Despite being once known as the most dangerous city in Colombia, Medellín has recovered and it is today one of the most beautiful destinations in the country. Known as “the city of eternal spring” for its mild climate throughout the year, this city in the heart of Colombia is one of the must-sees when you are backpacking in South America. Get ready to discover all it has to offer. Welcome to our complete travel guide to Medellín for backpackers.
Medellín is the capital city of the Antioquia department. Two airports and two bus terminals operate here, so you can arrive in Medellín virtually from any other Colombian city, or even some foreign countries by plane.
The Olaya Herrera Airport receives domestic flights from many Colombian cities. And Jose María Córdova Airport is the one that operates international flights.
The domestic airport is located 10 minutes away from El Poblado, one of the most touristic neighborhoods in Medellín. It’s also right beside the South bus terminal, so you could use the public transportation system, or you could take a taxi or uber for around 7000 Colombian Pesos (less than $2).
But if you arrive at Jose María Córdova, you will be 35 kilometers away from the city center. You will find several options to arrive from the airport to your destination.
If you choose to use public transportation, minibusses are departing every 15 minutes, connecting the airport with Medellin downtown. The ticket price is about 10.000 Colombian Pesos (or $2,70).
You have also the option of taking a private bus, with one of the 3 companies that operate the route. They are Rápido Medellín, Transporte Chachafruto, and Flota Rionegro. The price is a little lower than the minibusses and they are more spacious, so you will probably travel more comfortable. But they don’t depart as often.
And finally, you could use an Uber or taxi. The average rate of a taxi ride from the airport to the city center is 70.000 Colombian Pesos ($18), so it’s only worth it if you share the ride.
Medellin also has two bus terminals, the North Terminal, and the South Terminal.
As I mentioned before, the South Terminal is located 10 minutes away from El Poblado. You could walk to arrive from or to there, or you could take a taxi or Uber for around 7000 Colombian Pesos (less than $2). This terminal operates more with buses coming and going to souther destinations than Medellin.
The North Terminal is located in the Caribe neighborhood. It’s directly connected with the Metro station called Caribe, so you won’t need to use taxis or Uber to arrive and to leave. This terminal is where most buses arrive and depart, especially from and to northern destinations in Colombia.
Medellín is a beautiful modern city that has recovered from its dark times. Back in the 90s, it was considered the most dangerous city in the world. The drug cartels, the constant assassinations, and the unimaginable violence that was experienced were overwhelming.
But today, after an incredible transformation, it is one of the most beautiful and safest cities to visit while backpacking Colombia.
It is a giant metropolis, and as such, there are endless things to do. So let me tell you what you shouldn’t miss on your visit to the city of the eternal spring.
Comuna 13 is one of the main attractions of the city, and a tour that should not be missing in any travel guide to Medellín.
It is a very picturesque neighborhood, in which artists have managed to transform a humble neighborhood into a place full of colors and art. The bohemian vibe, its murals, and its views of the city make it one of the best things to do in Medellín.
The transformation that Comuna 13 went through, from being a dangerous place to a touristic place, is a clear example of the transformation of the city.
You can get a tour almost anywhere in Medellín, or you can go on your own by public transport. We chose that last option, we didn’t spend anything other than the bus tickets, and we really enjoyed the ride.
Pueblito Paisa is another famous attraction, located in the top of the Nutibara Hill.
It is a representation of a typical Antioquia town, a recreation center where you will find restaurants, a museum, and you can enjoy a fantastic view of Medellín from above.
You can easily arrive at Pueblito Paisa using the metro. You will have to get down in the Industriales station and take a short walk. The hardest part is to climb all the way up to the top of Nutibara Hill, but it’s still an easy hike.
If you happen to be in Medellín around Christmas time, you will love how the lights and decorations bring Pueblito Paisa to live.
We enjoyed the visit but it’s hardly a must. However, if you have time to spare, it’s a good idea to go and spend a few nice hours.
Another nice and free activity to do in Medellín is visiting the Botero Square or Plaza Botero. It’s a 7000 m3 square where 23 sculptures of the famous Colombian artist Fernando Botero are exhibited.
It’s a wonderful walk to take photographs and learn a little bit more about Colombian culture. The sculptures follow the unique style of Botero, whose signature technique is to represent people and animals in a rounded way.
You can easily arrive at Botero Square by using the metro and getting down in the Prado or San Antonio stations.
Around the square, you will find the Antioquia Museum and the Cultural Palace Rafael Uribe Uribe, a beautifully architectonically designed building.
The Antioquia Museum brings together diverse collections of archaeological, historical, and contemporary art pieces relevant to Medellín and the region. The entrance costs around 5 dollars. It’s worth it if you are interested in Colombian culture and history.
The Botanic Garden is, in my opinion, a must on any travel guide to Medellín.
Visiting it is ensuring a moment of contact with nature. It is a huge park full of colorful plants and huge trees, surrounding a beautiful lake.
It also has an abundant animal life. You can see animals like squirrels, parakeets, and several birds’ species.
It’s a great spot to take a break from the concrete and urbanization, and it’s a great place to take cool photos also.
The entrance is free unless special events are running inside the park. You can arrive by metro, getting down in the Universidades station,
If you are into natural spaces, you shouldn’t miss Arví Park either. It’s a huge ecological natural reserve, where you will be able to breathe pure air.
The park has a wide variety of species of regional fauna and flora.
And, even though its vast majority is a natural environment, it has built areas, for example, the Arví Market. There you will find natural regional products, such as coffee and typical fruits.
If you are up for hiking, you can choose between several trails to enjoy, of different difficulties and durations. You can request a map at the Medellín Arví metro station or at your accommodation.
It’s also a great place to go for a picnic, riding a bike, or simply enjoy nature at its maximum. If you are planning your visit to Arví Park, I recommend you to read this post at Medellín Guru.
The cablecars in Medellín are one of the highlights of the public transportation system in the city. You don’t even have to be going to a place to ride it, you could just hop on and enjoy the views.
You need to remember that the cable car is not so much a tourist attraction, but a necessity for the inhabitants of Medellin. Especially for the citizens of the lower strata, who depend on this transport to move easily.
So, yes, it is a beautiful ride to see Medellin from the heights, but also to see a Medellin different from the one advertised in the travel guides, a more authentic and real one.
If you are one of those backpackers always chasing fun, then I have great news for you. Medellín is a great place to party! It’s a young destination by excellence, and so, you will find a vibrant nightlife there.
The best places to find restaurants, bars, and nightclubs are located in the El Poblado neighborhood. You will there find the Zona Rosa or “Pink Zone”, and the Parque Lleras in the middle of it.
There, you will find a wide variety of places to go for dinner, drinks or to party all night long. The nightlife offers works every day of the week but it’s during weekends that you’ll find the greatest activity.
All along 33rd Avenue, you will also find several nightclubs and bars. This Avenue offers a more authentic experience, unlike the Parque Lleras, it’s full of locals and not so many foreign tourists.
There are several safe and well-located neighborhoods where you could stay in Medellín. But my recommendation is that you stay in El Poblado.
It’s the best option because it’s located in a strategic position, with easy access to the metro station, and surrounded by bars, restaurants, and commercial stores. And, since it’s such a touristic destination, it’s also completely safe.
I can recommend you a few hostels to enjoy your stay in Medellín. If you are into social hostels and looking to have some fun, the Purple Monkey Hostel is a great choice. Located in El Poblado, it has a bar, a great outdoor terrace, and it only accepts adult guests. Still, is not an extreme party hostel, so it offers a great balance between entertainment and relaxation.
If your budget is a little wider, you could spend your time at Los Patios Hostel Boutique. It’s one of the most beautiful hostels in Colombia. It also has a bar and offers an amazing view of Medellín from the heights. The location is also perfect, in El Poblado, close to everything that’s happening.
You can also check out all the accommodations available in Medellín and their prices here.
There’s one more thing you should definitely do during your time in Medellín, and that is going to Guatapé.
Guatapé is one of the most colorful towns in Colombia. It’s famous for hosting the Piedra del Peñol (Peñol Stone), a stunning lookout point 220 meters high.
Guatapé is located approximately 2 hours away from Medellín. You could arrive by booking a private transfer from your accommodation or using public transportation.
If you choose the second option, you will have to reach the North Bus Terminal. From there, buses are departing nearly every hour for about 15.000 Colombian Pesos ($4).
If you are short on time, you could also sign up for a full-day tour departing from Medellín. Ask at your accommodation for some agency recommendations.
As I told you before, the most famous attraction in Guatapé is the Piedra del Peñol, a viewpoint in the heights, that will allow you to appreciate the magnificent view of the Guatape damming.
It’s a huge monolith with around 700 steps that you will have to climb to reach the 220 meters in height. You will have to pay an entrance fee of 18,000 Colombian Pesos (almost $5) but the view is worth it.
At the top, you will also find some restaurants and shops. But make sure to bring water to withstand the climb well.
If you have enough time, you could also sign up for a boat tour through the Guatapé damming. It’s a beautiful artificial lake with several islands, and you will be visiting some of them.
A great free thing to do in Guatapé is simply walking around its colorful streets. You will notice that, in almost all of them, decorative baseboards adorn the facades of the houses and buildings. Make sure you visit also the main square and give the Bandeja Paisa a try at one of the many typical restaurants.
I recommend you to spend at least one night and two days in Guatapé to make the most out of your time.
You will find several accommodations on different styles, prices, and comfort levels to choose from. And you can also choose to stay in the town center, or you could opt to stay close to the Piedra del Peñol. We choose the first option because we wanted to explore the town as well.
A cool option near el Peñol is Bacoa Hostel, which has both tents to camp and rooms to stay at. It has a restaurant, a bar, and a great nature vibe.
Unfortunately, due to Coronavirus, the hostel where we stayed at doesn’t exist anymore. But you can check out all the accommodations available in Guatapé here.
This travel guide to Medellín is coming to its end, but I wanted to make sure you have some basic tips and recommendations before enjoying the city.
The easiest and cheapest way to move around in Medellín is to use public transportation. The metro system has several lines connected to each other, with many stations in all areas of the city. It is also connected to the cable car system, so it is very easy to get to and from anywhere.
I recommend buying a reloadable card at any metro station, to have on hand and use every time you have to move around.
Medellin is built right in the middle of a valley, the Aburrá Valley, surrounded by an Andean region. So it is really likely that you will have to walk down and up on many occasions.
The city is not high enough for you to suffer altitude sickness, but you will have to work a bit if you are not in optimal physical condition.
And finally, there are a few typical dishes you must try during your adventure in Medellín. The most important one is the Bandeja Paisa, a delicious well-supplied dish. It contains meat, eggs, beans, rice, chorizo, pork rind, patacones, and arepas. They will tell you it’s for one, but we had to share it to finish it!
If you haven’t tried them yet, please, try the arepas with antioqueño cheese. And remember to taste also Mondongo, Sancocho, and the delicious “Empanadas de Iglesia”.
Let us know what else have you tried! And, as always, if you have any questions or suggestions, leave us a comment below.
Have a great adventure!