Planning your visit to Medellin

Planning your visit to Medellin

Once considered one of the deadliest cities in the world, Medellín has undergone a transformation over the last fifteen years that has made it one of the most modern places in all of Colombia.

The city has become a lot safer, there is a fantastic metro and cable car system that could rival the best in Europe, lots of parks, new buildings, libraries, restaurants, and a growing tech scene.

The city has changed a lot, and you can tell the residents are very proud of everything they’ve accomplished. There’s a palpable sense of possibility in Medellin. Optimism and excitement were always in the air.

Medellín is now one of “it” cities in the world. Tourists swarm it, and foreigners (especially young digital nomads) are settling and retiring here in droves. It was the most cosmopolitan and international city I visited in Colombia.

I spent close to a total of three weeks in Medellín.

If you’re looking to visit Medellín (and I don’t see why you wouldn’t be if you’re in Colombia), here is a list of my favorite things to do and see after spending so much time there:

1. Explore the Numerous Parks and Plazas

The spacious Plaza Botero in Medellin, Colombia

Medellín’s year-round temperate climate makes it a perfect place to spend a lot of time outdoors, where people are always lounging around and vendors are peddling food and drinks. Two must-visit parks are:

  • Plaza Botero – Botero is a famous artist from Medellin known for his drawing and statues of oversized people. This plaza is home to 23 Botero sculptures and is always packed with people taking photos, street performers, and artists. Located in the Old Quarter, you’ll find a couple of museums in the square too.
  • Parque Lleras – Located right in the center of Poblado, this park is full of people all day and night. There are street vendors, food sellers, musicians, and people drinking into the wee hours of the night. It’s a wonderful place to people-watch and one of the best places to have fun in the city!

2. Wander Parque Arvi

A sweeping view overlooking Parque Arvi in Colombia

This park is worthy of its own entry. Located in the mountains near the city, you can take the gondola right from the subway to the park’s entrance. It’s a beautiful ride through the hills and offers some incredible views of the valley and city.

The park spans 16,000 hectares and includes trails that date back over 1,500 years. At the park entrance, you’ll find a small market as well as trails to hike. To visit, you now have to take a guided tour. It costs 5,000-7,000 COP ($1.50-2.25 USD) depending on the trail (most trails are 2-4km long). Bird-watching tours are also available.

3. Explore Jardín Botánico

An empty path in the botanical gardens in Medellin, Colombia

The botanical gardens, a quiet retreat from the noise and chaos of the city, host numerous events, concerts, and festivals throughout the year. They cover over 14 hectares and are home to around 4,500 flowers and some 139 different bird species.

There’s also a nice (if not overpriced) restaurant in the center if you feel like spending more time here relaxing and taking in the scene.

4. See a Soccer Match

Soccer (futbol) here is religion and, if there are games when you’re here, you should really try to see one. Medellín has two local teams: Atlético Nacional and Independiente Medellín. Supporters of each team occupy bleachers at opposing ends of the stadium since things tend to get rowdy and violent when they are near each other. Ticket prices are well under 40,000 COP (under $12.50 USD).

5. Take a Day Trip to Guatapé

the view overlooking Guatapé in Colombia on a sunny summer day

Guatapé is the most popular day-trip destination from Medellín. It’s a colorful pueblo (village) situated on the edge of a lake about two hours from town, and it’s possible to take tours of the surrounding area by speedboat or party boat (which is very popular with backpackers who spend a night or two here).

The main attraction is El Peñol, a granite monolith with over 700 concrete stairs etched in its side. For a few thousand pesos, visitors can climb to the top for breathtaking 360-degree views of the region.

Guatapé is a long day trip from Medellín (hostels in the city organize trips throughout the week), so I recommend trying to spend at least a night here so you aren’t rushed and can enjoy the area little more.

6. Take a Free Walking Tour

A large church in the central downtown area of Medellin, Colombia

One of my favorite things to do when I get to a new city is to take a free walking tour. They’re perfect for getting an overview of a place while giving you access to a local expert who can answer your questions.

Real City Walking Tours has a great free tour that will give you an informative introduction to the city. Don’t do any other tours; this is the only free walking tour you need, and it’s the best in town. You’ll get a lot of information, and the guides are wonderful. Be sure to tip at the end!

7. Tour Comuna 13

The colorful houses of Communa 13 in Medellin, Colombia

This area was once the most violent part of Medellín. Murder, drugs, and violent crime were rampant (it’s still not a safe area to visit at night). You used to have to go through guards to get into this area; if you didn’t live here, you weren’t let in.

However, thanks to its street art (which was a reaction to heavy-handed police raids) there has been a huge influx of tourists. That has made part of the area safer and led to a rise in business and commerce. It’s really changed the fabric of the community. Local residents are even coming here now, figuring that if the tourists are going, it must be good!

You can visit by yourself or go on a tour (where a guide will explain the history of the area and the artists). Some of the better tour companies are:


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8. Visit the Museo de Antioquia

Founded in 1881, this interesting museum is home to numerous pre-Colombian works as well as national and international works by famous artists (there are a bunch of Boteros here too) and a wide variety of photographs and sculptures.

Cl. 52 #43, +57 4-251-3636, The museum is open Monday-Saturday 10am-5:30pm and Sundays 10am-4:30pm. Admission is 18,000 COP ($6 USD) per person.

9. Wander the Cementerio Museo de San Pedro

A large cross tombstone in the Cementario Museo in Medellin, Colombia

Built in 1842, this cemetery is also a museum where you can see the monuments and graves of many famous Colombians while learning about their lives and contributions. There’s a lot of large marble mausoleums and statues here. Keep an eye out for special events such as midnight tours and movie nights. The cemetery is small but it’s also close to the botanical gardens so you can do both one after the other.

Cra. 51 #68-68, +57 4-516-7650, Open daily 7:30am-5:30pm. Admission is free.

10. See the Casa de la Memoria

The interior of the Case de la Memoria in Medellin, Colombia

This museum opened in 2012 and examines the history of armed conflict in Colombia. It sheds light on the struggles the people of Colombia have had to overcome to get where they are today.

It’s a very sobering and solemn place but it offers some important insights. Don’t miss it.

Parque Bicentenario, +57 4-520-2020, Open Tuesday-Friday 9am-6pm and weekends 10am-4pm. Admission is free, and there is also a free audio guide you can download. Guided tours are available on Tuesdays and Fridays. Contact the museum for details.

11. Visit the Museo de Arte Moderno

One of the many modern art exhibitions in the Museum of Modern Art in Medellín, Colombia

The Museum of Modern Art, located in a refurbished industrial building, is an awesome work of art in itself. There’s a ton of exposed area, giving it a really charming feel. Many people have a love-hate relationship with modern art (it’s not my personal favorite, I admit) but even I enjoyed my visit here.

The collection is small, but there’s also a beautiful photography section on the bottom floor. Even if it’s not your thing, it’s worth spending a couple hours here to get a sense of the modern art scene in the city.

Cra. 44 #19a-100, +57 4-444-2622, Open Tuesday-Friday 9am-6pm, on Saturdays 10am-6pm, and Sundays 10am-5pm. Admission is 12,000 COP ($4 USD) per person.

12. Take a Food Tour

One of the many food markets in Medellín, Colombia

If you’re looking to taste a sample of what Medellín™ has to offer, there are a couple of food tour companies that can help. It’s a great way to get a taste for the local cuisine while learning about the country’s traditions in the process. There are plenty of options, such as street food tours from Toucan Café or more traditional local restaurant tours from Medellín City Tours. Both are good options!

Expect to pay 143,000-286,00 COP ($45-90 USD) per person.

13. Visit a Microbrewery

Some of Colombia

If you find yourself parched after an afternoon of sampling the city’s delicious cuisine, consider taking a brewery or craft beer tour to quench your thirst. There is an up-and-coming craft beer scene in Colombia, and Medellín has over 30 breweries and microbreweries. These are some of the best places to try a local beer:

    runs tours Thursday and Friday evenings, offering five samples for 25,000-30,000 COP ($8-10 USD) per person. has a tour every Thursday at 6:30pm where you can see the brewery, taste a few drinks, and enjoy a snack in the process. Advanced booking is required, and tickets are 35,000 COP ($11 USD) per person. has great beer, great food, and it’s a fun place to hang out and meet people. They don’t offer tours, but they do host music events and DJs. It’s super popular and one of the best places in town to grab a beer. is a family-owned-and-operated brewery where you can take a tour and sample the offerings alongside their full pub menu. doesn’t offer tours, though it does brew its own beer, with over 50 kinds on the menu! It’s a great place to relax with friends.

14. Visit Comuna 8

The numerous small houses of Communa 8 in Medellin, Colombia

Much like Comuna 13, this area was one of the poorest in Medellín — and it still is. This district was really isolated until the city built a gondola from downtown, allowing people to get to work a lot more easily.

La Sierra runs a tour to teach people about the history of the area, and, unlike Comuna 13, it’s not overrun with tourists. It’s a small district and the tour doesn’t last long, but you get a much more authentic look at the city and its people and history than you do in Comuna 13 (where the focus is more on street art). I highly recommend it; it was one of the most insightful experiences I had in Medellín.

Finally, Don’t Do the Escobar Tour!

A painted welcome sign for one of Pablo Escobar

The locals here are not fans of Pablo Escobar. His violent life and legacy caused untold amounts of harm to the city and its population, and while it’s always good to learn about the history of a destination, glorifying this is not something I want to support. You can learn about his life online in a way that doesn’t spit in the face of the locals, many of whom don’t even speak his name. Out of respect for them, I encourage you to skip the Escobar tour.