2020 Travel Guide to Medellín, Colombia
Medellín is one of the most underrated cities in South America. A former home to the infamous Pablo Escobar, Medellín has grown to be a bustling city with an innovative infrastructure, many eclectic dining options, and mountains rich with history. One thing you should know—it's pronounced "MEH-de-JEAN"—the double "L" is pronounced like a "J."
Getting to Medellín
When travelling from Miami or Los Angeles, flights were much cheaper to Medellín compared to Bogotá or Cartagena. Upon my recent trip to Medellín, getting through customs, after my arrival, was quick and painless. When it comes to getting to your hotel from the airport, you can either take a taxi or an Uber. The taxi drivers are extremely aggressive and will follow you through the airports to try to win your business. If you choose to use Uber, you may need to meet your driver farther away and sit in the front seat, but the cost can be more affordable than taking a taxi. Taxis are a safe option, just a little more expensive. Use your best judgement upon choosing transportation in Medellín.
Where to Stay in Medellín
I traveled to Medellín with 5 other people, so we selected an AirbNb through a home rental management company called LifeAfar. I highly recommend LifeAfar. Our three-bedroom condo was perfect for our six person group. It was spacious, clean, and centrally located. There was even a convenience store, Exito, across the street. We decided to stay in the El Polabo neighborhood. It is the most popular place to stay for tourists visiting Medellín. Laureles and Envigado are also popular neighborhoods for both expats and tourists.
What to Do in Medellín
This was the highlight of our trip. Our tour guide picked us up from our Airbnb and we had about a 20-minute ride out of the city. Pay close attention when booking your coffee tour as many of these tours are full day excursions. We found a half day tour that fit our group’s needs perfectly. We arrived at a beautiful family owned farm up on a huge hill. We got to pick coffee beans, learn about the coffee making process, and sample three different ways coffee is served. Our experience was intimate and authentic. One of the family members even offered his own rubber boots to me because I had new sneakers on. Our tour guide went above and beyond during the entire tour, and then provided us with a group Polaroid after our experience. If you can only choose one tour while you are here, please check out this half-day coffee plantation tour with Andres. You will not be disappointed.
Pablo Escobar Tour
These tours are commonly referred to as “Narcotourism” and are very popular in Colombia. Before booking one of these tours, keep in mind that they are looked down upon by the current mayor of Medellín as they represent a small and negative part of Colombia’s history. In fact, he shut down the Pablo Escobar museum in 2018 and demolished his former home in early 2019.
TripAdvisor will help you sort through the dozens of Pablo Escobar tours. We booked a private tour for six people. It included van transportation, an English-speaking guide, and four destinations that related to Escobar’s life. We saw the demolished home, La Cathedral (his self-funded built jail), his gravesite, and the roof of the building where he was killed. It was a very informative tour. If you are a fan of the Narcos series on Nextflix or interested in Pablo Escobar, you will enjoy this tour.
Are you traveling to Medellín with children or family? The Parque Explora has something for everyone of all ages. It is an interactive science museum and aquarium. Admission is only $12, which makes it an affordable way to spend a few hours. We loved learning about the different fish and reptiles that are native to Colombia. Bonus - the aquarium is air conditioned.
Ride the Metrocable
Soar to new heights in the Medellín Metrocable. This gondola lift transportation system was introduced to Medellín in 2004. You will get a beautiful view of the hills of Medellín without the exhausting hike.
Due to the mountainous terrain, horseback tours of Medellín are quite popular. These vary based on location.
I am planning to take a Guatapé tour on my next visit to Medellín. Guatapé is known to be the “most iconic view” in all of Colombia. On this day trip, you will visit several small towns until you reach the top of El Peñol rock, where you can catch the breathtaking view of the man-made lake overlooking Colombia.
Where to Eat in Medellín
After doing our research and taking several recommendations from locals, here are a few places we enjoyed for breakfast and dinner in Medellín:
This café has many different smoothie options, vegetarian and vegan options, and the best coffee. It is in El Poblado, near where we stayed. We loved this restaurant so much that we returned three days in a row.
We stumbled upon this casual bar while exploring. They offer a DJ and dancing on their second floor on Fridays and Saturdays. We loved their sangria, ceviche, and rice dishes. They serve seafood, Peruvian food, and steaks.
A very much “see and be seen” restaurant. It is one of the top ranked restaurants in Medellín on Trip Advisor. The ambiance is hip, and the food is South American. All their fish dishes were exceptional.
Keep in mind, in Medellín, the service fee is included in your check, so don’t get tricked into tipping twice (unless the service was excellent).
After 3 days in Medellín, I was blown away by the culture, food, and activities. I will be returning and hope to add more to this list! I hope this travel guide helps you in your travels to Colombia! If you've already booked your trip to Medellín, don't forget travel medical insurance to protect your health while you're away from home. Get a quote here!
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