Including Medellín in you travel itinerary through Colombia is something you won’t regret. This vivid city has been reinventing itself after years of violence and will definitely not let you remain indifferent. Even if it’s still a place faced with social problems, Medellín is an absolute must-do when you’re in Colombia. You won’t know what’s hit you from time to time, and whoever takes the time to discover the city will soon understand why Medellín has been labelled the coolest city in South America at the moment. Here are our travel tips for the hot and happening capital of the Antioquia department!
Discover Medellín with Real City Tours
We’ll admit, it takes time to get used to Medellín. The city centre is far from pretty, it’s hot and busy with honking cars almost riding you over, street vendors, vagabonds and other unusual figures. So don’t feel out of sorts if you’re not into it from the very start, we weren’t either. To really appreciate Medellín, you need context. That’s why we booked a free walking tour with Real City Tours and though we we’re sceptical at first, it turned out to be so worth our time! You get to see both the beauty and ugliness of the city, hear the stories about the drug cartels and violence, but also discover how Medellín managed to get out of that black period in time and how proud its inhabitants are of the way things are changing right now. Hats off to Julio, our enthusiastic guide. We hung on his every word about his country, city and the Paisas (name for the inhabitants of Medellín).
Sleep in trendy Poblado
The centre isn’t the safest area to stroll around at night, so many tourists pick a hotel or hostel in southern Poblado from where they explore the city. Around Parque Lleras, there are lots of shady clubs, but once you get to the streets behind it, it’s swamped with cool restaurants, shops and bars. Poblado is conveniently linked to the centre through the modern metro line which will take you there in no time.
Visit Comuna 13 in Medellín
Once the most dangerous area in Medellín, now definitely the most colourful and lively one which you shouldn’t miss out on if your in town. We visited the neighbourhood with Zippy Tours, a free walking tour for which you pay a tip at the end. You could easily visit this shantytown by yourself by day, but then you’ll miss out on the interesting context you’d get. Unfortunately for us, our group was way too big (we did the tour on a Sunday afternoon, not the best choice) and it was all organised rather chaotically, but in the end we were glad to have had all the information about Comuna 13 and our guide David was a really enthusiastic storyteller. All the guides are from the neighbourhood itself and have experienced the violence first hand, which only makes the stories more touching. Keep your camera ready because there’s beautiful graffiti to be seen around every corner. The tour can take up to 4 hours. We joined the Spanish speaking one, and were treated to a mini salsa class at the end of the tour. Make sure to book your spot through the website of Zippy Tours.
Medellín’s most interesting musea
Don’t miss Museo de Antioquia in the city centre where you’ll find works of Fernando Botero (who we also encountered in Bogotá). The plaza in front of the museum is also filled with statues by the Colombian artist. For those of you understanding Spanish, we’d recommend going to Museo Casa de la Memoria. The museum is dedicated to the violence holding Medellín in its grip during the 80’s and 90’s. You have to look through the messy way of presentation, but some of the rooms are really overwhelming. The one with all the pictures of people who were killed or disappeared for example, will grab you by the throat in all its sobriety.
Restaurant tips for Medellín
- Malevo: Small Argentinan restaurant serving delicious food in a cosy setting. Highly recommended! Make sure to book your table in advance because it’s always very full.
- El Cielo: One of the best restaurants in Colombia, also found in Bogotá. Eating here is diving in with all your senses. The food is original and yummy, each one offering an experience of their own. The 11 course menu costs 70 euros (price february 2018), worth every cent.
- Chef: A burger restaurant in Poblado, perfect for a good meal at a reasonable price. It’s crowded but the tables rotate fast, so you’ll never have to wait very long.
- Pezetariana: An affordable food chain where you can enjoy sushi bowls that are super tasty and healthy.
- Versailles: A traditional restaurant in the city centre where Colombian kitsch surrounds you while you enjoy some good empanadas. Perfect for a quick bite.
We booked a room at Rango Hostel in Poblado, a quite new hostel scoring high on the hipster scale. There’s plenty of dorms, but also a couple of private rooms. The double room is great, offering a nice view on the park behind. We also slept in the twin room right next to it, which was less comfy: because it’s situated in the corridor where everyone is passing by and right above a restaurant, you’ll sleep less quietly here.
- Since the Netflix-series Narcos scored big time worldwide, the Pablo Escobar tours are thriving. However, be ware that some 90% of Colombians are furious at the man who ruined their international reputation. Walking around with a T-shirt of El Patrón will definitely not make you popular with most locals, and especially not here in Medellín.
- Medellín is situated in a valley where the weather can change quickly. Be prepared for a heavy downpour, even if the sun’s shining brightly in the morning.
- Taxis are cheap and can be stopped safely in the streets.