We love Medellín! 15 years ago this wonderful city in South America was one of the most dangerous in the world. Today it is probably one of the most fascinating cities we have ever visited.
Old crime scenes have now been redeveloped with libraries and parks, and innovative public transit is a source of public pride. No one dares to leave scratches or graffiti in the metro system anymore. We were able to move around the city without any worries and felt very comfortable.
Here are four main sites and activities in and around Medellín, Colombia that we’d recommend…
1. Learn More About Medellin and its History with a Free Guided Tour
Free walking tours are a fairly common practice in almost all major cities and Medellín is no exception. We actually found out about this when we stopped by Patrick’s Irish Bar (!) and one of the barman told us to book online.
A simple search in Google for “Free tours in Medellin” will give you a ton of options and yes, most are free and are tip-based.
In our case, we gave our guide (Andrés) about $15. We actually offered pound sterling but he gently asked if we had dollars which fortunately we did because we travelled via the US. (Side note: if you do go to Colombia via the US, don’t forget to get your ESTA visa exemption – otherwise you’ll get in trouble transferring flights).
The tours are provided by local guides and last anywhere between 2-3 hours and a really good way to start understanding the history and local culture so definitely start with this.
2. Fly over Medellin by Cable Car
Many Latin American cities are built in hilly areas and some neighbourhoods are poorly developed as a result. In most cases, it is the poorest segments of the population that live there and the gap between rich and poor has been widening over many years.
In Medellín (and also in other cities such as La Paz in Bolivia), cable cars (called the “Metrocable system”) have been built, which take people directly back and forth from the metro station to the poor districts.
What’s fascinating to see is how the stations are positioned: they literally stop at stations in the middle of bustling neighbourhoods so it’s totally unlike something you might expect (in other words, it’s nothing like some sort of cable car experience you might have in the European Alps).
Because the terrain around Medellín is so steep, this is a unique public transportation system that you don’t really see anywhere else and it was championed by the local authorities in an attempt to bridge the gap between the poor and the more wealthier areas in the city centre.
And by all accounts, it looks like that it’s working because, despite Medellín’s troubled past, you get a sense of optimism and pride from the locals about their Metrocable.
The views of Medellín from the top are spectacular so you definitely don’t want to miss this one.
3. Dancing with the Locals and Fellow Travellers
Medellín is considered to be the city of the Colombian party and the area to head for is Parque Lleras in the El Poblado district.
But there are also so many hostels full of backpackers who have been in Medellín for weeks and actually, it appears that they simply refuse to move on! They lead a life between partying (and quite a few hangovers from what we could see) as well as more “civil acts” such as volunteering or working as English teachers.
4. View the Unique Landscape of Guatapé
Although there are dozens of other things to see in Medellín, it’s worth taking a daytrip to Guatapé which is about a couple hours east of Medellín. It’s best to take tour package but you could also do it yourself by taking a bus from Medellín’s Terminal Norte (North Terminal).
The landscape in Guatapé is breathtaking and could easily decorate Lonely Planet’s book on Colombia.
There are lakes and hills as far as the eye can see. And right in the middle, a huge rock called “Piedra del Peñol”, which reaches 2135 metres (7000 feet!) can be thankfully climbed with the 650 steps that are literally attached to the side of the rock.
The village of Guatapé is also a must-see: here you can stroll through the narrow streets with their colourful houses or eat in one of the many restaurants on the lake.