The story of Medellin is one of transformation and huge progress. In the very recent past it was known as one of the most dangerous cities in the world; a no go place that received virtually no tourism. How things have changed! The city has fought to overcome it’s cartel history, and nowadays thanks to lowered crime levels, amazing architecture and a buzzing nightlife scene, Medellin is a firm favourite for backpackers.
I loved Medellin – here’s how to spend four days in the ‘City of Eternal Spring’.
Things to do in Medellin
It’s very easy to spend a day wandering around the cafes and coffee shops of El Poblado neighbourhood, the perfect place to get a feel for modern Medellin. Most Medellin hostels are found in this leafy suburb, and it really is the place to be. Lose track of time indulging in Colombian coffee, eating amazing food (especially great veggie cafes) and just watching the world go by. A lot of backpackers and digital nomads end up staying here for weeks, and it’s not hard to see why.
Don’t miss: Veg Station – a great little vegan restaurant on the corner of Calle 10. Lots of healthy stir fries, salads, burgers etc which are a welcome break from heavy South American food! They also do a set lunch during the day which is 3 courses for 15,000 pesos – about £4.
Also, the hostel bar right behind Bogotá Beer Company has 40% off food and drink between 12-6!
Spend your first night as we did, partying in El Poblado. The neighbourhood is unrecognisable at night, especially weekends, as its hundreds of bars come alive and the streets fill with people. The parties here are insane! If you want to get dressed up and dance all night, this is the place to do it.
Don’t miss: La Octava – a busy bar that’s main attraction is the adult sized ball pit in the back room. Beware, it’s deeper than you think!
The Eye Bar – I have no idea what this place is called, just look for the pink neon eye on Carrera 35. It’s actually just a serving hatch with some tables out on the street, but they do the best cocktails.
White wine mojitos at the ‘eye bar’ – first time for everything!
Fight your hangover by making a trip just outside the city and taking in the fresh air of Parque Arvi. The park has several different hiking routes to choose from depending on your ability; there are rivers, waterfalls, and you may even spot some wildlife if you get lucky.
Arguably the best part about visiting Parque Arvi though, is the journey there on Medellin’s incredible Metro system. First you take the train to Acevedo Station, where you then transfer to the city’s unique cable car line. About 6 people fit in each small carriage which flies above rooftops and forests, connecting Medellin’s poorer neighbourhoods, which are higher up in the hills, to the city centre. Parque Arvi is the end of the line, about 45 minutes on the cable cars, and is a bit different to any public transport I’ve taken before!
Don’t miss: The views of Medellin from the cable cars – although you’d have to try pretty hard to miss it!
My favourite thing we did in Medellin was a guided tour of the once notorious Comuna 13 neighbourhood. This area was considered the most dangerous place in South America as recently as 2009, due to fighting between guerrilla, militia and state forces. Residents were not allowed to leave their homes after 6pm, and over the course of a decade more than 10,000 people were killed here. The tour is given by people who grew up in Comuna 13 during the conflict, and shows how, like much of Medellin, the area has transformed over recent years. It’s still a poor area, but safe and welcoming, with children playing freely, local dancers performing in the street and meaningful graffiti art, which is the focus of the tour. The guides explain some of the most famous graffiti works, all of which have been created by Comuna 13 residents and represent feelings of hope in the community.
The tour runs every day at 10am and 2pm, and if you make the early session you could even have time to do the Medellin free walking tour in the afternoon. We’re not that proactive, so we probably just spent the rest of the afternoon watching Netflix. Hey, travelling is tiring!
Don’t miss: the fresh mango ice lollies which you can buy from a local vendor, but are given as a freebie on the tour 😉.
Visit downtown Medellin and soak up some history and culture in its many museums, galleries and churches. There are dozens to choose from, so take your pick. My favourite cultural space in the city is the Botero Plaza, a large space that displays 23 huge sculptures by famous Colombian artist Fernando Botero. He’s the guy who loves painting and sculpting those big, chubby figures, and I absolutely love them!
***disclaimer – I know NOTHING about art, can you tell?***
Cap off the last night with drinks in a less gringo-centric area, like the up and coming Laureles neighbourhood. Get off the Metro at Estadio station and check out the bars surrounding the football stadium for something a bit different and less touristy than El Poblado. We only came here to see the stadium, but ended up spending all evening in the bars round here when a storm started, and the Metro was closed off for the night. It was a pleasant surprise, and prices in the local bars here are a lot lower than in Poblado! If it’s game night, why not even catch the match? Tickets are usually available and easy to buy on the door.
Don’t miss – these guys!