In recent times Medellin has moved on from its violent past to become an exciting and bustling place to visit – one of the top destinations in all of South America in fact. Equipped with a modern metro system and boasting a yearlong temperate climate it’s easy to spend longer than you planned in the “City of Eternal Spring”. Here are my highlights:
La Comuna 13 – escalator graffiti
Once regarded as one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in Medellin, La Comuna 13 is now part of the success story bought about by vast investment in public transportation systems. In 2014 Medellin was voted as the most innovative city in the world ahead of New York City and Tel Aviv – this was partly due to a series of escalators that had recently been completed in La Comuna 13, enabling residents to efficiently travel between other parts of the city.
Nowadays it’s possible to visit these escalators yourself; ride all 6 to the top of the village and you’ll be rewarded (for all that effort!) with some fantastic views of the city. On the way up there are hundreds of brilliant pieces of street art, colourful houses everywhere you look, kids playing football and people sipping coffee outside tiny cafes – it really is a great place to be. When I visited in 2017 there was ongoing construction at the top of the neighbourhood to expand the walkways and further improve the area. However, considering the sign had a completion date of 2016 I think they might be a little late on that project!
How to get to the escalators in La Comuna 13:
- Take the metro train from San Antonio to San Javier – 2300pesos (£0.58/US$0.77).
- Outside San Javier station catch a bus with a sign saying “Escalas Electricas” – 1050 pesos (£0.27/US$0.35).
- Walk 5 min uphill from where the bus drops you off to the start of the escalators.
Museo Casa de la Memoria
One of the more alternative museums I’ve visited, this one is not for the faint hearted. The Museo Casa de la Memoria houses a series of exhibitions dedicated to the victims of Colombia’s violent past. Powerful testimonials, interactive displays and old photos will take you back through time and make you feel like a very real part of it.
An understanding of Spanish would greatly improve your appreciation of the whole museum. However, it now has English translations for the majority of the main exhibit so even without knowing any local lingo you can still understand the history and thoughts being conveyed. Also, despite being free to enter, this won’t be one of the busiest museums you’ll ever visit but it’ll certainly be one of the most memorable.
How to get there: from Parque Berrio metro station walk along Calle 52 until you reach Avenida Oriental, cross over and continue straight (now called Calle 51) for 7 blocks until you see the museum (total walking time about 20 mins). Alternatively, get a taxi 😉
The area surrounding Parque Berrio metro station has a number of attractions relatively close together. Berrio park itself is a historic plaza where locals meet to share a drink, musicians play their guitars and vendors sell empanadas. There are plenty more street vendors plying their trade at the nearby plazuela nutibara, which is overlooked by the Rafael Uribe Uribe cultural palace. The main attraction however, is Botero plaza; showcasing a variety of larger than life bronze sculptures by the artist Fernando Botero. For art lovers, the nearby Antioquia Museum houses many more of Botero’s collections as well as modern pieces from international artists – entrance costs 18,000pesos for adults (£4.50/US$6.00) or 12,000pesos for students and over 60s (£3.00/US$4.00).
How to get there: explore the area immediately surrounding Parque Berrio metro station!
Nutibara hill viewpoint
For the best views in town head to nutibara hill where you can see the whole of Medellin stretched out in the lush green Aburrá valley. The top of the hill is complete with tiny village, tourist information centre, small museum and street vendors selling food, drink and souvenirs. There’s plenty of space to relax and enjoy the view; you can even spot planes coming in to land at the airport in the distance. There’s also a sculpture park to explore if you walk up via the stepped route.
How to get there:
- From Industriales metro station use the footbridge to walk over the river in the direction of the bus station.
- Instead of going inside the bus station, continue along the footbridge to the right hand side and cross over the large road (Avenida Universidad de Medellin).
- Exit the footbridge and walk underneath the other large road (Avenida Guayabal).
- Turn right onto Carrera 53, left onto Calle 30a, then take Vias Cerro Nutibara to the top of the hill (using the steps as a shortcut).
Best empanadas – Empanadisimas la 10
The thing is with empanadas, like many other quick snacks, is that they’re infinitely tastier when they’re fresh and piping hot. If you want to sample the best empanadas in town then head over to Empanadisimas la 10 in the neighbourhood of El Poblado; they make fresh batches at lunchtime and then again in the late afternoon for the commuter rush home. 1200pesos (£0.30/US$0.40) gets you 1 large empanada and access to the salsa picante (spicy sauce), salsa dulce (sweet sauce) and lime wedges – all worth sticking around for. Plus, there’s a high chance that your accommodation will be located in El Poblado so this is the perfect place to stop on your way to/from the metro station!
How to get there:
- From Poblado metro station walk uphill on Calle 10 towards El Poblado.
- After passing Exito (large yellow supermarket), Empanadisimas la 10 will be 200m further up on your right (between Carrera 43dd and Carrera 43C).
This is the best spot in the city for a leisurely stroll or chilled afternoon on the grass – bring a few beers inside your backpack and your afternoon is set. There’s also a couple of cafes if coffee or soda is more your style.
Resident turtles inhabit the lake and you should also be able to spot an Iguana or two basking in the sun on its rocky banks. There’s a rather quirky Orchid-o-rama structure and of course a butterfly house (common-place in any good botanical gardens)!
Entrance is free. The nearby Explora Park science museum is also worth checking out [Adults: 24,500pesos (£6.20/US$8.20), Students & Over 60s: 22,500pesos (£5.70/US$7.50)].
How to get there: from Universidad metro station follow the signs for Jardín Botánico (<100m).
Located in the rolling hills surrounding Medellin, Arví Park is another place to have benefitted massively from the recent improvements in public transport. Cable cars now connect this diverse ecotourism park to the city centre with awesome efficiency.
Hiking is the main attraction with some stunning walks of various lengths to suit all ages and abilities. You could easily spend anything from an hour to a whole day here – pick up a map from the information centre (located outside the Arví metro station) to make sure you don’t get lost! There are some viewpoints and lakes dotted around the park, as well as some cafes and street vendors to quench your thirst and curb your hunger. For those of you who prefer a more immersive experience, the Environmental and Cultural Centre run a number of group tours including birdwatching, night hiking and tree planting. Info, dates and prices can be found at: https://parquearvi.org/en/build-your-plan/
Tip: be one of the last to leave the park (at 5:30-6pm) and catch a beautiful sunset on the way down in the cable car.
How to get there:
- Take the metro to Acevedo, followed by the cable car line K to Santo Domingo – 2300pesos (£0.58/US$0.77).
- Change cable cars to take the line L all the way to Arví – 5200pesos (£1.30/US$1.70) one-way only – if you get out to explore Arví park then you’ll have to buy another ticket for your return to the city.
I hope you enjoy my top things to do in Medellin – let me know your favourite by commenting below!