Pronounced Med-ay-een, Medellín is (in my humble opinion), today’s greatest Latin American city.
When I talk about how much I enjoyed Medellín, I often get surprised reactions. “Isn’t it very unsafe?” People still associate this vibrant city with its dark drug trafficking days under the rule of Pablo Escobar. Until recently, this city was considered a dangerous place. But big changes are happening in Medellín! For several years now, the city has a thriving flow of tourists. Sadly, parts of the city are still living in extreme poverty, and the effects of the past are still quite visible. But the energy and revitalization are hard to deny. I highly recommend a visit. Be part of what helps turn around the no-longer-relevant reputation, and help Medellin spark it’s economy with your visit. I promise, you will have a blast!
The Facts: Medellín, Colombia
Aprox. 2,510,000 live in Medellín 2017. With a population growth rate of aprox. 2% a year for the last 3 years.
6.2442° N, 75.5812° W – Antioqua, department in Colombia.
COT (Abbreviation for Colombia Time); UTC−05:00
Temperature: Temperatures are consistent throughout the year.
Average Highs: 82° F (28° C); Highs: 95-100° F (35-38° C)
Average Lows: 63° F (17.2° C); Lows: 48° F (9° C)
Rainfall: It rains an average of 227 days a years in Medellín. Time of year with the lowest average rainfall: December-February
4,900 ft (1,500 m) above sea level
I am not gonna lie, Medellín is a freaking awesome city… Probably my favorite of all the big cities in South America. Those of you who know me, know I’ve spent a lot of time on this Latin landmass, and I’ve always preferred nature to cities here. So finding a South American city that I really loved goes to show how great this place is!
Things To Do in Medellín:
(A few ideas, anyway. There’s a lot of options. This list can get you started on some highlights)
- Parque Explora – Aquarium and Interactive Science Museum. Fun for all ages.
- Exotic Fruit Tour
- Pablo Escobar Tour
- Ride the Cable Cars up to Parque Arvi
- Wander the streets around El Poblado (Night and Day)
- Day trip to Guatapé
1) Parque Explora
I had initially read about the aquarium at Parque Explora online. The aquarium came highly recommended. As far as I knew, it was only that. When I arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the museum is much more than an aquarium.
Parque Explora is a comprehensive interactive science museum. It’s great fun for all ages. At 30 years old, I felt like a kid again. There are a number of interactive exhibits, and all were a lot of fun. All exhibits aim to provide a fully immersive experience involving movement, sound, sight, and touch. Wander, play, explore and investigate corridors dedicated to complex topics, such as the mind and time.
If you have little ones, there are areas designed just for youngsters. If you are an all-adult crowd, there’s plenty of fun to be had for you as well.
Parque Explora Online – Check out Parque Explora’s website to find out more.
What People Are Saying – Read what people had to say about their experience at Parque Explora on Tripadvisor.
2) Exotic Fruit Tour
You guys, seriously… Do this. It’s such a silly sounding thing. It’s a tour of a food market where you learn about fruit. Taste exotic fruits, learn about their health benefits, where they come from and how they are grown. It’s such a simple idea.
Could you go to the market on your own, try unusual fruits and research them later on google? Of course. But, this was one of the most fun and interesting guided tours I’ve taken. Anywhere. The tour was inexpensive. It included samples of all the fruits we learned about, plus a freshly made juice of our choice.
In addition to knew found fruit knowledge, the tour offered a window into Colombian culture. We talked about cultural foods, differences between regions, and Colombian agriculture.
A combination of learning and trying new things, plus a sweet and charming tour guide with perfect english made this tour so great. This was one of those travel experiences that I have found myself talking about over and over. When anyone asks me about Medellín or Colombia, I tell them about the fruit tour. I feel a bit silly for loving it that much.
I also must express how good the fruit in Colombia is (and coffee for that matter). Although most of the crops are not native to Colombia, the terrain is perfect for cultivating the absolute best tropical plants. Since this tour, I have tried some of the same fruits in Asia and other parts of the word. Honestly, they were never as sweet or flavorful as the fruits grown in Colombia.
Book Your Exotic Fruit Tour – Follow this link to book your tour.
What People Are Saying – Read what people had to say about their Exotic Fruit Tour experience on trip advisor.
*Transportation is not included. You have to get to the market on your own. When you reserve your tour, the company sends an email with directions from your hotel to the market (via taxi, bus or metro).
3) Pablo Escobar Tour
A Pablo Escobar tour is a fantastic way to learn more about the recent history of Medellín.
Our tour guide, Carlos, was more than your average tour guide. His own story added a personal touch to our experience. Carlos is a former police officer who played an active role in the former battle against Pablo Escobar and the infamous drug cartels of Colombia.
He had personally fallen victim to bribery by the Escobar clan. His option was “accept money and comply, or die”. Haunted by guilt, he turned himself into to his superiors, who immediately pardoned and forgave him. After all, at that time, they were all in the same boat floating up shit’s creek together.
Even after Escobar’s death, Carlos continued to fight the good fight against the drug-lords who plagued his country. Eventually Carlos was run out of Colombia by an angry cartel wanting revenge for his role in an incarceration. He fled to Rhode Island, USA with his family, where they lived for 9 years. He finally returned home several years ago, when he received word that his enemies had died in prison. Today, Carlos is grateful that his home country is finally a safe place to live. He muses that after all he went through, it is appropriate that Pablo Escobar (the man who nearly killed him on multiple occasions) is now a source of prosperity in his life.
I recommend this tour. Request Carlos if you can!
Our tour began and ended at our hotel. Carlos drove us around the city to various significant sites in the life of Pablo Escobar, and shared his stories and histories along the way.
The following list outlines the tour:
- Pablo’s old apartment building – he owned the entire building. This was a brief stop to examine the outside of his Medellín city home.
- Pablo’s Childhood Barrio – A drive through the neighborhood of Escobar’s childhood allowed us insights into ways the infamous man contributed to regenerating his hometown.
- Pablo’s Prison – our guide drove us up a beautiful mountain road that wound it’s way around the outskirts of Medellín. At a beautiful vista, we wandered around the prison which Pablo Escobar built for himself. Seriously. Escobar somehow negotiated his surrender with the Colombian government in 1991 under the condition that he build his own prison in the mountains, overlooking all of Medellín. If you’ve seen Narcos, this place is far more beautiful then what you saw on television.
- He had a helicopter pad, a gigantic 4-post bed, a look-out house with a telescope where he watched over the city (and his wife), and an escape route through the jungle (which of course, he eventually used to remove himself from the dreadful prison life). Essentially, he built himself a fortress.
- Pablo’s Grave – Even in death, Pablo Escobar continues to be a controversial character. To my surprise, he and his cartel family are buried together in a beautiful place overlooking the mountains, as honorable figures. It was clear in his final resting place that people have mixed emotions towards the fallen drug-lord. Prior visitors left notes behind to thank and honor him. Letters of gratitude translate to things such as “I love you, Pablo”, and “With much respect for the boss”.
Book Your Pablo Escobar Tour – Private tours are pricey, but it was so worth it. Don’t forget to request Carlos as your guide!
What People Are Saying – Read what people had to say about Medellín City Tours on trip advisor. These reviews are based on the company at large, including all it’s tours, not only the Pablo tour.
4) Ride the Cable Cars Up To Parque Arvi
Medellín is engulfed by mountains. In the Northeast corner above the city, lies Parque Arvi (Arvi Park). This park is a 3,9537 acre (16,000 hectare) Nature Preserve. The park is home to beautiful nature trails, perfect for enjoying local flora and fauna, and stunning panoramic views. Arvi also protects a site of pre-hispanic archeological ruins. If you are uncertain about venturing off on your own, the park offers a myriad of guided nature walks.
Parque Arvi is a beautiful way to spend a day in the fresh mountain air. But getting there is half the fun! This was my opportunity to learn the Medellín Metro system. Medellín has a fantastic public transportation system that combines above-ground trains and cable cars. It’s worth it for the views, as well as the experience.
Tangent: I highly recommend doing this in all major cities that have a comprehensive public transportation system. Taking the metro lines always offers a glimpse into real city life. You share the transit system with locals and rely on the people who know the city best to find your way. If the transport system is above ground, like Medellín, this is also a chance to see more of the city. It’s always an invaluable experience.
Plan Your Parque Arvi Adventure – Visit the Park website for more information.
5) Wander The Streets of El Pablodo
El Poblado is the wealthiest neighborhood in Medellín. It’s has both residential and commercial areas. If you have ever been to New York, I would compare the neighborhood to Manhattan’s West Village. It’s trendy. It’s up-and-coming. There are a great restaurants to please a variety of tastebuds. The neighborhood also has lots of trees, a quality I appreciate a city.
Make your way close to Lleras Park (yeah-ras) and explore the surrounding blocks. This park is the heart of El Poblado. You will be inspired by street performers and street art. You will lose yourself in the awesome bars and restaurants. Check it out day and night and see how the neighborhood changes with the time of day.
Note to Vegetarians: My hotel in El Poblado, was a 10 minute walk away from Lleras Park. I ate at 4 vegetarian restaurants between my hotel and the park. I believe there were several others as well. This is an excellent neighborhood for vegan’s and vegetarians to dine out.
6) Day Trip To Guatapé
Don’t miss a trip to Guatapé! Private or group day trips to Guatapé are among the most popular excursions from Medellín. This charming town is a great escape from the big city. Next time I find myself in Colombia, I would like to spend a night or two in Guatapé and get to know the town more completely. But, even if you have limited time and can only make a day trip (as I did) it’s a place you won’t want to skip over.
El Peñon – Guatapé is most famous for it’s iconic views from atop El Peñon, the giant rock. El Peñon is an important folkloric symbol that was worshipped by ancient pre-Colombians. Today, visitors climb the grueling 659 steps for some of the most breathtaking views in the country. From above, you look down at an incredibly beautiful man-made reservoir. Many package tours include a leisurely boat ride through the resevoir after the El Peñon climb (and beer is typically sold on the boat).
Guatapé Pueblo – The town of Guatapé is delightful. It’s streets are adorned with chintzy decorations and bright painted colors which blend beautifully with reservoir shoreline and mountain views. This town is truly enchanting. Just take a look: