Twenty-five years ago Colombia was teetering on the edge of failed statehood and Medellín, the Andean nation’s second-largest city was a narco war zone. This violence created a reputation that has long overshadowed the city’s history, vibrant culture, and absolutely stunning landscape. Only recently are international travelers discovering the gems hidden beneath the violence. These gems are making it hard for visitors to leave and even harder to not return. Medellin is slowly but surely winning traveler’s hearts.
So what is it that draws travelers to this fascinating city in the heart of the Colombian Andes? Our 48-hour Medellín guide is designed to show you just that, while giving you some inside tips on how to seek out the very best the City of Eternal Spring has to offer.
Rionegro to El Poblado
This part isn’t really a choice on the itinerary, but to leave it out of this article would be a disservice. Medellín’s main airport is located about an hour east of the city in a town called Rionegro. After exiting the baggage claim search for a bus headed to San Diego. We advise skipping the taxis as they’re significantly more expensive. Once the bus heads out you’ll find yourself on winding trip first through the rural countryside outside Medellín, and then second on the beautiful roads that descend into the city. The views along the descent are breathtaking so be sure to have your camera ready. A sunset descent is even more special. Hop off at the first stop and grab a taxi to your hotel or apartment.
Now that we’ve covered the drive in, let’s get into your schedule.
9:00 a.m. Grab breakfast and get oriented
Breakfast places in Medellín are easy to find and the menu tends to be fairly simple. We recommend hitting the street and finding any small corner restaurant selling huevos y calentado. That’s scrambled eggs and a rice and bean mix that’s sure to give you some solid energy that will last through the day. Make sure you get some fruit juice, too. This isn’t fruit juice like you’ll find in the U.S. or Europe. It’s more a smoothie-type texture and it’s all-around more delicious. Order the juice “en agua” as opposed to “en leche”.
10:00 a.m. Metro and Metrocable to Parque Arví
Medellín’s metro is far more than public transportation. It’s one of the city’s defining symbols and a strong source of pride for many of the citizens (just ask them why Medellín is better than Bogota and it’s a good bet Bogota’s lack of a metro system will come up). Grab the metro at Poblado Station and head north towards Niquia. Get off at Acevedo and follow the signs up to the metrocable. The first line will take you up to Santo Domingo where you will deboard and catch the secondary line all the way to Arví. The metrocable gives its passengers an incredible view as it climbs the mountain range that borders the city. You also get a bird's-eye view of few different neighborhoods as you climb. Have your camera ready.
Tip: Go to the ticket booth at the beginning of the trip and tell them you’re headed to Arví. They will give you a card with the sufficient amount. Swipe the card at each transfer and skip the ticket line.
11:15 a.m. Pick a trail and hike Arví
The park itself is massive, covering roughly 60 square miles and 54 miles of walking trails. You can pick an archaeological trail and check out fascinating rock formations or hike trails around the park’s main lake. Keep your eyes open for wildlife and enjoy the fresh air up above the city.
2:00 p.m. Grab a typical lunch in the park
You have plenty of options in the park when lunchtime rolls around. Down by the lake we recommend trout, salad, and rice. At the market (right next to the metrocable station), we recommend the freshly made pasteles de pollo (chicken-stuffed pastries) and some fruit. Not far from the market are a few typical lunch spots that serve up sancocho, bandeja paisa and other plates that the locals love. So refuel and put your feet up before hopping back on the metrocable and heading back down the mountain.
3:30 p.m. Get a history lesson at La Casa de Memoria
Take the metro south towards La Estrella and get off at the Parque Berrio station. From there you can either walk (directions here) or grab a cab to the museum. La Casa de Memoria is both a museum and a memorial dedicated to the history and victims of violent conflict in Colombia. To come to Medellin and focus solely on its history of violence would be to miss many of the best things the city to offer, but to ignore it would be an equally grave mistake. Educate yourself and get a feel for the changes that have taken place (and are still taking place) both in Medellín and in the country itself.
5:00 p.m. Head back to your apartment and rest up for the night
Medellín is unique in its topography. Picture a city centered in a valley with neighborhoods that climb up the surrounding mountains. To us, it’s all about the view. With that in mind, we’ve picked out a beautiful penthouse in the Poblado neighborhood designed by someone who thinks like us. The floor to ceiling windows in the living room give you a view you won’t soon forget.
Sometimes El Poblado gets a bad wrap for being a tourist trap, but this apartment is located in the southern section of the neighborhood where you won’t be quite as overwhelmed by the tourist crowds. You’re also just a couple blocks from the metro and a quick taxi ride from the best section for nightlife.
7:30 p.m. Dinner at La Aboretteria
Take a quick taxi ride north to the Provenza section of El Poblado. This is our favorite food and nightlife area in the entire city and for us it’s a no-brainer for your first night in the city. La Abarroteria serves up what we believe to be the best gourmet burgers in the city. Go for the apple and blue cheese burger with the house fries. If you’re not up for the burger and fries, the medallion steak fillets are worth writing home about too.
9:00 p.m. Elevator up to Envy
It’s too early to hit the club, but you’re ready to start the night. Envy has a cool vibe and an excellent cocktail menu. Plan out the night with your group and reflect on the day’s adventures. The rooftop view of Medellin at night is breathtaking by the way.
11:00 p.m. Hit the dancefloor at 15 Minutos de Fama
Two levels of tables and dancefloors, not too many foreigners, and a full bar make 15 a nice option to get a little loose. The music is more on the urban side, with plenty of reggaeton (Medellín is a reggaeton hot spot) and a dash of American hip-hop.
9:00 a.m. Shake off last night with juice and a paisa breakfast
We recommend finding another local restaurant and going for the juice, eggs, rice and beans mix again. It’s excellent for shaking off fatigue and/or hangover from the night before.
10:00 a.m. Catch the bus out to Guatape
From the north bus terminal grab a bus headed to Guatape (La Piedra/El Peñol) and enjoy the ride through the Medellín countryside. The trip is usually just under two hours, so feel free to stack some z’s if you didn’t get enough sleep last night.
12:00 p.m. Climb the rock
Guatape is a small town east of Medellín, but the main attraction is the massive rock located just outside the main town. A steep 740 stairs take you to the top and give you one of the best views in all of Colombia. The steep hike will likely make you break a little sweat so let the breeze at the top cool you down for a while before making the descent.
1:15 p.m. Trout in the town
After beating up your knees on the way down the rock, hop in one of the mini-taxis and head over to the actual town of Guatape. Along the water, you’ll find plenty of typical restaurants serving up fresh trout from the local trout farms. You have to pull out a few bones, but the effort’s well worth it.
2:15 p.m. Rent jet skis and explore the interconnected lakes
Jet skis are available down on the water’s edge and most are 30 or 45-minute rentals. Explore the connected lakes and modern vacation houses on the banks.
3:00 p.m. Explore the streets until your bus heads out
Guatape was once a run-down pueblo that rarely caught the attention of Medellín residents, much less foreigners. However, as Medellín has grown in popularity, the town has undergone somewhat of a transformation, having painted its houses every color of the rainbow and decorating each one with a sort of themed mural -- a combination that has given the town quite a bit of character.
4:30 p.m. Enjoy the ride back and have your camera at the ready
The combination of the late-afternoon/evening lighting and the scenery on the way home will certainly have you snapping away. The 4:30 bus will have you approaching the city as the sun sets. The descent into the valley is otherworldly.
7:30 Dulce Jesus Mio to take you out
Dulce Jesus Mio needs an article for itself. It’s what Colombians call a fonda -- a restaurant/bar/general party spot inspired by traditional watering holes in Colombians pueblos. Think of a saloon mixed with Halloween, Christmas and the circus. Lights of all colors, superhero themes, and statues of movie characters and animals greet you at the entrance and the inside hits you with even more trippy decorations that seem so perfectly out of place. Order up your food with a bottle of aguardiente (the local hard alcohol choice), kick back and watch the shows. It’ll be a wild night.
To see all the accommodations options in Medellin, check out our accommodations search engine.
*If you decide to spend time in Bogota make sure to check out this guide on how to find great hostels in Bogota!
Cover photo by Ivan Erra Yota.