After years of traveling together, Brice and I have realized that we have very different travel planning techniques. Brice likes to read the Lonely Planet literally cover to cover, like from the History section all the way to Logistics, without skipping a bit, even if we know we aren’t going to that area.
For me, I am a bit more into just reading a few blogs, perhaps Travel & Leisure or Bon Appetit’s guides to the city and checking Instagram hashtags for any must-do sites and of course, good eats. This led to Brice being somewhat unenthusiastic about going to Medellín based on the Lonely Planet info and me being thrilled based on everything I heard from other bloggers.
So when we had a few extra days to burn before starting the San Blas Adventures tour from Colombia to Panama and were melting in the Cartagena heat, we compromised and booked flights to Medellín.
Why You Should Visit Medellín #1: It is safe and full of friendly, welcoming people
Admittedly despite everything I read, I was still a little nervous about being in the city where Pablo Escobar made a name for himself. If you’ve ever watched Narcos, you know what I mean. This was not a good city to be in, local or tourist, not too long ago.
Now, however, after a lot of US intervention and a massive government crackdown, it is a safe, clean and beautiful city to visit. Sure, in a city of 4 million people, there are still some sketchy areas.
But especially in trendy neighborhoods like El Poblado where we stayed, or when encountering the incredibly friendly and jovial Paisas (what residents of Medellín call themselves), you wouldn’t ever know you were in a city that has such a troubled past.
Milo, the guide of the excellent walking tour I did, said they do not want to forget the past but are trying to move forward with a positive outlook on their city. One of the best things happening for Colombia and Medellín in particular, he believes, is tourists coming to visit, having a great time and telling their friends. The boost in tourism helps not only the local economy, but also helps restore pride the Colombians have in their country.
Why You Should Visit Medellín #2: The weather is mild
I liked this city immediately when we got off the plane to refreshingly cool temperatures.
Medellín is often nicknamed of being the land of eternal spring because it is quite mild year-round, without ever being too humid or too cold. Around 75 degrees during the day with a nice breeze, it was pretty perfect, especially after the hot coastal weather.
Why You Should Visit Medellín #3: There are no mosquitoes!
No explanation needed here on why this is amazing. But compared to other areas of Colombia, this is a nice change up and gave my skin much needed time to heal up.
Why You Should Visit Medellín #4: There are so many great things to do, see and learn
With numerous green parks and big sidewalks, colorful street art, and high-quality tours, there is a lot of options to fill your time. Our top picks were:
- Explore Downtown on a Free Walking Tour with Real City Tours: This was a fantastic way to see downtown Medellín and learn more about the complex history of the city. If you haven’t taken a free tour before, don’t be deterred. While it was a large group (about 30 people), it was well organized and easy to ask questions. Milo is an excellent guide, speaks great English and shared a lot of interesting facts and stories of growing up in Medellín. I especially appreciated his candor about the city’s past and how complicated it still is mentioning Escobar.
- Check Out the Botero Sculptures: If you do the above tour, you’ll get to walk through Parque Botero where most of the famed Colombian artist has his bronze sculptures of “fat bodied” people and animals. But if you opt out of the tour, be sure to still visit the park. While not everyone likes his style, they are still worth seeing.
- Eat Lots at the Fruit Tour: Real City Tours impressed me so much, I signed up for their exotic fruit tour through the Minorista Market as well. The sweet German couple who were my only tour companions and I wandered through the market which is frequented by restauranteurs and tried 17 different fruits local to Colombia, some strange but most really delicious.
- View the Street Art near the Botanical Garden: The garden itself isn’t amazing, but it is a nice park to walk around and oddly has iguanas roaming the grounds. The underpass bridges on near the entrance however have some beautiful murals that were really fun to view and of course, photograph. My favorite being the ladybug.
- Spend a Day Climbing El Peñol and Seeing Guatapé: Another post coming soon about this! But a two-hour taxi or bus ride to the east of Medellín gets you to one of the largest rock formations in the world, which you can climb to the top of. Just a few minutes by tuk tuk away is the charming, colorful town of Guatape.
We were told the cable car ride up to Parque Arvi and going to a soccer game are also a lot of fun but we didn’t get to either of those activities this time around.
Why You Should Visit Medellín #5: There is such good food…and it is cheap!
From fancy restaurants to cool cafes to greasy but delicious street food, Medellín is rocking the food scene. These were our favorites but I would have happily eaten more had we stayed longer.
Pergamino Café: This was the perfect place to get a good cup of Colombian coffee, chow down on a delicious rich brownie and hang out with good WiFi for a while. It is definitely the local hipster location.
Burdo: I loved this place so much, we went twice in two days. With funky décor, plants everywhere and a beautiful bar, they have the look down. Their menu is also excellent, especially winning me over with their “Healthy as F*ck” section which featured really good grain bowls.
Casa Comodor: In order to get into this Mexican-inspired restaurant and bar, you have to find the secret entrance – which really just means, wander around the address like a confused tourist until the doorman notices you and calls you over to a hidden door and lets you in. They had a really cool space, great food, tasty cocktails and excellent service. Another plus – our fancy dinner of appetizers, entrees and cocktails only cost $50.
Buñuelos: For street food, don’t miss out on buñuelos, which are like little fried cheese doughnut holes. These were probably my favorite food in Colombia. The best I found were at the shop on the corner of Parque Botero, frying them to order and selling them for only 500 pesos a piece (about 25 cents). If they were only just a smidgin more healthy, I would have eaten about 12 in one sitting. “Unhealthy as sin, delicious as heaven,” Milo appropriately said.
Why You Should Visit Medellín #6: It is easy to get around
Getting around with Uber is really easy and cheap, however so is their light-rail metro station. I was impressed by how clean and well-maintained it is and then was told by my tour guide that the locals have a lot of pride over the Metro so no one eats or drinks on board and treats the trains with respect. Not a bad concept!
So don’t be afraid to add Medellín to your travel list, just do it!