Medellin, Colombia | The city of Eternal Spring, where the street art is bold, the people are proud and the arepas are topped with the most amazing cheese. Medellin is a city that has so much to give, and the locals truly seem to love sharing their city with you. Though once plagued by violence, Medellin has become substantially safer, and is now a quintessential stop for backpackers in South America.
Medellin was our first stop on our 15-month round-the-world trip. We spent 19 days in Medellin because we wanted to adjust to our new backpacker lifestyle. Though you certainly don’t need 19 days in Medellin, its low cost of living and high concentration of things to do make it a great destination for a longer stay.
Let’s talk about all the things you need to know to plan an awesome trip to Medellin.
PRAISE | Reasons to Travel to Medellin
1| Cheap Thrills
Medellin has so much to offer and for a great price, especially compared to the US Dollar or Euro. The cheapest beer we ever had was a street beer near Poblado Park for 1000 COP (about $0.33 USD). Our Airbnb only 10 minutes away from Parque Lleras came out to only $40 USD a night. (Check out our Medellin Travel Cost infographic for even more pricing details!)
When the prices are reasonable, you’re able to do so much more. We took a graffiti tour, spent the day playing at the science museum and bought guarapo (sugar cane and lime drink) every chance we had. There’s also a ton to do for free, like the botanical gardens or Sunday Ciclovia.
2 | When Coffee is Life, Colombia is Required Travel
Coffee from Colombia is savored all around the world, and some of the best small-batch producers can be found just outside of Medellin. A visit to Medellin would not be complete without a coffee farm tour where you’ll learn how coffee is grown, harvested, roasted and sold.
Don’t miss the chance to purchase some beans from local coffee roasters, too. Not only as a keepsake, but also to drink while you’re there. Did you know that the coffee you buy in Colombia is usually not very good? As a country, they don’t drink that much coffee, so they export most of the good stuff and the locals drink whatever is left.
3 | Perfect For Digital Nomads
If you’re a digital nomad or just have the flexibility to work remotely, Medellin is the perfect place to go. There is a great cafe scene with reliable free wifi and a cultural acceptance of working patrons. Medellin is also on the same timezone as the US east coast. That makes it super easy to conduct business with colleagues in the US from a laptop in Medellin.
LATTES | Where to Get Your Coffee Fix
- PERGAMINO | Medellin is home to our favorite cafe in the world! We spent many a days working from Pergamino, drinking Cold Brew Tonics and loving life.
- TOUCAN CAFE | Our go-to pit stop before venturing out on one of the many tours we took with Toucan Tours. If you find yourself at Toucan Cafe, you have to try the limonada de café, a gloriously icy blend of coffee and lemonade.
- CAFE VELVET | Cafe Velvet is a quaint cafe with a beautiful green patio space. It’s a great spot for a coffee and pretty pastry.
RUNWAYS | How to Get There & Get Around
- AIRPORT | José María Córdova International Airport (MDE)
- TRANSIT TO CITY CENTER | It’s a 45 minute drive from the airport to the El Poblado neighborhood. We took a private transfer that we booked in advance through Latin Hosts.
- INTERCITY TRANSIT | The Metro does a great job connecting the city. You can easily take the train between destinations like Envigado, El Poblado and the city center. There’s also a series of cable car lines that connect the mountain neighborhoods to the city center. The people of Medellin are very proud of their Metro, and they should be. It’s just one of the many ways the city used urban planning to distribute wealth and reduce crime.
- INTRACITY TRANSIT | We chose to take lots of cheap, short flights between cities in Colombia. This was mostly because it was our first country, and we didn’t realize how easy buses would be. Colombia is actually super well connected by bus. If we had to do it again, we’d definitely take advantage of that. For our trip though, the only bus we took was from Medellin to Salento.
STAYS | Pick your Accommodation
- NEIGHBORHOOD | We stayed in El Poblado, which is one of the most popular neighborhoods for tourists. All of our favorite coffee shops, the bar district of Parque Lleras and the weekly farmers market, Mercados Campesino, were all located in El Poblado.
- WHAT TO BOOK | We stayed at a great Airbnb just 10 minutes walking to Parque Lleras. Our apartment was in a high-rise with 24-hour security and we felt very safe. The wifi was flawless and we had a balcony with a great view. We highly recommend booking with our host, David. If you’re new to Airbnb, use my Airbnb referral link to signup and you’ll get $40 off a home booking of $75 or more!
- HOW MUCH WILL IT COST | In July 2017, we paid $40 a night which is about what it costs today. There are cheaper Airbnb options, but for the quality and location, we thought this was an awesome value.
DAYS | Sights & Activities
There is so much to do in Medellin and we loved doing all of it! If you’re looking to fill 1 to 4 days in Medellin, we’ve already mocked up a Medellin itinerary to help you fit in all of our favorite spots in just a few days. If you’re looking for more inspiration, here’s our list of things we think you have to see and do during your time in Medellin.
Things To Do in Medellin
- PARQUE LLERAS | The bar scene in Medellin is centered around Parque Lleras. It’s a perfect spot for everything from happy hour to a wild night out. We personally loved getting cheap street beers and watching the street performers.
- FREE WALKING TOUR | We’ve done 20 free walking tours around the world, and the Real City Tour in Medellin was the best. It is such an important part of any trip to Medellin and is probably the only thing I’ll ever say you “must do”.
- CICLOVIA | On Sunday mornings, the main streets of Medellin shut down to cars and become Ciclovia, which translates to “bike path”. The streets are taken over by walkers, runners, bikers and street vendors. It’s a great time!
- ENVIGADO | Though technically a suburb, Envigado feels like another trendy neighborhood of Medellin. It’s the endpoint of Ciclovia so it’s worth biking or walking over there for a coffee and a meal. I’ve heard they have some fun bars too, but we were only there during the day.
- JARDIN BOTANICO DE MEDELLIN | A free botanical garden and a great spot for a picnic and giant-lizard watching.
- PARQUE EXPLORA | Interactive science museum for kids and adults alike. Don’t miss our video of our adventures at Parque Explora.
- PARQUE ARVI | We didn’t go here, but everyone else does, so we feel like we have to tell you about it.
- COFFEE FARM TOUR | We took the Coffee Farm Tour through Toucan Cafe & Tours. Not only was it an informative tour, but the food was seriously amazing and we made great friends. We also had some crazy weather and a hilarious end to our coffee farm tour.
- GUATAPE DAY TRIP | We took the Guatapé and El Peñol Tour with Toucan Cafe & Tours, which was fine, but it was just not enough time. You should really try to take the bus to Guatape and spend a night there.
- GRAFFITI TOUR | Comuna 13 tells a beautiful story of urban renewal. Don’t miss the chance to see the brightly colored houses and phenomenal street art while learning about how Medellin used color to re-write their future. Our Graffiti Tour with Toucan Cafe & Tours was so informative, plus proceeds supported Casa Kolacho, who are responsible for much of the artwork there.
GRAZE | Where to Eat
- CAFE ZORBA | Our favorite pizza place in El Poblado, where you absolutely have to try the beer mustard pizza.
- GOVINDAS | A great spot for authentic local foods made vegetarian in La Candelaria.
- CHEF BURGER | This place was right by our Airbnb, so we went more than we think you need to. They have a wide variety of burgers for vegetarians and meat eaters and a nice outdoor patio.
- EMPANADAS EL RINCONCITO PAISA | An admittedly crappy hole-in-the-wall empanada joint. But the secret to a perfect cheap night is to grab empanadas here, a 33-cent beer from the convenience store next door, and then go watch the street performers in Poblado Park.
- LENTEJA EXPRESS | A good but pricy vegetarian option in El Poblado.
- MERCADOS CAMPESINO | The Sunday farmers market in El Poblado is a great spot to pick up some essential local foods. Your shopping list should include: guarapo (sugar cane drink), salpicon de frutas (a fruit salad of sorts), arepas (griddle corn cakes) and Colombian quesito (a fresh, soft white cheese to put on your arepas).
HAZE | Where to Drink
- LA OCTAVA BAR | Our favorite bar near Parque Lleras.
- NIAGARA 5 PUERTAS | Perfect local hole-in-the-wall dive bar.
- BERLIN | This place got wild later on, but it was a good stop for an early beer. Cool decor inside.
- TREE BAR | This is the hostel bar at Happy Buddha, but it’s great to hit up even if you’re not staying there. They had a great happy hour and second-floor patio with a nice view for people watching.
- 37 PARK | A super cute bar with a fabulous outdoor space for their regular movie screenings.
On Our Way: Where To Next
It’s time for the world’s tallest palm trees at Cocora Valley and a bar game that involves chucking rocks at packs of gunpowder in a game called Tejo. That’s right folks, we’re heading to Salento!
We took the public bus from Medellin to Salento with a connect in Pereira.
And that’s a wrap! Have you been to Medellin? Please share your tips and favorite spots in the comments!