You’ve landed in Medellin, Colombia. After your parents and your friends warned you about coming to this ‘dangerous’ city, you’ve managed to take the risk to travel there yourself — and oh wait… you realize it’s actually not so risky after all!
While Medellin used to be notoriously known as one of the most dangerous cities in the world, a lot of progress has been made in the last 10 years. Now, it’s a safe & popular destination for tourists and locals alike. The city has come a long way, and the locals are proud of the progress made in making it a safe destination again. In fact, Medellin’s history and bad-reputation is what makes it one of the more unique, and incredible cities to visit today.
I’ve traveled throughout central and south America, and I found Medellin to be one of the most inspiring cities I’ve ever been to. With the combination of fascinating history, warm and friendly locals, and of course, amazing food, Medellin should be at the top of your South America bucket list.
Few things you don’t want to miss
Explore El Poblado
Medellin is a huge city. And I mean huge. You could spend weeks in Medellin and still feel like you’ve only tapped into a small portion of her grand luster. So, if you don’t know where to start — then start where all the tourists do; El Poblado. Now, if you’re like me and you prefer to avoid tourist traps, I totally get it. However, there’s a reason lots of tourists are flocking to El Poblado, and it’s because it’s just, well… really cool. El Poblado is teeming with exciting nightlife, world-renowned gastronomy, an eclectic combination of locals, tourists from all over the world, and ex-pats who have made Medellin their new home.
I recommend spending some time in El Poblado. It’s become a popular place for tourists and especially ex-pats for living, working, networking, meeting other cool like-minded people, and most importantly, to indulge in some of the finest gastronomy in the world. Within this district, I recommend trying out a few of the following:
- Selina’s cafe
While most hostels usually don’t offer the best coffee options, Selina is one huge exception. I am quite the coffee expert (if I do say so myself), and I was very impressed with the quality of coffee at Selina. If you’ve booked to stay here, then definitely check out the coffee bar and don’t forget to try their bacon sandwich! Selina’s restaurant and bar called
- The Garden
The Garden is the restaurant and bar within the Selina’s hostel, where you can find great nightlife, salsa lessons, and offers the best pizzas in Medellin. Starting in March, The Garden will also be offering craft Colombian beer! Definitely try their Guaro Mule, the Colombian national cocktail.
- Pergamino Cafe
The perfect place to answer emails or get some work done on your computer. Pergamino has amazing coffee and chilled out vibes. It’s in a great central area in El Poblado, walking distance from Selina.
Offering classic Colombian cuisine in the heart of El Poblado, Mondogos is famous for its Mondongo soup — a typically Colombian tripe soup.
This is one of the most famous restaurants in the El Poblado area — and one of the best splurge meals of your trip! Come to Carmen for a multiple course experience paired with fine wine.
- La Causa
In another prime location in El Poblado, right across the street from Selina, is La Causa. This upscale Peruvian restaurant has amazing seafood and Peruvian fusion cuisine. Don’t miss out on their ceviche!
Parque Lleras Nightlife
Centrally located within El Poblado, Parque Lleras is the best place to go out any night of the week. From small salsa clubs to huge upscale clubs, and more chilled out places to grab a beer, you’ll find whatever you’re looking for in Parque Lleras. Pro tip: Make sure you wear close-toed shoes or they might not let you into the dancing clubs
I stayed at Selina Medellin (which is one of the biggest Selina hostels worldwide), and to be quite honest — I didn’t feel like I needed to leave much. The atmosphere in this hostel is warm and inviting, and everything you could possibly need is right there. Their cafe has great food and coffee, their bar has different parties and events every night, and their outdoor yoga shala is absolutely stunning and right on the edge of a small stream. The best part, however, is their epic co-working space, a popular spot for traveling nomads staying at Selina, and long-term ex-pats alike. Their coworking space offers high-speed internet, private conference rooms, a meditation studio upstairs, and most importantly — air conditioning. Not to mention their diverse range of activities- from photography workshops to music recording, and guided meditation evenings, their schedule is brimming with diverse events to attract locals and travelers alike.
If you need a solid coworking space, Selina’s for you . If you want to take Salsa lessons, Selina’s for you. If you’re traveling solo and want to meet other awesome travelers, Selina’s for you.
Definitely don’t miss Salsa nights on Wednesdays at 8 PM, beer pong on Fridays, and pub quiz on Tuesdays. Happy hour is Monday through Friday from 5-8 PM, offering 2 for 1 cocktails and a bucket beer promo.
Free Walking Tours
If you feel overwhelmed about where to start in a city as huge and intricate as Medellin, I recommend immersing yourself into the city via local experts on free walking tours. This is by far the best way to experience a new place — and the tour guides are always city locals so it’s easy to get an insider’s insight. During my time in Medellin, I really got into the free walking tours — not only are they super informative, touching on the history of the city and the culture of people, but they’re absolutely free (don’t forget to tip)! There are many different free tours you can choose from depending on your interests. Here are a few of the best:
- Food tour
If you’re a foodie like me, then you’ll absolutely love this tour. Here you’ll have the opportunity to walk around the city with a local guide, trying lots of different cuisine in different districts of Medellin. Don’t miss out on bandeja paisa, which is considered to be the national dish of Colombia, originally used to provide the poor peasant workers with energy all day long. This dish consists of rice, plantain, arepa (corn cakes), avocado, minced meat, chorizo, black sausage, and fried pork rind with a fried egg on top, just in case you’re still hungry
By far the most inspiring part of the trip. It was truly awakening, saddening, yet inspiring at the same time to take part in the tour through the once-most dangerous part of Colombia.
On this tour, you’ll be guided by a local who grew up and experienced first hand what it was like to grow up in Comuna 13. We did our tour through Selina, and our guide was truly inspiring. Having grown up in Comuna 13, we got a local insight and perspective into what went on over the past 20 years. The message he left us with was to never take life for granted, as you never know how much more time you have left. He encouraged us to live each day like it could be our last, and to invest time and energy in loved ones.
Immerse in nature at Parque Arvi
Not only will you have the opportunity to ride an epic gondola across Medellin up into the hills and mountains, but you’ll explore a bit of nature outside of the bustling city. You can hop on the gondola right at the subway, and it will send you up into the mountainside to explore numerous trails spanning across 16,000 hectares. Nowadays, you will need to pay for a guide to explore the trails, but it’s cheap (only about $2 USD) and definitely well worth it! Come here for a few hours, or pop over to the nearby town Santa Elena to lodge up for a night or two.
Take a day trip to Guatape
One of the most highly recommended things to do while in Medellin is to take an excursion out to Guatape. Guatape is an adorable village that is debatably the most iconic pueblo you will ever see. It sits just two hours outside of Medellin and is notoriously known for its brightly colored houses that look straight out of a painting. Guatape sits on the edge of a stunning lake, and the main attraction is a towering rock formation called El Penol which you can climb to take in impeccable views of the lake and surrounding area. While fully possible to do in one day, I recommend arranging to spend at least one night in Guatape, so you’re able to enjoy your time here without feeling worried about catching the bus or transport back.
Horseback riding through the coffee farms
The highlight of my whole trip to Colombia was doing a coffee farm tour. The day consisted of horseback riding through the mountains, learning about the coffee-making process from gestation to the coffee pot, whilst buzzing on coffee all day long! If you love coffee, (and if you don’t, what is wrong with you?) then this tour is a must. We went on a tour with Alejandro and have never felt so inspired in my life. He is a local from Medellin, and his life’s work is to his greatest passion and love; his coffee farm.
Casa de la Memoria
This museum will leave you with a somber feeling, but will also offer deeper insight into what Colombia and Medellin have been through over the past 20 years. This museum is unique in that it has many interactive exhibits to teach you about Colombia and its armed conflicts.
Museo de Antioquia
Founded way back in 1881, this museum is home to many interesting works of art. You can find the famous Botero’s art here, as well as pieces that date back to pre-Colombian times. The entry here is about $6 USD, and if you don’t have time to dive in for hours, it’s a place worth at least popping into.
You can meander around this plaza for free and get up close and personal with Botero’s works of art. Botero is known for his interesting proportions in his works of art. His sculptures are unique in how he really makes you ponder perspective and the way in which we view things. While you’re there, I recommend popping over to the Museo de Antioquia, which is in the same area as additional works by Botero.
Santa Fe Shopping Center
Whether you need to reassess your club attire, or simply get a few souvenirs of Medellin, you can find everything you need in this shopping center. You’ll find top brands such as Zara, H&M, as well as Colombian chains and smaller boutiques with local goods.
If you’re in the mood to get crazy, then don’t miss out on this pub crawl. Selina’s pub crawl will take you across Medellin to some of the most notorious spots for both reggaeton and techno. Every day they offer a different itinerary in case you want to repeat it, and the price includes welcome shots, billiard pool, Jenga, darts, beer pong, and all cover fees to get into the different bars and clubs. On this pub crawl, you’ll experience the perfect combination of quieter rooftops to enjoy conversation over cocktails, and louder clubs perfect for dancing.
I’ve saved the best bit of advice for last, but if you’re in Medellin you absolutely have to try dancing salsa. Whether or not you’re a dancer is irrelevant, since local boys and girls can take your hand and spin you around the dance floor whether you know what you’re doing or not. They say that the people of Colombia were born with salsa dance in their blood — and you can truly feel the passion and energy in the salsa clubs. Whether you speak Spanish or not, you can learn to communicate with the people of Medellin through the rhythm and movement in Salsa.
I learned to dance salsa while in Medellin, from a local old guy at a salsa club who only knew a few words of English. It didn’t matter, however. We were speaking the language of dance. He spun me around the dance floor and taught me more than just salsa — he taught me how to listen to music. I’ll never forget when he looked me straight in the eyes and bluntly told me “to stop thinking so much. Just listen, and feel the music.” Straight life advice right there. We danced all night long, and ever since, I’ve been in love with this dance.
There are many opportunities for you to learn this historic dance. Selina offers lessons every Wednesday night for free, and the salsa teacher has a salsa studio just upstairs in Selina where you can take private and group dance classes.
A few salsa clubs we recommend
You’ll find a more authentic vibe in this small yet high-energy salsa club. Notoriously known as one of the oldest salsa clubs in Medellin, here you’ll find mostly Medellin locals. The drink prices are cheap and you’ll have no problem finding a dance partner should you come solo!
Come here on Thursdays and Saturdays for live salsa music, and dancers of all levels. The dance floor is small, which means there is nowhere to escape or awkwardly stand, so get ready to move! This club has a small cover charge but the drinks are cheap.
All in all, you’ll never be bored in Medellin. There’s plenty to do, amazing locals and expats alike to connect with, and delicious food to keep you salivating for years. My last bit of advice? Make sure you give yourself time to extend your trip in case you want to stay here longer — you probably won’t want to leave!