Medellin is an incredible city – I think it is such a cliché to describe somewhere as full of life but that is the only way to begin to capture the vibrancy and warmth of this mountain city.
Whilst Bogota was business-like, serious and exuded capital city authority, Medellin, in contrast, was full-of-life, like a rejuvenated and creative cousin.
Despite still being high in the Andes the city felt more humid and jungle-like than any of our previous stops; we spent the long, warm days exploring the city, riding the sky train, discovering hidden parks, sculptures and gardens and the always summery nights making the most of cosmopolitan city life.
We decided to stay for 4 days as the city had so much to offer – our time soon passed and we moved on having fallen in love with the Medellin way of life.
Today, Medellin feels booming, however, it is a city with a brutal history. Not so long ago it was the cocaine-capital of the world and the territory of Pablo Escobar, Drug cartels ruled (and fought over) the crime-ridden city and for decades the authorities didn’t even attempt to try and break the stronghold Escobar held on the city.
In stark contrast, Medellin is now a city full of opportunity, openness and education;
- It is home to continent-leading medical, educational and sports facilities and striking architecture
- During its rejuvenation plan the city remained ‘local friendly’ initiating policies such as the sky train and cable car upon which you can travel across the whole city for around 30p
- There seems to be endless educational centres, interactive museums, botanical gardens and cultural features dotted around the city
So here is my guide to getting the best out of this wonderful city – a perfect mix of busy sight-seeing days and wandering to find hidden gems for some time to relax and take it all in!
What to see and do;
Parque Explora – calling all big kids, this was the best day out ever! We had such a good time at this place (think science museum/aquarium/interactive games/reptile house)! Admittedly we were a little older than the average 6 year old crowd but going on a school day meant we avoided much of the kiddie madness! Highlights include fighting a T-Rex, being put inside a bubble and seeing creatures from the Amazon! The food on offer here is a bit rubbish and mainly junk food so I would recommend grabbing a picnic from one of the supermarkets (Exito is great) and having lunch in the botanical gardens before you go in!
Botanical Gardens – literally just across the road from Parque Explora these gardens were the perfect place for a sunny picnic after wandering around all morning! A beautiful exotic park filled with orchids, butterflies, snapping turtles and endless pathways to explore it all. Watch out or the roaming iguanas though – they tend to sneak up on you when you least expect it!
Ride the sky train/cable car – unfortunately Park Arvi at the top was closed on the day we were visiting (what are the chances!) but we still had an incredible time riding the cable car and having a birds-eye-view of what used to be the most notorious area of Medellin. We got out at the top and wandered about the brightly coloured, unbelievably steep streets… but, be warned, this is not a usual tourist spot, we did get lots of funny looks and people warned us against stopping here; whilst Pablo Escobar may be long gone this area of the city still remains very poverty and crime ridden. We didn’t have any problems bit we did feel have our guards up during our quick visit.
Go on a walking tour – either the general city one or the tour that follows Pablo Escobar’s life; we heard these were both incredible but unfortunately our days in the city didn’t fit with the tours – information for them both can be found in all the hostels.
Where to stay;
We had quite an interesting (and stressful) time finding somewhere to stay in Medellin. It is a lively and popular stop with lots to see and do, so clearly the prices reflect that, we booked a day or two in advance, here is our adventure;
Hostel Arcadia – this was our WORST hostel experience during our whole 4 month trip; rude staff, left waiting for hours, a girl got bed bugs in a dorm, kitchen looked revolting, ‘our room’ had a smashed window, hadn’t been cleaned, a broken plug socket, a broken fan and dirty bed sheets – needless to say we left sharpish!
Zen Hostel – an emergency 1-night cheap stop after the Arcadia disaster – small, clean and nice with a good kitchen but mattress was about an inch thick and the location is a little out of the way (suburbs not tourist area), we did get to discover another central area of the city and found ourselves in the middle of a celebrating football crowd around the central stadium on game day! Double = £11/night.
Hotel Plaza Rosa – After the madness and stress we decided to treat ourselves for (plus it all the hostels seemed to be pretty booked up) so we stayed back in the heart of El Poblado, it was a decent place, comfy bed, clean bathroom and was quite nice to properly have one night of privacy – we also used the gigantic room to unpack and repack our bags for the first time. Double = £ /night.
Tiger Paw Hostel – just down the road from Hotel Plaza Rosa (but more importantly about 100m from our fave breakfast spot – see below) this was a good hostel overall, good value, great location, extras like a bar, outside area and pool table but rooms were really stuffy and a bit dirty. Double £ /night.
Where to eat and drink;
D’andre – Carrera 37 (off calle 10) – epic, epic brunch stop! We become totally obsessed with this place during our 4-day stay in the city, we had the best salmon, avocado, eggs etc. every morning (yes, EVERY…) it was that good. Plus it is right in the heart of El Poblado (a.k.a the ‘tourist friendly’ hostel hub) – always good, always friendly and always cheap!
Sushi Train – by Hotel Diez – we had delicious, super fresh sushi here, it had a good selection which wasn’t too expensive. We also got to watch Colombia win the Miss World competition whilst eating!
We found a gorgeous little Italian, ( which I can’t remember the name of…) right between Hotel Plaza Rosa and Tiger Paw Hostel on Calle 10 in El Poblado which had the most gorgeous terrace on which to eat – overhanging trees, cosy tables with little candles and hundreds of twinkly fairy lights, if you wander the area by night you can’t miss it – we scoffed delish pizzas and salads here on two nights of our stay – it was too good not to go back! It wasn’t the cheapest of stops (mains £7-12) but it didn’t break the bank either, a must-eat-at!
Whilst most my eating and sleeping recommendations are in El Poblado the rest of the city does have so much to offer; we split our time between here and exploring the rest of the city (mostly via the sky train)!
However we met loads of travellers who spent most of their time in the hostel and never bothered to leave El Poblado – they definitely missed out!
Keep following our adventure as we fly up to Cartagena on Colombia’s Caribbean coast.