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A few words about Medellín
If you are one of those people that are planning to visit the most notorious city in Latin America, you came to the right place. If you are traveling from Europe and heard the city is “dangerous” or recently watched Narcos, I can’t blame you. I thought as much at the beginning. But trust me, is not what it looks like. Or at the very least, not anymore.
Medellín is the capital of Colombia’s mountainous Antioquia province. Nicknamed the “City of Eternal Spring” for its temperate weather, is a territory in which citizens have historically felt proud and satisfied as a place to live in.
1. Take the cable car to Parque Arvi from El Poblado
This cable car takes you to the top of Parque Arvi where you can then hike back down to the city. The views from the top are spectacular and it’s a great way to see the whole city. Make sure you pack have your phone charged and carry an external battery. You might get lost into the nature and take more pictures than you expect to.
2. Visit Pueblito Paisa
This is a little village that is a replica of an old-time Colombian town. There’s plenty to see and do here including shopping, eating and playing in the park. There is also a daily folkloric dance show which is a lot of fun.
3. Take a stroll through my favourite district – Comuna 13
If you have come to Medellín for the first time, you cannot leave without knowing one of its most famous municipalities, La Comuna 13. For many years it has been one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Medellin being the epicenter of wars and clashes of various groups outside the law, but has now transformed into a vibrant community with shops and restaurants.
If you take a walking tour you will learn how La Comuna 13 went from being the most confrontational and dangerous place in Medellín, to becoming the most visited place in the city thanks to the change it has undergone. Its streets, its people, its artists, its escalators and its graffiti path are the clear example that after experiencing the worst years of war and violence, you can be reborn.
In the tour they will also explain the meaning of the most emblematic graffities, you will have the opportunity to meet local initiatives, enjoy a show of music and urban art and visit the gallery of a local artist.
The district has the best views of the city, with lots of food tastings, but above all you will have the opportunity to appreciate and understand La Comuna, its houses, its landscapes and share with its people.
– Wear comfortable shoes/flip-flops, suncream, a hat and a bottle of water
– Have fun at all times
4. Enjoy some great food in El Poblando
There are many great restaurants in the city where you can find all kinds of international cuisine. The city is known for its rich culinary scene so you’re sure to find something you love! I have tried a few of them and I would definitely recommend Cambria for their authentic french style, great coffee & amazing breakfasts they offer. It’s a tiny restaurant but you won’t forget the food one you try it.
Got this list from my best nomad friend (using his words), but haven’t got the change to try them all:
II forno — italian food chain, you’d love their pasta or lasagna
Mondongos — Traditional Colombian restaurant. I’d recommend you to order “ajillo’ which is sort of a chicken soup
La Causa — A little bit fancy but not too much. One of the best spots that I found in Medellin for gourmet sea food
Palazzetto D’Italia Ristorante — It’s in the city center and you probably don’t want to spend too much time in the center (because it’s dangerous), but you should try this traditional Italian restaurant, one of my favorites in the city
La Sazón de mi Negrita — it’s in Laureles, a couple blocks away from “Semilla Café”, so you can have lunch here and then go do some work in Semilla while drinking a coffee. They have a menu of the day for only €2,90 (includes soup + main dish + juice) or also different special dishes every day for €3,90 (including the same)… Super traditional food, I loved it and used to go every single day
Office burger — My favorite place in Colombia for burgers, a bit expensive for being Colombia but totally recommended
Tony Romas Revolving Restaurant Bar — One of the fanciest places to go for dinner, the only problem is that it’s too fancy for going by your own but you can go with a friend or someone from the hostel because it’s an incredible experience… usually a meal there could cost €25/person which is super expensive for Colombian prices but I loved that place… eating there made me feel the richest man on earth.
5. Relax at a rooftop pool at Los Patios Hostel
Stay at the Los Patios Hostel and enjoy the rooftop pool and bar. It’s a great place to meet other people and have fun. Nearby, there are a few rooftop pools around the city where you can enjoy spectacular views of the city.
There are not enough words to explain the vibes you go through (especially as a solo traveller/digital nomad). Most of the people there are solo travelling and are very sociable. Even if you are not the most extrovert person in the world (I am not either), you will have lots of fun with everyone, over super good music, drinking games, free shots & surrounded by amazing views. Most of my nights were spent in the hostel for that reason.
Not to brag about it, but since there are 2 buildings, there are in fact 2 rooftops, both with DJs, bars, dancing floors, social areas. The only difference was that one had a pool and one didn’t. Nevertheless, you MUST try both of them.
6. See the city from a bird’s eyes
Paragliding in Guapi is a popular activity in Medellin. There are several companies around Guapi that offer tandem flights or lessons for beginners. I booked for the tour for only $200,000 COP ($40) through my hostel, but I am pretty sure you can find for something similar on AirBnB Experiences.
The trip that I booked through my hostel was totally worth it. It included the transport to the top of the mountain at 2700m altitude and back to the hostel & 15 mins in the air. If you book it at your own, you will pay $150,000 COP ($30) at the top for the paragliding experience + your own transport that you arrange it.
7 . Explore the raw nature in Guatape
This quaint little town on the cliffs of the Rio Magdalena is a great place to visit if you’re looking for a quiet place to relax. It’s also known for its delicious local food including trout and empanadas. You can book for a private tour that Los Patios hostel offers in both English & Spanish for $200.000 COP ($40) or get a cheaper one on AirBnB experiences.
I booked for the cheaper one ($19) on AirBnB and it was just amazing for that price. The tour included transportation from my hostel (Los Patios), one preferred lunch (fish, vegetarian or chicken), free walking tour of Guatape, entrance ticket to El Penol (the 700 stairs rock), 30mins boat trip on the river with live personalised Colombian rap. The tour itself started at 8am and we were back at 7:30pm.
It was all worth it. I quite enjoyed the fact that the tour guide was patient and didn’t let me to stay alone and packed me with other solo travellers. For those small things you enjoy your journey even more.
8. Have fun at Vintrash Bar & Gallery
This is one of the coolest bars in Medellin. The bar features live music from local bands and DJs every night of the week. To be fully honest, this is the only bar that I have been in my week in Medellin because I stayed most of my nights at the rooftop pool at my hostel.
There was a theme party called ‘Gringo Night at Vintrash which was amazing. The club has 3 floors, each floor with its own theme (reggaeton, house & minimal). Expect to pay about $2 a beer and $4-5 for a cocktail, but the vibe is just amazing.
9. Enjoy a great coffee in Medellin
There are tons of great coffee shops and bars around El Poblando and Provenza and I have a list of coffee shops you shouldn’t miss:
- Cambria – French coffee shop in a quiet spot for those moments when you need to relax & listen some classical music.
- Velvet — By far the best place in Provenza to sit and drink high quality coffee.
- Semilla café coworking — One of my favorite coffee shop in the world for digital nomads. It’s in a different neighborhood called Laureles but if you are working & travelling, it’s a MUST
- Pergamino — Excellent coffee in a cosy digital nomad coffee shop in El Poblado
- Juan Valdez (the Colombian Starbucks) – There is StarBucks in Colombia but don’t you dare to buy coffee from them when you are in Colombia. If you want something fast, just grab a Juan Valdez coffee, (better & cheaper)
Other important things to know about traveling in Medellín, Colombia
How to get to Medellín?
If you are traveling from Europe, you will most likely be traveling through José María Córdova International Airport, known for being the second busiest airport in Colombia and the primary travel destination for the Antioquia region. From the airport, you can take a taxi, an Uber (about ~$COP 100k / $20) or a bus ($COP 13k / $2.5). Pretty much all of them arrive at the same time. In my case, I used Uber to get into the city and it took about 1h and when I flew out, I choose the public transport and it took 40mins from San Diego Mall, which is very close to El Poblando (~10mins by car) or Provenza (~12 mins by car).
Although Uber in Medellín is quite cheap, using it all the time can end up being a bit expensive. Fortunately, the city has a very developed and innovative public transportation system which turns out to be cheaper than expected.
If you are worrying about feeling safe, I feel you, but don’t worry, is safe for both women and men all ages to travel. The city is full of expats, nomads, solo-travellers, backpackers all year round and everyone got used to that. What I would mention though, is that not everyone speaks English so it would be good for you to actually learn one or two things in Spanish. My time spent with my grandma when I was a kid watching Mexican telenovelas payed off, but I also used Duolinguo to improve my grammar and writing. Still work in progress, but hey, you got this.
Where to stay in Medellín?
Most of your time will be spent in El Poblando and Provenza districts. There are many AirBnBs and hostels that you can choose from, many of them with 4/5+ ratings. In those areas you will find lots of good restaurants, bars, crazy clubs and is also where everyone is going to.
I personally stayed at Los Patios Hostel, which I must admit, it was the best hostel I got in my life. Literally, the best. I cannot brag enough of how proud I am that I got a free bed available a week in advance, because this place is usually fully booked. The hostel has 2 buildings with tons of co-working spaces, kitchens, 2 rooftop bars, a rooftop pool, social areas with poker tables, ping pong, billiard, bachatta lessons, gym & tons of free & paid activities that you can sign up for.
I stayed for a full week there and believe me when I say I didn’t have the time to do all of them. From my calculation, you need 2 full weeks only to be able to cover all the activities one by one.
With approximately 2.7 million inhabitants living in both mountain and valley zones, Medellin has been very innovative in the modes of public transportation the city offers to its citizens. The main modes of transportation in Medellin are the Metro, MetroCable and public bus system. Perhaps the most innovative mode of public transportation is the Metro and MetroCable–the only metro system in all of Colombia.
I tried the all of them (metro, bus & taxi) and I must say, they all exceeded my expectations.
- The Metro in Medellin is quite safe, cheap (about $3,000 COP/~$0.5 for one way in every direction) and clean. I have been using metros in all capitals in Europe (wherever was available), but none of them were kept and maitained as the one in Medellin (for this cost!!)
- The taxis are cheap as well (compared to Europe prices) and are very reliable. Haven’t encountered a person to speak in English but if your Spanish in good, everyone is very friendly and helpful 🙂
- I used only one time the bus when I choose to get to the airport and I must say it took the same time as if you would book for an Uber but cheaper. From El Poblando an Uber would’ve cost me about $94,000 COP ($19) when the bus only charged me $13,000 COP ($2.5).
Colombia’s currency is the Colombian Peso. Most places take cash (efectivo) only but the ATMs are easy to find and money is easy to withdraw. The best ATMs to look for free withdrawls that worked for my friends were ScotiaBank and Davivienda. None of them worked for me, but I found Cajo Social later and it was free commission. Avoid at all costs Bancolombia since that is you can find pretty much everywhere but they would charge about $22,000 COP ($4) for every withdrawal.
If you’re staying in Colombia for a while, grab a local SIM to have data. It helps when it comes to booking Ubers and navigating throughout the cities.
The best SIM card in Colombia is Tigo. For only $30,000 COP ($8 USD), you’ll get 10 GB of data with unlimited calls/texts and unlimited usage for select social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp for 30 days. This is the perfect plan for digital nomads, remote workers and travelers!
As you well know, Colombia is not ranking in the most safest countries in the world, but that shouldn’t stop you from visiting. There’s an old saying which is like “if you are not looking for trouble, you will be fine’. A couple of advice below with an emphasize if you are a solo-traveller (like I am):
- Don’t use your phone in the street. Don’t walk with your phone in your hand. Even if you feel safe. Just don’t.
- You can have your laptop in your backpack and use it in coffee shops, just don’t show your values in the street.
- Just in case, keep your passport and some credit cards inside your locker in the hostel all the time, when you go out just take your driver license or ID and the card that you use the most with you.
- Don’t even worry about everyone speaking Spanish, most of the people in the touristic areas speak basic English but if they don’t I’m sure you can sort it out with some basic Spanish… they are used to tourists, and most probably you will see tourists (especially in El Poblando or Provenza)
- DO NOT ACCEPT DRINKS FROM ANYONE… That’s a serious thing here, every year +50k people get drugged and stolen in Colombia.. only drink with people that you trust enough.