Medellin was our favourite city in Colombia, owing to its diversity in things to do and see including the city, but also national parks, artwork, sports, nightlife, and other cultural offerings.
We went on a mission to try and experience as much as we could in this amazing city, not because we had to but because we knew this was our first chance at Colombian culture and we wanted to see what all of the fuss was about! Each action packed day led to the next, and by the end of our stay here we finally understood why Colombia (and Medellin) was the top location for so many travellers we had met along the way. Here are just some of the many highlights of this fantastic place, though be sure that this place always has so much more to offer.
As usual, the walking tour is such a great introduction to the city, and this one was actually well worth the time and effort. Whilst some free walking tours begin to wane after an hour or so, this one continued to provide interesting features and facts of the city without being boring.
Maybe it was the guides, or maybe it was the insight into a city plagued by its drug past (and attempting to move past it), but we were captivated. The guide took us to many locations, with some great highlights including Botero Plaza and the final location showing a bombed Botero sculpture (the story of which we will leave for you to find out on the tour).
Try the Local Colombian Street Food
Buñuelos and Empanadas
Another part of the walking tour included a quick break for what else- food! And being our very first taste of Colombian fare we went straight for the heart of it- street food. We had been told of two traditional foods that we would go on to find in most Colombian locations, and these were buñuelos, and Colombian empanadas.
Buñuelos we are still trying to work out, but they equate to a deep fried dough ball that generally has a cheesy taste to the bread beneath the crust – delicious! And next on the menu were the empanadas… different from what we had previously eaten, these empanadas were deep fried (a common theme amongst Colombian foods- how do they stay so skinny?) and of course contained meat of some kind. These were such a great snack, or even a meal on their own if you got enough of them! Make sure you slather them in the supplied guacamole and hot sauce!
This national park takes you just outside of Medellin, and really takes you away from it all. To get there, you need to take a cable car up and out of the valley that the city is situated in (and probably a train to get to the cable car – check the map here). It is amazing to be in the cable car going up and over the city, with great views showing just how big this place actually is. But what is more amazing is when you hit the crest of the valley, leaving the city behind completely and suddenly only seeing pine trees for miles and miles.
After quite a long ride, you finally touch down at the park entrance, where we immediately found some local markets set up selling many different types of food ranging from fruit and sandwiches to empanadas and cakes! This was a delicious start to our national park adventure, with us both downing some treats before we got started.
We had both heard about the many different hikes on offer in the park (so many you would need at least a few days to try them all), but we decided to try something completely different whilst visiting the park.
We had been recommended to go to a high ropes park located within Parque Arvi, so decided to jump on the free park bus and make our way across there. After paying our entrance fee (of around $16US), we made our way towards the course whilst taking in some puzzles and local artefacts that had been set up along the path. Eventually we reached the course, with options provided for easy, medium, hard, and harder!
We decided to tackle the ‘hard’ option, based on it being the longest course with the most zip lines, and strapped ourselves in to our harnesses. We then headed up into the massive pine trees and made our way across many different obstacles including bridge crossings, planks, zip lines, and net climbs. It was amazing fun, and well worth your time if you are either sick of hiking or just want a different challenge.
Either way, Parque Arvi lived up to expectations and we only wish we had more time to see it all and even camp for a night!
Go See a Football Game
When you get to Medellin you quickly find out that the city is football mad. And if you arrive during football season then a decision needs to be made if you want to try and catch a game! This is truly experiencing the culture of Colombia, with the entire nation being football mad!
Deciding on going to a game isn’t the only hard decision though, as once you arrive you will need to choose whether you support Atletico National, or Independiente Medellin (DIM). That’s right, there are two teams vying for glory in Medellin, with the jerseys of both being seen everywhere in the city.
For us the decision was easy, whilst we wanted to support the team Pablo Escobar once owned (Atletico), there was only one game on when we were in town and it was an Independiente Medellin one. Thus we donned the red, blue, and black and headed to the stadium on game day to buy tickets!
After finding the ticket booth (thank you $10 tickets) and having a pre-game beer and snack (no alcohol for sale inside the stadium), we found our way to the block we were sitting in. There are no allocated seats in the stadium so we chose a good spot, and watched the home side dominate the opposition with a great 3-0 win! It was amazing watching the ‘fanatics’ or home seating area throughout the game, with many not sitting at all (and many jumping throughout the game also) during the 90 minutes.
If we could have seen another game, we definitely would have- it was such a great spectacle and the view of the mountains beyond the stadium also made it one of the more picturesque places we had seen in Medellin.
Casa de la Memoria
We had been recommended the Casa de la Memoria (House of Memories) from others at the hostel, and thought that seeing a free (yes, free) exhibit was something that we should obviously try.
More than being free though, this place was truly something different as it attempted to show the bleak drug-based history (amongst other forms of its history) through imagery, video, and artwork. What started as a quick visit turned into a few hours as we made our way through the many exhibits (though only really located in the one room), watching clips and reading all about what had occurred in this beautiful city.
Our visit ended up being quite an emotional one as you find out about the effects this industry has had on the local people, with one room even showing several victims playing on many different video screens, many just children taken too early. You should definitely head to this museum if you get a chance whilst visiting Medellin- you will not regret it.
Paragliding in Medellin is known as the cheapest place you can possibly do it in all of Colombia (but Ecuador takes the prize for cheapest in South America). Based on this knowledge, I signed up with Dragonfly Paragliding via WhatsApp for a 20 minute flight for a cost of around $40-45US.
And whilst the company (all of them) can arrange for transport for you, it was at such a high cost that it ended up being a lot easier to just make my own way there on public transportation. If you wish to do the same as me, you can do the following:
- Take the metro to ‘Caribe’
- Walk across to the bus terminal over the highway (terminal norte) and go to number 11
- Number 11 should be the ticket office for ‘Ruta Expreso Belmira’ where you can buy a ticket by saying you are going to ‘Parapentes’ (or in Spanish: “un boleto hasta parapentes por favor”)
- Once you are on this bus remind the driver where you are going (parapentes) and he will drop you off when you reach the paragliding hill
We eventually arrived and I made my way up to take my flight, looking over the city of Medellin and neighbouring city of Bello. It was a clear day and we had a great time of it, riding high on the winds. Even the landing was great, with a soft touchdown- you should definitely try it whilst you are in Medellin.
Ride the Cable Cars
The cable cars of Medellin were built to connect the many residents of the city, though more than just a method of transport they have turned into a cheap touristic attraction to get up high and check out the views below.
We set aside a few hours to do just this, riding the cars up high and checking out the local neighbourhoods you can barely see from the city below. You can’t not go on these when you are in Medellin, as one way or another you will simply find that you need to ride one to get somewhere. So why not do what we did and ride them for a few hours and see just how big the place really is!
Go See the Famous Sculptures in Botero Plaza
We got taken to Botero Plaza during the walking tour, but quickly realised we would have to come back to truly experience it. Throughout the plaza are many Botero sculptures which portray different creatures (human Included) in a completely different way to normal artists. This entails making everyone and everything bigger and more cartoonish, in what has become Botero’s unique style.
Whilst in the open-air plaza you can also take in the Botero Museum, to see not only his sculptures but paintings as well.
See the Locals Perform in Parque Berrio
Parque Berrio is located just around the corner from Botero Plaza and would not really be memorable if not for the locals that come here each day and perform in small circles and groups. If you come during the day you might catch a performance or two, but later in the day you could also see dancing and more elaborate performances.
Catching a glimpse of these locals just going a about their daily lives is really interesting, as are the surrounding streets which offer up markets and stalls with many things for sale including food, clothing, and even a street dedicated to pornography!
Take a Day Trip to Guatape
Guatape is of course not located in Medellin, but we would be silly not to mention it here as it is truly one of the best day trips we have taken on our travels.
With more details to be included in a future post (keep an eye out!), let us just say that you need to get out of Medellin and experience this town (and the giant rock, and anything Pablo related) for either a day or maybe even a few nights. It is colourful, beautiful, and gives enough of a small town feel to be charming as well.
Go Out in the Famous Poblado
The majority of us backpackers will probably stay in Poblado when they visit Medellin, and for good reason. This area may be the tourist zone, but it is also a beautiful area with many restaurants, bars, and coffee shops around (try Pergamino for a great coffee).
As this is also the Zona Rosa, it means that you can go bar hopping or clubbing in Poblado pretty much any day of the week and be in for a good night. And this is exactly what we ended up doing, although in order to have a good time you really need a local to steer you in the right direction.
Many times we ended up at the doors of shitty clubs with females being given free entry and guys being charged extortionate amounts to enter. Be aware that these clubs are usually shit places to be (unless you’ve been told by a local that they are good), with the best place we found being a tiny little bar (free as well) that was full of locals gyrating to reggaeton in the early hours of the morning- best!
See the Graffiti in Comuna 13
This was probably our one regret of Medellin, as we didn’t end up getting time to actually see the graffiti in this area. We were told many times how great it is and the ways to get there (cable car followed by a bus), but just ran out of time in the end.
The story of this comuna turning from a violent place into a safe haven for tourists (at least during the day) is a great one anyway, and includes the introduction of escalators throughout the area for easy ascension up the steep hills in the area.
Make sure you get to this area and see what we didn’t, we have only heard good things!
These are the highlights of what we were able to see whilst staying in Medellin… of course there are many more we missed out on (paintball in Pablo Escobar’s mansion anyone?), but as you all know there is only so much time available before needing to move on.
We would, however, definitely return to Medellin if we could, as we had such a great time and created many memories there. We hope you can use our guide to create your own- enjoy!