The first thing that greeted us in Medellín was rain, which was such a change from life on the Carribean coast for the last number of weeks. I’d nearly go as far and say it was a welcome change from the heat! Medellín is known as the City of the Eternal Spring, thanks to its pleasant spring like climate. We experienced a nice mix of rain, thunderstorms (the loudest thunder!!) and beautiful spells of sunshine.
Medellín is the capital of the department of Antioquia and located in the Aburrá Valley. Its a pretty cool sight seeing the spread of the red bricked buildings along the slopes of the valley. The city used to retain the name as one of the most dangerous cities in the world, only 15 years ago, due to the raging war against drugs, corrupt governments and homicide rates. But with focus on regeneration, peace and social innovation projects, it is amazing to witness how this city now strives to take back control and move on from the past’s troubles.
Botero Square in downtown Medellin
How we got to Medellín and where we stayed
We flew from Santa Marta to Medellín and it was such a comfortable experience, much better than spending a day or night on a bus. It was about 65 euro to fly, which was slightly more expensive than getting the bus but I think it was worth it. We spent 5 nights in El Poblado (Gringolandia!) in Maloka Hostel and 14 nights in an Air B&B in the Enviagdo area. A break from travelling was needed and it was coming into Semana Santa when its supposedly more expensive to travel, so we took our chance to have a mini-break from our trip. Our Air B&B was perfect, good location, really swanky apartment and it had Netflix so we were sorted!
El Poblado has some nice street art!
So with all that time, what did we do in Medellín?
There are definitely enough things to do to keep you entertained in Medellín for at least a week. We had a few “not leaving the apartment” days too which was great. Finished a few seasons of GOTs, binge watched Big Mouth on Netflix, eat a lot of fruit and even managed to wash our clothes ourselves!
In summary your must do’s and our top picks are the Free Walking Tour, Comuna 13 and a soccer match. We also visited the Botanical Garden and Planetarium, Memory Museum, and Parque Arvi to name a few. Read on below for our experiences of each.
Free Walking Tour – the best one yet!
Everyone raves about the Free Walking Tour so we were excited to go on it and it didn’t disappoint. Our guide Catarina was very energetic and positive, and gave a really good insight into the history of Medellín and a relaxed tour of the city center. We were in great form because it was St Patricks day and started the day off by listening to a few rebel songs. We met an Irish couple from Cork and two lads from England, so after the tour went for a few drinks to celebrate being Irish, and beating England in the rugby! Grand Slam Winners!! The tour lasted for about 3 and a half hours, is tip based, and you need to book 1.5 days in advance. Its really popular and for good reason.
Learn history and see downtown Medellin on the Free Walking Tour
See some of Fernando Botero’s many sculptures!
Graffiti Walking Tour / Comuna 13
We went with Zippytours for the free walking tour of Comuna 13. The meeting point is San Javier metro station at the main entrance, with 10am or 2pm tour options. Guides wear blue t-shirts and have a blue umbrella. In the past, Comuna 13 was the epicentre for violence and was one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in Medellín. This was due to its pivotal location for paramilitary, guerrilla, and gang activity, with the fallout being forced displacement and high murder rates.
Learn about Comuna 13 on the graffiti tour
It has taken years for the community to regain somewhat of a normal existence. This was helped through the introduction of metro-cables and escalators which now link the comuna to the city, and the desire and hard-work of the people to promote and demand peace. Comuna 13 is now instead becoming known for its vivid graffiti and passionate hip-hop artists. It has reinvented and transformed itself into a symbol of hope, which I hope persists.
The Graffiti is amazing
They paint graffiti everywhere!
The tour itself was ok, there was 22 in our group and we didn’t feel like we learned that much and there were a lot of stops to purchase things, which of course is great to support the local businesses, but after 2 / 3 stops and walking around for 3 hours you kind of want the tour to finish. It is however a good way to visit the area and admire the artwork so for that reason alone it is worth it.
Comuna 13 from afar
Soccer Match – the first of our trip.
After haggling the price of a Nacional jersey from 30,000 to 12,000 COP, we needed now to go and support the team. Luckily the Nacional team was playing against Pasto on St Patricks day so we went and bought our tickets. What better way to spend Paddys day?!
We bought the tickets the day before the match and two of the chicos from the Lost City Trek came along with us. We paid 40,00o COP for the tickets. The atmosphere was amazing, I don’t know how the hard-core fans kept singing throughout the match. I found myself staring at them more than watching the match at times.
Half time photo op – Nacional won 2-0
If you are lucky and a match falls during the time you are there, go, especially if its a Derby game! Its worth it. But watch out for the vendors selling Cerveza – its alcohol free!
Botanical Garden and Planetarium
At the University stop on the metro, there are a good few options to keep you entertained for the day, walk around the Botanical Gardens, visit the Planetarium, or Parque Explora a natural science museum which also includes an aquarium and a few dinosaur models. We chose the gardens and the planetarium.
There are iguana’s a plenty in the Botanical Gardens
The Botanical Garden is spread across 14-hectares with a few small trails, lots of picinic areas, butterflies and orchids, and a nice pond area where you can spot turtles, fish, ducks and iguanas. Its a place to come to relax, free to enter and is popular with the locals of Medellín. Best to bring a picnic, pick your spot and chill out for a few hours. We did see some of the locals trying to catch/catching/ touching the iguanas though.
The Botanical Gardens
I loved the Planetarium, which cost 15,000 COP to enter. It is very interactive and has a good movie in the dome about the stars even though it was in Spanish we could understand it. I had a little fainting episode before the movie (embarrassment!) and one of the girls working there made sure I was alright and let us wait to go to another screening. How nice!
Views of Medellin from the metro stop
A visit to the Memory museum, which is located in Parque Bicentenario, was recommended by the guide on the Free Walking Tour so we headed out there one afternoon. It is free to enter which is great as history is not part of the curriculum in schools in Colombia! I was really looking forward to it but was a little bit disappointed to be honest. Its very small and I didnt learn anything from the visit. They have some interactive screens where you can flick through newspaper articles, artsy displays, photographs and videos of people who talk about their experience but no hard history displays or timelines. Just my opinion though, I realised I prefer the however boring historical descriptions so it didn’t do anything for me.
The Memory Museum in downtown Medellin
Salsa classes was on our list since Xela in Guatemala where we had a little taster. Ok maybe it was on my list and only on Alan’s so he didn’t have to listen to me going on about it any more! We had planned a reunion with Yasmin too who loves salsa so had planned on a salsa night out when she arrived in Medellín (long story short she missed her flight so salsa night was postponed until Filandia!). We did 4 hours of private salsa classes for 200,000COP with Santo Baile in Enviago. It was fun but we definitely need more. We learnt the basic steps and a few twists and turns. Our career in salsa will continue when we go to Cali though so watch this space!
The Cable Car to Parque Arvi – like something from Jurassic Park!
For an escape from the city Parque Arvi is a good pick. It is a nature preserve with lots of trails where you can hike or cycle. There are guided options for both, and different trails to choose from. We read on other blogs that trails were well signed posted but we didn’t see any of the signs to indicate starting points when we started wandering so maybe you need a guide for these. We didn’t go with a guide and ended up walking to the picnic area which was nice. To get to Parque Arvi you take the metro to Acevedo station then head for K-Line metro-cable (same ticket). Get off at Santo Domingo and take the L-line metro-cable where you purchase a new ticket for approx. 5,500 COP.
Cable-car / Metro
The metro in Medellín was such an easy and cheap way to get around the city, about 2,500 COP for one trip. It wasn’t as busy as the metro in Mexico so you could even enjoy some some personal space. We felt safe but use common sense! A trip on the metro cables is a must as you get a great view of the red-bricked city. We did them on the way to Parque Arvi and also did them at night time to see the city lit up (we stayed on for the round trip).
Great views of Medellin from the Cable Cars
The second cable to Parque Arvi is mostly over trees so if you are only going on the metro cable for a view of the city, don’t get off at the Santo Domingo stop and stay on for the round-trip. You can do the round trip with one ticket as long as you don’t exit at any of the stations!
You can really see how big the city is!
We had a supermarket right next to our Air BnB with lots of different exotic fruit choices. I was in fruit heaven! We used to pick a random, unknown fruit (to us at least) every time we visited. My favourite is Lulo, it will take something amazing to beat it, I’m trying to think of ways to get it shipped to Ireland! Lulo in milk is delicious! Alan’s favourite is maracuya (aka passion fruit). Its so good too!
We tried our first Bandeja Paisa which is a typical meal in Colombian cuisine. Its a plate full of rice, ground beef powder, pork skin, fried egg, beans, sausage, sweet plantains, and corn bread. We had one to share between us. Best beans I’d had in a while.
Day trips from Medellín
The mains day trips from Medellín are Guatapé, Santa Fe de Antioquia and Jardín. We decided to go to Guatapé. Click here to read about it. As we had another 6 weeks left in Colombia and countless more colonial towns ahead we didn’t bother visiting the others.
Some other things to do in Medellín
Visit Barefoot park, risk your life paragliding, or visit to Pueblito Paisa.
And lastly the elephant in the room – Pablo Escobar
It is easy to get caught up in the allusion and celebrity of one of the most famous and ruthless drug lords, Pablo Escobar, which is maybe with thanks to Narcos, but step back and think before going on tours about him. There are tours available to go paint-balling in Pablo Escobar’s villas, visit his grave where you can snort cocaine and even get a tour with one of his hitmen. The same man who admitted to killing 500 people and served only 30 years in prison and so is now walking free.
Medellin has so much more to offer than Escobar related things!
Where is this money going, who does it support? Is it the victims that had to endure years of torment or members of his extended family or cartel?! So no we didn’t do any tours associated with PE and didn’t sample any of Colombias most famous export! I’m not into drugs anyway and especially not after listening to the devastating effects its has from past to present. It maybe easy and fun to take drugs but maybe before going for it, think about the consequences of supporting the demand. Who really suffers in end?! My two pence on the matter.