Things to do in Medellin
In Medellin, Colombia, you can be walking among towering skyscrapers, enjoying a coffee on the terrace of a chic sky bar in the morning. By afternoon, you can be flying in a gondola over the dense forest and traditional villages. Some of the top things to do in Medellin are:
1. El Poblado
El Poblado is a beautiful district full of green parks, rivers, and edgy industrial buildings covered in plants. This area is known as one of the most wealthy in the city, where foreigners and tourists tend to hang out. Because of that, it’s not the most authentic place in Medellin, but it is a safe area.
The town is split by one main road, with the area for nights out on one side and a quieter, more ‘family friendly’ neighborhood on the other. Located on a small hill, the district can be walked around in 20 minutes; this is the perfect amount of time to explore the colorful neighborhood, its art, and some of the best restaurants in Medellin, Colombia.
2. Historic Center
The historic center of Medellin is home to some of the most significant emblems of the city, including the Palace of Culture, the Museum of Antioquia, and the Plaza Botero.
At the center of the historic center of Medellin is the square (Plaza Botero), which is known as one of the city’s main sites and the place to see the most ancient buildings. In the square, you’ll see the iconic sculptures belonging to the famous Colombian artist Botero.
He donated 23 sculptures, making it the largest open-air exhibition in the world. His amusing sculptures (with body parts of unusual proportions) are created to bring people together, allowing for an interactive experience.
After looking at the interesting sculptures, head to the Palace of Culture to wander around the beautiful interior garden (open Monday-Friday 8 AM to 5 PM. Saturdays 8 AM to 2 PM ).
A bike tour in Medellin is the perfect way to learn about different neighborhoods in the city. You’ll follow an experienced guide as you cycle via the city’s main sights—for example, Plaza Botero, the Memory Museum, the Palace of Culture, and the brand-new park.
During the tour, you’ll also ride through the more expensive areas with fancy restaurants, as well as the poorer areas full of graffiti and street food vendors. Plus, you’ll take regular breaks to sample local coffee and drink fresh juice as you journey among the hustle and bustle of the city; it’s the perfect way to discover Medellin on your first day!
Good to know: The tours are very conscious; you’ll travel by electric bike, using the designated bike lanes that promote the use of bike travel.
4. Comuna 13 (Top Thing to do in Medellin!)
Comuna 13 was considered one of the most dangerous neighborhoods for years, run by violent gangs and guerrillas. However, between 2002 and 2008, the government waged war on the area, promising money, vacation days, or promotions to those who managed to kill guerrillas.
This was a huge problem, as people were intentionally killing innocent people and then dressing up their bodies in guerilla uniforms as a way to get the government reward. As a result, over 400 people died and are now buried in a mass grave in the area.
It’s a somber story that pushes the community forward as they lead the neighborhood into the future. The district is now known as one of the most creative in Medellin, with its urban art, graffiti, dancing locals, rap artists, painters, and storytellers. There’s no doubt that the arts have had enormous influence here, changing the lives of the locals.
How to Get Around Comuna 13
The Comuna is very steep and hilly. To reach the top of the Comuna, jump on the escalator or take the cable car. This is the only public car in South America, costing a grand total of 6 million dollars! However, this was a high price to pay, not only financially but also to the community, as to build the cable car, the government tore many houses down. It’s another story to remember when enjoying what is now a beautiful place in Medellin, Colombia.
Walking Tour in Comuna 13
Comuna 13 is very safe these days, but we still recommend a free walking tour with Zippy Tours (one of the top things to do in Medellin!). It’s run by local guides who live there (or have lived there) themselves, so they can give you the inside scoop on life in the neighborhood. It’s a super interesting tour, where you can better understand the horrific history, the strong community, and the stories behind the influential murals and graffiti in the area.
Please leave a reasonable tip for the guide. They run these tours based on donations, and these will go directly to graffiti artists and activities for the local children.
5. Castle Museum
One of the unique things to do in Medellin, Colombia, is to visit the Castle Museum. This gothic-style residence is more reminiscent of castles in the Czech Republic or France, making you feel a world away from Colombian city life. The castle was built in 1930 for a wealthy Colombian to live in but is now a museum open to the public, where you can see classic furniture, traditional paintings, and glassware.
Not only can you see a lot of beautiful artifacts, but you can enjoy the calming gardens full of flowers, water fountains, and singing birds. There’s also the option to enjoy the castle cafe and its delicious coffee, tea, and cakes. Alternatively, join the many other picnickers in the garden at the weekends!
Castle Tour: Castle can be visited inside; a guided tour is included in the regular entrance ticket of 18000 COP (~ 4.5 USD).
6. Gautape Village & The Rock
Just a 1.5-hour drive from Medellin, discover the incredible Guatape Village and its famous rock.
This gorgeous, authentic colorful little village is one of the top things to do in Medellin, located close to the mountains and surrounded by many beautiful lakes.
Once you arrive, start your walk from the pretty square and the church, meandering among the small streets and stopping to smile and chat with the friendly locals. Stop to take some beautiful photos of the houses, painted in stunningly bright colors with cute ornaments to match. There’s nothing more quintessential than watching an elderly Colombian man in his traditional hat smoking a cigar at one of the colorful cafes in the pueblo.
Spend an evening here if you can, relaxing in the atmosphere of the village, people watching and eating at some of the local roadside restaurants (Namaste was one of our favorites!). Like Istanbul, you’ll even find a rainbow-colored umbrella street!
The Rock (Piedra del Peñol)
An absolute must-see on your trip to Guatapa is the 65 million-year-old, 10 million-ton rock that looms over the area, named ‘Piedra del Penol’. It’s a huge mountain surrounded by water and varying shapes and sizes of lakes. Climb the 675 steps to the top, where you’ll be rewarded with fantastic vistas over the valley and the islands and lakes of Guatape; it should take you around 20 minutes to the top. It reminded us of Sigiriya Rock in Sri Lanka!
The Story of Piedra del Penol
A group of friends decided to climb the rock in the 1950s, daring only to use a wooden plank. When they reached the top, they decided it would be fun to build a zig-zagging staircase up the side to let others see the incredible views from the top of the rock. These days, you’ll also find lots of shops at the top, playing loud reggaeton music, which can be a little distracting. However, it does mean you can buy delicious mango micheladas and enjoy them at the end of your climb.
Entrance and Opening Times
Piedra del Penol is open every day of the year from 8 AM – 6 PM and costs 20,000 pesos (5.50 USD) per person to climb. The rock is only 10 minutes from the village and can be reached by Colombian tuk-tuk (Motachiva) or by car (there is parking for a small fee below the rock). The rock is incredibly popular, so we recommend visiting outside of traffic hours (early in the morning) and avoiding weekends.
Alambique is a cute cafe in Medellin, tucked away down a quiet side street. Inside you’ll discover a beautiful room covered in antique decorations, plants, and bookshelves, where they serve local fusion food. It even has a roof terrace!
Enjoy a delicious meal of fish and meat and a few delicious veggie options. Please note, if you’re with a bigger group, it’s best to make a reservation because this little gem is very popular.
8. Nightlife in Medellin, Colombia
The nightlife in Medellin is one of the best in the whole of Colombia, home to colorful bars, rooftops, and a buzzing atmosphere. Go with the people from your hostel and discover the many places for going out in the city. Plus, during the day, the same area transforms into nice cafes. Some of our favorites were:
- Berlin Bar
- La Octava Bar (ball pit!)
- Rooftops (best views can be found at Los Patios Hostel and Envy Rooftop)
- Parque Lleras (a nice park surrounded by bars and nightclubs, including Envy Rooftop and Woka Lounge)
Discover some of the best shops in Medellin, hidden behind Mija cafe. Spend a morning jumping between some of the big brands and small boutique shops selling local designers and beautiful prints. Some great areas to shop are:
- Makeno (135 Colombian designers)
- Santa Fe Mall
- Carrera 37 (many shops here)
10. Jardín Botánico
The botanic gardens are one of the top things to do in Medellin and an oasis of tranquility in the middle of the busy, metropolitan city. Spend a morning here, discovering this large, open, green space with over 4500 types of flowers and 139 different bird species.
The Jardin Botanico is 34 acres, so there’s plenty of room to get lost and explore the beautiful walking path that meanders through lush greenery. There’s also a massive wooden structure that provides shadow and merges effortlessly with the nature around it. In fact, it reminded us of the botanic gardens in Singapore!
When you’ve finished exploring the main gardens, head for the Butterfly Garden, where you can see the magical colors of the beautiful butterflies and learn more about each species. Plus, afterward, you can have a bite to eat at the cute Botanical Garden cafe in the middle.
Entry fee and opening times: Jardin Botanico is free to enter, but there is an entrance where you need to give your details. It’s a little outside Poblado but easy to reach with the metro or Uber.
11. Paragliding in Medellin, Colombia
Let your adventurous side run wild and enjoy paragliding in Medellin, Colombia. It’s an extremely popular activity to do outside of the city, within the mountains, for both locals and travelers. Depending on your experience, you can opt for a short flight of 15 minutes or choose a longer flight to see more of the surrounding area.
This is truly one of the most exhilarating ways to see the skyline of Medellin and the beautiful nature surrounding it.
12. Visit the Museums
As Medellin is such a creative city, it’s no surprise that there are plenty of museums to visit where you can learn lots about the culture and history of Colombia. Some absolute must-sees in Medellin are:
- Memory House Museum (history museum with exhibits on previous Colombian wars and conflicts)
- Parque Explora (interactive science museum and also home to South America’s largest freshwater aquarium)
- Museo de Antioquia (art museum that houses a large amount of Botero’s work)
- Museo de Arte Moderno (a modern art museum in a refurbished industrial building)
13. Estación Metrocable Arví/ Parque Arvi
The Parque Arvi is a beautiful ecological park that lies on the edge of Medellin. Visitors need to get in a cable car that takes you high over the city and the slum areas, arriving into the ecological park where you’ll see nothing but green landscapes and green forest below. There’s nothing quite like being above the buzz and noise of the big city and just a few minutes later seeing nothing but beautiful trees and birds.
Once you’re in the Parque Arvi, there are around 50 different hiking trails to choose from. If you want to explore the area, you can upgrade some of the city tours to include the Parque Arvi (book your tour here).
Best Cafes and Restaurants in Medellin
Colombia is home to some delicious, traditional plates. For example, Arepas (a bread made from corn) and Bandeja (a breakfast dish of beans, rice, plantain, and avocado). Aside from the local delicacies, Medellin is also home to a fantastic variety of restaurants. Some of our favorites were:
- Kai Restaurant (incredible vegetarian food)
- Zorba Pizza (best pizza in town!)
- Apilados de Autor (cheap healthy brunch)
- Helecho Vegan Sushi
- Pergamino (good coffee)
- Bread Factory (Swiss bakery)
- Betty Bowls
- Hija Mia Nomada (great brunch)
- Arte Dolce (best ice cream)
- Alambique (best aesthetics)
- Azai Praia Lovers
- Mercado del Río (foodcourt)
Where to Stay in Medellin, Colombia
One of the most popular areas to stay in Medellin is El Poblado. This is where all the foreigners live and is known as the gringo neighborhood among locals. Because of this, everything is more expensive, including accommodation. However, it is one of the friendliest and safest neighborhoods in all of Medellin.
If you’re on a budget, there are plenty of cheaper areas in the city, such as Laureles, which is less touristy but still very safe.
How to Visit Medellin
The bus is the cheapest and most sustainable way to travel in Colombia, and the buses are pretty comfortable too! From Bogota to Medellin, buses take just under 9 hours and cost between 20-30 USD.
If you’re tight on time during your trip to Colombia, there are lots of internal flights. For example, a flight from Bogota to Medellin will cost between 50-150 USD and take 1 hour. Remember that you’ll need to add extra time for check-in and security, so sometimes an overnight bus can be a great option that saves you money on a night’s accommodation.
Getting Around Medellin, Colombia
One of the best ways to get around Medellin is by bike, either on a bike tour or by public bikes (called Encicla), which you can easily take out with a metro card from many locations throughout the city.
If you want to cover further distances, take a taxi. We recommend booking them through apps, so you know the driver’s name and can see reviews. Uber is one of the safest taxi services. However, it’s not legal. Despite this, many people still use it, but be aware that the Uber driver might ask you to sit in the front seat and pretend to be their friend (especially if the police stop them).
How Much Does Medellin Cost?
Medellin is a very cost-effective city, especially if you choose a reasonably priced district to stay in. If you decide to stay in El Poblado, expect to pay a bit more.
- Hotels: 15 – 150 USD / night
- Hostels: 7 – 60 USD / night
- Price per meal: 5 – 15 USD
- Entrances: 2 – 15 USD
- Transport: 2 – 20 USD
Best Time to Visit Medellin
The city of ‘La Primavera Eterna’ (the eternal spring) is home to some fantastic weather year-round because of its warm, tropical climate close to the Andes. This weather also brings cooler nights and a fair amount of rain, although this usually is only for a few hours at night.
Book your trip between December and March if you want to visit in the driest months (Medellin summertime). Alternatively, come to the city during fun festivals—for example, the Festival of Flowers in August. This famous festival draws Colombians from all over the country; make sure to book your trip in advance!
Safety in Medellin, Colombia
The famous saying in Colombia is ‘no dar papaya’ meaning ‘don’t give papaya’. This saying doesn’t really have anything to do with fruit; it’s more about not allowing anyone to scam you. These days, Medellin is safe, but people are still looking to take advantage, so it’s always good to be alert. For example:
- Know your neighborhoods.
- Stay in the touristy areas where there is more police presence.
- In busy areas, be careful of your bags as pickpocketing is common.
- When sitting down, put your arm or leg through your belongings so no one can swipe them from under the table.
- Leave your valuables locked up in the hotel or guesthouse.
- Don’t put your phone or wallet in your back pocket.
- Try to look where you’re going ahead of time instead of getting out your phone to look at maps.
- Don’t go down dark, quiet, unlit streets late at night.
- Always trust your intuition. If something doesn’t feel right, it usually isn’t.