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Insider Tips: Travel to Medellin, Colombia

Destination Expert Emily Richards explored the barrios of Medellin, Colombia, a city known for its remarkable transformation from a troubled past to a thriving metropolis of creativity and progressive spirit. 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?

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Despite previously having lived in Medellin for over two years, I was 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. With the information shared by Pablo, I was able to gain new insights on the city I’d already grown so fond of.

Statues and signature of Plaza Botero, Medellin, Colombia
Endearing statues and iconic signatures in Plaza Botero. (Photo: Emily Richards)

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. While I always opt for mango and pineapple, 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 from 9AM to 5PM. Visitors typically experience a bird’s eye view of the city via one of the local cable car systems during the tour. Considering I had already ridden the cable cars previously, Pablo and I decided to focus on other parts of the city less familiar to me, such as 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!

Graffiti art birds in Comuna 13 neighborhood in Medellin, Colombia
In a city where graffiti is encouraged, Comuna 13 neighborhood takes the cake. (Photo: Emily Richards)

The best way to spend a free day around Medellin

There are so many ways to spend a free day in Medellin! Often times, 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 tasty 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!

Envy rooftop lounge in Charlee Hotel with the best city view of Medellin, Colombia
If you can find a better sunset view in Colombia, I will eat my hat. (Photo: Emily Richards)

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. The Tres Cruces Trail is a lovely, moderate 3-hour hike starting in the city. You can also stroll 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!

Beautiful aerial view of El Penol in Guatape, Colombia
El Penol – Making sure visitors get their steps in since the 1960s

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.

Originally published December 2020.

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