Out of the three places we visited in Colombia, I must say that Medellín was definitely my favorite! It’s a gorgeous city that sprawls through a valley, flanked by beautiful mountains. There’s so much to see and do here, you can quickly fill a visit of 4+ days.
Where to Stay in Medellín – El Poblado Neighborhood
This is easily the “tourist” neighborhood of Medellín, a very safe pocket of the city teeming with restaurants and bars. Check out Airbnb rentals, hotels, or even hostels in the Poblado area of Medellín, and you can find reasonably priced accommodation. It’s not as cheap as other neighborhoods, but it will be a safe place to stay in Medellín, and you’ll be within walking distance to a lot of highlights.
Things to do in Medellín
La Comuna 13 Tour
This tour is a must-do for any visitor to Medellín. Once the second-most dangerous neighborhood in the world, Comuna 13 is now a vibrant tourist hot spot. Wander through on a guided tour to learn about this former war zone, which was considered very unsafe only 10 years ago. Now it’s full of life – murals and street art on every corner, vendors selling micheladas from little stands, plenty of shopping opportunities, and gorgeous views of the city. Enjoy walking around, riding the outdoor escalators, and getting a glimpse of how much a place can transform itself over time.
El Parque Arvi
Love hiking and getting outdoors in nature? You can still do that even when visiting Medellín. Arvi Park is a giant nature reserve in the mountains around Medellín. To get here, you’ll want to take public transit – which includes multiple cable cars to carry you up the mountainside to the entrance of the park! Once inside, you can spend hours exploring different trails and hiking around, there aren’t many specific attractions, it’s just a great way to get out in nature while in Medellín. Incredibly, the vast nature preserve sits on the edge of the busy city.
While it’s definitely a good idea to bring your own snacks and water with, there are restaurants and shops within Parque Arvi, so don’t go overboard. We ended up staying here for lunch and enjoyed a delicious meal and beers right in an open-air restaurant in the park. It was delicious and cheap – I had a chicken skewer and a tamale, and the whole meal was about $8, including two rounds of beer.
Some advice given to us by a taxi driver (who ended up being our private driver to Guatape – keep reading) was to NOT go here at night. And boy, we are so glad we took his advice. We visited during the day, and this whole space still had a sketchy feel to it. It’s a large plaza sitting in front of the Museum of Antioquia and the Rafael Uribe Uribe Palace of Culture.
Day Trip from Medellín to Guatape
Guatape is a popular day trip from Medellín. It’s about a 1.5-hour drive from the city, and it’s a colorful resort town on a reservoir lake. It’s known for its attractive buildings and the giant rock “La Piedra” that tourists climb to the top of for amazing views of the reservoir and surrounding mountains.
Getting to Guatape from Medellín
You have several options! From what I’ve read, it’s relatively simple to take public transport and buses to Guatape for a day trip, which is great if you’re planning to stay overnight or have a loose schedule. The bus to Guatape leaves from the Medellin Terminal Norte.
We ended up paying our taxi driver from the night before (who advised us not to go to Plaza Botero at night – trustworthy guy!) to be a private driver for a day. It cost us $30 each, and he drove us around for an entire day – which made it a lot less stressful than trying to find bus stations and go on a bus timetable.
Climbing the rock at noon was not a good idea. It was super crowded with tourists, so the walk upward was slow and irritating. Thankfully the views the whole way up were breathtaking. Once at the top, you get a beautiful panorama of the town, and there are little cafes to grab a beer and soak up the sun before making your way back down. It’s not a hike – there are concrete stairs for the way up and down as it is very steep.
I honestly wish we would have spent an overnight in Guatape! It seemed like there was a lot to do – boat rides, hiking, and just relaxing in the cute little town. We ate a fantastic meal and enjoyed wandering around the streets and the waterfront.
Restaurants and Bars in Medellín, Colombia
Our first stop was for some drinks and appetizers! Burdo was a great pick, with their giant portions of guacamole, fancy margaritas, and yummy sangria. I loved the atmosphere here too, it was a dark, steampunk vibe with outdoor seating and friendly servers.
This bar has a ball pit! Albeit disgusting, the ball pit was fun to jump in, and the drinks were cheap. There was almost no one here when we stopped in, making it a weird atmosphere. I’d suggest it for a later drink in the evening.
Want a beautiful patio, cocktails, and a whole-lotta-pork? Head to La Bronca and order this sharing platter. It’s a gorgeous restaurant space, with lots of plants all over the lower and upper patio decks, right in the Poblado neighborhood. This was delicious, but definitely sharing size only. I was a bit sick of bacon after this experience.
Arepas at Las Chachas de Poblado
This arepa is a MUST STOP if you’re in Medellín, especially if you’re coming back late from the bars. They have traditional arepas plus cheesy arepas. They are super creamy and filling, I wish we would have shared one instead of each getting our own, but they are so cheap it’s hard to resist.
Mar Caribeño Restaurante
This was a surprising gem! We found it after our Comuna 13 tour, as it was near to the metro station. The fish was excellent, we each had the red snapper entree, served with a salad, rice, and a “patacón” which is fried plantain, flattened into a pancake.
This place was raved about, but I will say I wasn’t super impressed. It was alright – a large portion of pan-fried fish, a giant avocado, and a decent glass of wine. But the atmosphere wasn’t great, and it was nothing special, in my opinion. Maybe we didn’t order the right thing on the menu.
Mercado del Rio food market
This was a great find, we ended up going here one night instead of Plaza Botero at the advice of our driver. It was a great indoor food market with tons of different vendors and stalls selling all types of cuisine. If you’re craving something other than Colombian food, stop here to get a gourmet taste of whatever you want.
Merengon con Frutas
I don’t have a specific restaurant to recommend to try this – we bought one off a vendor in Parque Arvi, but definitely try this Colombian dessert while you’re in Medellín. It’s a meringue with different fruits – I loved it even though I’m not a huge dessert person.
Medellín is a fantastic city to visit when traveling through Colombia. There’s something for everyone here – whether you want to enjoy nature, learn about history, experience nightlife, or just eat and drink. I would love to go back to Medellin someday and explore more of the surrounding areas, go hiking, and see how it will continue to change and evolve in the coming years.