Medellin was my absolute favorite place in Colombia. It is so rich with history and culture, yet easily the most modern and progressive city in the country. We only spent two full days here, and we would recommend at least two more days to anyone who plans to go.
How To Get To Medellin
We flew in from Bogota (read that entry here) on a $51 Avianca flight.
Note: There are two airports in Medellin, the larger of which is about an hour's cab ride outside the city. We flew into the airport farther away and were very alarmed when Google Maps first gave us directions to our hotel.
Where To Stay In Medellin
We stayed in Poblado Park Hostel, which we mostly really liked. It was in a great location, but very youth-oriented and super noisy at night. To this day, I do not travel without my heavy duty silicon ear plugs.
Things To Do in Medellin
First of all, just walking around the Medellin city center is a blast. The city has a really vibrant restaurant, bar, and going out scene, to the point that it kind of surprised me. You can easily wander around and eyeball the cool places from the street. There's also a ton of cute shops that we didn't have time to check out, so build a little shopping time into your schedule.
Pro Tip: People will recommend that you try the famous Colombian dish of mondongo, but beware: It is soup made of cow or pig stomach.
The Real City Walking Tour is basically free, and it was easily one of the trip highlights. They request a donation at the end, which you will be more than happy to give because of the awesome value and now you also might be a little in love with your tour guide (no? only me?).
You'll get to see a ton of the key sites in Medellin (Botero Square, Bolivar Park, etc.) and learn a lot about the history, especially as it pertains to drugs, kidnappings, and civil war. Our tour guide, Juan, had unfortunately lost friends and family members to all three. It was a really tangible way to learn about the impact that the drug trade has had on everyday Colombians, and a good reminder of what Pablo Escobar means beyond the hit show on Netflix.
Pro Tip: Allow half a day for this walking tour and wear comfy shoes.
From our walking tour, we took public transportation to the foot of the famous Medellin cable cars. The city prides itself on having built the first Metro line in all of Colombia - it's part of what has helped them progress ahead of the rest of the country.
Because the city sits in a valley, houses that sprawl outside of the city center have to progressively move up the mountains encasing Medellin. To help provide access to these citizens, Medellin has a cable car line as a part of its metro, which my mom and I rode to the very top. There, is the famous Parque Arvi.
This was such a cool experience, watching the city shrink below you and finding yourself high above the mountain green. It was one of those breathtaking exercises in perspective, too, seeing what life was like from above for the many who are still very poor in Medellin. These are the people that end up living in shanty houses on the hillside.
Pro Tip: There are two points on the cable car ride at which you can get out and turn around. I would only go up to Santo Domingo. You dont need to make it all the way to Parque Arvi, as there's not much up there to see and it costs more money.
Finally, day two: our Pablo Escobar, Guatape, & El Pinon tour. A lot of people do these activities separately, but I cannot emphasize enough how awesome they were all together.
We were able to arrange this tour through our hostel, and all we had to do was show up at the meeting point. We were whisked off in a van with 20 other tourists, all of which we had befriended by the end of the day.
From our van, we were put into and on top of Jeeps to make the off-road journey to one of Pablo's old properties. Riding on top was a blast. Once we got there, a hearty lunch was served and our tour began. Again, the story of Pablo is both fascinating and heartbreaking for the Colombians who lived in his era.
From Pablo's estate, we all got in a boat and headed for the small town of Guatape.
There is not much to do in Guatape, but the architecture alone is worth making the trip out. Every building is brightly colored like you're in Disneyland, and there are a lot of shops that are perfect for grabbing souvenirs.
From Guatape, we were transported to El Penon to begin our climb. El Penon is a monolithic rock just outside the small town, the second biggest in all of South America, according to our tour guide.
The climb looks really intimidating, but is completely manageable for anyone in relatively good health. Everyone on our tour made the trip up, including my mom and I. As you can see below, my Converse were perfectly fine for this.
The panoramic view from the top is so incredibly worth it. We didnt get a better view in our two weeks than from the top of El Penon.
To round out the tour, we headed to a lookout point on our way back into Medellin to watch the sunset and enjoy a few well-earned beers. This picture hardly does it justice. Despite being hungry, cold, and tired, the blazing pink sky over our new favorite city was pretty magical.
As mentioned, we ended up making great friends on our full-day tour. People from the Netherlands, Belgium, India, and Australia. Mom and I had dinner with our two new Belgian friends at famous Argentinian steakhouse Malevo, then met the rest of the crew at their notorious party hostel, The Happy Buddha. From there, we drank and went out to a Colombian club. Party girl Mom stayed out the entire time!
Despite the fact that I was miserably hungover for our early flight to Cartagena the next morning, the night out was worth it. We had so much fun with our new friends and felt like we got every ounce we could out of Medellin.
Photos and events from October 2016.