Medellin Travel Guide: This Ain’t No Boring Checklist

This is a Medellin Travel Guide, Not a Checklist

If you want to explore all the highlights that your friends told you about and that you saw on Instagram, you won’t like this Medellin travel guide.

This is a guide, not a checklist.

While you will find tons of recommendations here, we actually don’t even recommend you follow them all. Instead, use them as a starting point. Let them inspire, motivate, and educate you so you can make your own discoveries. Find even better things than we did.

We challenge you.

That way, your trip to Medellin will be full of extraordinary stories you’ll never forget—and stories that one day you will brag to your grandkids about.

This Medellin travel guide will show you how to get started.

Medellin Travel Guide Contents

Before You Go

map of Medellin, Colombia comunas
Perhaps the most important decision you’ll make is where to stay.

Where to Stay in Medellin

When deciding where to stay in Medellin, you shouldn’t be asking yourself, “Should I stay in El Poblado or Laureles (or even Envigado)?”

Those are huge districts. Your best bet is to find the barrio within one of those districts that’s best for you.

And we can help.

Our guide of where to stay in Medellin ranks the city’s top barrios in 12 criteria including food, safety, and affordability. That way, you can pick the ones that matter most to you and decide on the perfect place. For example, here are the best barrios for coffee:

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

For the rankings of food, exercise, safety and more, and a map and description of all the Medellin neighborhoods, check out the guide to where to stay.

Biking over bridge in El Poblado, Medellin
El Poblado is lush, green, and expensive. Some love it, some hate it. Use our guide to decide if it’s right for you.

Extending Your Stay

If you fall in love with Medellin like we did, you’ll have to extend your visa after ninety days. The good news is you can do it online. The bad news is it’s not as easy as you would hope. (Surprise, surprise, right?)

Here’s the simple guide to extending your Colombia tourist visa— and avoiding the debacle we faced when trying to do it.

Kim in supermarket holding plantain/bananas in her hands
Which hand is holding a banana, right or left? Trick question. The answer is neither. This is one of the (less important) things you might want to know before coming to Medellin.

Things to Know Before Coming to Medellin

Like everywhere, there are ups and downs to Medellin. And like everywhere, nobody tells you them before you get there.

Here are some of them—a quick cheat sheet of 10 good, bad, and fun things to know before coming to Medellin. For all the details and twelve more things to know before coming to Medellin, see the full post.Things you should know before coming to Medellin



Things to Do in Medellin

Chris looking down on Medellin from Cerro Pan de Azucar
The backdoor hike to Parque Arvi has the best, and we mean best, views of the Medellin.

Our Top 10 Favorite Experiences

In the six months we lived in Medellin, we tried to see and experience everything. We gave the touristy things a go (to be able to tell you if any are worth it are not) and explored all sorts of spots even locals had no idea about.

Of all our amazing (and not-so-amazing) adventures, these were our top 10 absolute favorites (in no particular order):

  1. Hike Parque Arvi through the back door
  2. Forget Narcos and do the real walking tour
  3. Gorge on as many menu del dias as you can
  4. Eat the most humongous piece of “mega-bacon” you’ll ever see
  5. Head for the hills and do another hike
  6. This one’s a secret
  7. Escape Medellin and visit a pueblo (NOT Guatape)
  8. Feel like a superhero and go paragliding
  9. Spend an afternoon checking out the highlights in Laureles
  10. Enjoy the best of El Poblado

For all the details on these amazing experiences, a handful more that just barely missed the list, and ones we recommend not to do, check our atypicial guide of things to do in Medellin.

Overrated and Underrated Medellin Attractions

When it comes to Medellin’s most popular tourist attractions, we have some contentious opinions. Some of these top attractions should be on the bottom of your to-do list. They’re not all terrible (except Pueblito Paisa), but there are others you might want to see instead. Here are some:

  • Overrated: Laureles, Parque Arvi, Pueblito Paisa, Uber, Poblado farmers market, Guatape
  • Underrated: Envigado, every other Medellin park, Cerro Pan de Azucar, taxis, Mercado Minorista, Jerico

For all the explanations and the complete list, head on over to our post on overrated and underrated things to do in Medellin.

Envigado best things to do guide cover image of a man sitting in front of a house
Check out Envigado… and there’ll be lots of bored older people who will check you out too.

Check Out Envigado, Medellin’s Version of Brooklyn

Located right next to the high-flying, rapidly-modernizing El Poblado district of Medellin, Envigado remains a hard-working, urban, unpretentious town that’s yet to be swallowed up by globalism (or hipsters).

It’s a pre-hipster Brooklyn.

We lived there for two amazing months. Here are some of our favorite things about it:

  • The Neighborhood Feel: There aren’t many “highlights” in Envigado, but it’s a great place to wander. There are kids playing on the streets, old men sitting and drinking on tables watching life pass by, and crazy Christmas displays in December. And nowhere did we feel safer.
  • The Restaurants: There’s a fine-dining area called La Calle de la Buena Mesa, where you can pick where to eat based on your cravings that evening. In super neighborhoody El Dorado are some of our favorite spots like Pedacito de Amor and Pizzeria Burro. And there are La Gloria de Gloria and Trifasico with their enormous slabs of meat.
  • Otraparte: The coffee isn’t that good and the WiFi sucks, but even so El Cafe de Otraparte is the cafe / hang out area we miss most about Medellin.

There’s A LOT more to Envigado, which you can see in our comprehensive guide here.

What Everybody Else Says (and We Mean Everybody)

When we moved to Medellin we read a lot of blog posts on what to do and see. Then we had the idea of compiling all those recommendations into one.

Things quickly got out of hand.

By the end, we had consolidated tips from over fifty travel blog posts. The compilation is enormous. Check it out.



Eating and Drinking in Medellin

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.

Medellin’s Best Restaurants

We can’t honestly tell you which are the “best restaurants in Medellin” because we haven’t been to every one and tried every dish. Nobody has. But we can recommend some restaurants for specific occasions and cravings. For example:

  • If you want to impress your partner with a romantic picnic in the park, go to In Situ
  • If you need a rest, refresh, and refueling in Mercado Minorista (Medellin’s city center produce market), go to Aqui Paro Lucho
  • If you want Colombian cuisine with a modern, adventurous, and delicious twist, go to Alambique (probably our favorite restaurant in Medellin)
  • If you want to get high and/or eat really good gelato, go to Nuovo Fiore

We have twenty recommendations in total. Check out our Medellin restaurant guide for all of them.

Best restaurants in Medellin for certain occasions

Unleash your tastebuds on this menu del dia from Espiritu Libre, one of the best in Medellin.

Medellin’s Best Lunch Specials

Lunch is the best time to go out for food in Medellin. You can get high-quality, delicious meals including soup, a main course, a drink, and sometimes dessert for $3 to $6 USD. These specials are called menu del dias.

There are so many restaurants with menu del dias that it can be overwhelming. To overcome that overwhelm and help you out, Chris went a bit overboard. He went to over hundred places then made a list of his forty favorites. Here are the top ten:

RestaurantAreaVeg?PriceValueQualityOverall
Espiritu LibreBelenOnly13,0009109.5
MasalaPobladoYes15,0008109
Cafe ClicheLaurelesYes14,0008109
CopoazúBelénOnly10,5001089
FranchyesPobladoNo9,5001089
Cable a TierraParque ArvíOnly20,0008109
ToscanoPobladoYes16,0008109
OcreLaurelesYes12,5008109
Vegano AndanteBelenOnly10,000988.5
NaturaliaLaurelesYes13,000898.5

There is something for every diet—vegetarian, vegan, fat-ass, you name it—in Chris’s list. See them all in his huge menu del dia guide.

Espiritu libre main dish from above
Unleash your tastebuds on this menu del dia from Espiritu Libre.

The Best Colombian Coffee, Beer, Cheese, and Aguardiente

Are you sure your tastes aren’t affected by branding and appearances?

We aren’t.

And that’s why do blind taste tests. In Medellin, we did some to determine who truly has the best coffee, beer, cheese and aguardiente in Colombia (or at least Medellin).

Here are the surprising blind taste test results:

  • Best coffee: Rituales Cafe. Hands down. Read the full post here
  • Best lager beer: Heineken. Ugh. We can’t believe it either. Read all about it here.
  • Best Colombian cheese: None. But if you force us, we’d take queso pera. Learn all about the weird Colombian cheeses here.
  • Best aguardiente: Aguardiente is the local liquor and the best from our taste test (here) was Amarillo de Manzanares. More importantly, and regardless of which aguardiente brand you drink, read these nine surprising facts first.
Kim having a chocolate Santafereno, one of our favorite Colombian drinks
Some Colombian drinks… involve eating too.

An Intro to Colombian Drinks

You already know about Colombian coffee, but do you know what vichemazamorra, and guarapo are?

Here’s a quick vocab lesson:

  • Chicha: A fermented corn drink that was the locals’ drink of choice before the Spanish came and screwed things up.
  • Viche: A home-brewed moonshine made from sugar cane that’s popular on Colombia’s Pacific Coast
  • Chocolate Santafereño: Hot chocolate with cheese inside.
  • Limonada de Coco: A hugely popular and super delicious and refreshing blend of coconut and lemonade.
  • Mazamorra and Claro: Corn-infused milks that often come with your menu del dia (lunch special).
  • Guarapo and Aguapanela: Drinks made from sugarcane. Guarapo is typically made by pressing the cane itself. Aguapanela is agua mixed with panela, unrefined cane sugar.

And there are even more Colombian drinks to know about. To see them all, where to get them, and how to drink them, check out our guide.



Medellin Getaways

Chris below Chorro del Hato
You can hike to these falls, Chorro el Hato, from the Medellin Metro. Then you can paraglide back down!

Medellin Hikes

The quality and quantity of hikes near Medellin (many accessible by public transit!) was something we didn’t expect before coming. From waterfalls to caves to natural pyramids to Escobar’s old prison, whenever we ventured into the hills we were always rewarded for doing so. And every single time the views are incredible.

If you want to get some fresh air and develop a tight round tush the old-fashioned way (instead of artificially, like many women do in Medellin), we highly recommend it.

Some hikes are hard to find, so we’ve helped you out with a list of our favorite hikes in and around Medellin. For each hike, you’ll find a guide complete with directions, maps, and photos

Horses in front of a bar in Urrao
A horse-ride-through bar in Urrao, an old-school Antioquian pueblo that’s worth exploring.

Pueblos

Please, please, please don’t spend time in Medellin without visiting at least one of the nearby pueblos. It will completely change your understanding and perception of what Colombia and Antioquia is about.

And Guatape doesn’t count.

We went to a handful of pueblos and recommend them all highly, but there are plenty of others where you’re sure to have an extraordinary travel story too. Here are the pueblos we wrote guides to:

  • Jerico – A traditional town for religious pilgrammiges, it’s now worth going to for an artisanal food pilgrimage, colorful sunsets, colorful waterfalls, colorful people, and colorful architecture. See what there’s to do in Jerico, and what to eat on your own food pilgramage.
  • Jardin – Jardin is a bigger, lusher, and more tourist-friendly version of Jerico. Here are our favorite things we did there.
  • Venecia – Venecia is for you if you don’t want to see any other tourists and/or plan to hike Cerro Tusa (the world’s largest natural pyramid). Read more here.
  • Urrao – The town itself wasn’t our favorite, but it was cool for a couple of nights. Most importantly, it’s close to the unbelievable and unforgettable Paramo del Sol. Check out these mind-boggling photos in our guide.


Elsewhere in Colombia

Frailejon with paramo and clouds in background
The paramo are a unique ecological area.

Paramo del Sol Trek

The trek to the Paramo del So is so mind-bogglingly cool that you forget to worry about how cold it can get (…well almost). Up at the highest point in Antioquia, there’s nowhere in the world with scenery like it. Read our guide here. Even if you don’t like reading just go there for the amazing photos by our friend Oskar.

Kim driving a tuk-tuk on Playa El Almejal, which is highlighted in our list of things to do in El Valle, Choco, Colombia

The Pacific Coast

Colombia’s Pacific Coast was a no-go zone for a long time. It only very recently opened up for tourism again and started to appear on tourists’ radars. In other words, if you’re an adventure traveler now’s the time to go.

And from Medellin, it’s an easy flight from the city center Olaya Herrera Airport.

Not knowing anything about it beforehand, we explored the Bahia Solano area for about a week. It turned out to be is a jungle, waterfall, and deserted beach paradise.

There’s so much to do that we couldn’t help but compile four different guides for the area:

  • 15 travel tips for Colombia’s Pacific Coast – Things you should be aware of, including how worried you should be about bugs and rain, what tour not to miss, and how not to miss your flight home.
  • Where to stay around Bahia Solano – The pros and cons of all the options: remote beaches like Playa Mecana and Playa Cuevita, popular spots like El Valle and Playe El Almejal, or places in between like Playa Huina.
  • El Valle travel guide –  Your extensive guide of to this small town El Valle that is so under-covered by tour guides and blogs that even Google Maps doesn’t show its streets.
  • The Right Way to do the Cascada El Tigre tour – This is the only waterfall we’ve ever seen that falls right onto a beach. It’s Chris’ wet dream. And if you visit it the right way, you’ll see a few more waterfalls and save some money.
People at the bar and bartender at Dos Carreras microbrewery in Bogota
Bogota has a lot more microbreweries than Medellin, like Dos Carreras pictured here.

Bogota

You might assume Bogota isn’t worth visiting. It’s too big, busy, dangerous, and cold. That’s what we thought.

We were wrong.

You might be as surprised as we were by what Colombia’s capital has to offer. Check it out.

Speaking of surprises, Kim’s friends surprised her with a visit. Even more surprising, they mistakenly got tickets to Bogota instead of Medellin, so Kim had to go to Bogota to meet them. She then put together this recommended itinerary for a girls’ trip to the city based on their experience.

Once you’ve had enough of Bogota and are ready to return to Medellin, consider taking the bus and maybe stopping off somewhere along the way. We went to a town called Honda. It wasn’t our favorite, but it was an experience nonetheless. Read all about how (and why) to bus between Bogota and Medellin, and what Honda’s like, here.



Favorite External Resources

Resources and communities that helped us discover many of the items on this Medellin travel guide.

  • Catalyst Weekly is the go-to resource to find out what foreigner-friendly events are going on while you’re in town.
  • The Medellin Expats group on Facebook. It’s full of lunatics, idiots, and self-promoters, but if you dig around you can find some truly helpful tips.
  • Kinkaju Hikes and Adventures. Go on a hike, or a beer crawl, with a diverse and friendly group of people including local expats, local locals, and visitors.
  • Tom Plan My Trip. This guy went super deep with info to help you plan your trip to Colombia. You’ll find lots of stuff we didn’t bother to write because he already said it.
  • Wikiloc. It’s the go-to app for finding and sharing hikes in Colombia. You’ll have to pay a few bucks to use it, but it’s worth it.


Free Personal Travel Tips

If you can’t find the answer to your question in one of our posts we’d be honored to be you virtual Medellin travel guide. Ask away. It’s free!


Now It’s Your Turn

We’re glad you made it all the way down here…

But you’re not done yet.

Now it’s your turn to contribute. Share your own tips from your trip or provide feedback on this Medellin travel guide. You can do so in the comment section below so others can see or, if you’re shy, you can send us a message using the form above.

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