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Medellín city guide

Medellin City Guide: A Traveler’s Point of View

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Today we have Austin Tuwiner, from the Scuba Otter here to tell us all about his favorite things to do in Medellin Colombia! Austin is a 20-something travel who has recently been spending a good amount of time exploring Colombia, and he reached out about sharing his experience with the Lauren on Location community.

If you’re interested in learning more about Medellín, or traveling there yourself, be sure to check out my two guides:

Must Try Street Eats in Medellín

&

A One Day in Medellín Itinerary

Ok, enough from me, here’s Austin!

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Once a crumbling city, Medellín has experienced a recent rise to prominence as one of the world’s hottest tourist destinations.

When traveling through Medellín, I was shocked that Time Magazine named Colombia’s second-largest city, the most dangerous city in the world back in the 1980s. The difference between Medellín then and now is truly mind-blowing.

Perhaps you’re wondering why Medellín once was a city on the brink of collapse. Equally as important is how Medellín rebuilt itself in recent years.

Before we dive into my experiences in Medellín, it’s important to touch on the city’s rough past to highlight the differences from today.

Medellín’s Complicated Background

Medellín crime peaked during the 1980s and the early 1990s. Drug cartels held more power than local police forces and politicians. If the latter groups tried to interfere with the cartels, criminals would have officials murdered while bribes were equally as standard with the cartel’s seemingly unlimited cash flow.

It makes sense that many of Medellín’s young population fled the city during the turbulent years to avoid the threat of violence. Part of what helped rebuild Medellín’s image and reputation was the return of locals during the 2000s. 

It got to a point where Medellín’s local population was so tired of the violence and corruption that they stepped up to fight crime themselves through years of civil war.

Local Medellín citizens standing up for themselves has paved the way for an emphasis on public projects aimed to rebuild the city. In 2013, Medellín was named the “most innovative city in the world.” 

Public projects in Medellín include beautiful parks, a revamped public transportation system, new public libraries, and much more. 

Now that Medellín has returned stronger than ever, let’s talk about my exploration of Colombia’s second-largest city. 

Getting around Medellín

While the Medellín Metro is the only rail-based mass transportation system in Colombia, the city’s public transportation system extends far beyond its rails. 

The most unique and exciting element I found when utilizing Medellín’s public transportation system was its use of cable cars. Four Metrocable car lines run daily and served to provide me with sweeping views of Medellin’s vast cityscape. 

Civica cards saved me some money during my trip when riding Medellín’s metro. Rechargeable and a straightforward way to avoid sometimes lengthy ticket lines, Civica cards are the way to go when riding Medellín public transit.

All I had to do to receive a Civica card was to show my passport as a form of identification.

Metro prices are affordable when visiting Medellín. Sitting at just under .70 cents (USD) per ride, the fact that Medellín’s public transportation system extends to every part of the city shows how valuable the metro is in reunifying a previously fractured city.

I spent a decent portion of my time hopping on public transit to sample some of Medellín’s famous dishes, such as bandeja paisa. Which brings me to food…

My Favorite Restaurants and Foods to try in Medellín

Where to begin? 

Colombia is known for traditional dishes such as: 

  • Arepas
  • Sancochos 
  • Empanadas 

—and so much more!

Coffee in Colombia isn’t your typical coffee, either. The growing conditions in Colombia for coffee beans, in addition to natural processing, lead to rave reviews from Medellín visitors such as myself. 

El Poblado is a neighborhood in Medellín that’s in the middle of everything—especially restaurants!

Mondongos restaurant is considered one of the most famous restaurants in Medellín and is located in El Poblado in Calle 10. Featuring a classic Colombian menu, tripe soup, plentiful servings of guacamole and delicious chicken are sure to be found when dining at Mondongos in El Poblado. 

For more typical Colombian dishes to try in Medellín, check out Lauren’s post on must-try Colombian Street Food

Been traveling in Colombia for a while, and craving something different? My next recommendation is a local chain that serves crepes and waffles. 

The name: Crepe and Waffles. Appropriate enough. 

Whether you’re looking for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, this local Medellín chain has you covered. Try some of Crepe and Waffles’ ice cream with your meal. 

Where to Stay in Medellín

The place in which you stay during a trip can make or break your experience. Unique local shopping, nightlife, and parks are located throughout Medellín, so it depends what you’re looking for.

I’m going to break down some of Medellín’s top neighborhoods to stay in that cover a variety of tastes.

Laureles

While neighborhoods such as El Poblado and La Candelaria might be more well known—what makes Laureles a great option to stay in is the accessibility for newcomers visiting Medellín. 

While the bustling activity of downtown is not far away, Laureles offers a slightly quieter Medellín experience that features a healthy mix of locally owned stores and chains. 

It’s no surprise that Laureles is reported as one of Medellin’s safest neighborhoods. First-time visitors of Medellín will feel welcome by locals upon visiting. 

El Poblado

After frequently mentioning the neighborhood of El Poblado throughout this article, it only felt right to touch on what makes this district so vibrant and appealing. 

El Poblado revolves around its fun activities for visitors to engage in.

Shopping malls, a diverse selection of restaurants, and tons of clubs make El Poblado the place to experience Medellín by night. It’s no surprise that El Poblado thrives as the most wealthy portion of Medellín. It’s not hard to get motivated when looking over the endless high rises in this neighborhood.

If you’re looking for a fun hostel to stay at, Lauren wrote about her experience at the Happy Buddha Hostel in El Poblado here. 

Medellín Day Trips

Part of what makes Medellín a great place to visit is the opportunity to visit unique spots for day trips that are located just outside the city. 

When looking for a day trip that was close to my Airbnb, I found Parque Arvi to be easily accessible and beautiful. 

Located just outside of East Medellín, Parque Arvi features quiet hikes, cable car transport, bike riding, and food options for when you need a break. 

When looking to travel a bit further outside of Medellín to experience something extraordinary, I recommend checking out Guatape

Less than two hours’ drive from Medellín, Guatape is a pretty, quaint town located lakeside. Brightly colored architecture fills the streets of this Colombian town, while views from El Peñón de Guatapé are truly phenomenal.

After experiencing the unique architecture, pleasant locals, and beautiful nature in and around Medellín, it’s hard to imagine that Time Magazine named the city as the most dangerous place on Earth just twenty-some years ago. 

Nowadays, Medellín thrives with confidence. Visitors feel welcomed by locals, while tons of great food and activities await. 

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