A city full of contrasts, loved and hated in equal parts. Medellin has been able to rise from the ashes like no other. From being considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world to becoming a cultural reference. Today we are going to get rid of our prejudices to know in depth the capital of Antioquia. A complete guide with the essential things to do and see in Medellin in a 3-day visit.
Is Medellin worth a visit? I had many doubts. In general, I tend to shy away from the crowds of big cities. But in Colombia I made an exception with Medellin and also with Bogota. It is difficult not to fall in love with the capital of Colombia. I already told you a few weeks ago the best places to see in Bogota. But Medellin is another story, another world. And I can tell you that I loved it.
The urban core of Medellin is located in the gigantic and deep Aburrá Valley. If you ask me what my favorite part of Medellín is, I will tell you that it is Medellín itself in its entirety. I find the integration of a city of 2.5 million inhabitants in a green and extremely beautiful environment mind-blowing. Therefore, one of the best plans for the city is to jump from viewpoint to viewpoint.
How to get to Medellín from the airport
JOSE MARIA CORDOVA AIRPORT. The city of Medellin has two airports. The José María Córdova International Airport, located 30 kilometers from Medellín, is the second most important in the country and has direct flights from the United States, Spain and a lot of Latin American capitals. In fact, it was my way in and out of Colombia. I got a good deal with Avianca from Madrid for only 550 euros.
To get to the city center you can choose to take a cab, travel by bus or hire private transfers. Just choose the option that suits you best.
The cab (yellow vehicles) has a fixed cost of around 65,000 pesos. This price can change, so it is best to check with the airport.
You also have the option of taking a shared cab. You will recognize them by their white color. It is very economical because you share the costs among all passengers.
If you are a regular user of services like Uber or Easy Taxi you should know that in Colombia they work like a charm. Another interesting option.
The buses of the company Combuses have departures every 15 minutes, they drop you off at the Centro Comercial San Diego and cost 9,500 pesos. From there, you can take the subway to the most common hotel areas.
Finally, private transfers are a good option for groups of 3 people or more. They pick you up at the airport, drop you off at the door of your accommodation and you pay a fixed price per vehicle. You can hire the transfers directly here.
OLAYA HERRERA AIRPORT. Within the limits of Medellin, we also have at our disposal the Olaya Herrera airport. This terminal works wonders for domestic flights. From here you can get to practically any corner of the country and for two dollars. Domestic flights in Colombia are very cheap.
In this case, for convenience and economy, I recommend requesting an official cab or an uber vehicle. Private transfers, unless you are staying very far from the airport, are not affordable. And there is no bus line that leaves you at the door of the departure terminal.
Transportation in Medellín
Although to a lesser extent than Bogota, Medellin is also a chaotic city with desperate traffic. What was supposed to be a 30-minute commute can double or triple in rush hour. However, it must be recognized that Medellín has adapted to the new times and has many options for getting around the city.
METRO. It was born in the most convulsive and violent time of the city. It is the greatest pride of the people of Medellín, the promise of change and, so far, the first and only subway system in the country. It has 2 metro lines, 5 cable car lines, 1 streetcar line and 2 bus rapid transit lines. The metro has been able to reach completely isolated neighborhoods of the city. An opening that moves mountains.
It has a very low cost and is the best way to move around the city during the day because you will avoid the traffic jams of the city center. You can check the map and fares on the Metro de Medellín website.
TAXI. As always, the cab is one of the best means of transportation in the big Colombian cities. In Medellin it is highly recommended to use it when night falls or for areas where the metro does not reach. During my days in Medellín I combined trips in official cabs with vehicles from the Uber application.
Travel insurance for Colombia
I will never tire of reminding you how important it is to travel with travel insurance. It is the only way to move with peace of mind and be covered for any unforeseen event, especially as far as health issues are concerned. On this occasion, I traveled covered with an insurance from the company Iati and, for being a reader of the blog, I can offer you a 5% direct discount on your contract.
The best neighborhood to look for accommodation in Medellin is El Poblado. There is no doubt about it. It is the safest area when the sun goes down and has an incredible leisure offer at all hours of the day. Restaurants, shopping malls, rumbao bars… The options are endless.
I was lucky enough to sleep in a friend’s apartment, but I have consulted the best hotels in the area and the Travelers Orange Aparthotel wins by a landslide. It is located just over 5 minutes walk from the metro station El Poblado and also the famous Lleras Park, a spectacular place full of bars and restaurants. The location is unbeatable and so is the quality/price ratio.
What to do and see in Medellin in 3 days
Forget about grand monuments, charming colonial neighborhoods and priceless heritage. It has nothing to do with Bogota. Neither better nor worse. Medellin is completely different. It is culture, it is self-improvement, it is rumba, it is gastronomy. This city has many faces that you will discover below.
Botero Square and Museum of Antioquia
Music, color, lots of noise and giant sculptures of the artist Fernando Botero everywhere. This could be the summary of what we will find in Botero Square, a real open-air museum. In addition, I recommend a visit to the Museum of Antioquia. You will find some of Botero’s best works of art and other interesting exhibitions. I liked it very much.
It is more than advisable to leave this square and, in general, the center of Medellin, around sunset. At that time the atmosphere starts to get a bit thinner and you may feel a bit intimidated. I say this from experience.
Museum hours: Monday to Saturday from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm. Sundays and holidays from 10:00 am to 4:30 pm.
Fee: 18,000 Colombian pesos.
Terrace of the Palace of Culture
The Rafael Uribe Uribe Palace of Culture deserves a special mention. Also located in Plaza Botero, this beautiful Gothic-style building converted into an art gallery, among other things, has an incredible rooftop terrace with the best views of downtown. In addition, admission is completely free.
Hours: Monday to Friday from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. Saturdays from 8:00 to 14:00 hours.
Fee: free of charge.
Berrío Park and Candelaria Church
The neuralgic center of the city and historical reference for locals and visitors. Berrío Park suffered several fires in the early twentieth century. Thus, it was transformed into what it is today, part of the financial and commercial center of the city. Even so, it retains some of the charm of yesteryear and is a regular meeting place for locals.
The square itself is not particularly beautiful but has one of the best monuments in the city, the Candelaria Church. Of a pristine white color, the temple has a very beautiful colonial style but it also keeps a secret. One of the passages adjacent to the church has become the street of porn. Dozens of vendors with stalls full of pornographic movies crowd the area. Devotion and lust together and at the same price 😉 .
Murals by Pedro Nel Gómez
Between Berrío Park and Botero Square, we can admire an immense mural of 20 pieces by the Antioquian artist Pedro Nel Gómez. They are quite interesting since they represent the history of Antioquia from the indigenous people to its most recent past. The only downside I see is that, if you go on your own, it may be a little difficult to understand them. Therefore, it is important that you continue reading. These murals are one of the most important stops on the Free Tours.
Free tour and guided visit to Moravia and Comuna 13
If I usually recommend you to do a free tour or guided tours in any capital of the world. In Colombia much more. In addition to visiting the main attractions and monuments, they will help you understand the history and evolution of a city as complex as Medellin.
In this way, you will be able to visit neighborhoods that you would never visit on your own, such as Moravia or Comuna 13. Places where urban art and other popular initiatives have contributed to a process of transformation. 100% recommended. The most popular tour is the Comuna 13 neighborhood and you can get to know it by booking this complete free tour of two and a half hours. It is advisable to book it in advance because it is a very popular guided tour.
Of course, it is also highly recommended to take a free tour of the historic center. The guides will show you most of the must-see places on this list and the price is up to you. And if a free tour is not enough for you, you can take a look at this guided tour of Medellin. To the tour of the historic center they add a visit to a couple of cool viewpoints. It is very economical and includes all transportation. Either of these two modalities, the free tour and the guided tour, complement each other perfectly with the graffiti tour. You will discover two completely different faces of Medellín in two very complete days.
Lleras Park and El Poblado
Within El Poblado we find the famous Lleras Park. It is a square (and its surrounding streets) packed to the brim with bars, restaurants and nightclubs. At night the atmosphere is amazing. Regardless of whether you feel like going out to dance or not, you have to enjoy this place.
Remember that El Poblado is the commune where the wealthiest classes of the city live and one of the best areas to look for accommodation. The Travelers Orange Aparthotel is located very close to Lleras Park. 100% recommended.
At the top of Cerro Nutibara and with a privileged perspective over the valley, we find a life-size reproduction of a traditional Paisa village. To be fair, I must say that it is nothing more than a handful of colorful houses and a few stores. Nothing super spectacular. However, what is a blast are the panoramic views of the city from the viewpoints of the little town. It was my first contact with Medellín and it was promising.
Metrocable to the Santo Domingo neighborhood
Again, the incredible orography of Medellin is our best ally. Going up by metrocable to the Santo Domingo neighborhood and enjoy the views from the viewpoints is an essential plan to do in Medellin. These cable cars are integrated into the transportation network. So you only have to buy your metro ticket and transfer at the Acevedo station.
Las Palmas viewpoint
This is, without a doubt, the most spectacular viewpoint to see in Medellín. The only downside I see is that you will have to get there by cab and that, sometimes, you will find it completely cloudy (especially in the mornings). Therefore, it is best to visit them at sunset and enjoy the show with a privileged view of the whole city. I could only see it at night and I found it incredible.
It is located on the same road that connects the city of Medellin with the José María Córdova airport. So, maybe you can take advantage of one of the trips to and from the airport to visit this essential viewpoint.
Enjoy Colombian gastronomy
The gastronomic offer in Medellin is crazy. It’s hard not to come back with a few extra kilos. As I have already mentioned, it is the Poblado neighborhood that concentrates some of the best restaurants in the city and I am going to make 3 recommendations with the restaurants that I liked the most in the area.
Restaurante Alambique: a super original decoration in this restaurant where you can try the most typical dishes of the area.
Restaurante El Correo Carne y Vino: obviously we are in front of a restaurant whose specialty is grilled meats, everything was delicious!
Restaurant Pesqueira-Charcuteria del Mar: here I have eaten the best ceviches of my life. It is not cheap but it is worth it.
What to see in Medellín: the best day trips
As you can see, this city has no shortage of attractions. However, the best thing about including Medellin in our Colombia itinerary are the fantastic excursions that can be made around the city. Coffee plantations, charming villages, viewpoints and, above all, lots of nature.
RENTAL CAR. The best way to get around on your own and make the most of your time is by hiring a rental car. When you leave the chaos of the big city, the traffic is much lower and the roads are in good condition. This way of traveling allows you to add stops that you could never do in an organized tour. Of course, you have to be very cautious and be careful, Colombians drive very badly.
The prices of car rental in Colombia are, in general, quite affordable. You can check the rates of the main companies operating in Medellin and choose the one that suits you best thanks to the Liligo.com search engine. As you can see on this website, rentals are around 30 euros per day.
PRIVATE EXCURSION. Another good option is to hire a cab with driver. You agree the time of departure and arrival, the route you want to do and the price for a whole day. It is perfect if you are traveling in a group. In my case, we were a small group of 4 and it was very economical. You can ask at your accommodation to get the contact of a cab driver you trust and negotiate the conditions.
ORGANIZED EXCURSION. You also have a wide range of organized excursions at very good prices that I am going to show you below. And now I’ll cut the crap and get to the point with the best excursions to do in Medellin.
El Peñol and Guatapé
This is one of the most popular excursions in Medellin. It is hard to resist the incredible views from the viewpoint of El Peñol and, even less, to melt the camera in the colorful streets of Guatapé. I liked it very much. Of course, you should know that it has become a very touristy destination and you will find it overflowing with tourists. Here you can find everything about my experience in Guatapé and El Peñol from Medellín.
Santa Fe de Antioquia
Santa Fe de Antioquia is one of the most beautiful towns in the area and stands out for its incredible monuments from the colonial era. Among the coolest places to visit are the cathedral of Santa Fe de Antioquia and the church of Santa Barbara. And all this in a very green and mountainous environment.
Discover a coffee farm
This excursion is only recommended for those travelers who are not going to include in their itinerary the area known as the Eje Cafetero. It is a great way to discover the secrets of Colombian coffee, to be amazed by the landscapes of this type of plantations and, in addition, to take the opportunity to visit beautiful towns such as Jardín.