Table of contents
- What to know about Medellin
- What about Medellin’s troubled past?
- Cost of travel in Medellin
- How many days do you need in Medellin?
- Weather and Climate in Medellin
- What to know about safety in Medellin
- Best things to do in Medellin (sights to see)
- Best places to stay in Medellin
Medellin is a travel destination we keep going back to, for a whole bunch of reasons! Maybe it’s the “eternal spring” climate, the tropical but not-too-hot weather, the lush surroundings and great Colombian culture. Maybe we can’t get enough of the food, cool things to do and nightlife!
Whether it’s your first time going to Medellin, or you’re back for another visit, check out this guide of the best things to do, as well as what to know before you go.
Let’s get into our full travel guide about Medellin!
What to know about Medellin
We like to call Medellin one of the best cities for digital nomads because it’s safe, well-connected, comfortable and has favorable weather.
In several neighborhoods, you can mostly get around with English and some limited Spanish, although we always recommend to brush up on language skills for travel before going to Latin America!
What about Medellin’s troubled past?
Medellin was previously the center of a dark past in Colombia in regard to drug trade and cartels. It was known as the Murder Capital of the World and it would be an understatement to say that a lot of danger for all its residents took a toll from the 70s to the 90s.
We were able to learn about Medellin’s sad story in the Medellin Barrio Transformation Tour we took, and we recommend this for every visitor to the city.
Medellin was turned around to have an entirely new character and new identity in the 2000s. Public works like the connective metro system and Metrocable cars connected poorer areas to the downtown. Public spaces and green areas were developed. According to this article from the Telegraph UK, public transport is to thank for how the city took a 180-degree turn and transformed into a vacation hotspot.
Since the 2010s, Medellin is considered one of the best vacation and holiday destinations in South America, and the city just keeps getting better. When you visit, you’ll see all of the developments first-hand.
Just remember to do things like the Free City Walking Tour to be able to speak to a Medellin native who has seen the transformation first-hand and who can answer your questions. Then, of course, enjoy all the dining, entertainment and nightlife in El Poblado and Laureles!
Cost of travel in Medellin
Medellin is one of our top affordable places to travel, where a daily spend of less than what you’d spend at home will get you far. From the local food to accommodation, it’s probable that staying in Medellin a while will be good for your wallet if you’re coming from North America or Europe.
We typically like to travel in the off season to save money during travel, and that’s a great time to visit Medellin; however, visitors during holiday breaks and summer will also experience a “bang for their buck.”
I really like to reference the website Price of Travel when assessing how a city measures up to either my home city or other cities, before traveling there. Check out the page for Medellin.
If you choose to “eat like a local” in Medellin, you will spend only a few Dollars on street food, meals, groceries and public transport. If you prefer to spend the money you would at home, but go way farther with it, you’ll enjoy excellent meals at chic restaurants, cocktails at rooftop bars and great value when booking luxe hotels.
How many days do you need in Medellin?
I’ve been to Medellin in two ways: the first time, to visit Dan while he was traveling with Remote Year, and the second time, to live in Medellin for a month while working remotely. Having done both the “whirlwind” long weekend as well as the “slow travel” experience, there’s no right answer!
What I can say is that one day is not enough to see Medellin, and three days may be a good amount of time. The more time you have in Medellin, the more activities you can pack in and the more Medellin day trips (like Guatape!) you can consider.
The Medellin region is perfect for spending a good bit of time, and with the affordability and great travel value, I’d recommend spending as much time as you can! You can use this guide to see how many of these things you’d want to do and plan for.
Weather and Climate in Medellin
Medellin is a great place to visit all year round. The weather is always humid and warm, and the sun sets and rises at approximately the same hours all year long because of the city’s proximity to the Equator, relatively speaking. I like to check Time and Date to see when the sun will rise and set in a place to which I’m traveling. Here’s the page for Medellin.
Daily weather is typically in the low 70s all year, and in the 60s at night (Fahrenheit). Some seasons tend to be wetter and rainier than others, with April, May, October and November having the most rainfall. For more info on Medellin’s temperate tropical rainforest climate, visit this website.
What to know about safety in Medellin
Before leaving for your trip to Medellin, be sure to read our general guide to answer the question of, “Is Medellin safe for travel?” In this list of tips, learn how you can stay clear of theft and petty crime during your trip!
Best things to do in Medellin (sights to see)
There are a LOT of things to do in Medellin, for every type of traveler. This guide is written mostly for solo travelers, backpackers and couples who like sightseeing and getting out to see all a city has to offer.
If you’re traveling with young kids or toddlers, head straight to our guide of the best family-friendly things to do in Medellin.
Reserve your spot in the Medellin Free Walking Tour
The Medellin Free Walking Tour is an incredible tour led by certified Medellin tour guides who are all locals. Our guide was incredible, and came from a theatrical background, so she was great at telling stories.
During this tour, which is run every day and multiple times per day with different guides, you will learn all about Medellin, starting with the history really far back. The walking tour is free, but it is expected that you will generously tip your guide in cash at the end! A suggested gratuity per person is close to $5-10 USD, in Pesos.
By the end, your guide will bring you to the future of Medellin and explain a vision for what’s to come, along with all the challenges.
Along the way, you’ll see lots of culture, local music, markets and more. It is a great way to be shown around during your first few days. You can see more of our photos at our review of the Medellin Free Walking Tour.
Similarly, if you have only one day in Medellin and want to see all the sights, we recommend this full-day private guided city highlights tour that’ll check all the boxes!
Take the Medellin Barrio Transformation Tour
The Medellin Barrio Transformation Tour, led by several operators, takes on lots of emotional information in describing how the city came from very dark days to the very forward-thinking times that the city now is experiencing.
Our guide was an incredible individual who told personal stories of how family members and friends were, against their will, involved in the violent conflicts started by the drug wars of the 1980s and 1990s. His stories were touching and really struck home for listeners.
We’d recommend this to anyone who wants to better understand the city’s years of conflict in detail and with a talented guide.
Hang out in the best neighborhood, El Poblado
El Poblado is the international, expat and traveler district where you will find leafy streets, taco shops, rooftop bars, trendy cafes, luxury hotels and hostels. There are a few supermarkets and convenience stores and everything is walkable. There some parks and markets, too!
El Poblado is where we, like most travelers, had our accommodation and spent most of our time when we weren’t on day trips or guided tours in other parts of the city. There are new restaurants, cafes and bars all the time in El Poblado. One amazing thing to do is to catch a sunset at any of the hotel rooftop bars (a lot of them have pools!), followed by an awesome dinner at any of the great eateries.
Catch the city view at Pueblito Paisa
This one’s a bit tourist-y: Pueblito Paisa is recreation of a traditional Colombian pueblo set atop a hill in the middle of the city. It is wildly popular among Colombian tourists and locals alike. Pueblito Paisa is Spanish for “little Paisa village,” and a “Paisa” is someone from the Medellin region.
but there are look-out points all around via paths through greenery. We didn’t stay too long, but had the best time on top of the museum, where we found 360-degree views of the Medellin valley.
Pueblito Paisa is a good opportunity to see what a small Colombian town looks like, unless you’ll have time on your trip to take any of the well-known Medellin day trips. If you have time in your itinerary to visit pueblos like Guatape, Santa Fe de Antioquia or El Retiro, you can skip this.
Visit the Jardin Botanico (Botanical Gardens)
The Medellin Botanical Garden is worth a trip if you’re looking for a big green space where you can see local regional flora and fauna. Admission is free, and on weekends, Medellin locals come here to lay in the grass and hang out!
Unlike other Botanical Gardens we’ve been to that aren’t as “interactive,” Medellin’s Jardin Botanico is like a big park scene that has pockets of cool cacti, palm trees, flowers and bamboo. You may even catch an iguana, or three!
If you go on a weekend, you may experience the small street fair and carnival with people selling all sorts of street food, children taking rides on small donkeys and performers, right outside the entrance.
Try Colombian coffee at the city’s best third-wave cafe, Pergamino
Pergamino came recommended to us by not one, but two friends. We knew we had to go (and then we went back, countless times).
We’ve visited coffee shops all over the world, and in other parts of Colombia, and we keep hearing (after all these years!) that Pergamino takes the #1 spot in Medellin. We once had a private behind-the-scenes mini-tour of Pergamino with the baristas and got to try a guandolo.
See it in my list of the best cafes in Medellin, in addition to others!
Try street food in Medellin
There’s so much street food to try in Medellin! You’ll find vendors near metro stations, and especially in Centro (Central Downtown Medellin). I’d be lying if I said I was an expert, so you can visit this Medellin Guru street food guide to learn a lot more.
Plus, a street food tour is an excellent way to learn about a city and find delicious snacks. This simple tour will get you around safely with a local guide who knows all the ins and outs.
Ride the Medellin Metrocable
Did you know that Medellin’s public transportation system includes cable cars? It even has three separate lines. Riding the cable cars is not expensive, and you can ride them to the end, and back, especially at sunset when the lighting is best.
The cable cars were built to connect poorer neighborhoods, always located at higher altitudes in the hills (AKA farther from the ‘rich’ city center in the valley) to the rest of the city and metro stations. The network is extensive and incredible, and from them, you can get cool photos from above. Just look at all my photos here!
Hike in Medellin’s nature reserve, Parque Arvi
Taking part of a day to go to Parque Arvi is a cool thing to do in Medellin! Parque Arvi is a nature reserve within the city limits and that’s why you can get there on public transportation. The park is a natural oasis, with hiking paths, little rivers, paved walkways, wooden bridges over streams and greenery as far as the eye can see.
I recommend checking out the park’s website to learn more about opening hours, admissions, food options and facilities.
Admire the statues in Plaza Botero
Plaza Botero is found in downtown and central Medellin near what you’d call a cluster of museums that comprise the cultural center of the city in a traditional way. Get ready to experience the glory of the big bronze Botero sculptures that are very “Colombian.”
You can probably get time at Plaza Botero on any walking route with Medellin’s Free Walking Tour, and if you take any other type of downtown walking tour whether with a guide or on your own, you’ll cross paths with it.
Botero’s work is undoubtedly fantastic. It’s unique, easy to recognize and aside from that, pretty funny.
Take the Comuna 13 Tour
Famous for its graffiti and colorful walls, Comuna 13 is another place to learn about the history of Medellin’s recent transformation through art and young culture.
Due to safety reasons, we do recommend going with a tour group and not going on your own. As with other neighborhoods that are traditionally lower in the economic spectrum, this ‘comuna’ is located up the hills of the valley, so there are good views to be had.
You can book a highly-rated Comuna 13 tour and learn a lot from a local guide.
Take an exotic fruits tour in Medellin’s city markets
We did an exotic fruits class in Medellin, and as two people who love fruit, this was memorable for us! Sure, you can look at fruits in a supermarket (like I recommend above), but isn’t it fun to learn about them from an expert Colombian guide in a real Colombian market?
Colombia is the top country in the world for “fruit biodiversity,” which is really special. A short activity like this one is delicious, informative, memorable and safe. It’s also one of the best things to do in Medellin with kids.
Wake up early for Ciclovia at Avenida El Poblado
As we mentioned above, get your running, biking or plain walking on Sunday mornings from 7am to 1pm at Medellin’s weekly Ciclovia. It’s a great reason to wake up early on a weekend!
Ciclovia is held to encourage public health and fitness among members of the city (and those who visit!) and it’s enlightening to see so many people excited about being outdoors and exercising. Bogota has a Ciclovia, too!
Along the way, stop (with cash) to get snacks from local vendors, see some musicians and more. Do watch out for traffic, but luckily there are Ciclovia staff people to help manage it. See more about it the Medellin.co website!
Take the Medellin Metro (Metro de Medellín)
This impressive metro system is really new, which makes it all the more special to see in action. It’s super affordable to ride, and rather safe as well (do watch your pockets, but nothing crazy ever happened to us).
The metro stations are usually one per neighborhood and along several main roads, and they go along with the shape of the valley. El Poblado has a metro station all the way at the bottom of the hill.
What we were told by various guides and locals is that Medellin locals are VERY proud of their metro, and you’ll see that it has barely any graffiti, litter or damage. It’s a symbol of how the city pushed into the future and out of dark times.
Visit el Museo Casa La Memoria (House of Memory Museum)
Museo Casa La Memoria was mentioned above with the Barrio Transformation Tour information. This is a museum that is not like others. Unique to its name, it’s the ‘house of memories.’ It serves to pay respect to the groups of people who lost their lives during Medellin’s years of conflict.
The museum, which is excellently done, also shows visitors how farmers, innocent people and families suffered during the years when drugs destroyed the country and its image.
Stop by Parque de las Luces (Park of Lights)
You can also visit on your own (check out the TripAdvisor page to know some facts and see some reviews before you go).
We recommend going during the day if you are on your own without a tour group. The poles light up at night, but this is when the area gets dodgy and uncomfortable. It’s best to go as part of a walking tour or as a quick stop. Put your safety first.
Take to the skies with paragliding
Because of Medellin’s striking location in a valley, views are everywhere. What better way to see a new perspective than to do paragliding? This adrenaline junkie activity is a Medellin favorite and for several years now, has been one of the most popular adventures for travelers.
Pick some excursions near Medellin
The more we get to know Medellin, the more we appreciate all the day trips you can take outside the city! See this list of some great ones, and then visit our guide to the best day trips from Medellin for more information.
Santa Fe de Antioquia
Visit the charming Santa Fe de Antioquia, for experiencing a laid-back, not crowded, authentic and local-feeling whitewashe historic town.
Guatape itself is a colorful town, two hours from Medellin. You can walk through the town, have lunch or a drink on the city’s square, and look at the church and people-watch. Then, climb hundreds of steps up a massive monolithic rock. Check out our Guatape travel guide and also how to get to Guatape from Medellin.
Want to get straight to Guatape?
Book a one-day Guatape tour directly from Medellin and see what this giant rock is all about!
This beautiful multi-colored Colombian heritage town is best visited as an overnight trip; however, you can join a full-day private day tour. Jardin is a pueblo nestled in the green mountains with charming architecture and a slow pace of life. Check out our Jardin travel guide to see if it’ll fit in your itinerary.
Best places to stay in Medellin
Medellin has no shortage of places to stay, especially in El Poblado and in Laureles. You should have no problem getting a reservation at an apartment, apartment-hotel, hotel or hostel.
Backpacker hostel in Medellin
Having gone there ourselves to hang out at the bar, we recommend Casa Kiwi Hostel. It’s a big, conveniently-located hostel in El Poblado and is always popular. The property has kitchens on several floors and a rooftop deck where you can kick back with a beer and enjoy the views while meeting other travelers.
Check out more hostels in Medellin, as there are tons to choose from.
Digital nomad hostel in Medellin
This is a good coworking space with a digital nomad community. You can get a day membership, week membership or month membership. There’s outdoor space like a sunny balcony, bean bag chairs, hot desks, phone booths for having calls and yoga classes on the patio. You can book a hostel bed or room on Hostelworld.
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