My Favorite 10 Things to Do Medellin
Things to Do Medellin - Understand
Medellin became infamous for drugs and violence just 20 years ago. The Medellin Cartel ruled the city and robbed it of decades of development. This is all over and Medellin is easily as safe (or unsafe) as Bogota.
Medellin enjoys a perfect climate with cool nights and dry, 75-80 degree weather every day. It's located in a big valley (no surprise there) at just under 5,000 feet of altitude.
With the 3,000:1 exchange rate to the US dollar, Medellin is great value for most things, although hotels can be expensive. Air pollution is a major issues (like in Bogota), with lots of diesel exhaust particles in the air.
In general, Medellin is a very pleasant city; in the right neighborhoods (such as Poblado and Laureles) it feels like a mix of Singapore, Bogota and Rio - just smaller. The rough neighborhoods are polluted and downright scary even during the day. For first-time visitors, it's wise to stay in Poblado and only drive elsewhere.
Things to Do Medellin - Safety
Medellin is still Colombia and public safety is rather rare. However, the difference between Poblado and one of the more industrial neighborhoods lower down in the valley is incredible; you go back and forth decades of development. I'd base myself in Poblado (which is safe to walk, even at night) and carefully include other neighborhoods first during the day.
It's a good idea to also invest in a hotel with better security, though it's not required to stay safe.
Things to Do Medellin - Get Around
Keep in mind that Medellin's international airport is about 40 miles outsides the city, in another major valley. On my last visit, Uber wasn't there and the taxi dramas made things unpleasant. This is all gone now and your friendly Uber driver will take you wherever you'd like to go.
Medellin also has a safe and new Metro system; it gets crowded during rush hour, but is a safe alternative to spending your time in traffic.
Things to Do Medellin - Sights
Medellin downtown is a hairy affair, but certainly worth an expedition during the day. There's lots of cathedrals, markets, street sellers, shops and offices. It's bustling!
Jardín Botánico Joaquín Antonio Uribe
The botanical gardens has a surprising amount of animals on display and when I visited there was also a flower show occupying half the park. It's a great place to learn about that lucky climate Medellin enjoys.
Inside there's an aquarium that's worth seeing. If you are in a hurry, just stroll around the plaza - there are some fantastic photo opportunities.
Universidad de Antioquia
You can ask for a visitor pass and tour the grounds of this major Colombian university. It's not Stanford, but still has lots of atmosphere and architecture.
Metro Cable to Parque Arví
This was my favorite thing to do in Medellin - for just COP 4,600 (US$1.50) each way, you can ride the cable car up over Medellin's largest 'favela' all the way into the forest. It's easily the longest cable car ride - about 60 minutes' long. Up in the hills it is around 8,000 feet in altitude and it get surprisingly cool. There is no shortage of scenic views on this ride and it's fast, clean and safe. It gets busy during rush hour, though, so avoid that.
Parque Lleras is the center of Medellin's best neighborhood Poblado, between the 9th and 10th Streets and the 35th and 38th carreras. It's unlikely that you'd miss it when walking around randomly. It's more of a town square than a park, and is locally known as Zona Rosa, a place where people get together in the evenings.
Museo de Antioquia
This is a great little museum right downtown, with a mix of old and new art.
Pueblito Paisa is a touristy installation that shows the old Colombian houses in a mock village. It's a bit tacky, but the views from the hill all over the valley floor are gorgeous.
Museo El Castillo
I have yet to make up there, but the pictures look gorgeous - it looks like a real castle. I saved that for my next visit to Medellin.
Museo de Arte Moderno Sede Ciudad del Río
This museum is not in Rio, even if it sounds that way. It's housed in a post-industrial building in a modern neighborhood. The exhibitions are small and 30 minutes will be plenty of time there.
Things to Do Medellin - Eat & Drink
This is easily my favorite spot in town. Set on a calm street with old trees and a huge outside patio, this coffee shop brews fantastic espresso and has delicious food. It's also incredibly cheap. If that's not enough, the WiFi is fast and the service super-friendly. What a winner!
Barbacoa Burger & Beer
There are safe and interesting places outside of Poblado, like this burger joint in Laureles and the leafy streets around it.