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Your Custom Guide to Choosing Where to Stay in Medellin

Best place to stay in Medellin cover image, an aerial view of Medellin and all its neighborhoods

The Difference Between Love and Hate is Location

Whether you’re coming for two days, two months, or two years, you have to be strategic in deciding where to stay in Medellin because it can make the difference between loving and hating the city.

Kim and I learned this the hard way.

We picked the wrong neighborhood and almost abandoned Medellin prematurely because of it. Luckily, we tried moving to another part of the city instead. Then we never wanted to leave.

This guide will help you avoid making the wrong choice like we did, and instead find the perfect place to stay in Medellin.


Outline of How to Pick the Best Place to Stay in Medellin:


Why “Laureles, Poblado, or Envigado?” is the Wrong Question

When we were deciding on the best place to stay in Medellin, we thought we had to choose between the most popular and comfortable areas for expats: El Poblado, Laureles, and Envigado.

That’s a mistake.

Choosing between those three is not particularly helpful because they’re huge. They’re districts, not neighborhoods.

For example, as you can see from the Google map screenshot below, it takes one hour to walk from one corner of Laureles to the other. You could easily hate one part of Laureles (or any district) and love another. We did.

To pick the best place to stay in Medellin you need to pick the best barrio, not the best district.

map of Medellin, Colombia comunas
Laureles, El, Poblado, and Envigado are cities in themselves. (Map Credit: De I, SajoR, CC BY-SA 2.5, Enlace)
google map for walking across laureles
It can take an hour to walk across Laureles, so you need to pick which part of Laureles (or whichever district) to stay in, not which district.

The Better Question Is, “Which Barrio?”

The best approach to finding the best place to stay in Medellin is to choose between the various barrios (or neighborhoods), within these districts.

Medellin’s metro area has 300+ neighborhoods so at first that’d seem like an impossible task. Practically speaking, though, there are only a handful of neighborhoods most people will want to choose between. These are the ones we’ll be analyzing to help you find the best place to stay in Medellin.


The Contenders

Here are our top ten contenders for best neighborhood in Medellin.

As you can see, we sometimes combined similar and adjacent official neighborhoods into one.

(If your favorite barrio isn’t listed, please let us know in the comments below. Be sure to include how you think it ranks among each of the 12 criteria listed.)

Laureles:

  • Central Laureles: The epicenter of trendy Laureles, it’s full of cafés and eateries and is where people who think El Poblado is “too gringo” often go.
  • La 70 (Florida Nueva / Bolivariana): Closest to the metro station and the hecticness that comes with being beside the soccer stadium, this is the liveliest neighborhood in Laureles  
  • Northeastern Laureles (Estadio / El Velodromo): Laid-back and well-off residential neighborhoods in Laureles.
highlighting the three contending neighborhoods in Laureles
Laureles Barrios. (Map Credit: De I, SajoR, CC BY-SA 2.5, Enlace)

El Poblado:

  • Central Poblado: This is definitely the most popular place to stay in Medellin for both tourists and long-term foreign residents. I sometimes almost forget I’m in Colombia when I’m in this part of town.
  • Lower Poblado (Manila / Astorga / Western Patio Bonito): Down the hill from El Poblado, these neighborhoods are more low-key, but there’s still no mistaking you’re in gringolandia. They’re full of hostels and restaurants that cater to foreign tastes.
  • La Florida: A swanky area of high-rises, hills, and malls. The streets are quiet, mostly because there are few shops and people drive everywhere (or get Rappi to deliver everything to them).
El Poblado, Medellin neighborhood map
The best barrios to stay in El Poblado make up a small part of the district’s total area. (Map Credit: De I, SajoR, CC BY-SA 2.5, Enlace)
View from rooftop towards the buildings of La Florida, El Poblado, Medellin
La Florida neighborhood in El Poblado is one high-end tower after another all the way up the mountain.

Envigado:

  • El Dorado: El Dorado has a true neighborhood feel, with smaller houses that have shops, bars, mini-markets, and other small businesses all along its narrow streets.
  • Central Envigado: Envigado’s small “downtown” feels like you’re not in Medellin anymore, which was indeed the case not too long ago.
  • Northern Envigado (San Marcos / La Magnolia): These residential neighborhoods may have less street life than El Dorado, but they do contain Envigado’s fine-dining / entertainment district, La Calle de la Buena Mesa.
Envigado neighborhood map
Envigado barrios (Map Credit: De I, SajoR, CC BY-SA 2.5, Enlace)
House in El Dorado, Envigado with produce store below.
Envigado is a low-lying part of town with 2-3 story houses that often have commercial units on the ground floor (like this), which makes the whole area very walkable.

El Centro

  • Downtown Medellin (La Candelaria): The the heart of downtown Medellin, La Candelaria is starting to carve out its position as a potential neighborhood for foreigners to stay in. It’s right in the middle of all the action, for better and for worse.
La Calendaria downtown Medellin neighborhood map
Map credit: De I, SajoR, CC BY-SA 2.5, Enlace
Flea market in downtown Medellin
Medellin’s downtown is undeniably gritty, but it’s also as central as you can get and on the up-and-up.

Now let’s determine the best place to stay in Medellin for you!


How to Pick the Best Barrio for You

The Ranking System

To help you decide the best place to stay in Medellin, we’ve ranked the barrios from first to worst on each of twelve different criteria.

Focus only on the criteria you care about, add up those scores, then come up with your own winner.

The Criteria

Click any link below to jump directly to the criterion you’re most interested in.


Best High-End Restaurants

Rank Barrio
1 Central Poblado
2 La Florida, Poblado
3 Lower Poblado
4 Central Laureles
5 Northern Envigado
6 Central Laureles
7 El Dorado, Envigado
8 Northeastern Laureles
9 Central Envigado
10 Downtown Medellin

By American and European standards, high-end restaurants in Medellin are cheap (around $15 USD an entree), so tourists may factor proximity to them as an important factor in deciding where to stay.

If you’re living in Medellin longer term this won’t matter as much—especially if you’re earning Colombian pesos. You can just take a taxi across town on the odd night you go out.

The vast majority of the best restaurants in Medellin are in Central Poblado, though Lower Poblado, Central Laureles, and Northern Envigado all have fine-dining areas,

Other neighborhoods on our list of contenders are ranked based on the few nice restaurants they have and their proximity to the aforementioned barrios.


Best Budget, Local, and Menu del Dia Restaurants

Rank Barrio
1 Downtown Medellin
2 Central Envigado
3 La 70, Laureles
4 Central Laureles
5 Central Poblado
6 Lower Poblado
7 Northern Envigado
8 El Dorado, Envigado
9 Northeastern Laureles
10 La Florida, Poblado

For budget travelers and longer-term expats looking for the best place to stay in Medellin, being close to a variety of cheap but tasty eateries is a must. This is especially the case with the amazing menu del día lunch specials here, which should your bread and butter (or rice and beans) when it comes to eating out.

[Aside: Don’t miss our super extensive guide to all the best menu del dias in Medellin.]

Since it’s the business center of the city with many mouths to feed, Downtown Medellin ranks as #1. Close behind is Central Envigado, which has multiple spots per block as well.

Ranking the neighborhoods in the 3 to 8 range is as difficult as finishing a chicharron platter from La Gloria de Gloria on your own. They all have so many light-on-wallet, heavy-on-taste options you could live and eat in any for ages without getting bored or going poor. Even in fancy, touristy Central Poblado. You just need to know where to look. (Again, see our menu del dia guide).

Only two of the contending barrios stand out for having a particularly poor selection of cheap eats: La Florida and Northeastern Laureles.

Kim holding up chicharron at La Gloria de Gloria in Envigado
Good luck tackling the chicharron platter at La Gloria de Gloria by yourself. This arm-length piece is only about 1/4 of the whole meal.

Most and Best Cafés

Rank Barrio
1 Central Poblado
2 Central Laureles
3 Lower Poblado
4 Northern Envigado
5 La 70, Laureles
6 La Florida, Poblado
7 Northeastern Laureles
8 Central Envigado
9 El Dorado, Envigado
10 Downtown Medellin

Whether you’re a coffee fiend or a digital nomad in need of a place to work, you’re going to need a few nearby cafés with reliably strong WiFi and tasty beans.

Central Laureles wins this one by a hair over Central Poblado. Both have a comparable selection, but the cafés in Laureles tend to be less busy. Plus, Laureles is home to the best coffee in Medellin, according to our professionally-run blind taste test.

Lower Poblado and La 70 both have smaller but decent selections of cafés and benefit from being not too far from the aforementioned neighborhoods. Northern Envigado has a couple of the best spots, like El Café de Otraparte and Cocolatte, but only a couple.

As for La Calendaria, it’s a place for tintos (local cheap coffee) and not one where you want to take your computer out in public.

interior of Justo restaurant and cafe in El Poblado, Medellin
Central Poblado has quite a few bright, open, and quiet cafés that are good for doing work or getting your caffeine fix.

Easiest Access to Groceries

Rank Barrio
1 Central Envigado
2 El Dorado, Envigado
3 La 70, Laureles
4 Central Laureles
5 Northern Envigado
6 Lower Poblado
7 Downtown Medellin
8 Northeastern Laureles
9 Central Poblado
10 La Florida, Poblado

This criterion is of no concern to you if you’re a non-budget tourist or you prefer to pay someone to deliver everything you need with Rappi (which many of our friends do).

But if you’re a “traditionalist” who prefers to pick out your own produce and are staying in Medellin long-term, it’s pivotal. Being able to pop downstairs to pick up an avocado, milk, and some Aguila beers (or, based on our Colombian beer blind taste test, maybe Club Colombia instead) can be a huge quality of life booster.

If you’re part of the latter group, Central Envigado and nearby El Dorado are ideal. The streets are lined with produce markets, meat shops, and supermarkets.

On the other end of the spectrum is La Florida and, to a lesser extent, Central Poblado. But people in those swanky areas can afford to pay for grocery delivery, I suppose.

The Laureles neighborhoods are in the middle of the spectrum. They’re spread out, but there are grocery stores around.

Then there’s Downtown Medellin. While it’s closest to the best market in the city, La Plaza Minorista, we strongly advise against walking there because it goes right through Medellin’s skid row.

Interior of an Envigado produce market
In Envigado, you’ll never be far from fresh groceries.
Shopper in supermarket aisle in Exito Patio Bonito
Most grocery shopping in El Poblado and Laureles is done at mega supermarkets that are sometimes few and far between.

Most Affordable

Rank Barrio
1 Central Envigado
2 Downtown Medellin
3 El Dorado, Envigado
4 Northern Envigado
5 Northeastern Laureles
6 La 70, Laureles
7 Central Laureles
8 Lower Poblado
9 La Florida, Poblado
10 Central Poblado

A modern apartment in Central Poblado or La Florida is double the same in Envigado. In the Laureles barrios, it’s somewhere in between, approaching El Poblado prices in some areas. Roughly the same applies to hotels and Airbnbs.

That all said, there are tons of hostels in Central and Lower Poblado. They’re affordable, but certainly not as cheap as those elsewhere in the city.

Hammock, patio, and view from our Envigado Airbnb
Hammock, patio, and view from our Envigado Airbnb

Most Local Culture

Rank Barrio
1 Central Envigado
2 El Dorado, Envigado
3 Downtown Medellin
4 Northern Envigado
5 La 70, Laureles
6 Northeastern Laureles
7 Central Laureles
8 Lower Poblado
9 Central Poblado
10 La Florida, Poblado

By “Local Culture,” we mean the “Colombian-ness” of the neighborhood. Basically, it’s inversely proportional to the number of foreigners who can be found there.

For some, the more fellow foreigners where they’re staying the better. Others prefer to immerse themselves in the local culture. In this case, we’re doing the rankings from the latter perspective.

Kim standing in Plaza Botero in Downtown Medellin.
If you stay in Downtown, Medellin you’ll get a very local experience plus be close to other cultural attractions like the statues and museums of Plaza Botero.
Soccer game in Medellin
Soccer is an important part of Paisa culture. If you choose to stay in Northeastern Laureles or La 70, you’ll be within easy walking distance of Medellin’s main stadium.

Best Nightlife

Rank Barrio
1 Central Poblado
2 Lower Poblado
3 La Florida, Poblado
4 Central Laureles
5 La 70, Laureles
6 Downtown Medellin
7 Northeastern Laureles
8 Northern Envigado
9 Central Envigado
10 El Dorado, Envigado

While local partygoers are starting to move away from Parque Lleras, Central Poblado’s famous fiesta fantasyland, it remains the place to go for nightlife. Ciudad del Rio, a short cab ride to the north, also has quite a few places to let loose, so Central Poblado is still the surefire #1 when it comes to nightlife.

Calle 33, to the south of Central Laureles has a more local vibe, as does Carrera 70 in the eponymous La 70 neighborhood. It’s a long walk to either street from Northeastern Laureles.

As for Envigado… well, nightlife there mostly consists of men drinking at bars that surround the town square (though there are a couple fun bars like El Callejón).

Chugging from a bottle of Colombian aquardiente
Partying is synonymous with drinking aguardiente in Medellin. You might want to read this 9 facts about aguardiente before buying a bottle for yourself.

Most Peaceful

Rank Barrio
1 El Dorado, Envigado
2 Northern Envigado
3 La Florida, Poblado
4 Northeastern Laureles
5 Lower Poblado
6 Central Laureles
7 La 70, Laureles
8 Central Poblado
9 Central Envigado
10 Downtown Medellin

For light sleepers and those uninterested in the party life, peace and quiet plays a big role when deciding on the best places to stay in Medellin. Not only do bars and clubs in Medellin play very loud music, but traffic noise can be very sleep-disturbing as well.

Tranquility here doesn’t only relate to when you’re in your hotel or apartment. We’re also considering how serene (or not) it is to walk around the neighborhood.

Only the La Calendaria downtown and Zona Centro in Envigado are noisy and busy all day long. During the day and even in the evening (and especially on Sundays), even many parts of 8th-ranked Central can be quite peaceful.

A tree-lined street in El Dorado
Envigado’s El Dorado neighborhood has a peaceful neighborhood feel.
Quiet street near Parque Lleras in El Poblado, Medellin
On weekend nights, this street in Central Poblado is crazy. On Sunday, it’s quiet.

Most Social Activities for Expats

Rank Barrio
1 Central Poblado
2 Central Laureles
3 La Florida, Poblado
4 Lower Poblado
5 La 70, Laureles
6 Northeastern Laureles
7 El Dorado, Envigado
8 Northern Envigado
9 Central Envigado
10 Downtown Medellin

For this criterion, we’re referring to MeetUps, language exchanges, and Facebook Group events that are non-Spanish-speaker friendly. There are tons of these in Medellin—Get on the Catalyst Weekly mailing list to keep up to date.

With rare exceptions, like the always popping Colombia Immersion Friday language exchange in El Dorado, they are always in the El Poblado or Laureles barrios.

Kim and I didn’t consider this when choosing where to stay in Medellin, but now we go to one or two of these events a week, so being close to them definitely helps. You may want to consider the same.


Safest

Rank Barrio
1 El Dorado, Envigado
2 Northern Envigado
3 Central Envigado
4 La Florida, Poblado
5 Central Laureles
6 Lower Poblado
7 Central Poblado
8 La 70, Laureles
9 Northeastern Laureles
10 Downtown Medellin

Safety will likely figure on the top of everyone’s list of criteria when deciding on the best place to stay in Medellin.

The good news? There’s only one neighborhood among our candidates where we wouldn’t want to walk around at night: Downtown Medellin.

Nevertheless, in every other neighborhood we’re still much more conscious about keeping our valuables concealed and protected than we are in Canada, the US, Europe, or even Mexico City.

Busy neighborhoods like Central Poblado and Central Envigado are safer when it comes to robbery because there are always people around, but those same crowds increase the risk of pickpocketing. Quiet neighborhoods like Northeastern Laureles and La Florida have less pickpocketing risk, but you can find yourself in the potentially dangerous position of being the only one walking on the street.

Envigado is definitely where we felt safest. Though it’s been swallowed up by Medellin’s growth, it retains a friendly small-town vibe.

Biking over bridge in El Poblado, Medellin
Generally, all of Medellin is a lot safer than most people think, but we wouldn’t advise people to walk (or bike) along quiet areas like this bridge in El Poblado by themselves late at night.

Best Neighborhoods for Outdoor Exercise

Rank Barrio
1 Northeastern Laureles
2 La 70, Laureles
3 Central Laureles
4 El Dorado, Envigado
5 Central Poblado
6 Lower Poblado
7 Central Envigado
8 La Florida, Poblado
9 Northern Envigado
10 Downtown Medellin

We don’t know about you, but having easy access to outdoor areas where we can exercise is very important to us.

Overall, Medellin does an admirable job of making this possible. There are little public workout areas scattered everywhere around the city and it has the weekly Cyclovia, where main roads are closed for traffic for the benefit of pedestrians and cyclists.

The neighborhoods in Laureles take the cake (but don’t eat it!) when it comes to exercise. They are close, or close-ish, to fantastic facilities like the Atanasio Girardot and Belén sports complexes, and the big, green Parque Metropolitano.

El Dorado in Envigado has its own field and outdoor workout area called La Cancha, and it’s within walking distance of another sports complex, the Estadio Polideportivo Sur.

Central Poblado has a decent little outdoor workout area, but most people stick to working out (and checking each-others’ spandex onesies) inside in the area’s many fitness centers.

People working out in El Poblado's outdoor park.
Central Poblado has a small but well-equipped outdoor workout area. The weights for its bench press, squat rack, and curl bars are all chained to the ground.
View of INDER workout area in Belen.
In Laureles there are a couple of big outdoor workout areas like this, a huge sports complex, and Cerro Volador, a tree-covered mountain.

Best Locations for Getting Around Medellin

Rank Barrio
1 Downtown Medellin
2 La 70, Laureles
3 Lower Poblado
4 Central Poblado
5 Northeastern Laureles
6 Central Envigado
7 Northern Envigado
8 La Florida, Poblado
9 Central Laureles
10 El Dorado, Envigado

“Getting Around” means how easy it is to get from the neighborhood you’re in to other areas and attractions in Medellin, particularly on public transit.

This is especially important for travelers deciding where to stay in Medellin, but even those living in Medellin will want to move around from district to district more often than you might think.

It should be no surprise that when it comes to getting around, Downtown Medellin is the best place to be. It’s the hub of all metro and bus lines and is in the center of all the attractions.

Unfortunately, all the other contending neighborhoods aren’t very central. Getting from Envigado to Poblado is an easy bus ride, but it still takes 20-30 minutes. And getting between Poblado to Laureles is around 45 minutes.

In any of these areas, it helps to be close to a metro station. That’s why Lower Poblado and La 70 in Laureles are the next highest ranked, and why Central Laureles and El Dorado are at the bottom. It’s a twenty-five-minute walk from those barrios to the nearest metro station.

Buses are handy if you can figure them out and taxis are everywhere and inexpensive (around 15,000 between Laureles and Poblado). The problem is with Medellin’s bad traffic you’ll find yourself wanting to minimize your amount of time in them as much as possible.


Rankings Summary

Here’s a summary of the rankings for each criterion.

Remember that the totals don’t mean anything. To decide where to stay in Medellin you should only pick the criteria that matter to you and add those rankings up, ignoring the others.

BarrioDistrictFancy FoodBudget FoodCafésGroceriesCost of LivingLocal CulturePartyPeace and QuietExpat Social LifeSafetyExercise / ParksMoving AroundTotal
Lower PobladoEl Poblado36368825466356
La 70, LaurelesLaureles63536557582257
El Dorado, EnvigadoEnvigado7892321017141059
Central LaurelesLaureles44247746253960
Central PobladoEl Poblado151910918175464
Northern EnvigadoEnvigado57454482829764
Central EnvigadoEnvigado92811199937666
Northeastern LaurelesLaureles89785674691575
La Florida, PobladoEl Poblado21061091033348879
Downtown MedellinCentro10110723610101010180

Save Money, Wherever You Stay in Medellin

If you found this guide or any other Unconventional Route post to be particularly helpful, one way you can thank us is by booking your accommodation in Medellin through a link of ours. It doesn’t cost you anything and earns us a small commission.

  • TRVL.com is where you can see and bok some of the hotels and hostels we recommend. It finds the lowest price among Booking.com, Expedia, Agoda, and Hotels.com so you can always get the best deal out there.
  • Booking.com is the world’s biggest hotel booking engine and has the widest selection. If you book with this link, they’ll give you and us each a $25 cash reward after your stay.
  • Airbnb. If you haven’t used Airbnb before, use our invite link to get money off on your first stay. If you’ve already used Airbnb we can’t offer you anything, but we recommend it anyway.

The Best Place to Ask Questions and Complain

If you have any questions about these rankings or ideas for other criteria to add to the guide please let us know in the comments.

Complaints and criticisms are cool so long as they’re constructive. Go ahead and write, “This sucks,” but you have to elaborate by sharing what you think is wrong and what the correction should be.


After You’ve Decided Where to Stay in Medellin…

Once you’ve decided where to stay in Medellin, it’s time for the fun stuff: Having an unforgettable time eating through and adventuring around the city.

You’ll find tons of inspiration for unconventional experiences that nobody else mentions in our Colombia adventure travel guide. It’s got everything from things to know before moving to Medellin, hikes in and around town, and the best places to eat.

Sunrise, freilejones, and clouds

Medellin-Based Colombia Adventure Travel Guide

Dive into Colombia When we arrived in Colombia, we didn’t think we’d stay long. It seemed sketchy, the food sucked, and there wasn’t much to do. But eventually we discovered the opposite is true. It just takes work to penetrate into the core of Colombia’s awesomeness. This Colombia adventure travel guide compiles the best of […]

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Chris
Chris is a guy from Canada. He particularly likes sports, nachos, and Kim, who is his accomplice in running The Unconventional Route.

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