IT’S SAFE – GO!
After booking a trip to travel to Medellín, everyone kept asking why I would ever go there and that it was so unsafe. Unfortunately, shows like Narcos and the news give this city a fabricated, negative connotation. However, Medellín is safe and amazing! Medellín is an up and coming city and home to gorgeous landscapes and an innovative metrocable system that I was beyond impressed with. It is known as the “City of Eternal Spring” due to its weather (around 70 degrees nearly year-round)! This traveling to Medellín guide explains how safe I felt, the best things to do, and where to eat, party and stay in this amazing, growing city and why you should go now! Medellín is on the rise and should be visited before it gets commercialized by the world too soon.
I used Medellin VIP to help plan everything while traveling to Medellín and they could not have been more amazing. Juan took care of EVERYTHING and answered all of my (annoying) questions. Leading up to arrival they took all of my desires and somehow squeezed EVERY place into the itinerary, which is pretty hard. I was impressed with how organized they were the entire time. We had Jovan as a private guide for the duration and we could not recommend him enough. We got to know him well and had the best time with him! Medellin VIP managed our reservations, nightlife, a full day trip to Guatapé, 5+ destinations within the city in their metro/personal cars (the traffic there is insane) and pick up/drop off at the airport which is quite far. When we weren’t with Jovan, they checked in plenty on Whatsapp. I have gone through a lot of tour companies and Medellin VIP is top notch for concierge services and you shouldn’t be traveling to Medellín without using them. Whether you are looking to party (their speciality), the best restaurants, or just touring through the day, Medellin VIP is the way to go for your Medellín travels.
Disclosure: This traveling to Medellín guide may contain affiliate links. I may receive commissions for purchases made through links in this post. As always, all opinions are my own and I would never post about something I have not personally used/verified.
TRAVELING TO MEDELLÍN: HOW TO GET THERE
Travel to Medellín is easy since it’s a HUGE city. Jetblue, LATAM and many other airlines fly to Medellín! As I mentioned in my visiting Colombia travel guide here, do not fly Avianca under any circumstances. The airport is around a 45 minute drive from the city so keep this in mind for planning purposes. A taxi to El Poblado area will cost 65000 COP ($20) or you can get a transfer from Medellin VIP or all Medellín hotels! For getting around Medellín, the metro is very safe and modern here. It is also way cleaner and nicer than most subways I have been in, especially NYC! A good Medellín travel option is to also take a bus from a few days in Salento.
WHAT TO DO IN MEDELLÍN
El Centro is the downtown area of Medellín and the center of the city (hence the name). As such, it is the busiest area and prone to pickpocketing, so watch your stuff here. Do not go downtown at nighttime, only during the day. Make sure you absolutely go to Plaza Botero, the main square of the city known for its famous over-sized sculptures from Fernando Botero, a famous Colombian artist. Museo De Antioquia is also a well-liked museum next to Plaza Botero, which showcases Botero’s other art pieces. This museum is free! Walk down Calle 52, a beyond chaotic street packed with vendors, food carts and hole-in-the-wall shops. Walk all the way through (again, watch your stuff, it’s extra crowded here) and end up at Parque De Las Luces (Plaza Cisneros), which is a huge open space with massive, artistic tree-looking light sculptures making for an awesome view and an even more amazing photograph. You can’t travel to Medellín without stopping in El Centro.
A Pablo Escobar tour is likely half the reason you know about Medellín and are traveling to Medellín and is one of the most popular type of tours. Typically it’s a half-day tour which includes going to the Monaco building (his 8 story apartment building where the Cali Cartel detonated a car bomb in an assassination attempt), his final safe house where he was ultimately killed, and then to his family grave. This is a tour that can be customized to your liking but is fascinating and is a must-do when traveling to Medellín. You really will learn a lot of history and see the important spots that ultimately led to his downfall. People in Medellín have VERY mixed views on Pablo Escobar, and a lot of people do not even speak his name here due to his effect on the city. Our guide at Medellin VIP brought us to all the spots and gave us all the history lessons we asked for (with a LOT of questions) to gain more knowledge.
El Poblado is the high-end, ritzy area that you must stay in while traveling to Medellín. It is the safest, trendiest and nicest neighborhood of Medellín. Centered in the heart of El Poblado is Parque Lleras, a park where people gather during the day to hang out and at night before the bars to drink. It is an area consisting of locals, expats and tourists alike. It is a very cool, lively park and area that you should walk around in during the day and night. Since you will (hopefully) be based here you will be here a lot! Coffee, cafes and restaurants that are rated top in the world line El Poblado (more on that in the food section).
One of the most fascinating parts of traveling to Medellín is enjoying the Medellín metrocable system that was built in the city. They were built recently to modernize the city as well as to give the people high in the hills of Medellín quick access to downtown, which was previously unavailable. This has helped millions be able to get jobs in Medellín. The further up in the hills, the poorer the neighborhood, and you will see this as you fly over the city. It is jaw-dropping to fly over these falling apart houses that are built on top of each other to try to cram as many people into one. This Medellín metrocable is just another example of how they are building up the city (more on that in Comuna 13 section). You can take the metrocable to Santo Domingo metro stop and then transfer to go all the way up to Parque Arvi, which I highly suggest. Parque Arvi is a large nature reserve only accessible by the metrocable and has good nature hikes! The Medellín metrocable rides also provide stunning panoramic views of the city (see picture at the top) and show just how massive the city actually is.
- How To Get There: Take Metro line “A” from El Poblado to Acevedo station, transfer to “K” line to Santo Domingo stop then exit and buy another ticket for metrocable line “L” to Parque Arvi. If you can’t make it up to Parque Arvi due to time, at the very least take the metrocable up to Santo Domingo no matter what.
This was our favorite day of our entire Colombia trip. Guatapé is a tiny town about a 2 hour drive from Medellín. While you can get there on your own with public transportation, I suggest booking a tour from Medellín because it will include all the various activities! Book a full day Guatapé trip with Medellin VIP here. Guatapé is known for its famous landmark, El Peñol. El Peñol is a giant rock with over 740 steep steps to get to the top, where you will be rewarded with the most stunning views looking over a lake. Noted the best view in all of Colombia.
After climbing to the top of El Peñol, next will be heading over to the actual town of Guatapé, truly the most colorful, bright, pretty town I have ever seen. It is tiny and you can walk all around it and become mesmerized with the neon colored buildings. Here, you can stop at any restaurant and have Bandeja Paisa for lunch (see more in food section). Afterwards, head down to the lake and get on a private boat where you will be taken on a 30 minute ride to one of Pablo Escobar’s massive mansions and nightclubs. The mansion was bombed while they were trying to capture him. This was one of the most fascinating parts of our whole trip! The mansion property is still gorgeous, even bombed and disgusting, and the property and details are amazing. There are many tours that even have paintballing excursions here (something fun about shooting people in Pablo Escobar’s old mansion I suppose?)! Set aside an entire day for a Guatapé trip while traveling to Medellín, you will not be disappointed.
Comuna 13 is my absolute #1 must-visit when going to Medellín. Yes, it is not the most safe location, nor the most touristy. You must go with a guide. You can book a Comuna 13 tour here. Just five years ago it was dubbed one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the world. Today though, the transformation is apparent. Now, they see hundreds of tourists per day, though still small in comparison to El Centro’s visitors. This neighborhood, surrounded by half falling apart houses built awfully on top of each other spanning up high, high hills is the real Medellín for hundreds of people. Why is this neighborhood different? Modern urban escalators were installed literally into the streets to provide easier access to everyone. The elevation from the bottom to top is massive, and just 5 years ago you had to walk up and down extremely steep steps to get around. Now you take quick escalators. The neighborhood is also well-known for its colorful street art, but it’s not just any street art. Each piece has a specific, politically moving motive. They each tell a story. You can also read more about Comuna 13 here.
I suggest taking a tour that includes meeting with one of the famous street artists, who still lives in the neighborhood. We took this tour with MedellinVIP where they showed us around the area, walking through the graffiti, interacting with locals, and going up and down the modern escalators. Comuna 13 is full of friendly people showing you how passionate they are on the changes that have happened in their area and how far it has come, yet how far it still has to go. Police now patrol the pathways at all times and you will feel totally safe there!
This “mini pueblo” was made to demonstrate the vibe you would get from the towns (pueblos) outside of Medellín. It is basically a mock pueblo atop a hill in the center, which also offers great panoramic views of the city. Pueblito Paisa is pretty touristy but a great place to go to see how pueblos outside the city are made and what is special about them and it is also miniature!
The Medellín Botanical Gardens are very well-known and gorgeous. There’s also a butterfly farm and a cactus park within it. Also check out the Planetario nearby, there are a lot of special events that go on there regularly. One of the best fine dining spots is also situated inside the Botanical Gardens, In Situ, which is highly recommended for lunch or dinner! Parque Explora is another great activity if you are visiting with kids. It is across the street from the Botanical Gardens and is an interactive science museum with a freshwater aquarium and outdoor park area with interactive games throughout.
Paragliding is one of the most popular tourist activities in Medellín due to its dependable weather most days of the year and extremely low prices. It’s best to do a tour in the early morning for the weather, they usually take around 2.5 hours and prices are around $40 USD.
Colombians love their fúbol (American soccer) and Medellín is lucky enough to have TWO local teams (Atlético Nacional and Independiente Medellín). There are some die hard fans and the games get ROWDY. Colombians surround themselves with fútbol and it brings them together. If there is a game while you are visiting it is a must-go! Tickets are around $11 for the Alta Oriental section, where you should sit. Buy tickets by clicking on their names above to head to their websites or book a Fútbol Match tour here.
Click any of the activity names above to find out more information/book tours!
WHERE TO EAT
The food scene is so underrated in Medellín and not talked enough about around the world. Any foodie must get to Medellín to try their top restaurants such as Carmen, OCI and El Cielo. When traveling to Medellín, do not miss out on their amazing food scene!
While in Medellín, you also must eat Bandeja Paisa. It is the native food of Antioquia (Medellín’s state) and consists of rice, plantain, arepa, avocado, minced meat, chorizo, sausage, fried pork rind and a fried egg on top.
- In Situ: Inside the Medellin Botanical Gardens, must eat at if going there. Fine dining, look out onto the gardens. Make reservation beforehand.
- El Herbario: Trendy spot with vegetable based dishes and good fish.
- Cafe Colombo: Good food and panoramas of city.
- Como Pez En El Agua: Really good pastries and cakes.
- Ganso & Castor: Similar to a French cafe with good french toast, pancakes, omelets, etc.
- Carinito Cafe: Classic eggs benedict and other brunch staples.
- D’Andre Gourmet: Another all-around good brunch spot in El Poblado.
- Juan Valdez Cafe: Starbucks of Colombia, multiple locations.
- Pergamino Cafe: Indie coffee shop right off of Parque Lleras, amazing coffee and food.
- Cafe Velvet: Cute little cafe.
- Carmen: Also in Cartagena. Very famous, number one restaurant in Medellín. Try to get a table in the courtyard. Must make reservation beforehand.
- OCI: Trendy upscale restaurant, arguably the other best restaurant in Medellín. Must make reservation beforehand.
- El Cielo: extremely good meal and creative experience hitting all of your senses. Get the 13 course meal and come hungry. Not cheap. Must make reservation beforehand.
- Mondongos: HUGE portions, very good food, famous.
- El Botánico: A recommended amazing restaurant in El Poblado!
- Marmoleo: For a unique dining experience and some of the best steak (imported from the US).
- Cafe Zorba: For the best pizza in town.
Click on any of the restaurant names above to find out more/book a reservation!
WHERE TO PARTY
The nightlife in Medellín is insane. There are so many options and most center around Parque Lleras in El Poblado, the epicenter of nightlife. Nightlife starts getting busy on Wednesdays and last through Sunday, so try to plan your visit around this. Make sure to start your night in Parque Lleras before any of the bars/clubs – the vibe is amazing. Things usually pick up around 11/midnight before heading to clubs at 1AM. The local drink is called aguardiente; it’s clear, anise-flavored liquor usually taken as a shot (chased with water/soda). All of these spots below are in El Poblado unless noted! Medellin VIP will also hook you up with the best spots and take you out at night.
- Envy Rooftop Bar: The Charlee Hotel (more below) rooftop bar. Wednesday is live salsa band night. Highly recommended. Best bar views of the city.
- La Strada: trendy upscale bar in El Poblado.
- El Social: lively any night of the week.
- Bogota Beer Company: Craft beers, a good happy hour and good American food.
- Carito: Latin music and electronic dance music.
- Dulce Jesús Mio: A caricature of the bars in rural pueblos. An over-the-top one-of-a-kind clubbing experience. I recommend going to the Las Palmas location, but there are various.
- Clandestino: A recommended trendy bar right by Parque Lleras
- Son Havana: Good salsa bar in the city
Click on any of the bar/club names above to find out more/book a reservation!
WHERE TO STAY WHEN TRAVELING TO MEDELLÍN
As I mentioned above, I highly, highly recommend booking a hotel in El Poblado. It is the safest and nicest area to stay in for tourists and locals alike. For Medellín hotels, I highly, highly recommend The Charlee Hotel. The Charlee is a boutique 5 star hotel in Medellín situated in the dead center of El Poblado and is one of the nicest hotels I have encountered. It is super trendy with gorgeous people walking in and out (Colombian celebrities go to the gym here to workout) and going to their famous rooftop pool/bar, Envy Rooftop Bar (see bars section above). The rooms are beautiful and have massive patios looking over the entire city. I can’t recommend The Charlee Hotel enough! Prices are ridiculously reasonable for a 5 star hotel and ours averaged $50 USD/night/person for 3 people, which included breakfast each morning (and a GOOD breakfast). Book The Charlee Hotel in Medellín here! There are also tons of hostels in Medellín if you are looking for more budget just make sure you keep to the El Poblado area, check out budget hostels in Medellín here!
AIRBNB Medellín: Many people also choose to stay in Airbnbs while traveling to Medellín as it is becoming more popular in El Poblado. I personally chose the hotel route for safety precautions and was obsessed with The Charlee, but Airbnb is a good option also for big groups! Also, if you use my Airbnb link you get $40 off your first stay!
SAFETY IN MEDELLÍN
Scared to travel to Medellín and Colombia? Don’t be! I felt totally safe the entire time – and we were just three girls. Check out my Colombia safety tips here.
*Thanks to Medellin VIP for sponsoring my trip while traveling to Medellín and setting up our private tours, transfers, reservations and everything else in between in order to make this trip and post possible! While I did receive discounts on activities booked through Medellin VIP, my review and experience with them is, as always, 100% personal and honest*
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Did I miss something while traveling to Medellín that you loved? Let me know in the comments for my next visit! Find out more about visiting Colombia in my country travel guide here.