Medellín is a vibrant city with towering buildings located in the Aburra Valley, surrounded by mountains and lush vegetation. It is the second-largest city in the country, after Bogotá, and is commonly referred to as the ‘City of Eternal Spring’.
Known for its lively music, delicious gastronomy, and its friendly locals, Medellin has earned its place on the backpacker trail. Having spent an incredible 5 days in Medellin, I would love to return for more!
Discover the best things to do in Medellin Colombia in this ultimate guide.
History of Medellin
Medellín in the 20th century was a city of great change and upheaval. The city experienced rapid growth and industrialisation driven by the coffee trade, as well as political violence and drug trafficking.
The drug trade, driven by the demand for cocaine in the United States, began to affect Medellín in the 1970s, and it became a major problem in the 1980s leading to paramilitary wars, corruption, and poverty. At this time, Medellin was known as the “Murder Capital of the World”.
Despite the challenges it faced, Medellín made significant progress. The city’s education system was improved, its infrastructure was upgraded, and social programs were introduced. Medellin continues to rebuild itself and is now home to many world-renowned museums, universities, and parks.
Medellín is a city that is constantly evolving. Their transformation is a testament to the city’s resilience and its commitment to becoming a thriving and prosperous city.
Getting around Medellin
Public transport in Medellin
The Medellin metro system is a network that includes the metro cable cars, the tram, and the buses. Tourists will mainly use metro trains and cable cars. It is worth buying a Medellin Metro Civica card so you can top up as you go.
Metro de Medellín, first opened in 1995, is one of the most modern and efficient metro systems in Latin America, and it has helped to transform the city. The metro is a symbol of progress and hopes for Medellín, and it is a source of pride for Paisas, hence why the metro is spotless. No litter or graffiti will be visible anywhere.
Getting taxis in Medellin
There are loads of taxis in Medellin, however, it is best to avoid hailing in the street.
Whilst ride-sharing apps are technically illegal, Uber and Easytaxi are commonly used, and the safest option. It is best to sit in the front in case the authorities pull the car over.
Taxis booked via ride-sharing apps at the airport and bus terminals are monitored more closely by the police and may detain the drivers. Get an airport transfer or standard cab, and agree on a price before you get in.
Where to stay in Medellin
For backpackers and tourists, the best areas to stay in Medellin in El Poblado and Laureles, both are fairly central. El Poblado is more lively with more bars, restaurants and nightlife, whereas Laureles is a little more low-key and more expats. There are wonderful options for accommodation in these districts of Medellin to suit all budgets.
BUDGET BOUTIQUE (El Poblado) – Rango Boutique Hostel features a garden, shared lounge, terrace with pool and restaurant – the à la carte breakfast is awesome. Having stayed in this hostel, I can recommend it. Find the latest deals for Rango Boutique Hostel
MID-RANGE HOTEL (El Poblado) – Refugio del Jaguar features concierge services, a garden, and a shared lounge. Each room includes a patio with a private bathroom fitted with a shower. Find the latest deals for Refugio del Jaguar
MID-RANGE HOTEL (Laureles) – Hotel Boutique Casa Sonata offers a garden, a bar and air-conditioned rooms with a patio. Find the latest deals for Hotel Boutique Casa Sonata
SUSTAINABLE HOTEL (El Poblado) – EcoHub Hotel Medellin features accommodation with a terrace, free private parking and a restaurant. The hotel provides air-conditioned rooms with a desk, flat-screen TV and a private bathroom with shower. Find the latest deals for EcoHub Hotel Medellin
LUXURY HOTEL (El Poblado) – Patio del Mundo is a Hotel Boutique of 13 rooms across two properties with terraces, and a garden. Each room is decorated with local arts and crafts, some with a private terrace. Find the latest deals for Patio del Mundo
DAY 1: Downtown Medellin
Botanical Garden of Medellín
The Jardín Botánico Joaquín Antonio Uribe de Medellín, more simply known as the Botanical Garden of Medellín, is a 14-hectare botanical garden in Medellín, Colombia. The botanical garden has 4,500 flowers and 139 recorded bird species. It has an important collection of orchids preserved in an architectural space called the “Orchideorama”.
The garden, founded in 1972, is home to a variety of gardens, including a cactus garden, a Japanese garden, and a butterfly garden. It is a great place to relax and escape the hustle and bustle of the city whilst learning about plants, their importance to the environment, and Colombian biodiversity.
Watch your feet, I saw a tortoise camouflaged against the pathway that started to move as I got up close!
Botanical Garden of Medellín is free to enter and open daily from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm. Metro stop: Universidad (Line A)
Downtown Walking Tour
When creating your itinerary of what to do in Medellin, make sure you book a walking tour of Medellín downtown (El Centro) and discover the city’s dynamic culture and history, and unique architecture. Learn about the city’s role in the Colombian drug trade, its recent transformation, and the resilience of the Paisas.
The Real City free walking tour with a local will take you to some of the city’s most popular attractions, including the Botero Museum, the Medellín Metro, and the Plaza Botero.
Plaza Botero is a public square in Medellín, Colombia, named after the famous Colombian sculptor and painter Fernando Botero. The square is home to 23 famous “Fatty” sculptures by Botero, installed between the Palacio de Cultura Uribe Uribe and the Museo de Antioquia. The sculptures are all made of bronze and are a variety of exaggerated sizes and voluptuous shapes.
The sculptures were donated by the man himself as part of an urban renewal program in 2002, and are now a top Medellin tourist attraction. I loved the Botero dog, and the Roman soldier had a private area where the brass has suffered statue rubbing over the years.
I saw Botero sculptures popping up along my Colombian adventures such as Plaza Santa Domingo in Cartagena and the Botero Museum in Bogota.
Bird of Peace Statue
The Bird of Peace “Pajaro de Paz” is a bronze statue by Colombian sculptor Fernando Botero, located in San Antonio Plaza in Medellín.
The statue was created in 1995 and was originally meant to be a symbol of peace and hope for the city. However, in 1995, the statue was bombed by a guerrilla militant, killing 12 people. Instead of removing the damaged sculpture, Botero left it there and created an identical Bird of Peace to place right beside it as a powerful symbol of hope and resilience.
Drink in Salon Malaga
Salón Málaga is a historic bar in Medellín, Colombia. It was founded in 1957 by Gustavo Arteaga whose vision was for people to meet, socialise and listen to wonderful music together. The bar is like a vintage shop, full of photos, retro furniture, and ornaments, like time has stood still from the bohemian days.
Salón Málaga is known for its bolero music and tango dancing, and Saturdays, are the night for live music performances. I can understand why the bar has been featured in several films and television shows, and it is popular with locals and tourists looking for an authentic experience. I just stayed for a drink during the day, I bet the atmosphere at night would be incredible.
Salón Málaga open Mon-Sat 8am-2am, Sunday + holidays 8am-12am. Metro station: San Antonio
Visit Museo Casa de la Memoria
The Memory House Museum (Museo Casa de la Memoria) in Medellín commemorates the victims of violence in the city. The museum is housed in a former prison, and its exhibits include photographs, documents, and the personal belongings of victims. The museum also has a library and a memorial garden.
The museum is a powerful and moving place to visit. It is a stark reminder of the human cost of violence, and it is a place where people can come to remember and mourn their loved ones. I felt sad when I left the Museo Casa de la Memoria, the stories you read about stay with you.
Museo Casa de la Memoria is free admission. Closed on Mondays (apart from public holidays).
Eat Bandeja Paises
When in Medellin, it’s a must to try the best Bandeja Paisa in Medellin, unless you are vegetarian of course. This typical “Paisa” dish originates from the Antioquia region and typically consists of a variety of ingredients, including chorizo, chicharrón (pork crackling), beans, rice, plantain, and avocado.
On a recommendation, I went to Hacienda – a chain that has been around for years and is famous for its traditional Colombian dishes. The portion was generous, the decor was rustic and welcoming.
Enjoy the rooftop sunsets
After an emotional day of hearing about Paisa’s turbulent past and heart-wrenching stories, it was time to kick back with my welcome cocktail at Rango Boutique Hostel. A rooftop bar in Medellin is the perfect spot to get lost in the sunset views.
If you love a rooftop bar with a city vista then Medellin is the place to go. Rango Hostel does a cocktail-making class on the rooftop (booking in advance is advised), and you can even do a rooftop bar crawl if you fancy a more lively affair!
DAY 2: Escobar Tour + Art + Pizza
Not all Escobar Tours are the same
Many Pablo Escobar tours often glorify Escobar’s life and brutal crimes, and many visitors only have the Narcos Netflix series as a reference. This is insensitive to the victims of his violence and can also contribute to the glamorisation of drug culture. Today, many people in the city do not even like to speak or hear mention of his name as the memories are still within their lifetime.
On a mission to better educate myself, I researched the Escobar Tours thoroughly. Our guide, Danny, from Discovering Medellin blew me away with his knowledge of Colombia’s political and economic landscape to help understand the causes of this devastating period of history, and how education and the drive for social change have enabled the transformation of the city. His unbiased approach did not glorify Escobar in any way.
The tour starts at the memorial park ‘Inflexion’ installed by the government to remember the people who lost their lives. Then on to the graveyards, the house and rooftop where he died, and Barrio Pablo Escobar. Originally called “Medellin Sin Tugurios,” or “Medellin Without Slums”, the neighbourhood was built in the early ’80s, with investment from Escobar as a way of buying their loyalty.
Do not visit the Pablo Escobar Museum
Choose your tour wisely. Many popular tours include a visit to Pablo Escobar Museum, and the opportunity to meet Roberto Escobar (Pablo’s brother). This is a complete NO for me, as the family is profiteering from their terrible crimes.
Roberto Escobar AKA “El Osito” was the former accountant, drug trafficker and co-founder of the Medellín Cartel who had a huge bounty on his head and served 14 years in prison. Not a man I want to donate my money to or have my photo taken with!
Watch a match at Atanasio Girardot stadium
The Atanasio Girardot stadium is located west of downtown Medellín (Metro station: Estadio). The stadium has a capacity of over 40,000 and is home to two of Colombia’s biggest clubs: Atlético Nacional and Independiente Medellín, which are supported by some of the most passionate fans in South America.
My accommodation (Rango Hostel) had sold out of tickets, so my plan was to buy tickets from El Tesoro shopping mall or at the stadium ticket booths. Then the heavens opened, and rain bounced off the ground, so decided to pass on the mission.
I’m not a massive football fan, but I had been told that the atmosphere inside Atanasio Girardot stadium is electric, and a must-do in Medellin. So, book your tickets for Atanasio Giradot stadium early!
The Medellin Modern Art Museum (MAMM) was founded in 1978 and is one of the most important museums of modern art in Latin America. The museum has a collection of over 2,000 works of art from Colombian and international artists.
MMAM is a perfect activity in Medellin for rainy days, and the cafe does a top hot chocolate too!
MMAM is open daily. Nearest Metro Station: Industriales
Pizza at Café Zorba
Café Zorba is a popular vegetarian (and some vegan) pizza restaurant located in El Poblado. They are an absolute taste sensation, I loved the Espinaca and Chimichurri pizzas and mouth-watering hummus.
Expect a chilled vibe at Café Zorba, with an open kitchen providing an atmosphere as the pizzas are prepared, shovelled into the ovens, and out on the plates at great speed. They hold live music nights with sounds of jazz, and world music echoing down the street.
There is a no-reservations policy at Café Zorba, so don’t rock up late if you are super-hungry!
DAY 3: Communa 13
Communa 13 Tour
Communa 13 was once considered the most dangerous neighbourhood in Medellin. Tourists would not enter, and locals would avoid disclosing where they lived.
Today, Communa 13 is the epitome of transformation. The barrio is a Medellin must see for tourists to experience the lively street performers and break dancers, creative street art and galleries, and cultural expression in food.
The famous escalators in Communa 13 connected the communities on the mountainside with each other and the city below giving more access to facilities and job opportunities. They are popular with tourists as they take visitors to one of the best views of Medellín.
So, which Communa 13 tour is best? I used Zippy Tour Communa 13 as they were one of the first in the district to run tours there. As all guides are from Communa 13 you get a first-hand account of what it was like to grow up there, whilst they walk you through five different neighborhoods.
Beers at Communa 13
After the Communa 13 tour, it’s a good idea to stick around for a few craft beers, people-watching and, of course, the wonderful views from the side of the mountain. The buzz of Communa 13 with the sounds of the break dancers and rappers, and the hubbub of activity made this a perfect spot to pitch up.
Eat healthy in Saludpan
Saludpan located in the Laureles district is all about conscious and ecologically sustainable eating, and I couldn’t wait to experience it.
True to form for May in Medellin, the heavens opened just as we dived into Saludpan. They have tables to dine al fresco if the weather permits.
Saludpan was a fabulously rustic place to eat our way through the healthy field-to-fork menu paired with a tasty drop of red wine. Being a health food shop makes this a busy and cheerful place throughout the day.
Saludpan opens from 8 am – 8 pm. Nearest metro station: Estadio. Read Salupan reviews on Tripadvisor.
DAY 4: Guatape Day Trip
Taking a day trip to the picturesque town of Guatapé is a must when visiting Medellín, Colombia. The town is known for its colourful houses with zócalo detail. Wander around the town, admire the architecture, have coffee in Plazoleta de Los Zócalos, take a boat trip, or visit Iglesia de Nuestra Senora del Carmen.
One of the highlights of visiting Guatape is climbing the majestic monolith, El Peñol to see incredible views of the lagoon.
The trip to Guatape can be done by taking a 2-hour bus journey on public transport or going hassle-free with a group tour to Guatape.
DAY 5: Communa 8
Communa 8 Coffee Tour
La Sierra (Communa 8) was founded in the late 1970s by people who migrated en masse to the city from rural areas in search of a better life. For many years, paramilitary wars plagued the community and were considered a no-go area. Watch the documentary on La Sierra before you go to La Sierra to understand. Today, La Sierra has been reimagined into a colourful community with a strong sense of identity.
Our guide Aturo took us up the 577 steps through the self-built houses, up the lush mountainside, passing by the school, and continuing along the winding road to the family coffee farm. We learned about the day-to-day tasks involved in producing artisan coffee from seed to roasting.
The ‘Incredible’ coffee finca was set up many years ago as the owner used to walk the long way to avoid shootings. It turns out that the farm is in a micro-climate that is perfect for growing coffee, and the business is a growing success. An inspiring story considering the history of gangs and violence.
Aturo has worked hard in creating a strong relationship with the community in Barrio La Sierra and supports the local kitchen at La Sierra’s church. Each tour donates enough money to the community soup kitchen to feed 2 children for 2 weeks.
In my 5 days in Medellin, the visit to Communa 8 on La Sierra Urban Coffee Tour is one of the best things I did. If you are looking for an authentic sustainable experience and feel-good story in Medellin, don’t miss this tour!
Ride the cable car
Riding the cable car should be on your Medellín itinerary. The cable car system, known as the Metrocable, is a public transportation system that links the city’s downtown area with the hillside neighborhoods. The cable cars offer stunning views of the sprawling city and the surrounding Andes mountains.
There are six lines of the Metrocable, each of which serves a different hillside barrio, and connects to the city’s metro.
The most popular line is the Jardín line, which runs from the Acevedo metro station to the Parque Arvi station. The Jardín line offers stunning views of the city and the surrounding mountains. It is also the only line that goes to Parque Arvi, a beautiful park with hiking trails, picnic areas, and a lake.
As I experienced the Medellin cable car when I descended from La Sierra, I didn’t make the trip to Parque Arvi.
FAQs: 5 Days in Medellin
How many days do you need in Medellin?
There is so much to do in Medellin especially if you love city life! I would recommend a minimum of 3 days in Medellin but longer would be better to get a more in-depth understanding of the city. If you can spend 5 days in Medellin this is the perfect time to uncover the turbulent history, the vibrant culture and the welcoming people.
Is it worth visiting Medellin Colombia?
Visiting Medellin is absolutely worth it. Whilst Medellin is missing a historic centre like Cartagena and Bogata, it is a place to soak up the knowledge of locals about modern history in Colombia. There are lots of top things to do in Medellin on your visit, it is a vibrant and exciting city with a lot to offer visitors. Medellín is known for its friendly people, its’ delicious food, and its unique city landscape.
When is the best time to visit Medellin Colombia?
The best time to visit Medellin is in the summer from June to August, or from December to March when the weather is pleasant, and least amount of rain.
Medellin has two wet seasons, April to May and September to November. I visited in April and it was prone to rain heavily in the afternoon for a few hours.
Popular times to visit Medellin for festivals are the Feria de las Flores (The Flower Festival) is on every year in late July / early August, and Alumbrados Navideños (Christmas lights) are displayed in December through to January.
Is Medellin safe to travel to?
Medellin is best known as a hotbed of violent crime and shootings since the 80s. Whilst the city has improved remarkably, travellers still need to be cautious as petty crimes, robberies, and druggings do happen.
Areas such as Laureles and El Poblado are where most tourists stay, and there is generally more CCTV, police, or security guards present. It’s a good idea not to wear flashy jewellery, and try not to get too drunk to keep your wits about you,
Be careful at night. Avoid Downtown Medellin areas such as Prado, Parque De Las Lucas and Parque San Antonio, and it is better to get an Uber instead of walking even if you are close to your accommodation.
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