Our Medellin Colombia Things to Do, Where to Stay, and Where to Eat Guide
Cable cars. Aguardiente. Lush gardens. Innovation. Street art. Museum Experiences. Plastic surgery. Red roof covered hillsides. A tragic past.
All of these words describe Medellin Colombia -- a place we'd dreamed about visiting for years. We had just experienced vising Bogota for the first time a few weeks earlier so we didn't know what to expect. In general, we heard many people say Bogota was their favorite but we heard just as many people saying Medellin was better than Bogota.
It helped that our good friend in Portland, Juan, was born and raised in Medellin. After he met our friend Kelly studying abroad in Italy and getting married, he moved to Portland where the four of us became lifelong friends. We were showered with fruit lady postcards, aguardiente, and guava candy each time they returned home from a trip to Colombia. Needless to say: we kept pinching ourselves that we were in the city we'd heard so much about. However, we were a bit heartbroken that our friends couldn't be there to show us around the city. So, we set out on our own to discover this diverse city not really feeling like a tourist but also not feeling like a local. By the end, we would be happy to come back and be a tourist or local again!
That being said, we spent two weeks in Medellin and had the chance to meet and stay with Juan's family. They don't speak any English, so our Spanish skills were really put to the test. His sweet mother fed us way too much food and we listened to salsa music with his sister. At one point, Antonio, Juan's dad, brought up a photo on his phone of Kelly, Juan, Daniel, and I. He got a bit teary-eyed as he said that he holds this photo very close to his heart. Needless to say, seeing the family that raised our friend had to be one of the most serendipitous moments of our travels. Being out on the road, it's easy to forget what it's like to be in a home with home-cooked meals and overwhelming love. A warm hug and 'thank you' to Antonio, Luz, Maria, and Consuelo for hosting us.
things to do
A free walking tour or a paid guided city tour - We did a guided city tour with Capture Colombia Tours through Los Patios Hostel was one of the highlights for us. Sara, the curator, took us out and about for nearly six hours. This guided tour was unique in that it was largely focused around city transportation and the tour even begins at the metro station nearby. Medellin has an incredible public transportation system with a metro station in just about every neighborhood. We rode the metro, the tram, and one of the city's many cable cars. Sara provided personal stories and insight into the city as we wandered through the lively city on a cloudy morning. We tasted fresh fruits at the local market, learned about the city flower festival, visited Museo Casa de la Memoria (violence museum), and discussed the ways in which Medellin is overcoming its dark past.
Jardín Botánico de Medellín - The botanical garden is located on 34 acres of land near the middle of the city and features over 1,000 different species of plants. The morning that we visited the gardens, we were among only a handful of others wandering around. The gardens have a lake, a tropical palm garden, a desert garden, a butterfly garden, and more. Grab a $1 coffee and enjoy the peace and quiet.
Museo de Antioquia & Plaza Botero - This art museum and plaza near downtown Medellin is most popular for featuring art by Medellin native Fernando Botero. Even if you don't know Botero by name, you've likely seen his work at some point. He's known for featuring curvy, plump, round people, and objects. Botero has donated his work to the museum, including 23 bronze statues outside in Plaza Botero. For a 10,000 pesos ($5.50 USD) entrance fee per person, you can see his iconic work along with a number of other exhibits at the museum. We do recommend touring the museum but if you are limited on money or time, for free, you can see a few of his iconic pieces in Plaza Botero. The plaza is also a great place to people watch and experience locals going about their day in the plaza.
El Tesoro Parque Comercial Shopping Mall - If you're looking to do some shopping in the air-conditioning, El Tesoro is your place. It's located high up on the hill above the city and features some incredible views. If you're traveling with children, they'll love the mini amusement park inside the mall. Although it doesn't look far on a map, make sure you take an Uber there because the hills are steep.
Pablo Escobar Tour - A lot of people have asked us if we experienced the Pablo Escobar Tour while we were in Medellin. It is one of the top tourist attraction spots in Medellin. However, after consulting with many locals we found out that Medellin locals do not support the ongoing tourism to explore Pablo Escobar's dark relationship with the country. See, many people in Colombia have been directly affected by Pablo Escobar's violent assault on Colombia. Many have lost loved ones to the violent drug war fueled by Pablo Escobar. For that reason, we do not recommend participating in a Pablo Escobar Tour.
Museo Casa de la Memoria (Museum) - One day while out on a walking tour we had the chance to experience the Violence and Resistance Memories exhibit at this museum. We have to admit this exhibit completely caught us off guard as we didn't know exactly what to expect and they have done a fantastic job at curating this museum. Exploring the violent past of Colombia was one of the most important things we did as tourists of this beautiful South American country. We left the museum completely moved by the experience and we felt like we had such a rich understanding of Colombia and it's dark past with drugs.
Visit Guatape - Many people opt to do a single day trip to Guatapé from Medellin. This is totally doable, but we recommend spending a few nights in Guatapé. Known as the most colorful town in South America, Guatapé is a great little town to walk around in with several bustling plaza areas. We wandered from plaza to plaza taking photos and then headed just outside of town to climb the giant rock for a view of the surrounding lakes.
Comuna 13 Tour - To learn more about Medellin's past and future, we recommend a tour to Comuna 13 with Inside Medellin Tours. This outdoor tour of this iconic neighborhood is better than most museum tours we have experienced. Read our full blog post about the tour.
where to stay
Be Okay Hostel+ - This funky, modern hostel is located within blocks of the best restaurants and bars in Medellin. The hostel features a fantastic rooftop that's perfect for relaxing, people watching on the streets below, and enjoying a beer. The friendly staff is usually up there socializing with their guests as people are cooking in the kitchen or playing cards. Be Okay has a level of comfort that many hostels can't quite achieve. It feels like you're staying with family here. We stayed in both the dorms and the private rooms and loved both options. The beds are super comfortable! If you're visiting Medellin, definitely check out Be Okay Hostel.
Los Patios Hostel - The hostel itself is beautifully designed with a thoughtful theme offering both private room and dorm room options. It is a perfect hybrid of a party hostel and boutique hostel mixed which means it is great for every type of backpacker. The rooms themselves are very distanced from the shared lounge and rooftop bar which means you won't be bothered by whatever is going on at the hostel. Each floor in their buildings (Los Patios is comprised of two buildings across the street from one another) have a different Colombian theme. For example, the second floor may showcase the jungle of Colombia while the fourth floor highlights the beaches. There are many signs around the boutique hostel that allow their guests to read more about Colombia, the city of Medellin, and everything it has to offer. We found this to be both fun and educational!
Each building has a large rooftop bar (a backpacker dream), a shared lounge space, salsa lessons, and excellent wifi (seriously the fastest free wifi we've had in South America)! This made blogging on the rooftop with a cocktail in hand very enjoyable. Downstairs, the hostel has ping pong tables, pool tables, a large kitchen, and free coffee all day.
Whether you are looking for a party hostel, a boutique hostel, a private room, a dorm room, or all of the above with a little salsa on the side Los Patios is the best hostel in Medellin Colombia, we absolutely recommend it. Due to the fact that it is an experience hostel you won't have to do anything but show up and experience the beautiful city of Medellin. Read even more about it here!
where to eat
Dharma Vegan Resto - This is a great lunch spot in the El Poblado neighborhood. The owner strives to show people that traditional Colombian food can be just as delicious without meat and dairy products. The menu of the day changes daily, so it's a guarantee that you'll taste different flavors each time you visit. This was our favorite restaurant in Medellín!
Street Burritos - To be honest, food in Colombia isn't as cheap as other South American countries. We found a woman selling vegetarian burritos from a little stall in a plaza of El Poblado neighborhood. They were easy on the wallet and delicious. A great option if you're watching your budget.
Bunuelos - A popular (and unhealthy) breakfast item, these are fried dough balls often stuffed with cheese. Everyone should try them at least once in Colombia. Find any plaza around the city and you can likely find bunuelo street vendors.
La Bodeguita Havanera - A Medellin locals favorite spot with live music from many regions of Latin America and incredible mojitos. A fun atmosphere to enjoy a few drinks!
Crepes and Waffles - We actually didn't try Crepes & Waffles until Cartagena, but there are several locations in Medellin Colombia too. If you are passing by and in the mood for something sweet, try their incredible ice cream. We visited multiple times in Cartagena because we couldn't get enough of the flavors -- especially the pistachio. The restaurant is known for hiring single women or women in need, so that's a cause that we 100% support!
Ajiacos and Mondongos - This restaurant doesn't look like much from the outside, but it's a very famous lunch spot in Medellin. The restaurant offers traditional soups, ajicos, and mondongos in vegetarian options. If you're really lucky, you may have the chance to meet Juanes (or other various celebrities) at the restaurant as we did!
In love and adventure,
b & d