There are so many reasons we enjoyed Colombia’s second-largest city, we had no problems keeping ourselves entertained for over a week with things to do in Medellin.
Medellin is home to a developing digital nomad expat community (think: designers, online marketers, web developers, etc.) so if these creative young minds and trend-setters see something in this city worth uprooting their lives for, there must be an abundance of cool and hip things to see and do in Medellin. Also, the city is situated in a valley, meaning every time you get a chance to view the city from an elevated standpoint (even bussing from the international airport down to the city), you get outstanding views.
Colombia has had a recent history of turmoil due to the war on drugs and the presence of violent, conflicting groups in the country. But despite its challenges, the country has rebounded and recovered in an unbelievably strong way, even winning awards for the city’s innovation. As Colombia transitions to a period of peace, the government in Medellin has developed efficient transportation, tourist attractions, public parks and squares, and safe-keeping measures, encouraging tourists to visit and see what this beautiful city — and country — has to offer.
We enjoyed Medellin so much that we first booked four nights, then six, then eight, making Medellin the city we’ve spent the most time in thus far on our round-the-world travels. Based on our experience, here’s our checklist of must-do activities while you are visiting Medellin, Colombia.
We hope you enjoy this city as much as we do!
Take a Free Walking Tour of Medellin’s Downtown Core
Led by local city guides in fluent English, Medellin City Tour’s free walking tour in the downtown core is an excellent introduction to the city. Without doing this, we would have just walked by plazas, buildings, murals, and statues without knowing their significance to the city. The free walking tour gave us context to the things we see in the city, in an easy to understand, highly captivating way. The tour also included two 10-minute snack stops so we could roam an area on our own and try a few street food recommendations.
Don’t forget to bring cash to tip your tour guide as they are working for tips only.
Explore Comune 13’s Escalators and Graffiti
Up until recently, the sprawling neighbourhood of Comune 13 was full of crime and gang wars, with innocent residents being caught in the middle of the civil warfare. The residents began to express themselves (their sorrows and their hopes for peace) through music and graffiti, and now Comune 13 is known for its colourful and vibrant vibes. One notable graffiti artist who has reached international fame is Chota; he and his wife also have their own cafe in the neighbourhood — Café Aroma de Barrio –so be sure to stop by for a Michelada (beer with lemon and a salt rim) or a coffee with lemonade.
Around the same time, the government also invested in a series of escalators connecting the hilly neighbourhood, with the notion that better transportation, means better access to jobs and public services, which leads to less crime, and a safer city.
Take the Metrocable, Medellin’s Cable Car System
Get amazing views of the city for the price of a bus ticket. Similar to the escalators of Comune 13, Medellin’s cable car system was built to better integrate the outer neighbourhoods with the rest of the city. As they are in the same neighbourhood, this can easily be looped into an afternoon exploring Comune 13. To get there, head to San Javier station on the Metro, then follow the signs to the cable car.
- If you continue travelling through South America, you can go on a Cable Car ride in La Paz, Bolivia too!
Explore the Neighbourhood of Poblado
This is my favourite neighbourhood in Medellin and also where we stayed for our week in the city. I was surprised at how modern this neighbourhood was! Think: vegan ice cream shops, cafes filled with digital nomads, small boutiques and restaurants. Some places we enjoyed included:
- Cafe Zorba — for the best vegetarian pizza I’ve ever had;
- Sharbets — which serves ice cream made with fruits and veggies;
- Crematto — for dipped ice cream bars; and
- Pergamino Cafe — for a hip cafe experience that’s well-loved by expats .
Sample Exotic Fruits from a Market in Medellin
From custard apple to guyabana, to passionfruit to mangosteens, to giant avocado, I have never seen such an exotic collection of fruits so cheaply and readily available for purchase. For super-lovers of fruit, you can take a unique exotic fruits tour which takes you on a market tasting of 15+ fruits grown in the Colombia region. This tour is around $18USD per person and run by the same company that does the free walking tour.
- Read more here: Medellin Exotic Fruits Market Tour at Minorista Market
Try Bandeja Paisa for Lunch
Bandeja Paisa is traditional lunchtime meal eaten by the people in the North-west Antioquia region in Colombia, which includes Medellin. This fatty, and protein-heavy meal has many variations, but will typically include a hearty serving of rice, beans, eggs, avocado and fatty pork belly. This meal stemmed from farmers only having one main meal a day, and needing all the energy they could get while working the fields.
Eat at Mercado del Rio, Medellin’s Hipster Food Court
Mercado del Rio is a hip, artisan food court which opened up near Industriales metro station, just South of the Bancolombia Headquarters building. See your food being made in open kitchens, you can get everything from sushi to shwarma here; the common theme is that every stand is hip and modern. Expect to pay North American prices.
Explore Medellin’s Museums
Exploring Medellin’s museum scene would make for a great rainy day activity. The most-popular Museum of Antioquia has a big collection of Botero, the Medellin-born artist known for his globally-recognized style of “Boterismo” in his paintings and sculptures. On the other hand, the Memory Museum is a free museum dedicated to the victims of Colombian armed conflict.
Take a Pablo Escobar Tour
Proceed with caution. We were told that most Colombians would be horrified to find out that such tours were being run in their city, and would prefer for visitors to focus on other attractions in their beautiful country. If you do go on a Pablo Escobar tour, try your best to pick a socially responsible company, NOT one that glamorizes the drug trade or the life of Pablo Escobar. We took ours with an ex-cop who had first-hand experience fighting the drug trade, who now views his tours as an honest way to earn a living while educating tourists on Colombia’s history.
- Our full review: Pablo Escobar Tour in Medellín with Carlos the Ex-Cop
Spend a Day in Guatape
Guatape is a colourful town a two hour bus ride (one way trip: C14,000 pesos / person from the bus stop near Caribe Metro Station) from Medellin and makes for a great day trip. The must-do activity here is climbing El Peñón de Guatapé (The Rock of Guatape), a 650ft high boulder with zigzagging stairs built on its side. The 360 degree view from the observation deck up top and was worth every step we took. Admission is C18,000 pesos per person. After climbing the rock, you can take a tuktuk into Guatape town (C5,000 pesos / person) and explore its colourful streets, before catching an evening bus back into Medellin.