Despite what you may have seen on television programs like Narcos, Medellin is now a top tourist destination and after being in South America for nine months we have heard nothing but good things about the city and country as a whole. It’s almost impossible for anyone going to Colombia to miss this great city and if you were going to I highly recommend changing your plans! With any big city there’s so much to know before you go so here is our advice and information to help you enjoy your trip to one of our favourite cities in South America.
Safety in Medellin
Is Medellin safe? Safety in Medellin has increased dramatically in the last few years and after spending one week there I believe that it is as safe as any South American city. Normal cautions should be take to avoid some areas and being alert for pick pocketers is always advised.
By Air – Medellin’s international airport is 35km outside of the city and even if you fly domestic you will likely land here. Taxi’s in Medellin are expensive and Uber’s are hard to get sometimes due to conflicts between the two. However, there is a shuttle that runs from the airport to the city centre (it leaves from Hotel Nutibara) and I’ve been told cost COP15,000. If you do however manage to land at Olaya Herrera airport located in the city a taxi to Poblado or Central should cost under COP6,000.
By Bus – There are two terminals in Medellin, Terminal del Norte handles buses north or east such as Cartegena, Bogota, Santa Marta and even Guatape. From Poblado an Uber will cost you COP12,000. Terminal del Sur handles south or west such as Cali and if you are coming from Ecuador this is where you will arrive, taxis are under COP6,000 to Poblado.
*Canadians please be aware that you will have to pay COP190,000 to enter Colombia whether by air, land or sea. This needs to be paid in local currency.
Where to Stay in Medellin
Picking the right area to stay in a big city can really effect your experience and Medellin is no different. For most people safety is the most important factor when deciding, especially in countries like Colombia that don’t have the greatest reputation in the international community. Although, in the last 20 years Medellin has dramatically changed and the safety of the city matches most South American cities, reputations can live a long time.
This vibrant upper-class neighbourhood offers amazing night life, top restaurants with cuisine from all over the world and a safe friendly atmosphere. The streets are safe to wander day and night and the heavy police presence means your never far from help. This area is a perfect base to explore other parts of the city and although many tourists stay here, this area is also very popular among Medellin locals.
In Poblado you will find hundreds of places to stay, so choosing the right place can be hard, however we stayed at the new Selina Hostel. The hostel offers budget dorms all the way up to amazing privates with beautiful views of the city that even include a small bar fridge! Selina has a great kitchen open from 7am, movie theater, pool table, table tennis, bar, good wifi and restaurant. They offer activities such as yoga, empanada making classes, movie nights, pool tournaments and can ever book most tours around the city for you. We highly recommend this place as it’s location and vibe were perfect for seeing the city and meeting people.
Here you will find the main attractions of the city such as the Plaza Botero, Parque Bolivar, Veracruz church and many more. This area is also perfect for shopping and the entire place is full of markets selling cheap clothing. Although this area is safe during the day I would still be very cautious of pick pocketer’s and would not walk the streets after dark. I personally couldn’t recommend staying here if you plan on going out after dark.
Where to eat the Best Food in Medellin
If you decided to stay in Poblado then we have lots of great recommendation’s – for us Medellin was a break from regular backpacker duties like cooking. I mean 9 months was a long time on a shoe string budget and Medellin is the perfect place to indulge. We ate out every night and almost every day for lunch so there is too many places to name them all, so I’ll do my top three restaurants in no particular order.
The Greek Connection
I personally love Greek food so for me checking The Greek Connection out was a no brainer. The restaurant is centrally located around Parque Lleras in Poblado. The Greek Connection has a beautiful outdoor dining area perfect for enjoying the atmosphere of Medellin’s most iconic area for nightlife. The food is amazing and the charming vibe made for a fun night out. I recommend the prawn dish “Langostinos” or the Lamb which was very tender, prices here range from $8 to $16usd for a main.
Mundo Verde is a cafe style restaurant for people looking for a healthier option and I can’t say my diet had been perfect over our travels so I loved eating lunch here. For food my favourite was the Mi Tierra bowl and for drinks the tropical smoothie with yogurt. Prices are between $4 to $8usd for any main and smoothies are $2usd.
Cafe Zorba is a place you will find packed with locals even on a Monday night when other restaurants are empty. I have tried a lot of pizza in my life (being half Italian and all) but here is the best pizza I’ve ever had – who would of thought it would be in Medellin! This place is busy every night so if you want a table go early and you have to try the Espinaca pizza! Pizza’s are $8usd.
What to see and do
Free Walking Tour
When visiting any big city a free walking tour is always a good idea, in Medellin there are a few companies that offer them however the most popular is by Real City Tours. In my opinion its one of the best I’ve done, the tour runs for about four hours and offers a unique insight into Medellin’s past and present. These tours book up fast so make sure you book in advance, bookings open 1.5 days prior to the tour and they run two times a day, one at 9:15am and 2:15pm. Book at www.realcitytours.com
Visit Comuna 13
This part of town is filled with cool street art and escalators, although it is now rather safe I recommend taking a tour or going in a large group. This part of the city was once the most dangerous in Medellin. There a few tour companies who visit Comuna 13 including Real City Tours, however just check before hand what days they go and book in advance (tours like this in Medellin book up fast!)
See a Football Match
Football in Medellin is a religion, not a sport and the atmosphere is crazy! So, make sure you head to one of their games, Medellin has two teams so finding a match shouldn’t be too hard. A good idea is to book a tour with Medellin Football Tours, this is a great way to see the game with a group of other travelers. The tours includes pick up and drop off, a shot after the game, a souvenir and they even take you to where you can buy a cheap jersey for $8usd. The tour costs $25usd and the best way to contact them is via Facebook.
Have a Night Out in Poblado
This area is literally full of cool bars and clubs and if your staying in the area it won’t be hard to find your way home. Weekends are best as locals from all areas head here for their Friday and Saturday night, so get a group together from your hostel and make a night of it. Please note, in this area at night random police searches are common.
Day Trip to Guatape
Guatape is a small town situated on a lake about two hours from Medellin, if you are short on time a day trip to this beautiful town is enough to see the place. This is also the the place where you can play paintball in the infamous Pablo Escobar’s mansion and visit El penol (the large rock everyone climbs), for more information check out our blog on Guatape HERE.
Take a Pablo Escobar Tour
Although the greater Medellin community are not fond of these types of tours they still exist for anyone wanting a little more information on Pablo Escobar. For us we opted to miss this tour as Medellin has so much more to offer than the past of it’s most infamous criminal. For those wanting to go there is a cheap tour operator near the KFC on Calle 10 in Poblado.
Take a Ride on a Cable Car
There are many cable cars around the city that connect the outer suburbs with the inner city, this is the perfect place to get a good view of the city. I have seen photos from people who went after dark, they looked amazing however most of the areas the cable cars go to aren’t safe at night so it’s not recommended to leave the station.
Medellin offers so many other cool things to do and time will always be your biggest issue, this is all we had time for and our visit was unforgettable! Medellin is a beautiful city filled with beautiful people and for me it felt like a place tourists are welcomed with open arms, so do yourself a favor and visit!
Where to Go Next
Salento is a nice stop over if your heading south and is only 6 to 8 hours by bus. So why not take a look at the famous Wax palms and Beautiful coffee farms in the area? The town is also very charming, boasting amazing colonial style buildings and the best Empanadas I’ve ever had! Read more about Salento here.
San Gil is the adventure capital of Colombia and is accessable by a 12 hours by bus from Medellin or a short 1.5 hour flight. This town has one of the cheapest bungee jumps in the world and with three rivers white water rafting is very popular. Read more about San Gil HERE.
Cartegena sits on the Caribbean coast of Colombia and is perfect for anyone in need of some sunshine, by bus it’s 10 hours however flights are cheap and save you some time.
Bogota is Colombia’s capital and is 8 hours by bus however once again flights are cheap and save some time. So why not check out the capital of this beautiful country.
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