Destination Expert Emily Richards recently traveled to Medellin, Colombia – her first international journey since the pandemic began earlier this year. The city has gracefully adapted to enhanced security measures, showing that Colombia is ready to receive travelers again. Read on for Emily’s insider intel on a privately guided city tour, discovering new highlights and rediscovering favorite haunts.
Medellin, Colombia, affectionately known as the “City of Eternal Spring,” is the perfect place to escape the New England winter. Just last week, I boarded a plane leaving Boston destined for one of my favorite South American destinations: Medellin. Medellin is known for great weather year-round, lush landscapes, and a blossoming restaurant scene, so who wouldn’t want to flee Boston’s bitter cold with a trip to Medellin?
As I arrived at the Boston airport I realized that, even with all that has changed in the past 9 months, things felt pretty normal; granted, I was greeted by enhanced safety protocols and smaller crowds. At each counter there were plexiglass shields between agents and passengers, masks were required in the airport and onboard the plane, and there were consistent stickers on the ground to mark social distancing. Many travelers were also wearing face shields or plastic glasses for further protection, and upon boarding we were given a sanitary pack with disinfectant towelettes and hand sanitizer.
Upon deplaning in Medellin, I had my temperature taken and was given hand sanitizer before passing through the terminal. I wasn’t used to this, coming from Boston, but I soon learned that in Colombia they require temperature checks and hand sanitizer to enter restaurants, supermarkets, and stores, and there are even clear plastic sheets hung between the front and back seat of taxis to keep passenger and driver separated. You’ll also find most taxis drive with the windows down to allow more airflow. What has impressed me most are temporary sinks and wash stations scattered around town so everyone can wash hands frequently, and the touchless foot-operated hand sanitizers set up around the city.
Despite previously having lived in Medellin for over two years, today I’m off to explore the city on my first-ever guided tour! I have plenty of experience exploring the city’s highlights on my own, so my guide Pablo was quick to adjust the tour to maximize our time and show me new places. It was a busy day between visiting the Alpujarra government buildings, the last train car of Colombia, the Parque de Las Luces, the Palacio Nacional, Plaza Botero, and the Comuna 13 neighborhood, and with the information shared by Pablo I was able to gain new insights on the city I’d already grown so found of.
For example, although I’d visited Plaza Botero a number of times, I never knew the statues were donated to the city and that the back of each one is stamped with the date and location it was made. I’m also a big fan of the little food carts scattered around the city that sell fresh fruits, always opting for mango and pineapple, but today Pablo encouraged me to try Guayamanzana, a combination of a guayaba fruit and apple! As we made our way through the city, I continued to learn subtle details and see the city in a new light.
The city tour of Medellin spans a full day (9am-5pm) and generally one would also experience a bird’s-eye-view of the city via one of the local cable car systems during the tour; since I’d already ridden the cable cars previously, Pablo and I decided to focus on other parts of the city less familiar to me, like the government buildings and Parque de Las Luces. Did you know Medellin is unlike other South American cities, which have a main square and historic district? Due to the city’s past, the economic “center” has moved three times, and today there is no main center!
There are so many ways to spend a free day in Medellin! Often I like to wake up early on a Saturday and work from a local café like Pergamino, which has multiple locations in the city, sells good coffee (and a delicious grilled cheese sandwich with house-made mustard), and is a common meeting point for both foreigners and locals. In the afternoon I may head to my favorite restaurant Amazza Gin Garden (either in Laureles, a more relaxed residential district, or Poblado, a lively, upscale neighborhood) for an early dinner and an artisanal gin and tonic, or to the Envy rooftop lounge located above the Charlee Hotel, where you can enjoy the city’s absolute best sunset view. The lounge has limited capacity, so it’s best to arrive a little early, especially on the weekend!
If I’m feeling more ambitious, I love to explore the City of Eternal Spring with a hike. Medellin has a number of full day hikes located within an hour or so from the city, where you can immerse yourself in the lush landscape, or you can check out the Tres Cruces Trail (a moderate 3 hour hike starting in the city), or Parque Arvi (a large nature park located on the mountaintop outside of the city’s valley, which is a full-day adventure complete with walking trails, lookout points, and a small farmer’s market on the weekends). I also highly recommend taking a tour to enjoy the quaint, colorful town of Guatape, where you can hike to the top of the giant El Penol for unbeatable views of the surrounding reservoir and countryside. This is a full day tour where you experience stunning views, get in some exercise, and see the beautiful countryside!
Interested in exploring Medellin yourself? Our Colombia Tours feature the best of the country’s urban metropolises, as well as rural paradises and idyllic Caribbean waters. Contact a Destination Expert now to customize your next expedition.