuing up the mountain on the metro cable past Santa Domingo where in almost an instant the shanty towns and city views are replaced by vast and beautiful Colombian forest.
The breathtaking journey alone is enough to justify going there although it’s well worth taking the time to explore the untouched natural environment of Arvi.
There are various hiking routes and a farmers market, and within the park there is also the Piedras Blancas hotel / ecological park which is a great place to waste away a few hours.
One of the most notoriously dangerous neighborhoods of Medellin.
Comuna 13 is an illegal urban settlement which was previously at the epicentre of the drugs war and prolonged conflict with the Colombian government.
But it is now flourishing again largely in part to another innovative infrastructure project known locally as ‘las escaleras electricas’ or the electric escalators, where in 2011 around 384 metres of outdoor escalators were constructed to help better connect this community to the city.
This, combined with a number of social programmes has helped transform the lives of the residents and they are now welcoming tourists into their community to share their story.
It’s hugely informative, educational and moving.
There are a number of companies offering tours, we personally went on the Free Zippy Walking Tour which is run by local residents.
It’s pretty epic.
Casa de La Memoria
This is a museum dedicated to the victims of Colombia’s 50 year armed conflict.
Through various immersive exhibits, they share the harrowing stories with the objective of “ver para no repetir” – see, so not to repeat.
If you want to truly understand the history of Colombia’s problems and understand the impact it had on it’s people, this is the place to go.
Pueblito Paisa / Cerro Nutibara
Right in the middle of Medellin there is a large hill (cerro).
Although it looks nothing from afar when dwarfed by the surrounding Andes mountains, it is actually quite high up and has a mock Antioqueño / Paisa town on top.
This in itself while probably still worth seeing isn’t anything too exciting (especially if you’re planning on venturing out to see some real pueblos)!
But from this spot there are also amazing panoramic views over Medellin, probably the best you will find in the city.
The easiest way to get there is to jump in a taxi which will drop you off right at the top.
Things to See in Medellin (WITH MORE TIME)
If you have more than a couple of days in Medellin then there is still A LOT of to see and these are some of our favourites.
Museo del Arte Moderno de Medellin (MAMM)
Or quite simply, the Modern Art Museum.
Go check out some cool and quirky art; amongst them the 250 pieces donated by Medellin native Débora Arango who was one of the museums brave founders who established the museum back in 1980 despite this being at the peak of Medellin’s violence.
It’s an interactive science & technology museum, which may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of visiting Medellin, but it’s worth going just to check out the architecture of the building which is a kind of lego shape industrial design.
With a bright red facade which contrasts sharply against the backdrop of the green mountains it looks funky.
Inside the exhibits are actually pretty cool and the locals love this place.
14-hectares of tranquility smack in the centre of Medellin’s bustling metropolis.
1000 living species, 4500 flowers, a butterfly house, a cactus garden, a restaurant, a library, a pond and they often host fun events like outdoor cinema and yoga.
It’s beautiful spot although if you’ve been to a botanical garden before you’ll probably won’t find it especially different.
Nonetheless, a great place to escape the hecticness of the city for a while.
Parque de Los Pies Descalzos / Barefoot Park
Created by local utility company EPM this is a public space designed for people to literally kick-off their shoes and relax.
There are 4 zen-like interactive experiences designed to get you re-engaging with your senses.
It’s good fun and very typical of the type of the innovation with which Medellin exudes.
There are a few restaurants nearby, mostly serving the office crowd, and the location also hosts many of Medellin’s top events.
Museo del Agua
This is a lesser known museum hosted inside the EPM building (Colombia’s largest utility company and where my wife Marcela used to work), next door to Barefoot Park.
The Water Museum is great for anyone interested in sustainability.
It describes the varied climates in Colombia, the role water plays in each, and then follows the journey of water from source to tap in Medellin, all the while stressing the importance of conservation.
It’s really interesting if this is your kind of thing. It’s definitely OURS!
Minorista Fruit Market
Colombia is home to some of the world’s most exotic and unique fruits and if you don’t believe us check out this blog.
We promise you’re going to come across so many things you’ve never seen before in your life.
This indoor farmers market is the best place to check them out.
Go try some fruit, taste some juices and meet the local vendedores.
The area around the market can be a little sketchy so we suggest going with a tour.
A fairytale-esque European style castle in the heart of Medellin.
While the castle itself is quite small it is very pretty and the setting is spectacular with magnificent views overlooking the mountains.
It’s a cool place to spend an hour or so wandering the gardens and taking some pics.
Hit the Shops
If shopping is your thing then you’re in luck as there’s shopping aplenty in Medellin.
You’ll find the city’s best independent designers located in the streets of Via Primavera, Via Provenza (El Poblado) and Avenida Jardin (Laureles) and there’s a great boutique shopping guide here.
And if you prefer shopping malls then the city is full of modern, trendy malls, with the best being Santa Fe, El Tesoro and Oviedo.
Alternative Things to See in Medellin (AWAY FROM THE TOURIST TRAIL)
These are the more immersive, off-the-grid experiences that likely won’t be of interest to your average traveler but they’re exactly the type of things we thrive upon here at Other Way Round.
You won’t find many tourists in these areas so please do be extra vigilant.
Don’t give papaya and try to go with a local if possible.
Follow our tips outlined in our blog about traveling along in Colombia.
Explore the Other Cerros
No doubt Cerro Nutibara (Pueblito Paisa) is the most popular lookout in the city.
However, if you’re feeling more adventurous, go hike the city’s two other large hills – Cerro El Picacho, where at the top you’ll find a mini version of Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue, and Cerro de Volador.
Both are Ecological Parks and offer great alternative views over the city.
Check out Some of Medellin’s Neighbourhood Parks
Sometimes we find the best way to really get to know a city is to simply hangout in the local parks.
Medellin doesn’t actually have a huge amount of green space within the city but there’s a couple of hidden gems where we tend to spend quite a bit of our free time.
CIUDAD DEL RIO:
Located behind the MAMMA museum this is where the city’s hipsters tend to hang out.
You’ll find quirky sculptures, cool graffiti, skateboard parks and lots of interesting characters.
PARQUES DEL RIO:
This is an awesome little neighborhood park right next to our apartment in Medellin with great views towards the towers of Poblado.
It’s a little oasis of calm right in the middle of the city where you’ll find families having picnics, walking their dogs and flying kites.
It’s a great place to go for an early evening or early morning stroll and to do some people watching.
Go to the Mirador
There are a few great spots in Medellin where you can get panoramic views over the city but the mirador (lookout point) on Avenida Las Palmas is especially worth checking out.
It’s set near the top of the mountain and most evenings you’ll find a large group of the locals hanging out and enjoying the city from above.
Look out for them snacking on some street food and sipping on a beer.
Go Visit Some Social Projects
Social projects in Medellin are not only limited to Comuna 13.
There are many innovative and inspiring examples throughout the city.
If this is something which interests you then some of the best examples are the El Morro de Moravia; Greenbelt EcoGardens, and the various Unidades de Vida Articulada (UVA)s located in many of the poorer neighbourhoods of Medellin.
It’s definitely best to visit these through a tour and Colombia Immersion spanish school has a great option which covers all 3 in one afternoon.
Go Watch a Game of Football
The locals are crazy for their football and the two main teams are Atletico Nacional (green & white) and Independiente Medellin (red and blue), both sharing the Atanasio Girardot Stadium.
It’s an awesome way to experience the passion of the locals, even if you’re not a football fan, and the stadium is a cauldron of noise, energy and color.
Games are typically Wednesdays, Saturday & Sundays and you can normally buy tickets at the stadium entrance ($10,000 – $50,000 COP).
Be warned though that it can get quite ‘hectic’ and be somewhat intimidating and the general rule is to avoid the local derby.
But other than that, be sensible, follow our tips on safety and you’re in for one heck of an experience.
Go Stay in a Finca
One thing you’ll quickly learn when you get to Medellin is that many of the locals are originally from the countryside – el campo – and many remain country folks at heart.
Frequently on weekends and holidays they will head out of the city to spend time with family and friends at their Fincas (farms) in the neighbouring mountains.
If you really want to get under the skin of the Paisa culture then this is something you absolutely must do.
Hostel La Finca in the neighbouring San Jeronimo (one hour from Medellin) is a great option but there are plenty of others.
If you’re in a larger group you can even rent your own finca.
Head to Envigado and Sabaneta
These two municipalities bordering Medellin are great places to go spend a lazy afternoon and get a feel for Paisa culture at its authentic best.
Head to the Parques (the main squares) sit yourself down at a cafe, grab a tinto and buñuelo, and simply take it all in.
If you’re insatiably curious, like us, we guarantee you’ll be entertained by just observing the various characters that bring these places to life.
You can get to both in under an hour on the metro from Medellin.
Check out Some of the Nearby Pueblos
Medellin is an amazing city in its own right but one of its greatest assets is that it’s surrounded by a number of quaint little Antioquian towns which you absolutely must visit to really make the most of your trip.
There are SO MANY to choose from, here are some of our favourites:-
- San Antonio de Pereira: for the very best Colombian desserts
- Santa Fe de Antioquia: for the colonial architecture
- Guatape: to climb la piedra and be dazzled with color
- San Rafael: for rivers, waterfalls and monkeys
- Jardin: for quite possibly the prettiest town in Colombia
- Rio Claro: for adventure lovers
- San Carlos: for a hidden gem most Colombians don’t even know about
Adventure Things to Do in Medellin
With its spectacular mountainous location, Medellin is a thrill seekers paradise.
For those wanting a more active experience there’s plenty of cool ways to explore the neighbouring mountains.
We haven’t quite done this ourselves yet (still building up the courage) but we’ve heard great things.
Head over to San Felix and experience Medellin from the sky.
There’s an abundance of epic hiking trails in and around Medellin.
If you prefer to trek unguided then it’s best (safer) to stick within Parque Arvi but if you want to venture further afield then a tour is a good option.
LandVenture Travel offer great day tours (they also do awesome coffee tours).
This is a favourite pastime of the Paisas!
During holidays they will often gather in large groups for Cabalgatas, which is a combination of horse-riding, traditional music and booze!
There are some great biking trails around Medellin.
We did this tour last year and it was great fun.
There are both challenging and easier options to suit all abilities and the views are seriously unreal.
Immersive Things to Do in Medellin
Medellin is a great place to learn Spanish due to the clear accent and the fact that little English is spoken means you certainly get plenty of opportunity to practise.
Even if you’re only on a short trip, taking a few lessons is still a great way to immerse yourself into the culture and get to better understand the Colombian people.
Oh, and it’s great fun!
There are a bunch of great language schools – Colombia Immersion, Toucan Spanish, Total Spanish.
These are all great options, especially if you like the idea of learning in a group.
However, for something a bit more intimate, we highly recommend ABC Spanish.
They specialise in one-on-one and smaller groups.
It was them who finally got me speaking Spanish after about 5 years of trying, and of all the teachers I’ve had (more than 10!) they were by far the best.
Nightlife in Medellin is ALL about the dancing.
If you really want to get down with the locals go take a Salsa lesson as even a few basic moves will go a long way.
I personally took some lessons prior to my wedding and it certainly helped me survive the 8 hours of non-stop dancing on the big day!
Located in El Poblado this is a great place for a lesson.
They do private lessons daily with world champion dancers and also FREE lessons Thursday and Saturday evenings which roll on into a full-on party.
If you can afford it we suggest you dive headfirst and go with a private lesson and when you’ve learned a few moves then go try them out in some of the local Salsa bars.
EL ESLABON PRENDIDO:
Is probably our favourite place with Tuesday and Thursdays being the big nights for Salsa.
SON HAVANA, EL TIBIRI and EL CUCHITRIL are also worth a visit.
Even if you don’t make it to these places, Salsa is all around you in Medellin.
Even if you’re in a regular bar (or restaurant) don’t be surprised if people get up and start to salsa around you.
Check this out for the best live Salsa in Medellin.
Medellin has had an excruciatingly difficult past and as a result there still remains a great deal of poverty within the city (it is most definitely a city of contrasts).
There are many organisations running social projects in the more deprived areas and a great way to make a positive contribution during your trip is to go volunteer.
We volunteered for 4 month in 2017 and now partner with Poder Joven, donating a portion of our trips to the foundation.
Huellas Foundation is another great place to volunteer your time and both are good options if you’re planning on staying longer term but if you’re only here for a short visit then a great organisation to get in touch with is Angeles de Medellin.
They help support underprivileged kids in the barrio of Regalo de Dios, located way up in the mountains, and they accept volunteers for short term assignments.
Here’s a great article written by a former volunteer.
This is a brilliant initiative in Medellin where every week some of the city’s key roads are closed off to provide locals with a safe space to exercise.
Every Sunday thousands take to the streets for the Ciclovia and on Wednesdays evenings there is also the Cicleada.
You can rent bikes from Bike Rent and on Sundays they have bikes available near Parque El Poblado and San Fernando Plaza.
Get Involved in the Local Scene
Get away from the other tourists and go spend some time with the locals in order to really get to know the city.
Medellin has a thriving expat scene (ok, well they’re kind of locals!) and you can normally find out what they’re up to on sites like Meetup and on Facebook Groups.
There is also a very active Couchsurfing community in Medellin – post a note reaching out to local Colombians and you’ll find many very enthusiastic about showing you around their city.
It’s also a great idea to tap into the local events scene and our friends over at Catalyst do a great job of sharing the latest and greatest of what’s going on.
Pablo Escobar Tours (SHOULD YOU DO THEM?)
Ok now to the somewhat sensitive subject of Pablo Escobar – should you go on that tour?
There seems to be a lot of conflicting opinions. Here’s what we think.
Escobar only died 25 years ago, back in 1993, and so it is all still fairly raw for Colombians.
Almost everyone you interact with during your trip will have been alive during this time and if they weren’t impacted directly then you can bet that they know someone who was.
It has touched them all personally.
So does that mean you shouldn’t be interested or ask questions?
No, of course not.
It’s a fascinating, if not incredibly sad, story.
And you couldn’t truly understand the story of Medellin without understanding the story of Pablo Escobar.
The key is to be respectful.
Don’t glorify what is a horrific story still impacting Colombia to this day.
Don’t walk around wearing a Pablo Escobar t-shirt (yes, unfortunately we’ve seen it).
And be interested in everything else Medellin has to offer other than tales of drug cartels.
So what about the tours then?
We don’t personally see a problem with it as long as they follow the principles above.
We’ve been to various Pablo sites ourselves – La Catedral, La Manuela in Guatape, Hacienda Napoles – and found them all thoroughly interesting (we went ourselves rather than with tours).
Our advice is to review the tours in advance, ensure they are not glorifying (as some most definitely are), and if you feel comfortable then go ahead.
Best Place for Coffee in Medellin
Colombia is the world’s 3rd largest producer of coffee so sampling it here in Medellin is a must!
Until recently the locals never actually got to taste their best coffee themselves as the highest quality beans were always shipped overseas.
Instead locals typically drink ‘tinto’ which is a lower grade black coffee made with second rate beans.
In recent years however, and especially in Medellin, a bunch of hip coffee shops have started springing up serving the highest quality locally produced coffee and there is definitely a trendy coffee scene emerging.
Before you check out our recommendation on where to grab the best coffee we’d also recommend grabbing a tinto.
It’s what most of the locals drink and you can typically find it in traditional cafes, small corner shops or being sold by street vendors.
Juan Valdez ‘The Starbucks of Colombia’
This is basically the big chain coffee shop (like Starbucks) in Colombia.
The coffee is fine if you’re looking for a quick coffee fix but if you want more of an experience we suggest trying some of the boutique cafes.
The Chic Boutiques
The next three are popular hangouts, especially with travelers, and you can find them in the cooler backstreets of El Poblado and Laureles.
CAFE VELVET: (El Poblado)
My friends visited from overseas and fell in love with this place. They do all sorts of speciality coffees and it’s got a cool laid back vibe.
PERGAMINO: (El Poblado)
My Spanish teacher Diego raves about this place, it’s his favourite in Medellin. Probably a little bit more elegant than the others and has an awesome outdoor seating area.
CAFE ZEPELLIN: (Laureles)
A little bit more off the beaten path but a favourite hangout when in Laureles. This is definitely more chilled than the others and as a bonus they play great music. I tend to work here quite a bit as it’s close to my house.
Our Alternative Spots
Although these are all very cool and popular they’re really not that different from some of the better coffee shops I’ve visited in North America and Europe.
If you want to try something a little different, and smaller scale, I’d recommend you venture to these 3 alternative spots.
CAFE RITUALES: (Laureles)
This is the newest kid on the block, and our current favourite in Medellin.
It was launched recently by some young Colombian entrepreneurs and they are already starting to win many awards and rave reviews for the quality of their coffee.
EL CAFE DE OTRAPARTE: (Envigado)
This is a great little place hidden away in a more residential neighbourhood of Medellin (you can get here by taxi).
It’s set in the garden of the home of Colombian philosopher and writer Fernando González and there is also small museum on site to commemorate his work.
This is unique.
In Parque Arvi, way up at the top of the metrocable, this is basically a little shack serving a range of locally produced artisanal coffee.
It’s very cool and once again exemplifies the entrepreneurial Paisa spirit.
Most of the coffee shops listed above also offer coffee tasting experiences and visits to the local coffee farms to see first hand their harvesting and production process.
Get in touch with them to organise a visit.
Best Place to Eat in Medellin
Buñuelos, Empanadas, AREPAS, Pan de Queso, Bandeja Paisa, AREPAS, Patacones, Mondongo, AREPAS, Sancocho, Natilla…oh, and did we mention AREPAS!
You are going to LOVE the food in Medellin.
Colombia is perhaps not so well known internationally for its food.
It therefore came as a bit of welcome surprise to me when I first visited and is now one of my favourite things about the country.
The traditional dishes typically include rice, beans, plantain, avocado, meat, arepa and a hearty soup.
The locals LOVE their food and are super proud of it – I often get asked by taxi drivers what my favourite Colombian food is and when I reply “Arepa” or “Frijoles” their face fills with delight.
You’ll also find an extensive range of weird and wonderful tropical fruit and fresh juices so DIVE IN and tryin it ALL.
Medellin is emerging as a foodie hotspot and there’s a plethora of cool cafes, restaurants and bars.
Below are some of our favourite restaurants.
Our Favourite Restaurants
CREPES Y WAFFLES:
Exactly what you’d expect to find…. Crepes and Waffles.
This chain is a Colombian family favourite and you will find them dotted around Medellin.
Our favourite is the one in Laureles.
COMO PEZ EN EL AGUA:
Based in Provenza they do the most delightful pastries and deserts.
We liked them so much we booked them for our wedding.
Another chain focused very much on traditional Colombian cuisine.
It’s a great place to go for some hearty food and to soak up the Paisa vibe.
Our favourite is the one on Las Palmas.
Further up Las Palmas they do great tasting BBQ style food with great views over the city.
This is an indoor food market, the first of its kind in Medellin, and lunch-time favourite of the nearby office workers.
Great place to hang-out, try a variety of food, and sip on a cerveza.
Stylish, elegant, contemporary cuisine and often hailed as the best restaurant in Medellin.
It’s popular though so make sure you book well in advance.
Perfect for a special occasion (I went here for my birthday recently).
They specialise in molecular gastronomy (fancy, we know) and do tasting menus based on ‘moments’ rather than courses.
Again, book well in advance.
Quite possibly our favourite restaurant in Medellin.
They serve Colombian food but with a modern twist.
They also do awesome cocktails and have a cool bar.
Check them out on Instagram
If you’re not in town for long but want to sample the full breadth of local cuisine then this street food tour is also a great option.
For the Veggies
Marcela and I both turned vegetarian just over 1 year ago and so we’ve been exploring the growing number of vegetarian options in the city.
Although most places do offer vegetarian options here are a few of our favourite vegetarian focused restaurants.
If you need more options this is a great resource for finding the best veggie places.
Nightlife in Medellin
Parque Lleras and Parque Poblado are at the epicentre of Medellin nightlife and locals and tourists alike tend to congregate in these parks in the evenings.
It is somewhat of a 20-something party crowd however and so depending on your interests you may either love it or hate it (don’t worry if it’s not your thing there are plenty of alternatives).
One thing to note is that with the increase in tourism the dynamics in and around these parks are changing (for the worse unfortunately) and they have become a magnet for some unsavory characters.
Make sure you keep your wits about you and stay safe.
Be sure to try the local Colombian drinks.
3 Cordilleras (my favourite), Aguila, Club Colombia, Bogota Beer Company (BBC)
Ron de Medellin:
the local Rum
Or ‘Guaro’ as it’s known locally. This is the local aniseed flavoured firewater and in bars you’ll often see bottles of this at the table.
there are also plenty (too many to mention) wonderfully exotic cocktails
Our Favourite Bars and Clubs
The majority of the bars are located in El Poblado around Parque Lleras (more lively) and Provenza (more chilled) although we’ve included a few other options if you feel like venturing further afield.
37 PARK (El Poblado):
This is one of our favourite spots to have a beer and catch up with friends.
It has a cool vibe, they play good music, and has an awesome outdoor seating area which feels a bit like being in an enchanted forest.
EL SOCIAL (El Poblado):
Very simple bar in the style of a traditional Colombian tavern, the type where you would typically find people drinking during the day in small rural towns!
A favorite with the locals and gets packed on weekends.
LA TIENDA (Envigado):
This bar works on the basis that it’s December all year round and if you ever visit Medellin in December you’ll quickly learn that the whole month is one big party.
It manages to perfectly capture Paisa culture all in 1 room – the decor, the people, the dancing, the singing, the drinking – and it’s a whole lot of fun.
LA OCTAVA (El Poblado):
One of Medellin’s many popular rock bars but this one has especially good shots and more importantly a ball pit.
Set on the roof terrace of the swanky Hotel Charlee, this is where the rich and beautiful people of Medellin go.
With a rooftop swimming pool, great city views, and expensive cocktails to match, it’s a great place to go if you want to experience the more luxurious side to Medellin.
RIO SUR (El Poblado):
If you’re looking for something a bit livelier, but away from Parque LLeras, then head on over to Rio Sur, a shopping mall which has emerged as one of the best nightlife spots in the city.
It’s home to more than 10 bars / clubs and is where the locals tend to go if they’re planning on a big night.
DULCE JESUS MIO (Las Palmas): This eccentric, over-the-top bar located on the road on the way out of Medellin is oh so very Colombian.
It’s themed as caricature of a traditional Paisa town and is therefore full of vivid colors, neon lights, and bar staff dressed in costumes.
It’s an awesome place to experience, even if only once.
Festivals in Medellin
There are a number of festivals which take place throughout the year in and around Medellin but there are 2 in particular which you won’t want to miss.
Feria de las Flores (Festival of Flowers)
This festival, running since 1957, is the most important social event of the year in Medellin and people from all around the country (and now the world) flock to the city to be part of it.
The 10 day event normally takes place in the first 2 weeks of August and is filled with many parties, gatherings, and cultural activities.
It culminates in the Desfile de Silleteros, where the local flower makers from the nearby pueblo of Santa Elena parade through the city with a colorful array of flowers on their back.
Festival de las Luces y Alumbrados Navideños (Festival of Lights & Christmas Lights)
Quite simply, this is spectacular!
During December the city of Medellin becomes ablaze with light to welcome in the Christmas period.
You will find key sections of the city – including important buildings, public squares, river walks, treetops, iconic hillside lookouts etc… – all filled with bright neon lights and the spirit of Christmas is felt all around.
What to Watch Before You Visit Medellin
If you want to get the most out of your trip we suggest watching some Medellin based TV shows in advance.
It will give you a greater perspective on the country’s difficult past (other than what you’ve seen in Narcos) and make your trip much more informed and interesting.
Here are some of our favourites:-
The Two Escobars
I first watched this about 20 years ago back when all I knew about Colombia was of Pablo Escobar, Shakira and Carlos Valderrama!
This is a fascinating documentary which covers the story of Andres Escobar (the Colombian football player shot dead a short time after scoring an own-goal at the 1994 US World Cup).
It to demonstrates how the worlds of sports, politics and drug cartels were intertwined in Colombia during this period.
La Vendedora de Rosas (The Rose Seller)
This film is about the struggles of street children in Medellin and tells the story of a 13-year old girl who makes a living by selling flowers in locals bars.
Many of the people starring in the movie were in fact street children themselves and sadly have since been killed and imprisoned.
El Patrón del Mal (The Boss of Evil)
Think of this as the Colombian version of Narcos, more grounded in reality than Hollywood drama, and with Colombian actors (if you didn’t know, the actor playing Pablo Escobar in Narcos is actually Brazilian).
The purpose of this mini-series was to educate the younger generation of Colombians so that history wouldn’t repeat itself and locals say that it more accurately reflects events.
If you’re planning to visit one of the comunas (and you definitely should) you need to watch this in advance.
It’s a fairly gritty documentary which follows 3 young men, in their early-20s, who lead their neighbourhood gangs and are caught up in a never ending circle of deadly violence from which they seemingly have no escape.
It was only filmed in 2005 and so when you go see with your own eyes the scale of transformation in such a short space of time you will appreciate just how remarkable it is.
Colombia: Magia Salvaje (Wild Magic)
When thinking about Colombia it’s very easy to focus on the more negative aspects of its story.
However, this documentary does an amazing and uplifting job of showcasing the sublime natural beauty which the country possesses (it’s the 2nd most biodiverse country in the world).
Upon its release in 2015 this documentary broke all box office records in Colombia which is not entirely surprising as until then the ‘troubles’ had prevented even the locals from fully exploring their magnificent country.
For many people, visiting Colombia is likely to be a trip of lifetime and perhaps a one off.
You will therefore want to make sure you plan your trip carefully to fit in all of the best bits that this magical country has to offer.
If you’re only taking a short vacation, or if you want to safely venture away from the more touristy areas and experience the REAL Colombia, then be sure to check out the unique and immersive tours we provide at Other Way Round.
As a boutique tour company we place an emphasis on creating trips that are filled with authenticity, packed with adventure and above all, sociable.
We curate some of the best and most exclusive things to do in our one week tour of Medellin so go ahead and check it out.
Remember that we are the locals in Medellin – we love this place and we (like typical Colombians) want you to love it too.
We’d love to have you join us here in Medellin and you can find out more about how we travel and the people that travel with us here.
Ultimately, you’re going to love your time in Medellin.
Even if you only have time to check out just a few of the things in this guide to Medellin we know that you’re in a for a real treat.
And please let us know about the places you enjoy most.
Looking for even more Colombia travel inspiration?
Then check out our Definitive Guide to Colombia Travel which is our FREE 96-page guide covering ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING you could ever need to know about travelling Colombia.
Fancy Visiting Colombia With Other Travellers Aged 25-45?
We’re Other Way Round and we bring together groups of adventurous travellers aged 25-45 for an immersive & authentic experience of travelling Colombia. Here’s some of our most popular Colombia trips.
MOUNTAINS & PUEBLOS
8 Days in and around Colombia’s Andes mountain region covering Medellin, Guatape & Jardin. See Itinerary
BEACHES & JUNGLES
8 Days exploring the most exotic places in Colombia including Cartagena, Bogota & Parque Tayrona. See Itinerary
15 Days covering the very best that Colombia has to offer. See Itinerary