Medellin is one of Colombia’s most magnetic and interesting cities On first appearances you may disagree, but once you learn its story and its remarkable transition from cartel capital, you will fall in love with the city, as I did. Medellin has one of the largest expat communities in Colombia and with its vibrant culture, eclectic cuisine, enduring positivity and thriving economy, it is easy to see why.
There are two bus stations in Medellin, Terminal del Sur and Terminal del Norte. To reach Terminal del Norte go to the metro stop Caribe. Buses from this terminal go to:
The South Terminal is located nearest to El Poblado (see below under Where to Stay), walking distance or a short taxi ride away. Buses from this terminal go to:
Expresso Bolivariano; Rapido Ochoa and Expreso Brasilia.I have had good experiences with all of them. If you are taking a night bus there are two options: Full cama means your chair reclines 180° or almost completely horizontal so you can get a relatively good night's sleep; or semi cama which reclines 140°, tend to be cheaper but aren’t overly comfortable. You can book in advance using Busbud or just go to the station and book directly with the bus company. You will be accosted as soon as you enter the bus station, but don’t feel pressurised; ask for the price, length of the journey, whether the bus stops along the way and if there is a toilet and Wifi on-board and compare with other bus companies within the terminal.
Go Travel and Talk TOP TIPS: Ensure you have your prize possessions on you rather than in the hold of the bus, and do not put anything above your head; keep your small backpack on your lap at all times. I would strongly suggest taking a jumper or a blanket with you on the buses, it can get really cold! And take snacks and water, most buses don’t stop along the way and whilst vendors do get on and off the bus, most of the food is questionable if you don’t have a strong stomach! Finally, get Netflix downloaded on your phone/Ipad and get into a good series or film to pass the time.
The are two airports in Medellin:
The Jose Maria Cordoba Airport (MDE):
Located 20 miles outside of Medellin (45 minutes drive time). Serves domestic and international flights. You can take a taxi from the airport to central Medellin (COL$70,000 / €20 / $24) which are stationed directly outside of the arrivals hall. A cheaper option is to take an airport shuttle bus (Metrobus) or a colectivo (shared taxi). Outside of arrivals, look for a stand with the words 'Hacia Medellin' (towards Medellin). These will drop you off at San Diego/El Centro and then you will need to take a taxi from there to your destination. These are much cheaper, around COL$30,000 (€9 / $10).
The Enrique Olaya Herrera Airport (EOH):
Located close to El Poblado, in the centre of Medellin, this airport serves domestic flights with EasyFly, ADA and Satena (good connecting flights to and from Bogota) and international flights. You can take a taxi to this airport; the cost will vary dependent on where you are coming from.
If you are booking flights, we strongly advise booking through Skyscanner. They offer amazing cheap deals on flights. If you are flying internally within Colombia, head to VIVA Air, you can pick up some great deals here. Make sure you put checked bags if you have one when booking online - do not leave this to do at the airport when checking in - it will work out more expensive.
Medellin’s symbol of hope and moving towards a bright future. It is super clean, incredibly cheap and it connects the whole city, making it very easy to get around. All tickets cost COL$2,300 (€0.70 / $0.80) for a single trip, irrespective of distance. Ask your hostel for a metro map or follow the link here to get an idea. A really helpful site for all things Medellin related Is Medellin Living - check it out here
The cable cars start where the metro ends, connecting people who live in the barrios outside of the city centre. The cable cars make for a great day out sightseeing, and offer the perfect way to get a birds-eye view of Medellin. When you buy your ticket for any of the metro lines, travel one way on a cable car line is included. You will have to buy another ticket or pay more for a return journey. As above the cost is: COL$2,300 (€0.70 / $0.80).
You can pick one up on the street almost instantaneously, but make sure you ask the driver to turn the meter on and always pay in smaller notes or coins (quite often drivers will say they don’t have change). A safer and cheaper option is UBER, especially if you do an UBER pool which is common among backpackers. Download the app before you set off on your trip.
Real City Tours: This is 100% my top recommendation in Medellin but you must book in advance and online. The walking tour is free, but they ask for donations at the end and it is up to you how much you give. If you are lucky enough, you will get Edgar as your tour guide ~ an incredibly talented and knowledgeable guy who blew us all away with his energy, knowledge and love for Medellin.
Cost: Free. Donations welcome.
Check them out on Facebook.
I took a tour to Pablo Escobar's prison through Los Patios hostel and sadly I was disappointed. You spend most of your time in a car and in 25°C heat with no AC, it is not enjoyable when the windows don’t go down. However, seeing the prison he built and escaped from was fascinating. I would suggest shopping around for other tour companies. There is another tour you can do which is paintballing in his old mansion, but given that this was a place where he murdered a lot of people, please think twice before you do this.
* Please be respectful when booking Pablo Escobar tours. Whilst Medellin is now a very different place, a lot of the locals lived through the times of his terror and most have lost a loved one or know of someone who has died as a result of the drug war.
Comuna 13 was one of the most dangerous barrios in Medellin, but after government intervention, it is now one of the safest. As a symbol of change and hope, a guided tour takes you around the barrio so you can see its transformation first hand. With its brightly coloured houses, impressive street art, escalators offering entry to a city that was once cut off, and musical madness with break dancing and rapping, it’s a tour well worth doing.
The tour is completely free although they ask for donations at the end. You need to go to the Metro stop San Javier, the tour starts just outside the station at 10am. You can book this tour through your hostel or head to the Comuna13 Tours website. This and the Real City tour is an amazing way to make friends
Medellín is the birthplace of Fernando Botero, the sculptor and painter known for his enlarged representations of everyday objects, animals and people and he is much loved by Colombians. The Museo de Antioquia has the largest collection of his works and is well worth a visit!
Don’t forget to check out the twenty sculptures outside the Museum in Plaza Botero, donated to the city of Medellin by Fernando as a symbol of a better and brighter city.
To get there, take the metro to Parque Berrio and head to the Plaza Botero.
Cost of entry: COL$10,000 (€3 / $3).
Parque Arvi is an ecological nature reserve and archaeological site that is sure to blow you away. Take the metro to Santo Domingo interchange and then jumped on the cable car Arvi, where you are transported to a different world. Surrounded by nature, waterfalls, a mesmerising butterfly enclosure and green landscapes, it’s a breath of fresh air from the bright lights of Medellin. You can go exploring by yourself or take a guided tour. In addition to the metro ticket Santo Domingo (COL$2,300 / €0.70 / $1), you will need to pay for the Arvi cable car that takes you up to Parque Arvi, which costs COL$5,200 (€1.50 / $2).
Take the Metro to Universidad and walk across the road. You can’t miss the huge circular building at the entrance to the garden. One of Colombia’s oldest botanical gardens, this one is home to many different species of plants and animals. Cost: FREE
This is not a place to be missed. It can be done as a day trip from Medellin or you can stay overnight to really submerge yourself in Colombia’s most colourful town. Head to the South Terminal of Medellin and take a 2.5 bus to Guatapè. I took Rapido Ochoa which was perfectly fine and a great way to enjoy the stunning scenery. The bus drops you at the bottom of the Piedra Del Peñol translated as ‘The Rock’, and it is just that, a gigantic rock surrounded by an artificial lake and stunning fragmented islands. Get your climbing shoes at the ready because it is 649 steps to the top!
Go Travel and Talk Top Tip: Take sunscreen and once at the top, get yourself some fresh mango and salt or a coconut ice cream.
Once you have climbed back down the 649 steps, take a tuk tuk or walk to the beautiful lakeside village of Guatapè, around 3km away. This stunning little village is packed full of colourful houses, flowers and delicious seaside food. I highly recommend the troucha (trout) which is caught fresh from the lake. Head to Plaza Simon Bolivar and people watch over a cool beer or Limonanda de Coco (lemonade with fresh coconut).
Take a trip down to the lake for a wander before catching the bus back to Medellin. They run until 5.30pm. Make sure you book your return bus as soon as you get to Guatapè, as they fill up fast!
The most popular area for backpackers: El Poblado. Whilst it is not the ‘real’ Medellin, it is a good base for accommodation and nightlife, especially for a solo traveler as you are guaranteed to meet people. An upmarket but affordable area, this South Eastern neighbourhood has many restaurants, bars, supermarkets and hostels, tailored for the expat and traveler community. Head to Parque Lleras for a wild night of bar hopping and don’t miss the bar with a huge swimming pool out the back filled to the brim with balls, La Octava, it’s an experience to say the least!
Los Patios. One of the BEST hostels I have ever stayed in. The bunk beds are actually pods with privacy curtains, lamps, fans, super fresh sheets, en-suite showers and bathrooms and fluffy towels (a joy after months of quick dry towels). They have different floors with different themes, a STUNNING roof terrace bar with a view of the city, hammocks and a small vegetable garden, always as a huge kitchen and dining space which is perfect for meeting other travelers and socialising. But, the best bit is the staff - big shout out to them. They even bought me presents on my birthday. Super affordable but not the cheapest at: COL$50,000 (€15 / $16) per night for bed in an 8 bed mixed dormitory. Follow them on Instagram: @lospatioshostel
Casa Kiwi. I didn’t stay here but it is also based in the backpacker area of El Poblado, and offers a good mix of chill and social from what I understand from other travelers. Cost for 6 bed mixed dormitory: COL$33,000 (€10 / $11).
If you are up for a party try the Happy Buddha hostel. Be warned though, this is where the weekend pub crawls start from and things get pretty lairy. If you are looking for sleep, this is not the place for you. I had a great time using it for a few drinks and as a base for the pub crawl but slept soundly at Los Patios at the end of the night.
Medellin has so much to offer in terms of food choices, it caters for everyone.
- There are hundreds of street vendors in Medellin that offer a perfect way to save money, but not the calories! Anything from meat filled empanadas and arepas (corn bread) to sweet treats such as cocadas (coconut candy!)
- The most traditional dish of the Antioqui region and found throughout Medellin is bandeja paisa, a hearty mix of rice, beans, a fried egg, avocado (yey for the green!), shredded beef, chorizo, chicharron (pork rind), black pudding, arepa and plantain! Head to Casa de Beto close to Toucan Spanish School if you are up for the challenge or go to Restaurante Hacienda which is right out of Los Patios hostel and 1 minute walk up the road.
- You could also try mondongo which is a filling soup made with veggies and coriander and of course a side plate of avocado, banana and arepa.
Vegetarian / Vegan Food:
- One of the many things El Poblado does incredibly well. Check out the stunning Mariettas which offers affordable and down right delicious small plates. The Medellin Guru does a really nice review on it and offers insights into other vegetarian/vegan restaurants in Medellin.
- If you are a pizza lover like myself, you absolutely must check out Cafe Zorba in El Poblado. Hands down the best pizza you will ever taste, not to mention the hummus and freshly made pitta bread and don’t get me started on the wine! Turn up early (6pm) as they are super popular and there is no way to reserve ahead of time.
One of the hardest parts, when I was planning my trip to Colombia, was finding places I could volunteer but not pay astronomical amounts to a tour operator and not actually see where my money was going. Angeles of Medellin is a small charity based out in the barrios of Medellin to help children and women, offering them a safe space where they can play and learn English as well as other skills. This was truly one of the most humbling experiences for me and super easy to organise!
Set up by Marcos Kaseman, an American from NYC, this little charity has a community centre in the barrio of Regalo de Dios where a number of displaced and impoverished families live. Anyone can volunteer for as long or as short as they want, all Marcos asks for is a one-time donation of COL$80,000 (€23 / $27) to help buy supplies for the children and women.
You can contact Marcos on Facebook and meet him and the other volunteers at Acevedo Metro station at 10am. From here, you will all take a trip up in the cable car, a perfect chance to meet your fellow volunteers. Once out of the cable car, it is then a short and very bumpy bus ride to the community centre.
Marcos will tell you all about the charity and the background story, and you will meet all the members as they start dropping by for the afternoon. It is only 4 hours a day and you can volunteer for as little or as long as you want. It is an incredibly rewarding and heart warming experience. I always think it is nice to give something back to a community you are visiting and what better way to do so?