Guide to Medellin, Colombia
This is a complete guide to Medellin, Colombia I’ve written based on my 3 visits and the time when I actually lived in the city. It includes everything you NEED to know before you go to Medellin!
Medellin, Colombia is one of the most popular places to visit in Colombia. This rather infamous city was once a “no go” zone, however, that side of the city is in the past. Now, Medellin is a vibrant city just waiting to be explored by visitors.
After visiting my first time I was so in love that I returned two more times (even once to live for 6 weeks!) I absolutely love Medellin and think it’s a city every traveler needs to explore.
To say the least, the city filled with amazing things to see and do, world-class restaurants, and a population who are excited to show it all off to tourists.
But, there’s just one catch!
As with any big city, there’s so much to know before you go that it can be overwhelming when planning your trip. So in this quick Medellin, Colombia guide, I’ll brief you on all the important stuff to make sure you have the best time possible during your visit.
Medellin, Colombia Quick Info
Medellin is located in the department of Antioquia in the central highlands of Colombia. The city sits at an elevation of 4,900 feet (1,490 meters) which gives the city its cooler weather.
The population in Medellin is just over 4 million people as of 2020.
Medellin is a safe city for tourists to explore providing you spend your time in safe neighborhoods and at tourist attractions. With that said, robberies do happen, but with caution, they can be easily avoided. In 7 weeks in Medellin, I never had a problem and find the metro system very safe.
Honestly, the best time to visit Medellin is anytime! The weather here is very mild and good all year round. With that said, it rains more between April to May and September to November (you’ll only get quick showers usually in the afternoon though.) The hottest time to visit is from January to February and during this time it rarely rains.
In comparison to most of Colombia, yes. Expect to pay more for things in general in Medellin especially for accommodation. However, when compared to western standards it’s still very cheap. Beers cost around $1.50 USD in a bar, meals around $10 USD, and a short taxi ride around $2.50 USD.
Getting In/Out of Medellin
By air/from the airport
All major flights either international or domestic will land at José María Córdova International Airport in Medellin. You can fly internationally from many countries including Panama, Canada, the United States, and Peru. And domestically flights from all major airports in Colombia go to Medellin.
This airport in Medellin is located 22 kilometers (13.5 miles) outside of Medellin center and a taxi from the airport to El Poblado will cost $80,000 COP. The reason the taxi is so expensive is because of the hefty toll on the tunnel (that reduces the travel time to the airport by more than half.)
A cheaper option is to take the bus. There are two buses that leave from the airport to Medellin with one going to the San Diego Mall and the other to a location behind the Nutibara hotel in El Centro. These buses operate from 3:30 am to 10 pm and cost 10,500 COP each way.
There are two terminals in Medellin, Terminal del Norte handles buses north or east such as Cartagena, Bogota, Santa Marta, and even Guatape. From/to El Poblado, an Uber or taxi will cost you around 15,000 COP. You can also get the subway from the terminal straight to El Poblado.
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 COP10,000 to El Poblado from Terminal del Sur.
10 Best Things to do in Medellin, Colombia
1. Downtown Walking Tour
When visiting any big city a free walking tour is always a great way to get to know the place. In Medellin, there are a few companies that offer them with the most popular bring Real City Tours.
This walking tour is 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.
The Real City downtown walking tour must be booked in advance as they limit numbers on the tour. Bookings open 1.5 days prior to the tour and they run three times a day, twice in the morning and once in the afternoon. Trust me, adding this to your Medellin itinerary is a must!
2. Visit Comuna 13
Walking tours through Comuna 13 is easily one of the best things to do in Medellin. For those who don’t know, Comuna 13 was once the most dangerous area of Medellin. The neighborhood even had its own curfew set by gangs just so innocent people didn’t get killed.
However, now Comuna 13 has been transformed and it’s a safe place for tourists to visit. You can now learn about the history of the area and check out some of the amazing street art.
There are lots of different Comuna 13 tours you can choose from including free walking tours and paid tours. One of the companies that run a great free tour is Zippy Tours, we did this one and thought it was well done despite attracting a large group.
If you want a more personal tour then be sure to join this private tour that’s one of the top-rated and only costs $22 USD.
Getting there: Comuna 13 is very easy to get to from El Poblado with the Metro. The stop you need to get to is called San Javier. From Poblado head to San Antonio station, then transfer onto the orange line and take it all the way to the end.
3. See a Football Match
Football in Medellin is a religion, not a sport, and the atmosphere is crazy! So, make sure you head to a football match while in Medellin.
The city of Medellin has two teams so finding a match shouldn’t be too hard. A good idea is to book a tour with a company so you don’t have to worry about getting tickets or getting to the stadium. This is what we did and we got to visit a bar before the game and had a really good time.
This particular tour is the one we did and it includes a shot after the game, a local guide, pick up and drop off, and face painting for only $36 USD. They also take you to get a jersey for the local price so you don’t pay too much.
4. Go paragliding
Although Medellin is a city, the surrounding hills make it the perfect place to go paragliding. On a paragliding tour, you’ll be taken from El Poblado up to the hills just outside the city where you’ll take off and enjoy a flight around the Colombian Andes.
Flight times depend on how much you pay for your tour but this tour here is great value at only $50 USD and includes transport and a 15-minute flight. If you want a longer flight then this tour offers a 25 minute flight time and flys by lots of waterfalls!
Personally, the 15-minute flight time was ample for me and I really enjoyed the breathtaking views. If you’ve always wanted to go paragliding then Medellin is the perfect place to do it!
5. Enjoy the sunset from a rooftop bar
Medellin is a very green city and the best way to see this is to visit one of the many rooftop bars around El Poblado. Here, you can enjoy an epic sunset with a beer in hand! With a good vantage point, you’ll have spectacular views of Medellin’s surrounding hills.
There are so many places to do this but the one I loved was at Los Patios hostel bar. Here I enjoyed cheap drinks and even saw lots of colorful birds. Of course, this is a hostel bar so if young people drinking isn’t your cup of tea then head to some of the other rooftop bars such as Envy Rooftop or Rooftop Ziruma Medellin.
6. Have a night out in El Poblado
El Poblado is the tourist district of Medellin but also a place locals come for a great night out. There are just so many bars and restaurants in this area that you need to head out at least one night while you’re in Medellin.
Don’t worry about finding a specific bar or club. Instead, just walk around and find a place that suits your style of night out. You can enjoy a quiet relaxed drink or party the night away at a nightclub.
The bar area of El Poblado is very safe at night just be sure to get a cab home if you’re staying outside of the area.
7. Day trip to Guatape
Guatape is a small town situated on a man-made lake about two hours from Medellin. It’s famous for its colorful buildings and cobblestone streets. This small town is one of the best places to visit in Colombia and if you’re short on time, you can visit Guatape on a day trip from Medellin.
These tours are full-day excursions and this Guatape tour includes transport to and from Guatape, an English speaking guide, a boat trip on the lake, breakfast, and lunch. It’s a great all-round tour that’s cheap and very highly reviewed!
With that said, my personal recommendation is to visit Guatape and stay there for a night or two. On my last visit, I stayed for two nights and found that there are so many amazing things to do in Guatape (that you’ll miss if you just go on a day trip.)
Regardless, don’t miss a visit to this small town as it’s simply stunning!
8. Take a Pablo Escobar tour
Our next thing to do in our Medellin guide is one of the most popular tours in the city, but also the most controversial. Pablo Escobar was not a nice person and that’s important to remember. But I don’t think you should be ashamed of wanting to learn about the history of Colombia’s most infamous drug trafficker.
On this specific tour, you’ll learn about his impact on the city and visit lots of places around Medellin important to the drug trafficker – including his grave.
This tour won’t be for everyone, but if you don’t learn from the past you’re doomed to repeat it. What I took from the tour was the affect social drug-taking can have on the countries they come from.
9. Ride the cable car to Parque Arvi
Medellin’s deep valley has made it very hard for locals to get around especially with the limited roads in these areas. So, the government built lots of cable cars around the city to use as public transport.
From the cable cars, you can enjoy breathtaking views of Medellin. Riding these cable cars has now become one of the best things to do in Medellin and the most popular trip is to Parque Arvi.
The journey to the park is amazing and you’ll pass over areas of Medellin you would never visit otherwise. The ride to the park is long and involves two separate cable cars with the last one being a 10-minute ride.
Once at Parque Arvi you can wander around and enjoy a few hiking trails, or on Sundays, visit the markets. To me though, the ride is what makes the trip worth it.
Important info: From El Poblado, it costs 25,000 COP to get the metro and cable car to Parque Arvi and back. You can use the standard metro card all the way so just put enough money on it. To get there, take the metro from Poblado to Acevedo and then transfer to the cable cars. You will have to transfer cable cars but it’s very easy.
10. Visit Pueblito Paisa
Pueblito Paisa is Medellin’s own little Puebla within the city. The town is a replica of a traditional Antioquian town. Walking around Pueblito Paisa makes you feel as if you’re no longer in Medellin. Here you can wander the cute streets, get some street food, and enjoy the views of Medellin from the viewpoint.
Because Pueblito Paisa is on a hill and located in the center of Medellin you can a great view of the city from the inside looking out.
Important info: From El Poblado taking a taxi is an easy and cheap option and should cost around 12,000 COP. If you want to take the metro you can, just head to Industriales and from here you’ll either have to take a cab or walk up the hill.
If you need help fitting all of these activities in Medellin into your visit, check out our Medellin itinerary planning guide – it should help you out!
Where to Eat in Medellin
Medellin is filled with amazing restaurants that you should get out and explore. After eating at a ton of them for myself, I’ve developed a few favorites. Below are some of my favorite places to get a bite to eat in Medellin.
1. Cafe Zorba
Cafe Zorba is my favorite restaurant in Medellin and a place I ate at all the time. The specialty here is pizza and it’s all vegetarian or vegan. Don’t worry if you’re a meat-eater either, this pizza is so good!
Cafe Zorba also serves great sides and huge cocktails. A pizza here will cost you around $8 USD and is easily big enough for one person. The restaurant also has live music on the weekends and is always busy.
If you don’t want to wait in line then get there before 7 pm. Cafe Zorba is a local favorite so be sure to try it while you’re in Medellin.
2. The Greek Connection
I personally love Greek food, so for me, checking The Greek Connection out was a no brainer.
The Greek Connection has a beautiful outdoor dining area perfect for enjoying the atmosphere of Medellin’s most iconic suburb. 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 $16 USD for a main and the restaurant is located near Parque Lleras in Poblado.
3. Criminal Taqueria
I love Mexican food, and after leaving Mexico a few months before my last trip to Medellin, I was craving it so bad! Luckily, I stumbled upon Criminal Taqueria.
This place was packed and the line to get food was so long I had to return another day so I didn’t have to wait. Although annoying, this was a good sign that the food was amazing – and I can now tell you that it was!
The tacos here are really authentic and are under $2 USD each. I also loved the bean nachos, the flavor was so amazing and had honey in the sauce. This isn’t a restaurant instead you just order from the kitchen and eat your food on tables on the street.
4. Mundo Verde
Mundo Verde is a cafe-style restaurant for people looking for a healthier option. For me, I desperately needed this as I am not one to eat healthy while I travel.
For food, my favorite was the Mi Tierra bowl and for drinks the tropical smoothie with yogurt. The meals here are made with high quality, fresh ingredients and the place is always busy around lunchtime.
Prices are between $4 to $8 USD for any main and smoothies are $2 USD. It’s a cheap way to get yourself a really healthy meal.
Working online means I am always on the lookout for a cafe to enjoy a cheap breakfast with amazing coffee. That way, I can get some work done in the morning before we begin our day exploring.
For me, the place I loved the most was Pergamino Cafe. This pace was cheap and served amazing food. But that’s not even the best part – the coffee here was some of the best I had in Colombia.
For $4.50 USD I would get a coffee with avocado and feta toast every morning while getting some work done. There is no better way to start your day!
If you didn’t know already, I am half Italian. I mean, I didn’t get the last name “Caracciolo” from my Australian side of the family! So it’s only natural that I love finding good Italian restaurants wherever I go.
Toscano was the best I found in Medellin and this small family-run Italian restaurant is amazing. Prices here aren’t the cheapest but the seafood pasta (pictured above) was only $10 USD! The seafood was fresh and pasta was cooked perfectly.
I also loved the service here and the friendly waiter really makes you feel like you’re in Europe. They also serve good red wine from Argentina and Chile!
Where to Stay in Medellin
Picking the right area to stay in a big city can really affect your experience and Medellin is no different. So, this is an important part of our guide to Medellin, Colombia.
For most people, safety in Medellin is the most important factor when deciding where to stay. Below are some areas to stay in Medellin.
This vibrant upper-class neighborhood offers amazing nightlife, top restaurants with cuisine from all over the world, and a safe friendly atmosphere. The streets in El Poblado are safe to wander day and night providing you use some care when it is really late.
This area is a perfect base to explore other parts of the city and the area I recommend staying in Medellin. Some places I recommend staying are:
Los Patios Hostel – A great budget option for backpackers. this hostel is famous in Medellin and the place is beautiful. Rooms aren’t the cheapest but the reviews are really good.
14 Urban Hotel – This medium budget hotel is stunning and perfectly located in El Poblado. The rooms are spacious and modern, staff are friendly, and the price includes breakfast.
Café Hotel Medellín -Cafe Hotel is your typical hotel and comes with everything you’d expect from the classic hotel brands such as Hilton. The location is a little up the hill from the main restaurant and bar area of El Poblado but this makes it much more of a quiet stay.
Laureles is another upmarket neighborhood that’s a great area for tourists to stay. This area is where the stadium in Medellin is located and it’s very similar to El Poblado.
The reason I like Laureles is that it’s closer to downtown and more central so you don’t have to travel as far to visit many attractions in Medellin. Some places to stay in Laureles are:
Backpackers Inn Medellín – For the budget travelers the Backpackers Inn Medellin is a good option. This is a social hostel with a great vibe in a good location in Laureles.
Hotel Vivre – If you want a quiet and comfortable stay then Hotel Vivre will suit you. The rooms here are modern and clean and breakfast is included in the room rate.
Centro is the crazy city center of Medellin. Here you’ll 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 pickpocketers and would not walk the streets after dark. I personally couldn’t recommend staying here and think that Centro is best visited for a couple of hour during the day.
Safety in Medellin
Overall, Medellin is a safe city for visitors (especially if you stick to the nicer areas of the city and don’t be stupid after dark.) However, there are some genuine concerns many people have and I want to address them.
Using the Metro
The metro in Medellin is very safe. During the day you can take the metro around the city without worry. In fact, Medellin’s metro is safer than most metros around the world and also cleaner. I think this will surprise a lot of people who visit.
Walking around after dark
Walking around after dark is safe for the most part so long as you’re in the tourist areas of Laureles or El Poblado. However, as it gets later and the streets get quieter there is always a risk of getting robbed. For the most part, these are not violent and simply handing over your wallet will get you out of trouble.
The best advice I can give is to stick to crowded areas at night and don’t go wandering around alone if you don’t know where you are. Stick to that and you’ll be fine.
General safety in Medellin
If you’re a traveler here to see Medellin and follow the laws in Colombia then Medellin is a very safe city. You often hear about people getting in trouble when they’re out late and buying or using drugs. This is risky everywhere and avoiding this puts you in a group of people who rarely have problems in Medellin.
Tips for visiting Medellin, Colombia
Learn some Spanish – Even basic Spanish will get you a lot further in Medellin. Many people still don’t speak English in Colombia and having some basic phrases in Medellin will enhance your experience and make you feel a lot more comfortable.
Download Rappi – Rappi is one of the coolest apps in Colombia. On the app, you can order anything you want and have it delivered to your hotel for almost nothing. This includes beer and wine! Think of it like Uber Eats, but also with the option to buy booze and groceries!
Use the BBVA ATMs – It’s free to withdraw money from BBVA ATMs. Other ATMs charge up to 20,000 COP.
Uber is illegal – Uber is illegal in Colombia but it’s still widely used. So if you do use it, sit in the front set of the car. The driver will most likely ask you to, so don’t think this is weird when they do.
Don’t get stuck in Poblado – It’s very easy to get stuck in El Poblado. I mean, it has everything you need! But please do yourself a favor and see the rest of the city!
You can drink tap water, but? – It’s perfectly fine to drink the tap water in Medellin. However, it does go through phases where it tastes like pure chlorine. When this happens I don’t drink it, but on most days it’s fine.
Before you go…
Thanks so much for reading our guide to Medellin, Colombia. I really hope this has helped plan your trip to Medellin and answered any questions you might have had. However, if you do have any questions please leave them below in the comments and I will get back to you!
Also if you liked this blog, be sure to jump over and check out all our Colombia travel guides or these related articles below!
March 30, 2020