The city of Medellin in Colombia has a reputation of being one of the top places to party in South America. Beyond the party scene however, lies a very colourful history and culture not to be overlooked by weekend warriors. From what was once the most dangerous city in the world, Medellin has emerged as one of the leading destinations for tourists in South America. If you are planning on stopping by the buzzing city of Medellin, here are a few things you can enjoy during your visit.
Take the Real City Walking tour // www.realcitytours.com //
When you arrive in Medellin, the Real City Walking tour is going to be one of the first things you hear about. Providing an informational and historical tour of Medellin’s city center (El Centro), this 4 hour free tour fully in English will guide you through the colourful history of Medellin and the people of note. Make sure you book your spot online 24 hours before the tour you wish to take or you risk having it sell out as this is the most popular tour in Medellin.
Go see a Fútbol match (Soccer)
Medellin has 2 soccer teams and some of the rowdiest crowds in South America. You can usually find tickets scalped or book with your hostel or hotel and go on the fútbol tour (65,000 Pesos was worth the lack of stress for this little backpacker). The games can be a lot of fun; purchase a team jersey, join the crowd, sing, dance, boo, and cheer on your ‘new’ team in a packed Medellin soccer stadium.
Explore Plaza Botero and Museo de Antioquia
Located in the Old Quarter of Medellin, Plaza Botero contains 23 sculptures by Colombia’s most famous artist Fernando Botero. The plaza is surrounded by the Museum of Antioquia and the Rafael Uribe Palace of Culture. This plaza is constantly buzzing with people, vendors, performers and anything art; this is where the action is. The Museum of Antioquia houses a large collection of Botero’s art as well as a collection of Pedro Nel Gomez works. If you are a fan of the arts then this is a great place to visit.
Join a Pablo Escobar tour
Medellin is the city where the infamous Pablo Escobar held court as one of the most powerful drug lords in the world. After his death 20 years ago, Medellin went from being the most dangerous city in the world to a tourist hot spot. There are a few tours offered during the day which take you through the history of Pablo Escobar, from his early life, to his reign as a philanthropic criminal ending at his final resting place. It is important to understand the effects this piece of history had on the country and its people. I found the tour to be quite educational. Most of the tours take visitors to the place where Pablo Escobar was killed as well as to his grave site. There is a tour which highlights Pablo Escobar’s mother’s home where you can see his office chair, bullet holes in the walls, and if you are lucky maybe even his living brother Roberto Escobar. Once one of the most wanted criminals in the world, now a simple old man educating tourists in the long and intense history of the Escobar family.
Drink some Aguardiente in Parque Lleras
Medellin has the reputation of being one of the best places in South America to party, and it is. El Poblado is full of fancy restaurants, bars and night clubs to have your fiesta in…but the real party here is in the park. It is not a proper visit to Medellin if you haven’t grabbed a bottle of Aguardiente from a local shop and sat in Parque Lleras at night with friends, checking out vendors, listening to musicians, and people watching. All the while doing shots of Colombia’s own Aguardiente.
Take the Cable Cars to Santo Domingo and Explore Parque Arvi
Taking the cable car through the hills of Medellin to Parque Arvi can be a really fun day in Medellin. The northern line on the metro takes you to the cable car where you do not even need to leave the building to hop on one of the cars. Careful of rush hour though, this is a standard method of work transportation for many in Medellin as the addition of the cable car helped to increase employment and education among many living in the upper hills of the city. As you ascend the valley on the cable car, you are able to see the buildings go from super modern architecture to structures of bare cinder block and roofs of corrugated tin. When you reach the final station, Santo Domingo, there is an obvious urban revitalization. Hop off here, enjoy the market, grab some food, and visit the new ‘biblioteca España’. For an extra few pesos you can grab an extended cable car ride to Parque Arvi, a forested park overlooking the valley. You can take an organized tour of the park or just go for a nice walk on your own.
Take a day trip to Guatapé
Guatapé is a small town about 2 hours outside of Medellin famous for colourful buildings with wood designs along the lower façade and a 200 meter tall rock that you can walk to the top of to view the unique landscape. A man-made lake built for hydro-electric power in the 1960s substantially changed the topography. Many hostels offer day trips to Guatapé but you can easily make this journey on your own. A local bus will take you to Guatapé from the Terminal de Norte in Medellin and if you ask the driver he will drop you off at La Piedra del Peñol. After climbing the 649 steps up the rock face staircase you will be welcomed by one of the most beautiful and sought after views in Colombia. Buy some ice cream and enjoy the view before heading into town. The town itself is quaint and quiet with a couple nice restaurants and tourist style shops. The buildings are very colourful and all come with little wooden carvings on the walls which usually represent the shop itself. The town of Guatapé is a place where people from Medellin can escape the city for some relaxation on the weekend. It is now also becoming a popular destination for tourists encouraging the growth of resort style hotels along the lake front.