Medellin has worked hard to shed its image and become one of the coolest cities in South America. Get to know the city inside out with my list of things to do in Medellin, Colombia.
Just over 30 years ago, Medellin was considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world. In the 1980s, Colombia’s second biggest city was rampaged by drug lords and wrecked by bombings and massacres. But when cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar was finally killed in 1993, the government of Medellín got to work and started a series of urban renewal projects that are still in progress these days.
Today’s Medellin is an inviting, modern city with pleasant green spaces, interesting museums and hip restaurants. The dramatic increase in safety, great weather and long list of things to do in Medellin are drawing in more and more travelers here each year. It’s definitely an essential stop on any trip to Colombia.
I recently spent a week in Medellin, exploring the city inside out as well as the hills around it, getting to know the locals, food and culture. Here’s a detailed Medellin travel guide for those who are interested in going deeper under the surface.
Table of Contents
- Medellin Travel Guide 2021
- Colombia Covid Travel Restrictions
- How to Get to Medellin, Colombia
- How to Get around Medellin
- Things to Do in Medellin, Colombia
- 1. Stroll around Plaza Botero
- 2. Admire the Palacio de Cultura Uribe Uribe
- 3. Visit the Museo de Antioquia
- 4. Pay Homage to Monumento a la Raza
- 5. See the Parque de la Luces
- 6. Admire the Catedral Basílica Metropolitana de Medellín
- 7. Visit the Casa de la Memoria
- 8. Do a Free Walking Tour
- Pablo Escobar and Medellin
- 9. Drink Colombian Coffee
- 10. Have a Menu del Dia
- 11. Try the Regional Dish, Bandeja Paisa
- 12. Do a Local Foods Tour
- 13. Explore the Colorful Minorista Market
- 14. Explore Comuna 13
- 15. Take the Metrocable up to the Hills
- 16. Soak up Nature in Parque Arví
- 17. Visit the Jardín Botánico
- 18. Learn about Country Life at Pueblito Paisa
- 19. Go Paragliding over Medellin
- Day Trips from Medellin
- 20. Explore Guatape and El Peñol
- 21. Go Hiking in Jardin
- 22. Visit a Coffee Farm
- Where to Stay in Medellin
- Best Hotels in Downtown Medellin
- Best Hotels in El Poblado
- Where to Eat in Medellin
- Hato Viejo Centro
- Hacienda Junin
- Mercado del Rio
- Further Reading on Colombia
Medellin Travel Guide 2021
Colombia Covid Travel Restrictions
Colombia no longer requires a negative coronavirus test from travelers entering the country by air. Anyone is welcomed to travel to Colombia. Read my article to see if it’s safe to travel Colombia now.
Since 3 June 2021, Colombia has eased several lockdown measures even though it is still fighting a third peak in the pandemic, which has been aggravated by a month of crowded antigovernment street protests.
I always recommend travelers to buy travel insurance, especially if you’re traveling during the pandemic. SafetyWing is the most popular travel insurance company for COVID19-coverage. I use their Nomad Insurance plan, which covers COVID-19 as any other illness as long as it was not contracted before your coverage start date. Refer to my travel insurance guide for more details.
How to Get to Medellin, Colombia
As the second biggest city in Colombia, Medellin is served by many major cities in Mexico, Panama, US and Spain . There are two airports in Medellín:
- José Maria Cordova International Airport (MDE) — If you’re flying in from abroad, this airport is where you’ll land. Located about 21 miles (35 km) east of Medellín, it’s quite a distance from the city. But thanks to the new tunnel route, it now takes only 30 minutes from the center, half the time compared to the old windy road route. An Uber costs around 50,000 to 70,000 pesos ($13-18) to the center.
- Enrique Olaya Herrera Airport (EOH) — Medellín’s small local airport is right in the city, but it only serves domestic destinations. The easiest way to get to/from Olaya Herrera is via taxi, and the Uber fare is around 10,000 pesos or less. The South Bus Terminal in Medellín is located only one block.
How to Get around Medellin
Traffic in Medellin is horrendous; the metro is undoubtedly the best way to get around and it’s well maintained. The paisas (people of the Antioquia region) are incredibly proud of it as Medellin is the only city in Colombia with a metro system.
There are two metro lines: one blue, one orange. To take the metro, you need to get a Civic card at any one of their stations. A single trip costs only 2300 COP ($0.60). You can get to most places on this list by metro.
Things to Do in Medellin, Colombia
1. Stroll around Plaza Botero
In the heart of Medellin stands the Plaza Botero, a massive square dedicated to Colombia’s most loved sculptor. Colombian sculptor Fernando Botero has a distinctive style that’s made him well known around the world. Here you’ll find 23 of his works of art, including sculptures of voluptuous ladies, fat cats, and chubby men on even chunkier horses.
The sculptures actually form part of an urban renewal program initiated by the government in 2002. Although the square has been cleaned up, you’ll still find sketchy characters and lurking prostitutes; so be on the alert.
2. Admire the Palacio de Cultura Uribe Uribe
Overlooking Plaza Botero is one of Medellín’s most striking landmarks. The Palacio de Cultura Uribe Uribe is housed in a gorgeous black-and-white Gothic Revival building designed by Belgian architect Agustín Goovaerts. It’s free to stroll along its majestic corridors and through the ornate rooms, some of which hold rotating art exhibitions.
3. Visit the Museo de Antioquia
Across Plaza Botero is the Museum of Antioquia, which houses some of Colombia’s most important art collections. The highlight is on the third floor, where you’ll find many sculptures and paintings by native Fernando Botero and Pedro Nel Gómez. Entrance is $18,000 COP for foreigners.
4. Pay Homage to Monumento a la Raza
Also in the city center stands La Alpujarra Administrative Center, an artsy urban complex that’s home to the most important government buildings in Medellin. It sets the stage for the biggest demonstrations in Colombia, so avoid this area if there are protests going on as they can get violent.
The most prominent landmark here is Monumento a la Raza by acclaimed Colombian sculptor Rodrigo Arenas Betancourt. The 125-feet-tall (38 m) sculpture represents the history of the Antioquia region’s indigenous people, with figures formed in dramatically twisting concrete and metal.
5. See the Parque de la Luces
Across the road from the Monumento a la Raza, you’ll find this public park that was once a rather dangerous part of Medellin. In the 1960s, it was a seedy spot frequented by thieves, drug addicts, and prostitutes. In 2005, the government abolished the old market and inaugurated the new square with art installations.
Today, 300 illuminated columns stand in the space, creating an “artificial forest”. Water fountains, floor lighting, and bamboo create a modern space surrounded by a handful of important buildings.
6. Admire the Catedral Basílica Metropolitana de Medellín
At Plaza Bolívar, you’ll find the Cathedral of Medellin, which claims to be the largest church in the world built entirely of bricks – 1.2 million, if you’re counting. The fortress-like cathedral was constructed between 1875 and 1931. The plaza is actually a great spot to sit and people watch. A large handicraft fair is also held here on the first Saturday of every month.
7. Visit the Casa de la Memoria
One of the best things to do in Medellin Colombia is visit the Casa de la Memoria, a multimedia museum that tells the violent history of Medellin through photos, videos, voices, and artifacts. See the areas of Medellín affected by massacres through interactive maps, read hundreds of testimonies, and listen to powerful songs that talk of the violence. Entrance is free for all.
8. Do a Free Walking Tour
If you’re feeling overwhelmed in downtown Medellin, I highly recommend signing up for one of the free walking tours organized by Real City Tours. My guide, Julio, is one of the best guides I’ve ever met (and that says alot as I’ve met many!).
He’s such a great storyteller and educator — his words are powerful and insightful. One of the last few sentences he said stayed with me, “If we Colombians, who have gone through so much suffering in the past, can be happy… there’s no reason why you cannot be.”
Everyday at 9.30am and 2.30pm, they bring travelers on a walk around Centro Medellin showing the places mentioned above and a few others, weaving interesting stories and historical facts into the talk. It’s free, but tipping is expected (approximately US$15/person).
9. Drink Colombian Coffee
Coffee lovers will be stoked to know that Medellin is brimming with cool cafes serving some of the best coffee in the world. Most of them only offer fair-trade coffee produced locally, in the Coffee Triangle just outside of Medellin. You’ll find plenty of hipster coffee houses that offer cold brew and craft coffee in El Poblado and Laureles.
Some of the most popular cafes in Medellin include:
- Pergamino Cafe in El Poblado — the most popular cafe in Medellin with a spacious outdoor terrace
- Cafe Revolucion in Laureles — a pioneer of speciality coffee in Medellin
- Café Zeppelin in Laureles — stuffed full of antique furniture and decorative pieces from all over the world
- Tomasa y al Alma in Poblado — a gorgeous little nook with quality coffee and scrumptious pastries that go with it
10. Have a Menu del Dia
Almost everywhere you go in Colombia, you’ll find local diners/restaurants offering the menu del dia. It’s essentially a set meal that includes a meat dish with rice, patacon (flattened fried plantain), salad, and a thick soup with meat and corn, plus a drink. A menu del dia is usually inexpensive, and cost around 8000 to 15000 Pesos (US$2.5 – $4).
Platano Maduro has excellent menu del dia for just 9500 Pesos. It’s one block from Parque Bolivar. Sazón del Mar in Poblado serves fresh grilled fish in their menu del dia, and prices are really affordable!
11. Try the Regional Dish, Bandeja Paisa
The Paisa, people from the Paisa region (where Medellin is), are extremely proud of their local food. One dish in particular, the bandeja paisa, is their pride and joy, and you can find it everywhere in Medellin.
The traditional dish is a massive platter of red beans, chicharrón (pork belly), plantain, chorizo, arepa, morcilla (black pudding), and topped with a fried egg and fresh avocado. It’s always served in generous portions, so unless you’re starving, I recommend sharing it between two persons.
The bandeja paisa shows the influence of the culinary culture of the indigenous people of Colombia, the colonial Spaniards and Africans. The best places to try this dish in Medellin are Hato Viejo and Hacienda Junin.
12. Do a Local Foods Tour
Colombian food is surprisingly good — and there are many more local dishes to try other than bandaje paisa. If you’re a foodie, then I recommend signing up for a local foods tour. I did this food tour in Medellin and found it super interesting! My local guide was fun, engaging and knowledgable. She showed us local ingredients, and shared us with culinary traditions unique to Colombia. We even got to sample some of the essential dishes.
13. Explore the Colorful Minorista Market
Prefer to experience Medellin’s food culture on your own? Head to Plaza Minorista market, minutes from Cisneros metro station. It’s an amazing experience and an assault of the senses. The massive market is a dizzying labyrinth of exotic fruit stalls, vegetable stands and butchers. You’ll even find stacked cages of animals for sale. We recommend coming here in the morning and spending a few hours sampling fruits and just soaking in the atmosphere.
14. Explore Comuna 13
For those curious about Colombia’s past, visiting Comuna 13 is one of the best things to do in Medellin Colombia. Comuna 13 was an area of violence and crime just 20 years ago — but it has been transformed into a relatively safe and vibrant neighborhood thanks to community projects.
In 2002, the government organized a raid to rid the area of guerillas, gangs and paramilitaries. The government then set about improving the hillside commune, and installed a series of outdoor escalators to connect parts of the once isolated hillside neighborhood to the city below. It’s been a dramatic shift for Comuna 13, and tourists now come to ride the escalator and see the street art.
15. Take the Metrocable up to the Hills
From Comuna 13, you can easily hop onto one of the Metrocable (gondola) systems for a really cool, unique experience. The Metrocable is a cable car system that connects many of the poor neighborhoods perched on the hill slopes to downtown. The Metrocables are wildly useful, popular, and extremely scenic.
As of 2021, there are five cable cars in Medellin (the sixth is almost completed) — the most popular being the one that goes from Acevedos to Parque Arví. To ride the Metrocable, you can use the Civic card, which can be purchased at any metro station. It’s a free connection between train and Metrocable, and a single ride costs less than $1.
16. Soak up Nature in Parque Arví
One of the things I love about Medellin is its geographical location at the base of the Medellín River valley and the hills surrounding it. As a result, there are lots of green spaces dotted around the city. Parque Arví is one of them — the ecological nature reserve is an excellent spot to breathe fresh air and escape from the city.
Besides hiking trails, the park also has several canopy ziplines and a butterfly enclosure. I spent an entire day here exploring this wilderness so close to the city. The 15-minute ride on the Metrocable up to the park glides over the mountain ridge, affording spectacular views of the city.
17. Visit the Jardín Botánico
Another gorgeous green space in Medellin is the Jardin Botanico (botanical gardens). Stretched across 34 acres of land (14 hectares), the botanical garden has over 1,000 different living plant species. It’s got a lake, herbarium and butterfly enclosure.
It’s free to visit, so this botanical garden is definitely one of the best things to do in Medellin if you’re on a budget. It is easy to get to — just take the metro to the Universidad station (Line A) and it’s right by the station.
There are three restaurants in Jardín Botánico. I absolutely loved Restaurante In Situ. It’s an open air restaurant with great food and service and a nice ambience.
18. Learn about Country Life at Pueblito Paisa
On the top of the Cerro de Nutibara, Pueblito Paisa is a miniature replica of a typical Antioquian town complete with church, town hall, and colorful red-roofed colonial-style homes.
It’s free to visit, though slightly cheesy and Disneyfied. But if you don’t have time to travel around the coffee triangle, this is not a bad place to take a sneak peek of the Paisa countryside.
There are fantastic 360-degree views of Medellín and more than 60 species of flora on the hill alone. Also, Museo de Ciudad, the Medellín City Museum is nearby and worth seeing. Take an Uber here—ideally on a weekday—when it’s less busy.
19. Go Paragliding over Medellin
My favorite thing to do in Medellin! If you’ve never tried paragliding, consider doing it in Medellin! Because of its location in a valley, Medellin is a great spot for gliding. I have paraglided several times, and absolutely love the adrenaline and the liberating sensation of flying.
Paragliding in Medellin is also a lot more affordable than in other places. It only costs $80, and the instructor is professional and communicative. You’ll be taking off from Aburra Valley, and flying over the Medellin River and El Quitasol hill, with the spectacular backdrop of the mountains. Book your paragliding experience here!
Day Trips from Medellin
20. Explore Guatape and El Peñol
This is the most popular day trip from Medellin and one that I highly recommend. Around 1.5 hours away from Medellin stands a monolithic rock named El Peñol. The steep climb, some 600 steps, is worth the effort and the top offers some truly incredibly views of the lakes and hills below.
Just 10 minutes from El Penol is the pueblo mágico (magical village) of Guatepe. It’s one of the magical The pretty little lakeside town of Guatape is simply stunning, with its brightly colored streets and unique architecture. It is best known for the fresco-like adornment of its traditional houses. Check out this day tour to Guatape.
21. Go Hiking in Jardin
A much longer day trip (it takes about four hours to get here from Medellin) but a truly worthwhile one, Jardin is one of the cutest coffee towns in Colombia. With a delightful central plaza filled with tables and chairs and locals sipping coffee, Jardin is well worth the extra effort it takes to visit. It’s got plenty of hiking trails dotted with waterfalls and plantations, making it perfect for outdoor lovers. Read my guide to Jardin, Colombia.
22. Visit a Coffee Farm
Colombian coffee is world famous, and Medellin is a short hop away from the Coffee Zone. There are several coffee plantations in the nearby mountain towns, and they make for interesting tours for coffee lovers.
The tour usually includes transportation to the private plantation where you will be able to see how they pick coffee beans, learn about the process of preparing coffee beans and get to try some of the finest coffee in the world. Check out this coffee tour.
Where to Stay in Medellin
Hotels in Medellin (Colombia in general) are great value for money. You can stay at cool design hotels at incredible prices, with breakfast included. I spent only around $30/night and stayed at nice and comfortable hotels with excellent WiFi and scrumptious breakfasts.
Best Hotels in Downtown Medellin
Most people would tell you to avoid staying in Downtown Medellin (La Candelaria), due to safety issues. But the best things to do in Medellin are concentrated in this area. I stayed in La Candelaria for the first part of my trip, and I didn’t feel unsafe at all.
Budget: Hotel Gallery
I stayed at this stylish art-themed hotel and was pretty happy with the cheap rates, excellent breakfast, spacious room and great location. The rooftop bar is really cool, perfect for some downtime in the evenings with Michelada and salsa music in the background. Check rates here.
Mid Range: Hotel Nutibara
Located right in the heart, next to Plaza Botero, Hotel Nutibara is a grand hotel and a landmark of the city. The area is extremely busy and not as safe as other parts of the city, but the hotel is pretty decent and prices are great. Check rates here.
Luxury: Home Aris Apartments 201
This beautiful apartment is perfect for families or digital nomads. It’s got plenty of space, a full equipped kitchen and two bedrooms. Just a hop away are Boston’s Park and San Ignacio’s Square. Check rates here.
Best Hotels in El Poblado
An upscale residential area in the south of Medellin, El Poblado is a popular place to stay for travelers and expats. I stayed here for a few nights, but didn’t find that much to do. But it is conveniently located near the Terminal del Sur (south bus terminal).
Budget: Selina Medellin
Part of a hip, trendy hotel chain that caters to digital nomads, Selina Medellin has affordable and spacious rooms. I stayed here for the second half of my trip and definitely enjoyed coworking and meeting people here. Check rates here.
Mid Range: Diez Hotel Categoría Colombia
Inspired by the culture of Colombia, this design hotel is decorated with local handcrafts in combination with modern technology. All rooms offer a view of the mountain and city. Don’t miss the jacuzzi on the rooftop! Check rates here.
Luxury: 23 Hotel Medellin
Just 500 m from Lleras Park, 23 Hotel Medellin is one of the most unique hotels in Medellin. The 5-star hotel is luxurious yet rustic at the same time, with an all-wood theme, extremely stylish design and luscious plants to give it an exquisite resort setting. Check rates here.
Where to Eat in Medellin
Hato Viejo Centro
This branch in downtown Medellin is known as the best place in the city to try a range of traditional Antioquian dishes — particularly the bandeja paisa, a local dish heaped with beans, finely ground beef, fried pork chicharron, sausages, egg, and arepas. Read TripAdvisor reviews here.
Another renown traditional restaurant, Hacienda Junin offers quintessential Antioquian dishes and also in smaller portions. Grab a seat in their second-floor terrace for views of the pedestrianized street beneath. Read reviews here.
Mercado del Rio
Located in Poblado, this trendy gastronomic market reminds me of the vibrant food markets in Europe. Having opened its doors in October 2016, the massive warehouse space has a collection of over 50 food stalls serving street food from Colombia, Mexico, Peru and more. Read reviews here.
Further Reading on Colombia
Phew, there sure are lots of things to do in Medellin Colombia! I hope this article has helped you plan your trip to Medellin. Let me know if you have any questions below!
If you’re planning to travel all over Colombia, check out other articles I’ve written on Colombia:
- Colombia Itinerary: A Detailed Guide for 10 Days in Colombia
- Is Colombia Safe to Travel in 2021?
- 33 Cool Things to Do in Cartagena
- Where to Stay in Cartagena
- Jardin, Colombia: The Cutest Town in the Coffee Triangle
- Exploring Cocora Valley in Colombia
- 22 Fun Things to Do in Bogota
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