Kim on the walking tour, one of our top ten things to do in Medellin

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Medellin Is On the Rise. Join the Ride

This post is part of our Medellin Travel Manual, a collection of blog posts that show you how to create your own unforgettable Colombia adventure.

Medellin lives up to it to its “City of the Eternal Spring” nickname for two reasons. First, thanks to its perpetually perfect year-round spring-like weather, and second because new and unique things to do in Medellin seem to spring up every week.

Because of this, Kim and I rarely felt bored during the six stupendous months we lived there. You won’t either.

Here’s the low-down on the best things to do in Medellin including:

10 Best Things to Do in Medellin

On our bittersweet plane ride back to Canada after living in Medellin, Kim and I narrowed down all the amazing things to do in Medellin to the ten we enjoyed best and would most recommend to our friends.

Here they are, in no particular order.

Chris looking down on Medellin from Cerro Pan de Azucar
This view halfway up the backdoor hike to Parque Arvi is the best in Medellin.

1. Go up through the backdoor:

Hike up to Parque Arvi and take the Metrocable down

Parque Arvi is a top Medellin tourist attraction, a huge park up in the mountains above Medellin that you can access by taking Medellin’s famous urban gondolas.

Instead of following the hordes who ride the gondola both up and down, hike up via the backdoor route then take the gondola down.

In addition to getting the satisfaction, fresh air, and exercise from hiking to the top, you’ll enjoy the absolute best view of Medellin from Cerro Pan de Azucar halfway along the hike and get a glimpse of Medellin’s rural roots.

Read our complete hike guide for maps, tips, and more.

Plaza Cisneros looking straight up
Whenever you see this cliche photo, you know the person who took it did the Medellin walking tour

2. Forget Narcos:

Join a walking tour

If you’ve already heard about Real City’s walking tours, it’s for good reason.

And if you haven’t, well here you go.

The roughly four-hour guided group tours are a super informative way to go beyond the (mostly mis-)perception of Medellin that Narcos imprinted into all of our brains and give you a whirlwind overview into the city’s history, the narco era, and its revitalization.

During the tour, you’ll also get to see all of downtown Medellin’s tourist attractions like Plaza Botero, Plaza Cisneros (a.k.a. Parque de las Luces), Paseo Carabobo pedestrian shopping street, El Hueco shopping center, and Parque San Antonio.

Don’t make the same mistake we’ve seen too many people do, which is to put off doing the walking tour until the end of their time in Medellin. Doing so is kind of like studying for a test after you’ve already taken it.

Be smart and go online to reserve your spot for the first or second day you’re in town.

Dharma Vegan Restaurant's soup, menu del dia, and juice pictured from above
A Medellin lunch special. See our full guide to the best menu del dias in the city for more.

3. Go for lunches in bunches:

Live off of menu del dias

From around 12-3 p.m. every day except Sunday (and sometimes not Saturday too), just about every restaurant in Medellin offers lunch specials called menu del dias.

Menu del dias include a soup, a main plate, a drink, and sometimes a dessert. They’re inexpensive (normally from 9,000 to 15,000 pesos, or $3 to $6 USD) and they’re awesome.

From vegan, to Indian, to French, to Colombian, whatever your dietary preferences are and whatever you’re craving, there’s a menu del dia for you. Try as many as you can while in Medellin, sometimes even two in the same day.

For a huge list of the best ones in town, with ratings, scores, photos and more, check out the huge Medellin menu del dia guide Chris went a bit overboard in making.

Chris walking through jungle below Chorro Campanas in Envigado
Deep in the jungle towards the waterfalls in Arenales one of the hikes that you can get to from Medellin public transit.

4. Head for the hills:

Go hiking

Medellin is flanked by mountains to the east and west in the Aburra Valley.

These mountains are surprisingly easily accessible (many by public transit) and full of lush jungle, waterfalls, butterflies, birds, awesome city views, and almost no other people.

The only challenge is finding the trails.

While hiking in Medellin, we got lost our fair share of times because the trails are poorly marked. That’s why we starting mapping them out and writing out guides to our favorite hikes. You can find all our guides to our favorite Medellin hikes here. 

If you’re by yourself and/or nervous about getting lost or kidnapped in the jungle, look on Facebook for hiking groups to go with. Kinkajou Adventures is a good one.

El Trifasico's chicharron.
Like we said, chicharron is mega-bacon.

5. Pig out with pig in (…your belly):

Eat a humongous chicharron

Colombian chicharron is glorious.

For those who know what Neapolitan ice cream is, it’s the deep fried pork meat version of that. On the outside is crispy skin which covers a layer of juicy fat that insulates tender meat on the inside.

Another way to look at it is as mega bacon. Bacon for dinosaurs.

And, if you go to the right spots, it’s almost the size of a dinosaur bone.

The two spots we recommend above all others are La Gloria de Gloria and El Trifasico.

Street somewhat near one of our favorite things to do in Medellin
One hint. This isn’t it, but it’s getting a bit closer. Read our Envigado guide for the answer.

6. Find it yourselves:

The secret sensation

There is one magical place in Medellin that has yet to be discovered by the fly-by-night Insta-bloggers and, sorry, but we’re not going to be the ones to spoil it.

If too many people start going, the magic will be ruined. It’ll happen eventually regardless, but we don’t want to be responsible.

So why are we mentioning it? Because if you really want to find it, you can look hard enough and find it. There are YouTube videos and news reports (mostly in Spanish) about it.

The only hints we’ll give is that it’s romantic, surreal, over 25 years in the making and you’ll need to speak Spanish (or go with a friend who does) to get the most of it. We also mention it in other posts of ours.

If you think you’ve found it, after you’ve gone send us an email info(at)theunconventionalroute(dot)com with a picture and we’ll confirm whether or not it’s what we’re talking about.

Street in Venecia with horse parked out front.
You won’t see this in Medellin, which is why you gotta get outta town to go to Venecia, Jerico, or Jardin.

7. GTFO of Medellin:

Visit Jerico or Jardin

If you’ve got five days or more, don’t spend them all in Medellin.

Take a three-hour bus ride to Jerico or Jardin and experience the rural side of Antioquia, where men still wear cowboy hats, the buildings are as colorful as a bag of skittles, and the most popular thing to do is sit in the main square drinking tintos (coffee that the rest of the world refuses to drink, so it stays in Colombia), guaro (beware), and beer.

Check out our guides for things to do in both Jerico and Jardin, or super-off-the-beaten-path Venecia.

Paraglider in sky with city below
Chris flying, really flying, way above Medellin. He hiked up and jumped down. Read how to do the same.

8. Feel like a superhero (or a dead person):

Go paragliding

Chris, who had never paraglided before, was blown away (literally and figuratively) by his experience paragliding in Medellin.

Yes, the views are incredible and it’s an adrenaline rush, but what impressed him more than anything was the feeling of flying.

Because there are no engines making noise and you can’t see, hear, or feel the pilot and the sail above and behind you, you really feel like a superhero (or a spirit that left a dead person’s body like in cartoons) floating up in the air.

It’s an incredible experience and Medellin’s a great spot to try. It’s a third the price of Europe or America (about 130,000 pesos / $45 USD), just as professionally run and safe, and incredibly scenic.

For more info on paragliding in Medellin, and how you make it even more of an adventure by hiking up past a waterfall to the launch site then jumping back down, check out our exhilarating guide.

Close-up of Cafe Cliche lunches
Cafe Cliche has awesome food for “regular eaters” and vegetarians. It has one of the best menu del dia lunches in Medellin.

9. Afternoon delights:

Spend a few hours in Laureles

We don’t recommend people stay in Laureles if they’re only in Medellin for a few days, but it’s worth touring around for an afternoon.

You gotta know the spots though, otherwise you’ll come away as unimpressed as we were when we first moved to Medellin and wanted out because it was so boring.

Here are the spots:

For lunch go to Cafe Cliche.

We ate a lot of Medellin’s famous menu del dia lunch specials and Cafe Cliche stood out as being perhaps the very best. Both their vegetarian and non-veggie options were invariably awesome. It’s not exactly Colombian food and the French guys who run the place are, well, stereotypical stuck-up French, but it’s worth it.

As a plan B, try Naturalia (vegan), Uno Mas Uno, or Ocre.

Go for a coffee at Rituales, a newcomer in the Medellin coffee game that sources their beans right from Medellin’s hills and blew away the competition in our professional blind taste test of Medellin coffees.

Then get dessert at Nuovo Fiore.

Their gelato is special. And by “special,” we mean some of them are potently packed with Mary Jane. The owner, who’s been getting away with selling her illegally-good gelatos for five years, says the cops come by all the time. They get free scoops. You’ll have to pay 6,000 pesos (just over $2 USD) or so.

Wander around a bit after that, then you can say you’ve seen Laureles.

Biker crossing river in El Poblado
There’s more to El Poblado than what you read in most other travel guides. Use our Medellin neighborhood scoring guide to see if it’s the best place for you to stay in.

10. It’s not only a gringo party place:

Enjoy the best of El Poblado

El Poblado, especially the area around Parque Lleras, has a well-deserved reputation for being an overly-touristy, expensive, party place.

There’s more to El Poblado than that, though. Even if you’re a hardcore off-the-beaten-path traveler, you should check it out.

If you go to these favorite spots of ours in El Poblado you may even want to go back:

  • Cafe Pergamino is easily the most popular coffee spot in Medellin. Pretty much every blogger raves about it. We didn’t want to like it, but we did, especially their cold brew coffees, which are better and cheaper than anywhere else. If you can’t stand following the crowd and have to be unconventional, go to Hija Mia instead.
  • For lunch, we’ll give you three options. If you want a traditional (and super affordable) Colombian menu del dia, go to Franchyes. Big eaters and those eager for authentic Italian should go to Toscano. And if you’ve been desperate for something spicier than pepper, which is in short supply in Colombia, go to Masala and be prepared to sweat.
  • For pre-dinner drinks, El Social is the last bastion of semi-affordable Colombian-ness in the area. It’s no frills, but the beer’s cold, which is all you need. An alternative spot is Erre, which is one of the few spots to have a happy hour, two-for-one beers and selected liquors.
  • Wander around Manila a bit if you haven’t already then hike back up the hill to finish off your evening with dinner at Alambique, maybe our favorite restaurant in Medellin.
Google Maps screenshot of list of best Medellin restaurants.
Save our favorite Medellin food and drink spots to your Google Maps.

Medellin Treasure Map

Find of 41 our favorite Mexico restaurants, cafes, bars, and street food directly on Google Maps when you’re traveling, even offline!

Other Fantastic Things to Do in Medellin

Once you’ve covered the above top 10 things to do in Medellin, check these out.

Envigado best things to do guide cover image of a man sitting in front of a house
Read our Envigado travel guide then come hang out with this guy.

Spend Some Time in Envigado

We really loved Envigado.

It felt like a Colombian, pre-hipster Brooklyn. In other words, it has managed to maintain an authentic neighborhood vibe despite being right next door (a 20-min bus ride or two metro stops) from glitzy El Poblado.

There aren’t many “tourist attractions” in Envigado—the city didn’t even have a hotel until recently!—but the city itself is an attraction.

It’s super safe, too.

For everything you need to know to convince you to go, and what to do when you do, read our Envigado guide.

Jardin Botanico

Despite being surrounded by lush mountains and having lots of trees along its streets, there really isn’t much wide open green space in Medellin.

The only unpaved parks are sports fields.

Jardin Botanico is the only real refuge. It’s peaceful, green, and fresh. While it’s not really any different than any other city’s botanical garden, which is why we wouldn’t say you have to go out of your way to check it out, if you’re in Medellin for a while you’ll probably appreciate it even more than you suspect.

It’s also a good spot for a date. Woo that special someone with a stroll through the park and a meal at In Situ, which is in the middle of the park (or get a picnic lunch from them).

coffee in a cafe in Jerico, Colombia
We enlisted a coffee expert to run a blind taste test and uncover a runaway winner of Medellin’s best coffee.

Drink Coffee

We mentioned coffee a couple times in our top 10, but it’s worth calling out as its own activity even though it’s kind of a cliche.

Over the past ten years, Medellin’s coffee culture has risen up from dirty tintos to become a hopping, craft-coffee, hip cafe crazed town.

From mainstays like El Poblado’s Pergamino to upstarts like Rituales in Laureles and Cocolatte in Envigado, you’ll find exquisite brews wherever you go in the city.

You might also want to consider educating yourself about coffee. The session we di with Juan “The Coffee Hunter” Cano for our blind coffee taste test was one we’ll never forget.

Explore the Mercado Minorista

Antioquia is the breadbasket of Colombia, and the Mercado Minorista, the city’s main produce market, is where you can stick your hand into that breadbasket and sample a little bit of everything.

Marvel at the exotic fruit and super low prices, get lunch at Aqui Paro Lucho, and follow it up with a juice from Jugos Rigo.

Warning: Don’t walk to Mercado Minorista. Take a taxi or Uber. On a map, La Minorista looks like an easy walk from other downtown attractions, but it’s not. It’s harrowing, super-dangerous, and you’re asking for trouble if you do it. Really. We’re all for taking the “unconventional route,” but there is no reward for risking yourself in this situation.

Go to a language exchange

Even if you don’t care to learn anything more than “Cuanto cuesta?” it’s worth going to a language exchange, events where Colombians who want to practice English come to chat with foreigners who want to practice Spanish.

Language exchanges are a great way to meet both tourists and locals. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the Colombian/foreigner split is about 50/50.

Our favorite language exchange was the one run by Colombia Immersion in Envigado on Fridays. It’s got a great crowd, cheap beer, they always do ice-breakers to make it easier to approach strangers, and a big group goes to the bar together after. Make an afternoon of your trip to Envigado by going to Cafe Otraparte, walking up to the El Dorado neighborhood for dinner at Pedacito de Amor (good meat at great prices) or Pizzeria Burro (get the burrata pizza), which are both close to Colombia Immersion.

Check Out the Events

Check out Catalyst Weekly to see what foreigner-friendly events are going on while you’re in town.

Osmin, Chris, and Kim after a workout
While in Medellin we befriended and worked out with reality TV star and celeb trainer, Osmin.

Things to Do for Fitness and Exercise

Look good, feel good, travel good.

In addition to #1 and #4 from our top 10, here are our other favorite ways to take advantage of Medellin’s perfect weather and get some exercise.

Sunday Ciclovia

On Sundays until 2 p.m., some of Medellin’s main thoroughfares are closed to traffic so people can run, walk, rollerblade, or bike through the city. It’s very popular, so join.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BhSRyqbBt5N/?taken-by=theunconventionalroute

Outdoor Gyms

Medellin is a dream for people like us who prefer to ditch the gym and work out outside because there are public workout areas all over. The best ones are by Estadio and in Belen, but there’s also a decent, though small, one in El Poblado.

Play Basketball

If you love playing basketball, as Chris does, join the Medellin Basketball Association group on Facebook and drop into one of their Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday pickup games.

Kim hiking up Cerro de las Tres Cruces
Cerro de las Tres Cruces is a short but grueling hike up one of Medellin’s mountains.

Cerro Tres Cruces

Across the valley from El Poblado, Cerro Tres Cruces is a short but intense hike straight up the side of the mountain. Up top, there are all sorts of calisthenic fitness equipment to continue your workout and refreshment stands to keep you energized. While it’s not on the tourism radar, it’s very popular with locals from all walks of life in Medellin.

If you’re interested, our Cerro Tres Cruces guide has everything you need to know.

Overrated Things to Do in Medellin

Comuna 13 Tours

Comuna 13 tours aren’t bad at all, but they are overrated. A couple years ago I bet they were awesome, but now that there are more tourists than locals using the famous outdoor escalators and it’s lost a lot of the gritty appeal it once had.

If you want to tour a hillside Medellin neighborhood, consider La Sierra as an alternative.

Facade of a house in Guatape, an overrated thing to do in Medellin
Guatape has nicely-painted houses, but it’s all too superficial.

Guatape

Guatape is the Colombian Disney World: a make-believe, colorful, touristy creation.

Go to one of the pueblos in our top 10 instead. They’re not much farther from Medellin anyways.

Museo Casa de la Memoria

It’s free to visit and we appreciate its importance, but just about everyone who goes there is underwhelmed.

Mercado del Rio

El Mercado del Rio is a high-end food court with commensurate prices.

You can find some good food there, but you can find enough good food elsewhere, and for cheaper too.

If you have a limited time to spend in Medellin it’s probably not worth it.

Worst Things to Do

✗  Act like a dumbass gringo

If you wear shorts and sandals, talk loudly in English with your friends while walking the streets, and wander around with your head in your phone, your odds of finding trouble in Medellin will skyrocket. Same goes for if you walk around empty streets by yourself in the middle of the night.

Be as inconspicuous as possible by dressing like a Colombian in pants and shoes, keeping your voice down, and keeping your phone in your pocket.

It’s simple, obvious advice, but we never ceased to be amazed by how many Medellin tourists don’t follow it.

✗  Escobar Tours

Everyone who lives in Medellin is fed up with Escobar talk. They want their city to be known for other things, and deservingly so.

Joining Escobar tours goes against those wishes.

Watch Narcos, do the walking tour, and leave it at that.

✗  Waste Your Time in Malls

As I write this, El Tesoro mall is #11 on TripAdvisor’s rankings and Santa Fe is #15.

That’s ludicrous.

These malls have the same Starbucks, Nike, Zara, and Forever 21 franchises as everywhere else in the world.

The people watching isn’t anything interesting either. It’s full of well-off Colombians, most of whom lived or studied abroad and look the same as the folks in the mall back home—the ones you probably never go to.

✗  Pueblito Paisa

Don’t go here for the views. Go on one of the hikes we listed above in our top 10 things to do in Medellin.

If you can’t go hiking, go to Cerro El Volador instead.

Aguardiente shelf at Exito in Medellin.
Read our 9 sobering facts about aguardiente to not be tempted by its relatively cheap prices and funny boxed packaging. Get rum instead.

✗  Drink (Too Much) Aguardiente

Aguardiente is Colombia’s national liquor. It’s anise-flavored, kind of like a cheap and watery ouzo, pastis, or sambuca.

Unless you’re a masochist or some friendly Paisas invite you to join them for a shot, drink beer or rum instead.

We were naive and ignored this advice. We even did an aguardiente blind taste test to see if a delicious aguardiente existed.

Nope.

And they all leave horrible hangovers. What’s more, the taste test led us to stumble into some little-known facts about aguardiente that made us like it less.

Try aguardiente once—Gloria at La Gloria de Gloria, number 5 of our top 10 things to do in Medellin, will give you a shot if you go there—and no more.

Colombian Paramo del Sol cover image of an amazing sunrise
Get out of Medellin to discover magical places in Colombia, like the Paramo del Sol pictured here.

Want More Things to Do in Medellin and Beyond?

For all the ingredients you need to put together a magnificent Medellin trip—where to stay, what to do, what to eat, where else to visit in Colombia—see our Medellin Travel Manual.

And if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions to share with other readers, please share them in the comments!

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Then join us to take an unconventional look at a new topic every month. Try it once. And if you don’t like it, we make it very easy to unsubscribe.

Medellin things to do pin.

21 comments

    1. Thanks Vinay! Glad to contribute as much as we can. Enjoy your time in Medellin and let us know if you discover anything else there you think we should add to this guide.

  1. hey Chris and Kim – Great articles – well written and really helpful.
    We are going to be staying in the Provenza neighbourhood of El Poblado and our dates work for a Medellín Independiente soccer game. We are soccer fans but the game starts at 10:00 pm.
    Wondering about the logistics and safety of getting back after midnight. Any comments ?

    1. Hey Mark. UBC email, so you’re a fellow Vancouverite? If so, nice! The police comes out in full force around the stadium for games. Jump in a taxi or take an Uber from the busy street in front of the stadium and you’ll have zero issues (aside from maybe having to wait a bit longer, since everyone else will be doing the same), especially since you’re not alone. Enjoy!

  2. Aguardiente may not be the best tasting drink but I don’t think it’s as bad as you describe. However to share a bottle with some Colombians is a great way to feel connected to the culture. I’ve had some real fun nights with Aguardiente.

    1. Good point, Mike. If drinking guaro is the cost of connecting with some Colombians, it’s worth giving a shot (or many shots!). I’ve updated the post accordingly. Salud!

  3. Hey, do you have any recommendations if we wanted to play a pick up game of footy (soccer) with the locals? (if you have any cartagena advice for the same it’d be much appreciated!)

  4. As a fellow Colombiana I found this article really great and hilarious at the same time (guaro is great! MAN UP GUYS)! haha looking forward to seeing more of your articles.

  5. Thank you for this exceptionally comprehensive and super helpful post. You two Rock for taking the time to assemble and share all of this! We (Mark and Robin of WanderingGriffins.com) will think of you with great appreciation throughout our visit to Medellin!

  6. Go to medellin..keep ur mouth shut..and eyes open…you will discover many things..if u are typical Gringo..DONT GO..Gringos like trying to tell the paisa how y what needs to be changed…love it or get out..
    I have been in medellin since 2008..
    Leave the attitude where ever you came from.

  7. Fellow vancouverite here and heading to Medellin at end of December. Booked the walking tour based on tour suggestion (and will book the food tour too). This article was amazing, thank you!

  8. Wow! Of all the sites I have visited with advice on things to do, this one is hands down the most informative and detailed that I have seen. Great job of narration and when I go to Medellin Jan 2020, I will most likely follow a lot of your examples/advice. Thanks for taking the time in organizing your thoughts/experience in a well written “To-Do” list!

    1. Thanks Jared! (You hear that Google, rank us higher!) Enjoy your trip to Medellin and please let us know your own tips/discoveries/advice after so we can keep improving our guides.

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