Medellin is a magical sprawling urban oasis. It is lush green tropical plants infused into a dynamic modern city. Numerous friends had travelled to Medellin and raved about how amazing it is. I had seen their stunning photos of their beautiful trips, and read the reviews online of how fabulous it is. But I was still not adequately prepared for just how unbelievably phenomenal a city it is.
Yes, I’m going to talk about the weather. It is amazing. “The City of Eternal Spring.” Yep, that’s true. The weather ranges from 60 to 80 degrees year round. (15 to 26 celsius). You wake up, you might need a light jacket or long sleeve, by noon if you’re running around in the sun, you’ll want a short sleeve on, and by dinner, you might want long sleeves again.
Speaking of dinner, Medellin has a plethora of fabulous restaurants. And they are surprisingly affordable. Everywhere we ate in Colombia was great. I’m sure there are bad restaurants, but we never stumbled into one. (I don’t recommend eating at any of the American chain restaurants because they will be more expensive and not as good as local Colombian restaurants.)
Here are a few restaurant suggestions to get you started.
Barbaro Cocina Primitiva – Has a steak-house feel but offers seafood, meats, veggies, salads, and an impressive steel roof that slides back to get fresh air.
Café Zorba – Pizza, the freshest pizza I’ve ever had.
Crepes y Waffles – A must. Delicious cafe food. Is obviously known for their crepes and waffles, but serves tasty food for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Al Alma – coffee
Pergamino – coffee
37 Park Medellín – breakfast/lunch/brunch/drinks
Botanika – lunch
El Cielo – need reservations for lunch or dinner
Chef Burger Poblado
Mundo Verde – healthy food
Carmen – also one in Cartagena
And instead of Starbucks, grab a Juan Valdez coffee while you’re there.
Arví Park (Parque Arví) – You’ll want to allot a lot of time for this park. If you take the metro and the gondola to get there it takes a while, but I totally recommend this way because you have a view of the city as you travel over it. (Technically you could take a cab or bus instead, but it’s not any faster.) There is a lot to do once you get to Arví Park, the website doesn’t really do it justice. There’s an area with a little farmer’s market right after you get off the gondola. They have hiking, you can do a bike tour, see the lake, etc. I recommend setting aside a whole day for Parque Arví.
Metrocable (Pronounced Metro-cab-leh) – The Metrocable is a system of gondolas that go over Medellín. There is one that goes to Parque Arví and also one near Comuna 13. Although many tourists use the Metrocable, it was designed to help locals navigate the steep terrain. Some neighborhoods are so steep that the can’t be accessed by buses or trains. The Metrocable is a great way to see the city as you travel over the neighborhoods but are still low enough to hear the music, people laughing and dogs barking. As of early 2019, there are 4 Metrocable lines with more under construction.
Metro Trains – The metro in Colombia is modern and comparable to city transportation systems in the US or Europe. Many people take the metro from Poblado station to Acevedo station (Line A or A line) then get on the Metrocable (gondola) to Parque Arví from there.
Comuna 13 Tour – Comuna 13 is an enchanting and inviting ghetto. When I was there, it was a beautiful sunny day, children were frolicking the streets, venders were selling ice-cream and hand-made bracelets, surrounded by colorful homes and inspiring graffiti. Up on a hill, Comuna 13 is a blend of edgy infused with happy people and a breathtaking view of Medellin. It is hard to believe that 15 years ago, these were some of the most dangerous streets in the world. We went with a tour guide, which I recommend, otherwise you might miss out on the massive changes and historical significance of this area. The city put outdoor escalators in to help locals get around the steep barrio.
Guatapé – Definitely do a day trip to Guatapé. It’s a beautiful drive through rolling hills to see the El Peñon de Guatape. Read more about Guatepé Colombia.
Pueblito Paisa – Some might roll their eyes and call this a tourist trap. But it is a free, and shows you traditional architecture while offering a 360 degree view of Medellin from their top platform/park area. It only take a few minutes to tour and if you are in the area anyway, it is worth seeing.
Jardín Botanico – The city of Medelllín has flowers and small gardens peppered throughout the city. But if you want to see more, check out the Jardín Botanico.
Parque Explora – Amazing for children of all ages. Plan to spend a day here as there is a lot to do. It is a modern park with everything from and slides to rides and plantataium to aquarium. Parque Explora is right beside Jardín Botanico, so you can do both at the same time.
Plaza de Botero – Botero Plaza is beside the Museo de Antioquia and the Palace of Culture. It displays 23 massive beautiful sculptures by Colombian artist, Fernando Botero. He donated these sculptures to his hometown of Medellin.
Museo de Antioquia – Museum honoring the department of Antioquia. (Department is the Colombian term for a state or province.)
Santa Fe de Antioquia – A traditional Colombian town, one hour away, the opposite direction of Guatapé. A good option if you’ve already done all of the above.
Pablo Escobar Tours – I didn’t do any of the Pablo Escobar tours. I think they are fine to do, but I wanted to celebrate the city that Medellin is today instead of focusing on a turbulent time in the city’s history. I was near the Edificio Monaco that is slated to be demolished in 2019, so I stopped to see it. It was covered with signs and colorful ribbons that I feel like were there to remember a painful past and also help the city move forward to a brighter future.
TO DO WITH KIDS
All of the above you can do with children, but things specifically for kids are:
Santa Fe Zoo – Inexpensive zoo with a local flair. The whole cab ride there the cab driver kept trying to talk me out of it, saying “Are you sure you don’t want to go to Parque Explora?” But my kids loved the Santa Fe Zoo, so I recommend it.
Malls – It might sound crazy to go to a mall on vacation, but the malls in Medellin are amazing and cater to children. During Christmas Holidays, the Santa Fe mall has ice-skating and the El Tesoro Parque Comercial has a full amusement park inside of it.
WHERE TO STAY
I recommend staying in El Poblado neighborhood. It’s said to be the nicest area of Medellin, but also on the side of the city closest to the airport, malls, restaurants and excursions. There are many hotels to chose from, but I recommend either Sites Hotel (Has an Al Alma cafe next door), Dann Carlton Medellin (rooftop has so/so food, but amazing view), The Charlee Hotel (good food, has great live music some nights), Hotel Du Parc Royal and the Intercontinental and Binn Hotel are just up the hill from the main area of Poblado.
If you stay in an Airbnb, some of the ones up on the hills have amazing views, but you might want to taxi/Uber to restaurants, because the hills are steep. We used cabs and Uber everywhere and it was no problem and was inexpensive. It would be safe to rent a car and fine to drive around Medellin, but I assume parking would be a hassle in some places. If you want to be able to walk to restaurants and shopping from where you’re staying, then look for a place closer to Calle 10 and City Park (Parque Lleras).
WHEN TO GO
Honestly, any time of the year would be great, it’s the city of eternal spring. During Christmas time they are known for their alumbrados, or Christmas lights. They may also be called Alumbrados Navideños or El Alumbrado, and locals may disagree on which place is the absolute best to view these. The locations may change some from year to year, but this blog breaks down viewing locations. I saw them in Parque Norte, but it was extremely crowded at the time we went, so depending on your perspective, going to see it at “the best” place may not always be the best experience.
After Christmas, Colombians display these scarecrow dolls (muñecas) that they set on fire as part of New Year’s Eve festivities. To make it extra festive, some have fireworks inside of them!
There’s a hefty 19% sales tax in Colombia. But if you save all your receipts, you can get your money back. There’s somewhere in the airport before security (I never found it, because I forgot and went through security), but they will refund you the taxes on certain purchases. Not food or services, but actual items.
If you are flying to another country in Central America or South American after Colombia, you’ll need to read up on the vaccination guidelines for that country, not your home country. For example, the US doesn’t require you to have the Yellow Fever Vaccine if you go to Medellin and parts of Northern Colombia, however if you’re flying to Costa Rica after Colombia, they might. But if you have a layover in Panama, they don’t require it. (Actually, this is a tricky rule when traveling in all of Central America, South America and the Caribbean. If you going from country to country and not just to/from your home country, you have to go by the rules of the country you are entering, not whatever the CDC says.)
When you take the Metrocable, try to go in the morning, as the gondola cars get a bit stuffy (hot) in the afternoons.
No blog or photo or video can fully explain Medellín, so just go. Book your flights and go.