Medellin, Colombia: A backpacker’s paradise
Once regarded as the most dangerous city in Colombia, Medellin is now a backpacker’s paradise. A must-see part of Colombia, you’ll be hard-pushed to find someone who doesn’t love this great city. From fabulous views to partying in El Poblado, Medellin has something for every traveler.
When you visit Medellin, a must-see is Comuna 13. Once the most dangerous part of Medellin, the area has focused heavily on tourism and completely changed for the better. Tours are frequently run in the neighbourhood; we went with Zippytours and I can’t recommend them enough. On a tip basis, you’ll hear a local’s knowledge of Comuna 13’s history. From people illegally squatting the land to the government trying to push out drug dealers – resulting in the gruesome Operation Orion where many innocent people died – the tours are fascinating!
With Zippytours, I highly recommend their graffiti tour. Here you’ll learn the meaning behind the spectacular graffiti and street art, much of it commemorating the innocent deaths during Operation Orion. For example, a lot of the art features vibrant red and green colours: Red for the blood spilled, green for hope.
Party in El Poblado
It’s no secret Latin Americans like to let their hair down and party. If you feel like joining in, Medellin is your spot! The city is electric and there’s no end to the vibrant nightlife! El Poblado is where you want to be, and the party is primarily centred around Parque Lleras. Surrounded by a variety of bars and clubs, you’ll have no trouble finding the perfect place to dance into the early hours!
Parks around Medellin
Medellin also offers many parks for a relaxing stroll. Ride the cable cars (an experience in itself) up to Parque Arvi nature reserve which has 54 miles of walkable trails. Or take other cable cars to La Aurora for fabulous views of Medellin from above!
The Botanical Gardens (Jardin Botanico) is a great place to see wildlife, from iguanas to turtles to the gardens’ wonderful butterfly house. Across the road is Parque Explora, a science museum and aquarium, and you can easily visit both attractions in the same day.
Not too far away is Cerro Nutibara which is an easy climb (about 15 minutes). At the top are some stores, restaurants and a museum, not to mention a spectacular panoramic view of Medellin!
Get to a soccer match
While you’re in Medellin, you have to get to a soccer match. The two teams, Atlético Nacional and Independiente Medellin, may be rivals but they share the same stadium, so if you’re lucky you’ll see the two playing each other. Colombian fans are serious about their football and watching a match is a fantastic experience. The atmosphere will no doubt draw you in!
Just an hour away from Medellin is Guatape, a colourful little town situated on a spectacular lake. The surroundings are breath-taking and will leave you speechless! It’s a relaxing place to visit and is easily done in a day, but you do have the option of staying overnight if you wish.
Many shuttles include a trip to the famous rock – El Peñón de Guatape – which is highly recommended! The views are incredible from the top where you can see the lake stretching to the horizon. Climbing the famous 740 steps is definitely worth the hardship!
Pablo Escobar tours
Many people are familiar with the impact Pablo Escobar had on Medellin as a notorious cartel leader, and it is often a sensitive topic with locals. In Guatape you can visit his old estate and see the extent of his wealth, and there are other tours and museums in the city centre. However, I recommend being respectful of locals and be wary of anything that glorifies Escobar’s life. The destruction and impact he had on Medellin is easy to see.
Getting around Medellin
Transport around Medellin is fantastic. There are a wealth of taxis in the city and El Poblado is easy to walk around. When you’re venturing further, the metro is quick, punctual and very cheap – a single ride, exchange included, is COP2,400 (about $0.75).
And, of course, don’t forget to get some beautiful, renowned Colombian coffee!