In all of my travels, this is the first time I have stayed put for this length of time. Two months! The verdict? Amazing! I have an apartment, I have a gym, I take Spanish classes, I take salsa classes, I have a routine, I AM NORMAL! I haven’t felt like this since the summer of 2015, before I quit my job. The really beauty was that I was able to unpack while traveling for the first time in nearly two years. I got to take things slowwwww. Despite being in Colombia for two months, I have only visited two cities to date. And you know what? I am fine with that. Squeezing in activity after activity is exhausting. Especially when you do that daily for over a year. There is so much more to see in Colombia, but I will be back! Until then, I have had the chance to get to know Medellin fairly well. With that, here are my recommendations of things you should do in Medellin as a tourist.
1. Free Walking Tour
Here she goes again. Free walking tour, blah blah blah. But OMG. This one went above and beyond. First of all, it is four hours long. I have been on two-hour walking tours that seem to drag, but this one did not feel like four hours in the slightest. They are so organized and well-coordinated, incorporating scheduled breaks and places to sit at each highlight. The guides love what they do and are extremely engaging. I must mention, you have to book this tour online. They offer tours Monday-Friday in the morning and afternoon as well as Saturday mornings. You can book online a day and a half in advance and they fill up quickly! It took me six weeks in Medellin to finally get online right at 6:15pm when the bookings opened in order to secure my spot.
2. Ride the Metro
People from Medellin, aka Paisas, are super proud of the metro. I find this extremely endearing. When a local is trying to get to know you, they’ll ask when you arrived in Medellin, what you have done so far, and if you’ve taken the metro. The metro is immaculately clean and is very symbolic. It is the only metro in the entire country, but also represents the growth and turn of events from the very dangerous times in Medellin which is quite recent history.
3. Also Ride the Metrocable
And if the metro wasn’t clean and beautiful enough, they also have three metro lines that are CABLE CARS. What! How cool! Lots of cities have cable cars to take you to beautiful view points and charge you up the ass for that privilege. In Medellin, two of the three lines are included in just a regular metro ticket. If you opt not to leave the metro station once you reach the top, you don’t even need to pay for a return ticket down. A spectacular ride and view of the city, roundtrip, can be yours for under $1. The exception is the metrocable that takes you to the National Park, Parque Arví. It requires a separate, but totally affordable ticket which I will discuss further in the section entitled Parque Arví.
4. Visit Guatape
Ready to escape from the city? Whether you go for the day, overnight, or the whole weekend, Guatape does not disappoint. The scenery is stunning, but the claim to fame is the enormous rock/boulder that you are able to climb 740 steps to the top. I promise you the view is worth every last step. Guatape town is also as chill as can be with adorable, colorful shops and houses. Definitely a cool place to kick it for a day or two or more if you’ve got the time!
5. Botanical Garden
This place is free, and chill, and beautiful, and easily accessible from the Universidad metro stop! It is a great place to roam around, be lazy, take in nature, have a picnic (there were like 40 Colombian families celebrating birthdays the day I went). Had I discovered this place sooner, I would have likely been back multiple times with a book in hand.
6. Learn Spanish
When in Colombia, amirite? Fewer people speak English here than in other parts of South America. If you plan on spending a least a week in Medellin, it is very possible to work on your Spanish. I experienced both group classes at Toucan Spanish School and private lessons here. In my opinion, group classes are great if you are at a lower level of Spanish. They are also a fantastic way to meet people. As you improve, I feel more individualized attention helps you succeed more quickly. Regardless, they are both great options.
7. Learn Salsa
The saga of me trying to dance could be its own post. And would you look at that, it is!. But for now, let me just say, when in Colombia, you might as well give it the old college try. Through my 10 hours of grueling private lessons, I can confidently say that there is a difference, at a genetic level, between North American and South American hips. Their hips don’t lie, ours do…sometimes… Anyway, it makes me feel better thinking my awkwardness is out of my control. I highly recommend classes at Dancefree due to the patience of the teachers, the price, and the fact that they advertise “twerking” as type of dance class they offer. If only I had mastered salsa, I could have moved on to twerking. PS. you will not be seeing any pictures of me dancing. They don’t exist (I hope!)
8. Take a Coffee Tour
What is Colombia famous for producing? That’s right! Coffee. As far as I know, they don’t offer a tour for their other national product you may be thinking of. I had a fabulous full day tour, two hours outside of Medellin in Fredonia, Colombia. We visited the family-owned and operated Cafe de la Cima coffee farm. We were provided with both breakfast and lunch, a tour of the grounds (coffee puns!), and a complete coffee tasting. I learned so much throughout the day, including the fact that Colombia doesn’t always serve great coffee because they export most of their product! I was able to purchase half a kilo of coffee for about $5 USD. A steal if you ask me! I booked my tour through Toucan Cafe and I highly recommend it.
9. Las Palmas
Talk about an awesome view of the city. This viewpoint is best reached by car. I was lucky enough to be driven by friends; however, if you don’t have that luxury, Uber may be your best bet. Las Palmas is a crowded area of the main road. It is perfect at night so you can see all of the city lights. The weather is quite cool up there so remember a jacket. There are also servers up there providing warm drinks like hot chocolate and aguapanela (with or without cheese! Don’t knock it till you try it!)
10. Parque Arví
You can take the public metro and reach a National Park inside a major city. How cool is that? Though it is easy, it does take some time to reach Parque Arví because it will likely require a ride on the metro and two metrocables. A regular metro ticket will cover you until you reach the end of the first metrocable, then you must purchase another more expensive ticket for the metrocable to Parque Arví (and by more expensive I mean less than $2 USD still, don’t worry!) Once you reach the park there is a market, some restaurants, and hiking trails. There is an information desk because the hiking trails are not blatantly obvious. It was a great way to spend some time, but beware of the rain! Medellin, the city of Eternal Spring, also offers eternal rain.
11. Language Exchanges
Do you speak any Spanish at all and want to practice? Or do you only speak English and want to help locals practice? You can find a language exchange just about any night of the week in Medellin. It is a fantastic way to practice your Spanish (if that is your goal) and also a great way to make local friends. While I haven’t made my rounds to all of the language exchanges the city has to offer, here is an article that gives a nice summary of the benefits of each. I have been to Skybar on Wednesday’s and Toucan on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s. While the experience greatly varies depending on who you speak to at the intercambio (exchange in Spanish!), it is always a fun time. Plus Skybar offers a free sangria to the first 50 attendees.
12. Go to a Soccer (my bad, futbol) Game
Ok. I don’t care if you don’t like soccer or sports or fun. The energy at a soccer game in Colombia is like no other. And from a practical stand point, jumping up and down and singing the catchiest Spanish songs=fun. Jumping up and down on the RAILINGS of the upper tier of the stadium=downright dangerous. To each his own. This type of lunacy occurs in the section that offers the least expensive tickets (read: where I sat). I have since been discouraged by many locals due to the fact that this passion can quickly turn into passionate rage. I lived to tell the tale and encourage you to use your best judgement when buying tickets to a game. This behavior takes place in the South section for the price of 25,000 pesos (roughly $8 USD).
If I were to go to another game, I would definitely consider sitting in the South section again. However, I have also been recommended the Oriental section (east) which is slightly more expensive and slightly calmer. Another thing to note is alcohol is not served inside the stadium. If drinking while watching sports is your thing, I suggest getting sufficiently lubed up ahead of time. While nobody is actively drinking inside the stadium, nearly everyone is actively smoking weed. If that is your thing, you are in luck! The second-hand smoke alone was plenty for me!
13. 3 Cordilleras Brewery
Yay! Beer! They offer a very cool space to chill and drink beers on Thursday and Friday evenings. Each night includes a tour of the brewery and 5 beer tickets (for full size beers!!) and Friday also offers up live music. The cost is roughly $7-9 USD depending on which night you go. Can’t beat that!