If you’re visiting Medellin and you’re looking for a way to see the city, learn from a local guide and be surprised at all the things you had no idea about beforehand, the Medellin Real City Free Walking Tour is for you. Many people groan when they hear the word ‘tour,’ but the Real City Walking Tours are rated #1 on TripAdvisor for a reason. That reason is that these tours are a commitment, and by the end, you’ll be so glad you joined one.

How to sign up for a Medellin walking tour

Sign-ups start approximately 36 hours in advance before tour times. We were serious about this, and knew that we wanted to do an early Saturday tour. Sign-ups start at 6:15 pm for the tours that happen two calendar days later, so on Thursday night we could sign up for any Saturday tour. Spots are first-come first-serve, and that’s to keep the groups intimate.

Meeting our guide for the Free Walking Tour

On Saturday, we let ample time in order to arrive at the tour meeting spot promptly. We met our guide Maribell at the Alpujarra metro station and she gave us a few minutes to grab coffee or snacks before we began.

Maribell was a phenomenal guide. She introduced herself as having had training in theater, and you could tell that her theatrical background helped her explain the history of Medellin. She called the main players ‘actors’ and used clear hand motions to describe the timelines of the conflict, the war and the developments afterward. She answered all our questions about the Colombian identity, Medellin and its people, Medellin today and where to go for the best food or soccer matches.

The Medellin Free Walking Tour route

Our first stop was the Old railway station, and we learned that trains used to play a part in the Colombian economy. From there, we passed the Alpujarra administrative center, where we sat down for a history discussion, and then we crossed a major road to see the Park of Lights (Parque de las Luces). This is a fascinating area that used to be a large city market. After a fire, the square fell into disarray and had some bad times. The city revamped it and created the tall installations that light up at night, giving the park its new name.

Funky sculptures in Botero Square

Botero Square was another memorable place, and it was here that we had a snack break and got to enjoy the wacky Botero sculptures. Botero is perhaps the most famous ‘paisa’ (name given to those who come from the Medellin region) artist, and his art is rather prevalent all over Colombia. His signature style is unnatural proportions, so his sculptures are humans and animals, and are worth seeing in this public collection of his works.

In Berrio Park, we saw local Medellin life and Maribell brought us to a circle of men who were playing guitar and singing. They played some tunes for us.

As we walked past the shopping arcades, we marveled at street vendors selling our favorite fruits - pitahayas (a.k.a. dragon fruit), pineapples, papayas, bananas and mangoes.

From past to present at Parque San Antonio

The tour ended at San Antonio Park, where we listened to the striking story of the 1995 bomb that was placed under a Botero sculpture of a bird during a concert. The terrorist bombing resulted in the deaths of 20 innocent people. Instead of removing the bird sculpture that was half blown apart by the explosion, the city kept the original and placed a new sculpture next to it. Together, they are a reminder of the past and hope for a peaceful future.

How to tip your Free Walking Tour guide

At the end of the Real City Walking Tour, it is customary to tip the guide. All the guides are truly excellent, so it is a pleasure to tip them for their hard work. Recommended tips are between 20,000 and 30,000 pesos.

While it may sound daunting to set aside 3-4 hours of your precious time in Medellin, the Real City Walking Tour is both an efficient and meaningful way to spend your trip. We learned so much about Colombia and the city of Medellin through our guide and through seeing parts of Medellin we would not have visited on our own.

To book Real City Tours, visit their walking tour.