Planning a trip to Colombia? This Medellin travel guide will be your go-to-guide on this beautiful city. Once know as the murder capital of the world, the lively city instantly became one of our favorite places to visit! Since the cartel was disbanded in the mid 1990’s, the city has rebounded tremendously and has moved rigorously towards a brighter future. So much so, that Medellin was named the ‘Innovative City of the Year’ by the Wall Street Journal in 2013 due to its transformation.
Today, Medellin is a hugely popular tourist destination and, in our opinion, should be on the top of your destination bucket list. As the second largest city in Colombia, Medellin is home to over 3 million people. The city itself is located in a bowl of the Andes mountains, completely surrounded by natural beauty in every direction. The city is also home to gorgeous parks and gardens, miles of hiking, a massive food and nightlife scene, and an abundance of wildlife. In fact, in the city center itself you can often spot wild Scarlet Macaws, Iguanas and even wild monkeys! This city NEEDS to be on your travel list, especially if you are visiting Colombia!
The official currency is the Colombian Peso (COP). One USD is equal to 3982.2736 COP.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
The best time to visit Medellin is during the dry season between December-March.
Medellin is in Standard Time Zone (UTC-5), no daylight savings time.
Medellin is a quick flight from Cartagena, as well as Panama City. However, finding direct flights can be a bit of a challenge. Be aware of this and give yourself an extra travel day if needed – trust us, you don’t want to cut your time in Medellin short! In regards to the airlines, we recommend avoiding Copa airlines if at all possible!
Upon arriving in Medellin we recommend taking a taxi or an Uber to your hotel. An Uber from the airport was around $20 + $5 toll (you will need cash) for a 35 min ride. Taxis tend to have similar price points, but for safety purposes always ensure that it is an official taxi.
Getting Around The City
Once in Medellin, transportation is extremely easy! Ubers are technically illegal in Colombia, but they are very safe and affordable. If you choose to use Uber, don’t be alarmed if they ask you to sit in the front seat so that you look like an acquaintance. Taxis are also abundant and have a similar price point. But as always, avoid taking taxis after dark in foreign countries for safety purposes. Medellin is also one of the few Latin American cities that has an extensive metro system – and the only metro system in the entire country. The metro system is extremely clean, cheap, and easily accessible from most places in the city.
What To Expect
IS IT SAFE TO VISIT?
Undoubtable one of the most important questions to answer in our Medellin Travel Guide. YES Medellin is safe to visit! Prior to our trip we received continuous concerns from family and friends regarding the safety of Colombia. Knowing the country’s dark past, the concerns were definitely valid. However, Medellin has transformed since its well known reputation of the 1970s and 80s, and it is absolutely incredible to witness the transformation first hand! Like any big city, there are unsafe areas of Medellin that you should avoid, and there are still criminals and criminal banks in numerous neighborhoods. Therefore, it is very important to use common sense, know your surroundings, stay in familiar areas, and keep your personal belongings secured. Additionally, do not taxi after dark, do not wear flashy items that make you stand out, always listen to locals’ warnings about certain areas, and be careful of your surroundings.
WILL I NEED THE EXTRA LAYER?
Known for its ‘year-long-spring’, Medellin offers unbelievable weather year round! You can expect a tropical, cool, wet climate due to its location in a valley of the Andes mountains. The temperature averages around 72 degrees year-round (talk about perfect). The best time to visit is considered to be during the drier months, December through March. However, there’s really no bad time to visit, as the weather is fairly consistent year round.
DO I NEED TO KNOW SPANISH?
Very few locals speak English! It is vital to know basic Spanish when traveling to Colombia, even for the sake of safety. We recommend studying Spanish through Babbel.com.
SHOULD I TAKE CASH OUT?
In terms of money, Colombia is more affordable than most places in the United States and Europe. You can expect to pay around $15-$20 per person for nice meals, $2 – $10 for Ubers or taxis, and $5 per drink. Like any city, Medellin has a wide range of restaurants and bars with varying prices. See below for a list of our favorite restaurant and bar recommendations!
HEELS OR NO HEELS?
The attire in Medellin is more formal than many South American destinations, so leave the flip flops at home (unless you want to stand out as a tourist). During the day, we recommend casual-cute attire, such as sundresses, rompers, shorts, sandals, and dressy sneakers. As soon as the sun goes down it is time to pull out your heels and flirty dresses!
WHAT IS THE TIPPING CULTURE?
In general, most restaurants include a 10% service fee. You do not need to tip on top of this unless you feel the service is exceptional. Small tips are expected for hotel services and tour guides, but it is not customary to to tip taxi drivers.
The best neighborhood to experience an upscale, residential side of Medellin. Laureles is home to Medellin’s soccer stadium, Estadio Atanasio Girardot, as well as La 70, the famous party street!
El Poblado is the epicenter for travelers, and a true upscale and sensory experience. This upper-class neighborhood is home to some of the city’s best malls, trendiest hotels, and many celebrated restaurants. In addition, El Poblado offers the city’s most elite nightlife scene!
The best neighborhood for the daytime hustle and bustle! This buzzing neighborhood is the heart of the city and home to some of the most famous attractions.
Home of the famous barrio, Comuna 13, and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Medellin today!
This area is on the rise and in the middle of the action. It is the most central for tourists during the day, but not the best place to be at night.
The brand new hotel is modern and stunning, with 5 full restaurants and bars lining its lobby, and a buzzing nightlife scene. It is conveniently located in El Poblado, allowing you to walk everywhere and fully experience the neighborhood. The hotel also features a super chic rooftop bar and pool, and a delicious bottomless brunch on the weekends.
Selina hotels are some of our favorite and most affordable places to stay! They truly go above and beyond to create a community within all of their locations. You can expect complimentary yoga classes, free walking tours, pub crawls, black-out parties, among other events. The Selina in Medellin features a gorgeous outdoor bar in the center of the hotel, where we found ourselves grabbing drinks with new friends numerous times. The rooms run between $17 – $40 USD per night, depending upon your room preference.
LOS PATIOS HOSTEL
Another super cool, affordable, and popular hostel is Los Patios. This hostel has a great rooftop bar, called Ziruma, where we met many of our new friends in the city. Like Selina, Los Patios goes above and beyond to create a community within all of its locations, offering a wide range of activities and parties. During our stay in Medellin we joined a Los Patios pub crawl with about 150 other travelers and had the best night of our lives! Whether staying here or not, it is definitely worth a visit to the Los Patios rooftop.
THE CHARLES HOTEL
This luxury boutique hotel is a staple for party-loving tourists! You can expect trendy, design-oriented interiors, chic guest rooms with extra-large furnished terraces, and a wealth of on-site facilities. Additionally, the hotel offers a popular rooftop bar, complete with an aquarium-style pool and a regular DJ. Further, the location in Medellin’s nightlife district means there are plenty of dining options, bars, and art galleries nearby.
Things To Do
EXPLORE EL POBLADO
El Poblado is easily the most popular part of town for travelers! Between the food, nightlife, and lively crowd, there’s something for everyone. Another must-not-miss in El Poblado is the shopping! We were in awe of the fashion in Medellin and spent way too much money trying to look the part. Definitely check out the shops in Via Primavera, as well as our three favorite stores: Universo Glam, Sombreros Sandbreros, and Makena. Additionally, we recommend taking a free walking tour of the neighborhood during your first stay in Medellin. REAL CITY TOURS is the company we used and it was a great introduction into the city.
RIDE A CABLE CAR
Another way to get a feel for the city and its gorgeous landscape is to ride a cable car! The cable cars were built just a few years ago, as a way to connect the undeveloped suburbs to the city center and allow thousands of people access to the city for school and work. Taking a quick ride on one of the cable car lines is an easy and affordable way to get some amazing scenic views of the city and mountains beyond. If you happen to be craving some nature at the time, ride the cable cars to Arvi Park, where you can enjoy nature and relax away from the city’s hustle and bustle.
VISIT PARQUE LLERAS
Located right in the middle of El Poblado, this park is always bursting with food vendors, painters, street vendors, musicians, and people drinking and hanging out night and day. Surrounding the park is also home to great nightlife!
CHECK OUT THE MICROBREWERIES
Medellin is also home to over 30 microbreweries, which we enjoyed to the fullest! A couple of our favorites spots include 20 Mission Cerveza, Bipolar Brewing Co, Medellin Beer Factory, 3 Cordilleras, and numerous local spots throughout Comuna 13.
VISIT THE LOCAL MARKETS
One of the best attractions Medellin has to offer is the diverse markets! From farmers markets and gastronomic food markets, to flea markets, we explored them all! Here’s our top two recommendations:
Mercado Del Rio
Medellin’s newest and trendiest gastronomic market is the best place to try incredible foods from around the world! It’s a huge warehouse-like space with 40+ restaurants, food stands, breweries, and bars.
This huge commercial market in downtown Medellin is famous for selling a vast array of Colombian fruits, among other things. It is an authentic, bustling local market and the perfect place for a DIY fruit tour of Medellin.
Medellin also offers breathtaking countryside and adorable towns just beyond the city’s reach. One of our favorite day trips is to the town of Guatape, located a quick 1.5 hours away. This colorful town is a perfect, picturesque escape from the hustle and bustle of the city and definitely worth a visit.
TOUR COMUNA 13
In 2002, this neighborhood was considered the most dangerous neighborhood in all of Latin America. Today, it’s booming culture of art, music, history, and dancing draw in over 15,000 tourists a day, exemplifying hope and change for a brighter future. It is one of the most fun, yet empowering things to do in Medellin, and one of our favorite memories from the trip. We highly recommend booking a tour through AIC TOURS. For more information, head over to our complete travel guide on Comuna 13!
The restaurant scene in Medellin is absolutely impeccable! We recommend checking out the hot spots in El Poblado and Laureles. But just in case you are fighting a hangover or don’t feel up for making it out, we recommend downloading the Rappi app! Think of it like an Uber Eats app that delivers everything to your door, including meals, groceries, medications, toiletries, basically anything you want. All for a small delivery fee of $2! We have included a list of our favorite restaurants in our Medellin travel guide below:
Located in the heart of El Poblado, this restaurant is known as one of the most famous traditional Colombian restaurants in Medellin. Frequented by locals, presidents, and tourists, it is the go-to spot to try traditional Colombian food.
Serving traditional Colombian cuisine and asados since 1982, this establishment has set a benchmark for its superb cuisine, quiet settings, and attentive service. It is the most famous for it’s Bandeja paisa.
This Medellin restaurant is the perfect mix of modern European with Colombian influences (such as the amazing Chicharron). It is known for its impeccable service, reasonable prices, relaxed atmosphere, and tasteful international cuisine.
Located in an elegant dining room with stunning décor, this upscale restaurant has been a mainstay of Medellin’s fine-dining scene for nearly three decades. You can expect Mediterranean cuisine with Asian influences, served in a contemporary setting.
The place to go for some of the best coffee in Medellin! The coffee is locally grown, roasted in house and absolutely delicious. In addition, they offer everything from baked goods, salads, breakfast and more. It’s a great place for a quick snack with a friend, or to get some work done.
The perfect semi-formal dining experience located in a modern, open-air environment away from the craziness of the city. The menu is diverse, with creative beef and lamb dishes appearing alongside a selection of seafood plates, salads and pastas.
The nightlife in Medellin is fun beyond belief and one of the reasons we are so eager to go back! While Colombia is famous for salsa and reggaetón, there’s also a huge electronic music scene that attracts world-class DJs. The vast array of lounges, bars, and clubs open all night long can be overwhelming at first, which is why we highly recommend doing a pub crawl through a hostel or event website. This will allow you to go out with a group of people, cut the lines, go to the trendiest places, and they often include free drinks. All of the barrios in Medellin boast their own party scenes, but if you’re in town for the first time we recommend sticking to the following two areas:
El Poblado is the epicenter of nightlife and for most visitors, the first stop on their nightlife agenda. Within El Poblado is Zona Rosa, AKA the party district. This can further be divided into three areas: Parque Lleras, Provenza, and Manilla. Parque Lleras is the heart of El Poblado nightlife, brimming with bars and clubs, and packed with locals and tourists every weekend. Just slightly up the hill you’ll find Provenza – an equally popular but slightly classier area, and our personal favorite! Here you’ll find great parties and rooftop terraces.
This is the place to head if you are wanting an authentic nightlife experience, AKA partying with the locals and dancing salsa! Located off the street La 70 are hundreds of bars, ranging from wild reggaetón bars to casual tiendas. There’s so many spots that it would be difficult to ever hit the same spot twice! This is a great area to go bar hopping or participate in one of the many bar crawls. There is something for everyone in Laureles, so we definitely recommend checking it out once you get your general bearings in Medellin.
The homely atmosphere of Rooftop Ziruma Medellin allows visitors to relax after a hard working day and meet new friends! Located on the top of Los Patios Hostel, this bar offers breathtaking views of the city.
Vintrash is a bar with multiple ambients focusing on Latin, indie and electronic music. The homey décor and charming ambiance let guests feel relaxed.
Offering amazing views and an incredible atmosphere, the Skybar is the place to be at night in Medellin.
The Blue Bar
One of the best bars to dance to rock music in Medellin.
Disco Salon Amador
Ranked #4 top nightclubs in Medellin! You can expect great disco and house music.
One of the liveliest and most fun nightclubs. Expect loud music and lots of dancing.
Envy Rooftop is a trendy and luxurious rooftop bar and lounge. This is a great spot for happy hour and sunset watching.
Bar La Octava
Fun spot with a ball pit in the back of the bar. It’s literally a playground for adults.
Medellin is one of our all-time favorite cities and we cannot wait to visit again! Thanks for reading our post, we can’t wait to hear your thoughts! Be sure to head to our Destinations page to access many more worldwide comprehensive travel guides!