I fell hopelessly head over heels in love with Medellín. In just one day, the city had me smitten.
Yeah.. I know .. I seem to say that an awful lot. But seriously, Medellín is special.
It’s one of those places that I immediately felt a draw to. One of those cities I felt a need to further explore. One where I immediately knew- one day I’ll be back.
Medellín has an electric energy, an unmistakable allure and is an absolute inspiration to all those lucky enough to visit.
As a recent die-hard fan of Netflix’s Narcos, I have to admit, the city of Medellín fascinated me even before stepping foot on its soil. Despite it’s notoriously violent and complicated past, the city has undergone a dramatic transformation and impressive revival. Medellín’s dark history only pushed its citizens to work harder towards a bright future and today we experience a completely different Medellín than its outdated reputation suggests.
This bustling modern metropolis is now considered one of the safest big cities in all of Latin America and welcomes visitors from around the world with open arms. Even though the boom of tourism is still fairly recent in the city, Medellín locals are ready for the change and extremely eager to show off their newly renovated home.
With only one day to explore the wonderful world of Medellín, I hope you’re ready to pack a lot in. There is so much to do, see and eat in this glorious city and time is of the essence!
I hope you packed some comfortable walking shoes …
A One Day Itinerary in Medellín Colombia:
Suggested time: 7:15-8:15 AM
Rise and Shine! I know, it’s EARLY. But it’s time to get up and have a quick breakfast to fuel you up for the exciting day to come! If you stay in Medellín’s Poblado neighborhood (which I suggest you do), there are plenty of choices for a delicious and filling breakfast. Be sure to have something hearty, as your first activity is going to be a long one.
If you’re strapped for cash or just not a morning person, have a quick bite to eat at your hostel or hotel. If you’d rather get a change of scenery and jump-start your day right away head over to Al Alma Café or Natural Mix. At Al Alma you’ll find some kick ass Colombian coffee and a menu full of classic breakfast dishes like eggs Benedict, oatmeal, bagel sandwiches, yogurt with fruit and granola and assorted pastries. I had the French toast with caramelized bananas and strawberries and it was to die for! Al Alma would be my first choice for a hearty morning meal, but be sure to tell them you’re in a bit of a rush, as they tend to take their time. If you’re not the “big breakfast” type you can get a quick fresh fruit smoothie and snack to-go at Natural Mix.
Al Alma Café- Calle 8 #35 37 Barrio Provenza El Poblado Medellín
Natural Mix- Carrera 32d #9-2 a 9-114, Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia
Real City- Free Walking Tour
Tour will last for 4 hours until approximately 1:15PM
Your first activity of the day meets right at the Poblado metro station. [So, again if you stay in Poblado, you won’t be too far]. The Real City Free Walking Tour will take most of your morning, but it’s definitely worth it. It’s by far the best free walking tour I’ve ever done, and I’ve done my fair share of walking tours. This tour will give you an awesome first look and feel for downtown Medellín and the city’s Paisa culture. Not sure what Paisa means? Don’t worry, you’ll learn all about it on the tour.
I’m not really a history person [parts of walking tours are usually lost on me], but Medellín’s colorful and complicated past makes this tour an effortless success for its guides. I was completely captivated and engaged throughout the entire length of the tour. The 4 hours flew right on by!
All of Real City’s guides are born and raised Medellín locals who are extremely passionate about their culture and their city and eager to share it with others. They stay true to their name and show you the real city of Medellín- the good and, well, the not so good, bringing you to places that you wouldn’t normally venture to on your own. Their insights are genuine and both thought provoking and eye opening, making this tour an absolute must on any trip to Medellín.
Meeting place for the tour: 8:54am at the ticket booth of Poblado Metro station.
**Unlike most free walking tours, because Real City’s tour is so popular, you have to book your spot ahead of time! The bookings open a day and a half in advance and fill up fast, so don’t miss your chance to get a spot! You can do so here. Also take note that only one tour is offered on Saturdays and unfortunately the tours do not run on Sundays. Find more information on Real City’s webpage.
Lunch in Medellín’s Botanical Garden at IN SITU
Suggested time 1:30-3:00 PM
After all of that walking, learning and exploring, you’ll probably be ready to sit down, rest your feet and have a bite to eat. A quick metro (or taxi) ride from the end of your tour, you’ll find the perfect place to kick back, relax, take a break from the hustle and bustle of Medellín and peacefully enjoy your midday meal. Restaurante In Situ is a casual yet elegant restaurant right in the heart of Medellín’s luscious botanical gardens featuring an open-air concept that allows diners to take in the tranquility of the surrounding scenery. Their inventive and flavorful menu is reasonably priced with varied plates to choose from, including salads, soups, seafood, meat and pasta dishes, so there is sure to be something for everyone. At In Situ they also prepare to-go picnic baskets [equipped with blankets] in case you’d prefer to sit right in the grass and feel a little closer to your surroundings!
*Reservations recommended. Reserve your table here. Picnic baskets also should be ordered the day before.
Restaurante In Situ– Calle 73 N 51D – 14 Jardín Botánico Medellín
A Stroll through the Botanical Garden
Suggested time: 3:00-4:00 PM
After lunch, while you’re already in Medellín’s Botanical Garden, why not take some time to meander around while digesting your lunch. At a first glance, the gardens may not seem very “exciting” but with free entrance and so much to explore, it’s a great place to relax and escape the afternoon heat. The over 30 acres of garden are home to exotic plants, large free-roaming iguanas, many different species of birds, picturesque lakes, a butterfly house and depending on the time of year there will be varying seasonal exhibits available. Spend an hour or so strolling through the gardens or sitting on a bench along the walkway to take in the scene and people watch in the park.
Jardín Botánico – Cl. 73 #51d14, Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia | Metro Universidad
A Ride on the Santo Domingo Cable Car
*Must check time of sunset ahead of time!
While visiting the city of Medellín, taking a ride on one of the city’s infamous cable cars is a must. Medellín’s cable cars are actually a part of the city’s public transportation system and locals regularly use them to commute to and from their homes up on the hills.
Long history short: Medellín’s cable cars are an integral part of a greater urban plan aimed to eliminate violence, reduce crime and fight poverty within the city. The cable cars were designed to connect the city’s less developed suburban slums, known in Colombia as “comunas” or “favelas,” with the newly rejuvenated city center. They also helped return hope and bring a long-overdue sense of belonging to those who live in these once forgotten war-zones. The once stranded residents of these poorer comunas, isolated high on the step hillsides of Medellín, now have easy and affordable access to the rest of the city including work, education and healthcare. Needless to say, this highly regarded Metrocable system has become famous for its role in the transformation of Medellín to the city it is today! It is now a highlight attraction in Medellín and one its citizens are extremely proud of.
Yeah, they’re a lot more than just cable cars.
Riding the Santo Domingo cable car and floating just above the before mentioned favelas, you’ll get a glimpse of a completely distinct Medellín, far outside of the touristy center. All along the metro line you’ll bare witness to real life in the city suburbs, both the evident struggles and the incredible progress of the people below. You’ll see the real Medellín, behind the curtain.
Oh yeah, you’ll also get a breathtaking bird’s eye view of the massive and beautiful surrounding valley.
My suggestion: Catch the cable car up just before sunset and ride it back down in the dark to get two completely different perspectives of the city. Watching as the colorful valley fades to black and then suddenly re-awakens, lighting up and coming back to life is an incredible experience.
How to ride the cable car: After your walk through the Botanical Garden, hop back on the metro at Universidad and head in the direction of Niquía. Get off the metro at Acevedo, but don’t exit the station! You can transfer at Acevedo to the cable car, without paying extra. Follow the signs to “Line K” and wait in line to enter the Metro Cable. You will then continue on to Santo Domingo which be the third stop on the line without exiting the car. At Santo Domingo you can exit the station and follow the cable car line down to a “mirador” or lookout point with an awesome view of the city and the passing cable cars. If you’d like to continue even further, at Santo Domingo you can catch another cable car (extra $) to Medellín’s enormous Parque Arvi where there are farmers markets, hiking trails, lakes and bathrooms.
*Note: Although Santo Domingo is now a fairly safe area to explore, normal precautions should be taken and I wouldn’t wander too far from the metro station, especially if alone.
Dinner in Poblado
After riding the cable car to Santo Domingo, take the metro back to the Poblado area for dinner. There are tons of amazing restaurants in the area to choose from, but here are three tested and true recommendations, depending on that you’re in the mood for.
- La Alambique- Finding the entrance to La Alambique is all part of the fun, as it is quite literally a hidden gem. Around the corner from a fast food chicken restaurant, through a green wooden door and up two flights of stairs, you’ll find this eclectic, bohemian style rooftop restaurant. Their menu features an experimental modern take on traditional Colombian cuisine and elaborate cocktails to die for. If you’re looking to start your night dining with a trendy crowd in a chic rustic setting all at unpretentious prices, this is the spot for you! [$$ | Cra. 41 #106, Medellín]
- Mondongos- If you’re looking for some hearty, no frills typical Colombian cuisine, hit up Mondongo’s. This restaurant serves your straight up unassuming traditional Colombian fair, so don’t expect any fancy or impressive presentations. Do expect large filling portions of good local food that will leave you full and satisfied with money in your pocket to spare. Looking for something specific to try? Order the Bandeja Paisa, a typical rice, meat and beans dish from the region that should be plenty to share! [$ | Cl. 10 #38-38, Medellín]
- Café Zorba- If you need a break from South American cuisine and are more in the mood for some comfort food, head over to Café Zorba. This laid-back café sports some funky décor and seriously artsy vibes and is the perfect place to take it easy after a long day. They don’t have too many options on the menu for food, but their fresh and creative thin crust pizzas may be just what you need after an action packed day! The pizzas are individual sized, but if you’re with a group, I recommend getting a few to taste and share. [$ | Cl. 8 #42-33, Medellín]
A Night Out in Parque Lleras
If you’ve decided to stick around for the night (and you totally should), head to the area surrounding Parque Lleras for a great nightlife scene. This area is the hip place to be afterhours and is packed with bars, restaurants and clubs. You’ll also find plenty of partiers drinking along the park and all over the streets (it’s legal!), so wander about, bar hop around and you’re bound to find something that tickles your fancy.
If you’re traveling solo, or would like to go out with a group, start your night at the Happy Buddha Hostel’s Tree Bar for cheap drinks and happy hour deals (you can enter even if you’re not staying there). Rather head straight to the bars? Try Calle 9+1 where you’ll find DJs spinning independent electronica late into the night or Vintrash for a cool underground dance floor and a young hipster crowd.
My Medellín Travel Tips
- Transportation: Try to use the Metro as much as possible! The Medellín Metro is the city’s pride and joy. Medellín is a big city, but the public transportation system connects everything really well. It’s also affordable, clean, safe, efficient and easy to use! You can find a metro map here.
- Suggestion of where to stay: As I briefly mentioned above, the neighborhood of Poblado, specifically around Parque Lleras is a great area to stay in Medellín. The area is really cute, super safe and full of awesome cafés, restaurants and bars. Looking for a hostel? Check out my post on the Happy Buddha!
- Safety: Believe it or not Medellín is now one of Latin America’s safest big cities! That being said, normal precautions should be taken in any big city. Don’t walk alone at night, don’t flash around expensive goods and ask a local before exploring an unknown neighborhood.
Have longer than One Day in Medellín? More Medellín Must Do’s coming soon!
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