Medellin City Guide
Medellin, once known as the world’s most dangerous city, has been on the mend for years. The natural beauty, constant Spring-like temperatures, and friendly people lure tourists from around the world. The women have a reputation for being the most beautiful in Colombia, if not all of Latin America, and the wide variety of nightlife options ensure every visitor can have a great time dancing (or drinking) the night away.
Getting There & Away
Medellin’s main airport, Jose Maria Cordova International Airport (MDE), is located about 50 minutes outside of Medellin in Rionegro. Major airlines serving the city include Avianca, Aires, COPA Colombia, and Spirit Airlines. Avianca and Spirit both fly routes to/from the United States.
To get to your hostel or hotel from the international airport, you can take a taxi for 56,000 pesos ($31), or a minivan shuttle for 8,000 pesos ($4). The shuttle will drop people off at several central points in the city, and from there you can catch a taxi, thereby saving about $20. The shuttle is a tight fit, so if you have a lot of luggage it would be better to take a taxi. Unlike Bogota’s airport, there are no regulated fares, however it’s rare for drivers to try and overcharge visitors.
Medellin also has a smaller airport within the city limits, Olaya Herrera (EOH), which offers regional flights with domestic carriers. This can be conveniently accessed via taxi.
Internet Access: No free wi-fi. There may be internet shops open during regular business hours.
Medellin has two major bus stations which serve different parts of the country.
Terminal del Norte is in the north, with buses that head to northern and eastern destinations such as Cartagena, Barranquilla, Santa Marta, and Bogota. It is located at the Caribe metro stop, making it easy to access during the day. At night, if traveling with luggage, it is advisable to take a taxi, which will cost about 15,000 pesos ($8) to/from most parts of the city.
Terminal del Sur is located adjacent the Olaya Herrera airport toward the southern end of town, and serves the southern and western half of the country, including Cali and Manizales. The closest metro station is Poblado, however it is not within walking distance, so it’s best to take a taxi.
When leaving the city, you can usually show up and find a bus departing within a few hours for wherever you’re headed, especially if it’s another major city such as Bogota or Cartagena. The exception is national holidays, when a larger number of Colombians are traveling around the country.
Internet Access: Communications shop with internet access, however it may not be open at night.
Getting Around Medellin
Taxis are an easy and inexpensive way to get around the city.
You can hail them from the street, however it’s safer to call a taxi service to have one pick you up. Upon calling, they will give you a code (clave) to confirm with the driver, thereby ensuring you’re getting in the right taxi. Be forewarned, sometimes the taxis don’t show up, so leave yourself extra time if you’re meeting someone at a specific time.
Make sure the taxi’s meter is on once you get started. Unlike Bogota taxis, the meters in Medellin taxis reflect the rate in pesos that you’ll have to pay. The exception is if the taxi driver had to wait for an extended time at some point along the trip, in which case he may ask for an additional 1,000 pesos ($0.75).
For safety purposes, it’s better to sit in the back seat, with the windows rolled up. Do not take valuable possessions out of your pocket, purse or bags while in the taxi. Smartphones are an especially popular target for thieves. Some taxi drivers work together with the thieves, and garner a share of whatever is then stolen from you.
Medellin is the only city in Colombia with a metro rail system. It operates above ground, offering riders uninterrupted views of the city. The main metro line runs from Itagui in the south to Niquia in the north, and this line will serve most tourist’s needs. A second line runs from San Antonio station west to San Javier, however for safety reasons, most tourists should not go further west than the Estadio (soccer stadium) station.
The rail lines are connected to several metrocables that run up the mountains to various poorer neighborhoods, which were previously disconnected from the rest of the city. The metrocables are an investment in urban development that have paid off, and in the process, they have inadvertently become a tourist attraction as they offer riders sweeping views of the city and valley.
The cost for a single metro ticket is 1,550 pesos (about $0.90), which includes the metrocable if you choose to transfer to it.
A plethora of private buses ply the city streets, and can take you just about anywhere you need to go. The bus routes are posted in the front windows, and feature major landmarks, universities and shopping centers to help you get your bearings.
Flagging a bus is as easy as holding your hand out as it approaches. To get off the bus, look for a red button on the inside to push, or if you can’t find one or it’s not working, alert the driver that you want to get off.
The average cost of a ride is 1,300 pesos ($0.75).
Where to Stay
The majority of hostels are located in Poblado, within walking distance of Parque Lleras, the city’s Zona Rosa. This neighborhood is one of the safest and prettiest in the city, however petty crime still occurs as thieves target tourists and the wealthy locals.
- Casa Kiwi – Carrera 36 #7 – 10, barrio Poblado. This is a party hostel, as are most of the hostels around Parque Lleras, however the location can’t be beat, and it underwent major renovations in 2009. American-owned.
Short Term Housing
If you plan to spend a few weeks, or months, in the city, then you’ll want to rent a room or apartment.
- The Art House – Transversal 34 Sur, #33 – 39, Apt 301, barrio La Magnolia, Envigado. 5 rooms for rent in this 2-floor apartment. The highlight is a rooftop deck with barbecue. American and Aussie owned.
- International House – Calle 32 #66C – 6, barrio Belen Malibu, Medellin. 10 rooms for rent in 2 apartments, plus a restaurant on the ground floor, and a rooftop deck with 360-degree views of the city. Apartments are rented on a monthly basis. American-owned.
- CompartoApto.com offers free listings for rooms and apartments, most of which are offered by Colombians for 300,000 – 600,000 pesos per month ($170 – $340), utilities included.
Couchsurfing in Medellin is another option which can help you save money, and give you a chance to see the city through a resident’s perspective. As most Colombians live with their parents until married, it may be hard to find a place to stay, however members of the Medellin CS group get together often so it can still be an easy way to meet the locals.
Things to See & Do
Medellin’s biggest tourist draw is its natural beauty, the mountains and constant Spring-like weather. If you decide to spend your whole time partying, you won’t miss much, however visiting a few of the city’s sites can still be a worthwhile experience.
- Botero Plaza & Museo de Antioquia – Fernando Botero, Colombia’s most famous artist, is originally from Medellin. He donated a large collection of his bronze statutes to the city, and they are on display in Plaza Botero, below the Parque Berrio metro station. While you’re down there, take an hour to check out the Museo de Antioquia which faces the plaza, and houses more of Botero’s artwork, as well as other Latin artists. Entrance is free.
- Pablo Escobar Tour – Pablo Escobar put Medellin on the global map for all the wrong reasons, namely building the world’s largest cocaine cartel. At one point, the violence that ensued from his enterprises lead Medellin to be named the most dangerous city in the world. Since his death, other drug lords and gangs have taken up the reigns, however the city’s security is much better in the years since. Organized tours to visit Pablo Escobar’s grave, as well as the location where Escobar was killed, are now available, however both sites can easily be visited for the price of a taxi ride as well.
- Jardin Botanico (Botanical Gardens) & Parque Explora – Jardin Botanico, the city’s botanical gardens, offers a respite from the noisiness of the city. The gardens are easily accessible from the Universidad metro station, and are often the host of concerts and other events on the weekends. Across the street is the city aquarium, and next to that is Parque Explora, which offers interactive displays for learning about physics and science. It’s free, and it truly is fun for all ages.
- Paragliding – The mountains above Medellin offer excellent views of the region, in addition to strong thermals which are perfect for paragliding (parapente in Spanish). It takes about a one hour bus ride to reach the paragliding offices, however the bus ticket is only a few dollars (from Terminal del Norte at the Caribe metro stop), and a 25-minute flight will only run you 80,000 pesos ($45).
- Metrocable to Santo Domingo & Parque Arvi – Riding the metrocables is a relaxing and inexpensive way to get a bird’s eye view of the city. Take the metrocable to Santo Domingo for the best views, as well as a closer look at the unique architecture of Biblioteca Espana. Pay a few dollars more and you can get on the new metrocable that passes over the mountain top to the newly opened Parque Arvi.
- La Feria de las Flores (Flower Festival) – La Feria de las Flores is Medellin’s biggest festival and street party of the year runs for one week at the end of July, through early August. Highlights include a 6,000 horse cabalgata (horse parade), the flower parade, concerts around the city, and countless other smaller event over the course of the 10-day festival.
- Christmas Lights – Every October, workers around Medellin, Envigado and the surrounding cities begin to hang millions of Christmas lights up for the coming holiday season. In early December, the lights are all turned on, and it transforms the valley into a different world every night. Chivas (party buses), which are not otherwise popular in the city, begin to truck Colombians around to see the various displays. It’s unlike any Christmas display I’ve ever seen.
Outside the City
- El Penol & Guatape – El Penol is a monolith located about two hours outside of Medellin by bus, in a pueblo by the same name. Stairs have been etched into the rock, allowing visitors to climb to the top for 360-degree views of the unique surrounding landscape. 15 minutes from El Penol is the picturesque pueblo of Guatape, which is situated on a lake. Both can be visited as a long day trip from Medellin, however you can relax and enjoy the scenery by planning to spend at least one night.
- Santa Fe de Antioquia – Santa Fe de Antioquia is a pueblo located at a lower elevation than Medellin, about two hours away by bus. Founded in 1541, it was the original capital of Antioquia. Now, with that title lost to Medellin, it is known for its annual film festival.
- Jardin – About three to three and a half hours southwest of Medellin by bus, Jardin has a similar, though slightly cooler climate. This small pueblo, set in a valley, likes to party on the weekends, when it feels like the whole town is out in the main square, or the bars surrounding it. La Cueva del Esplendor is a popular cave located outside of town. For about 40,000 pesos ($20) you can arrange a horseback riding trip through your hostel or hotel to see it in style.
Food & Drink
Typical Colombian foods are heavy on the meats, grease and salt, and the popular dishes of Medellin and Antioquia are no different.
- Bandeja Paisa – Traditional Antioquian dish consisting of beef, pork or chicken, chorizo, chicharron (pork fat), fried plantains, a fried egg, refried beans, rice, avocado, and a small salad.
- Mondongo – A thick soup of chopped tripe (stomach lining or intestines) in broth, served with accompaniments for mixing, including rice, avocado, bananas, and fresh cilantro.
- Brasarepa – Calle 46 Sur 42 – 75, Envigado. Enjoy a typical Colombian lunch at this restaurant featured on Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” TV show.
- El Cielo – Carrera 40N #10A – 22, Poblado, Medellin. Experience world class molecular gastronomy, and service, on a budget.
- Mondongo’s – Calle 10 #38 – 38, Poblado, Medellin. The best place to try Mondongo soup.
- Sushi Light – Centro Comercial Santa Fe (Mall), Avenida Poblado, Medellin. Tuesday nights have a 2 for 1 special that applies to most of the menu items, including sushi rolls, nigiri, and other appetizers and Asian dishes.
Colombian nightlife has a great reputation, especially within the big cities, and Medellin is no exception.
The city’s Zona Rosa, or main nightlife district, is Parque Lleras in barrio Poblado. If you’re staying in a nearby hostel, it’s a short walk, otherwise hop in taxi.
You can just walk around until you find a restaurant, bar or discoteca that looks good. To gauge which clubs are hot at any given time, check out the Medellin Living nightlife page, or the clubs being featured regularly on Pegateya.
Bars & Clubs
- El Eslabon Prendido – Calle 53 #42 – 55, Centro. (Maracaibo, a half block above Parque Periodista). Live salsa bands Tuesday nights (5,000 peso cover).
- Dulce Jesus Mio – Las Palmas. Crossover music in a club decorated like a mock Antioquia village.
- El Tibiri – Carrera 70 + Calle 44B, barrio Laureles. About a 5 block walk from Estadio metro.Very small basement level salsa bar that attracts great dancers.
- Luxury – Carrera 43G (opposite Trilogia Bar). Reggaeton and hip-hop only.
- Mango’s Discoteca – Carerra 42 #67A – 121, Itagui. Western theme with go-go dancers and midgets.