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.
I’m in Riga, Latvia at the moment and I think the city has the same problem as Medellin – everyone sees it only as a party destination yet it has so much more to offer! Great write-up! I especially like the cable-car journey and a day trip, would love to go to both places!
Cherri Megasko says
While in Turkey earlier this year we met a couple from Columbia. They convinced us we should add their beautiful country to our travel list. I would love to see the sights by cable car.
Colombia has been on the list for long since my last job wanted me to relocate there and many of my ex colleagues did. It seems that it has come a long way from the days when violence was the only thing we heart
I feel like I keep hearing about Medellin–maybe that means it’s time for me to plan a trip there :) Fun list of adventures. Looks like a great spot as does Guatapé! I would love to climb that staircase on the side of the rock wall–the views look so amazing from the top! Thanks for sharing!
I’ve heard great things about Medellin, thanks for sharing your tips!
Joe Ankenbauer says
Awesome list! I’ve done all these except the Escobar tour. Now I have an excuse to go back ;)
katja - globetotting says
I’ve just started watching Narcos on Netflix and so am fascinated by Medellin! (if you haven’t seen it, it’s a great series about Escobar). I’d love to visit and I like that there’s a free city tour as well as the Escobar tour. I also love the look of Guatape and those colourful houses!
Bobbi Gould says
Call me crazy but I’d love to meet Pablo’s brother! What an interesting place. Thanks for the highlights!
Dawn Kealing says
Ironically, after everyone states they keep hearing about Medellin, this is my first time hearing of Medellin. :P Where have I been all my life?! It looks like a great place to travel. I would so make my way up those stairs, what a beautiful sight. :) Guatape looks like my kind of town. I guess it’s decided, I’ve added it to my list. :)
Seeing a futbol match in South America is a MUST! It is so much a part of the local culture that it is one thing that can’t be missed.
Guatapé looks delightful! I have to admit I love going to the off-the-beaten-path places and this looks like it’s right up my alley! And that staircase going up the side of the rock? Super cool!
Julie @ Girl on the Move says
I love walking tours…especially if they are free and in English…because they are such a great way to see the city in a way you can’t from public transportation!
Gemma Two Scots Abroad says
I adored Medellin. 100% YES the walking tour is outstanding. Pablo is such a dude. We watched a football game but from a bar, even that was electric. Never made it to Guatapé, green with envy after seeing your pictures. Oh well, will just have to go back!
I love this post! My husband and I are currently watching the show Narcos which chronicles Escobar and the cocaine trade in Columbia. It, obviously, paints Medellin in a very different light. Thanks for showing the other side. I had no idea that it was now a popular tourist destination. I’d LOVE to do the Escobar tour!
Those cable cars are the best value activity in Medellin!
We couldn’t believe it was just an extension of their public transportation network, and therefore not ticketed with tourist prices!
Dani Blanchette says
Medellin is amazing. I’ve been traveling there repeatedly since 2011 and love the city. I’m actually going back this Nov to go to the Altavoz Festival (a free music festival each fall).
But you got one thing wrong. Your futbol photo shows all red. Which is for Medellin (team name), when in reality Nacional is the best team in the city.
Viva Las Verdolagas! :)
Hoping to make it to Columbia this year on our travels. I will bookmark this for future reference. The cable car and the walking tour both sound like a good way to get a quick feel for the city.
Fiona @ London-Unattached says
all looks pretty amazing. I love the pictures from the cable car. It’s funny we don’t automatically put Columbia on our travel plans. Perhaps we should
Mel @ Footsteps on the Globe says
Totally agree about walking tours, they are such a great way to get to know a place when you first arrive somewhere new. Great tip on the cable cars, the views look spectacular! I’ve never really looked into Columbia, I want to find out more, thanks Kim :)
I’m so glad you wrote this. I’ve never been to Colombia, but I’ve seen a lot of great flight deals popping up to Medellin, so I’ve been very curious, but embarrassingly didn’t know anything about the place. I definitely want to visit now.
Great list! I took the walking tour also and have the very same picture. Wonderful place to visit. And the day trip to Guatape is a must.
Gabby | The Globe Wanderers says
We’ve got friends who recently visited Columbia. They said it was the highlight of their trip through North, Central and South America. If we hadn’t already popped it on our list then we would do now after reading this. Great post and love love LOVE your pics :)
RaW | Ramble and Wander says
I keep hearing about Medellin, esp the walking tour. It’s starting to grow on me, in a way. Would love to watch a football match in South America one day! The day trip to climb the 200-meter high rock not only looks interesting, the view from up there looks amazing too!
Stacey Valle says
Wow, this sounds like a city I would love. This is the first I heard of it, and it already sounds so intriguing! I love art, nature and educational visits. It’s amazing to know that Medellin went from being the most dangerous city in the world to a tourist hot spot! What really caught my eyes the most is Guatapé! That view! I have to stop there! I’m glad that we have the accessibility to visit there ourselves than relaying just on hostels/hotels’ transportation! I’m really glad that I found out about this city, thanks for sharing!!
Tracie Howe says
I’m not a big city person, but Guatapé looks and sounds more my speed. I’ve always been intrigued by Columbia. Thanks for the list!
Meg Jerrard says
Sounds like there’s a bunch to do to keep busy! I love that you included the walking tour first, because that’s generally what we always put on our itinerary as soon as we get to a new place. No better introduction than with a historical walking tour to orientate yourself with the city. And then you can go off and explore, and you have a general gist of direction when you hit up everything else.
Isabela Mariano says
Great list and photos! Guatapé seems like a very nice place! :)
Trisha Velarmino says
Ah, I love Medellin! I taught English there 2 years ago and it’s one of my favourite cities in Colombia! Not too much people visit Guatape when I was there and I’m glad you did it!
Francesca @onegrloneworld says
Omg.. Guatape looks like a place I’d love! What’s funny is that I knew about Medellin because of most of the things you mentioned. I did’t know it was also known as a top party spot! Just another reason to visit. I’m glad I saw this post ^_^ Colombia is definitely in my near future!
Kay Dougherty says
Colombia is on my “to do” list for next year so I really enjoyed reading this article. And thanks for telling me about Guatapé which I’d never heard of before and would enjoy visiting.
Jennifer @ Made all the Difference Travel Blog says
The more I learn about Medellin the more I regret not stopping there while in Colombia. It looks like an amazing city. After watching the Netflix show on Palabo the tour sounds like fung.
Sanket D. says
Wow. You not only got to watch a local game in Colombia, but you also experienced an Escobar walk. I’m outlandishly jealous…
I’d go for the experience of watching a football match, it will be a good experience! :)
It’s a super list!! Never been in America and really love to come!!!
melody pittman says
I just cannot wait to visit Colombia! My best friends are headed over this week but they are missing the great Pablo Escobar tour, one of the things that are top of my list. Nice post. Will save a few of these items.
Michelle | Diagnosis:Wanderlust says
Great post! I have never been to Colombia but it is really high on the list! Thanks for the great tips!
Andrew and Emily says
Love Medellin, stayed there for 5 weeks in 2014. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend the Pablo Escobar Tour where you meet his brother, it’s bad taste. Nice list though, Guatapé is a lovely little town. Would also recommend Casa de la Memoria to everyone, a museum documenting the atrocities that Colombia has faced for the last 50 years.
Kimberly Erin says
I feel otherwise about the tour, I think they are trying to take the situation and mold it into something more educational. I feel that going to the tour provided an open and comfortable place to learn and ask questions for me, and the people who lead the tour, the women, the driver, everyone involved REALLY helped put everything into perspective for me as they were also able to openly and comfortably share their personal stories. Bad or good, it is part of Medellin’s past and the tour leaders taught me more in 2 hours than I could have learned in a museum. There is something to say about a personal touch.
I’m in love with the cable car photos!
Jakob Gibbons says
This is definitely getting bookmarked for when I move to Medellin in a few months! So glad to see there’s a free walking tour to help you learn the city, and can’t wait to ride the iconic cable cars!
I’m still officially torn between Medellin and Bogota for my next home, but I think secretly I already know where I’m gonna end up :-P