Insiders Guide: What to Do in Medellin, Colombia

Are you looking for travel tips on top things to do in Medellin, Colombia?

As part of our city guides series, we interviewed Dave Lee who lived in Medellin for 18 months and created his own Travel Guide.

Dave shares with us his insider knowledge on things to do in Medellin, Columbia. Including where to stay, eat, drink, and where to go for some salsa dancing.

Why travel to Medellin?

The city is situated in a beautiful valley, offering mountain views from every angle. Combine the natural setting with spring-like temperatures year round, Medellin offers a very comfortable climate both day and night.

Nightlife in Medellin is a big draw among younger travelers, as paisas love to dance, drink, and party. The women are reputed to be the most beautiful in Colombia, if not all of South America, and that reputation alone continues to attract more and more male travelers.

Most foreigners know little about Medellin other than it was the former home and stomping grounds of Pablo Escobar, and therefore once listed as the most dangerous city in the world.

In the last few years, several companies have set up organized tours to cater to the tourist demand for information on this tragic chapter in the city’s history.

Best things to do in Medellin

Medellin is home to Colombia’s most famous artist, Fernando Botero. In the city center, you can walk through Botero Plaza and get your picture taken amongst a few dozen of his large metal sculptures.

The plaza also features the Museo de Antioquia which features some of Botero’s paintings, as well as other Latin artists.

One of the reasons Medellin is a popular place for expats to live in Colombia is the metro system. Medellin features Colombia’s only metro train.

From the main train line that runs North/South through the city, are several cable cars (like ski gondolas) that run up the mountains to poorer neighborhoods.

These cable cars are meant to give residents easier access to the city, however they also offer a cheap and fun way to get panoramic views of the entire city making it one of the top attractions in Medellin Colombia.

If you prefer adrenaline-pumping activities, paragliding is available for as little as $45 per 25-minute flight.

Where to Eat in Medellin

For a taste of the local cuisine, head to Mondongo’s where you can try the mondongo (tripe) soup. Mexican food is often done well, and I’m a fan of 1910 Revolucion Mexicana for the stylish decor as much as the food. And if you’re craving excellent creole or north Brazilian food, head to

And if you’re craving excellent creole or north Brazilian food, head to Bonuar, which is adjacent the Modern Art Museum, and features live Blues during the week.

Check out my list of 10 traditional dishes to try when visiting Colombia.

Where to drink and dance in Medellin

While the bars and discotecas around Parque Lleras are always busy on the weekends, there are many more places to party with locals than the Zona Rosa. A paisa favorite is the raucous

A paisa favorite is the raucous Dulce Jesus Mio, which is decorated like a mock Antioquian pueblo. Workers dress up as caricatures of typical townspeople. Get there early (9 pm), and ensure you have at least one girl with you, to get a table.

For some of the Medellin’s best live salsa music, head downtown to El Eslabon Prendido on a Tuesday night (around 9:30 pm if you want a table). If you actually want

If you actually want room to dance, then go to the upscale Cien Fuegos, which features the biggest dance floor in town.

Best place to drink with the locals in Medellin

Just about anywhere they sell beer. Drinking in public is legal in Colombia, so you’ll often see local teens and college age kids buying beers and drinking in the parks on the weekends. It’s a cheap way to enjoy the night.

Otherwise, go for beers in any of the small, hole-in-the-wall bars that can be found in every neighborhood. The bars facing any park, such as Parque Envigado, offer good people watching opportunities too.

Best area for a night on the town in Medellin

Parque Lleras is the most accessible — you can just walk around until you find a bar or discoteca that looks like fun. Or, hop a cab to nearby Barrio Colombia and you’ll have a dozen different discotecas to choose from, all within a few square blocks. And you’ll see fewer foreigners than in Parque Lleras.

More adventurous visitors will go a bit further to La 33, or La 70, a five-block strip of salsa bars and clubs on the West side of the city.

Getting around Medellin

Medellin is a large city, so while you’ll be able to walk around within neighborhoods, you’ll need public transport to get you around the city. Bus rides, which can be confusing at first, cost about 65 cents each, while a single ride on the metro will run you 85 cents.

The metro is very easy to use, clean, and generally safe (there’s security at every station and platform). Taxis are metered, and you can go from one end of the city to the other for $6-7.

Favorite day trip from Medellin

Guatape is a colorful pueblo a short 2 – 2 1/2 half hour bus ride from Medellin. It’s situated on a lake, and is just 15 minutes from El Penol, a monolith sticking out of the ground. You can pay a few bucks to climb the stairs up the monolith. The view of the surrounding countryside from atop the rock is not to be missed.

You can visit Guatape and El Penol as a long day trip, but I recommend staying the weekend to relax like the locals.

Where to Stay in Medellin

Most visitors stay in El Poblado, the upscale neighborhood in Medellin. And with good reason. It’s pretty, clean, and generally safer than other parts of town. Most of the hostels are centered around Parque Lleras, with bigger hotels situated along Avenida Poblado.

While most of the hostels are party hostels, I like to recommend Casa Kiwi where I stayed when I first arrived in the city. The Art Hotel is a nice place for those with a bigger budget.

Apartments are another good option with over 100 properties throughout the city.

For more places to stay in Medellin choose from the largest range of hotels, apartments, and guesthouses with our partner You get free cancelation on most rooms, and in most cases you only pay when you stay.

Markets and Shopping in Medellin

Santa Fe, located on Avenida Poblado, is the city’s largest shopping mall. The retractable roof allows fresh air and sunshine in on the nice days. The mall features movie theaters, a food court as well as some specialty restaurants like Sushi Light, and plenty of name brand clothing stores.

Events and Festivals in Medellin

In early July, Medellin hosts Colombia’s annual salsa festival. The weekend event is a combination of salsa workshops, competitions, and at night, social dancing.

As the fashion capital of Colombia, Medellin hosts Colombiamoda (fashion week) every July as well. The 3-day event is open to the public during the day (a pass costs about $40), while the runway shows are invite-only.

La Feria de las Flores, the city’s annual flower parade, runs from the last week of July through the first week of August. The weekends are busy with parades, including La Cabalgata horse parade, an antique car parade, and the flower parade. There are also lots of concerts and special events held during the 10-day celebrations.

Best time to visit Medellin

Summer, or the dry season, runs from December through February, so these are some of the best months to visit. Every December, Medellin and the surrounding cities like Envigado and Sabaneta, put up millions of Christmas lights and decorations.

The entire valley is transformed, fireworks are lit off every night, and chivas (party buses) take both the locals and tourists around to see the displays. It all makes for a very festive atmosphere.

Getting There and Away

Medellin is well connected to other cities within Colombia by bus and air, and an increasing number of international ones as well. I’m a fan of

I’m a fan of Aires, a discount airline which was recently acquired by LAN Airlines. You can get domestic tickets to major cities like Bogota, Cali, and Cartagena for as little as $75, thus saving you a 10 to 12-hour bus ride.

If you’re long on time and short on money, stick to the buses. Overnight buses are fairly comfortable, with reclining seats, though you need to dress warmly because the driver always has the air-conditioning on high.

Medellin, and Colombia as a whole, is slowly opening up to more and more international flights between cities such as Quito, Lima, Panama City, and Havanna.

Best insiders tip for Medellin

Try finding a place to stay through Couchsurfing, or by renting a short term apartment. To find a room to rent, try CompartoApto, and to find an apartment, just do an internet search and you’ll find a bunch of agencies.

Don’t forget to get more tips in Dave’s travel guide to Medellin!

Is Medellin Safe?

I believe Medellin is no more dangerous than any other large, Latin American city. The stereotypes from the days when Pablo Escobar, narcoterrorists, and the FARC use to cause widespread and indiscriminate violence live on, yet anyone who visits the city will see it’s not so scary at all.

Common street crime, such as pickpockets and robberies, continue to be a problem but I don’t think that’s reason enough to avoid the city or country entirely.

I Love Medellin because …

Because I’ve gained so much as a person from living there.

The paisas welcomed me with warmth and curiosity. The natural beauty inspired me every morning when I woke up. The friendly (and hot) women inspired me to learn Spanish. And the Latin music inspired me to learn how to dance.

More posts about Colombia

Plan Your Trip to Medellin

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Do you have any tips on things to do in Medellin?Share in the comments.

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