Colombia

A guide to planning a trip to Medellín

Hello Medellín!

The truth is, I didn’t really care for Medellín the first time I visited. We stayed in a hotel and spent the entire day running around with a guide who showed us all the touristy spots – I didn’t get it. But after returning to spend more time in the city as a digital nomad, I absolutely fell in love and it is now my favorite city in Colombia. It is just a super relaxed place where you can slow down and enjoy life. When I visit, I never want to leave! A guide to planning a trip to Medellín will show you what this great city is all about.

Modern City

Medellín has all the conveniences of a modern-day city with a local, neighborhood vibe. You can get fairly fast internet, drink the tap water; quickly call an Uber, taxi, or take the metro; and wander around all day shopping and hanging out in coffee shops, chatting with locals, expats, digital nomads, and other travelers.

Shopping

Please go shopping – Medellín is a big center for textiles manufacturing and you can find some incredible pieces. People always stop me to ask about the pieces I have gotten here!

Perfect Weather

Did I mention that the weather is perfect? As someone who is from a less pleasant climate, the way spaces in Medellín seamlessly flow from indoors to outdoors with plants and greenery everywhere is just fascinating.

Ceres Organic Market
One of my favorite places to stop to take a break and grab a snack – Ceres Organic Market

Day Trips & Weekend Getaways

Another great thing about this city is that you don’t have to stay put. There are so many great day and weekend trips just a short drive away – you can visit the coffee farms, Guatapé or any of the numerous little pueblos in the surrounding country (Jardín, Santa Fe de Antioquia, San Rafael).

While those are all things you can expect, don’t expect air conditioning, a dishwasher, or a dryer – but don’t worry, because you really don’t need any of these things.

PRO TIP

Don’t visit Medellín in March! The city sits in a valley and in March there is no air flow. It is generally unpleasant and polluted. By April, the air starts to flow again, and everything is gorgeous and spring-like.

A guide to planning a trip to Medellín: where to stay

Getting to Medellín

Medellín is located in the Department of Antioquia in the interior part of Colombia. While the city is located in the lush green Andes Mountain Range, it sits in the Aburrá Valley at around 4,900 ft above sea level. The city is located near the equator, but this mountain location gives the city a year-round spring like climate and its nickname, the City of Eternal Spring. Temperatures throughout the day fluctuate from a low around 63 to a high of around 82.

When flying to Medellín, you will actually fly into José María Córdoba international airport in Rionegro. The new Túnel de Oriente connects the Aburrá Valley where Medellín is located with Rionegro. This tunnel cuts what was once a 45-minute drive down to around 20 minutes.

This drive has some really breath taking views. Mirador Las Palmas is my favorite. Driving through the lush green mountains, curving back and forth, and then almost out of nowhere you see Medellín below! On a clear day, it’s stunning and gives you a glimpse of what you are in for.

Neighborhoods of Medellín

If you are planning a trip to Medellín, you should know the city is broken up into several large districts. They are pretty easy to identify and make it easy to give people directions. If this is your first trip to the city, here are the top three areas you will want to be familiar with.

El Poblado

El Poblado is the most popular and expensive tourist spot. This hilly location is a bustling area of high-rises, restaurants, shops, bars, and malls. If you’re only in Medellín for a short stay, this is probably your best option.

Hanging out in my new bathing suit from Malai at the Energy Living building in El Poblado

Laureles

In Laureles you’ll find foreigners who are typically spending longer periods of time in the city than those you’ll find in El Poblado. Laureles is noticeably flatter than El Poblado. Read – you won’t feel exhausted from just walking around and you’re going to want to walk around and take it all in. On Avenida Nutibara you’ll find popular restaurants and shops. Don’t be afraid to wander through the side streets, you’ll find some great places!

Rooftop views from Laureles

Envigado

Envigado is located just next to El Poblado. If you stay close to La Frontera, or the border, you’ll have easy access to El Poblado, but Envigado has its own great spots and its definitely worth spending some time here.

Within each of these districts are smaller neighborhoods or barrios. Each barrio has its own unique feel. If you spend more time in Medellín, you’ll start to see the differences and find your own favorite spots. For me, nothing beats the views of staying in the hills of El Poblado, but the friendly, neighborhood vibe of Laureles makes this area quickly feel familiar.

Enjoying brunch from Envigado

PRO TIP

Regardless of where you stay in Medellín, Rappi is the way to have anything in the city delivered right to your doorstep.

Rappi

No guide to planning a trip to Medellín wouldn’t be complete without an introduction to Rappi. Rappi is an amazing delivery service for food, groceries, and errands. If you use Rappi in Colombia, be prepared to miss it when you get back home. Basically, Rappi will pick up and deliver almost anything for you for what I consider a small fee and tip. They will even run errands for you. Once we bought coffee from one of our favorite local coffee shops but forgot to get it ground. The next morning when we realized our mistake, Rappi came to our rescue – picking up our coffee, taking it to get ground, and bringing it back.

A guide to planning a trip to Medellín: what to do

Tours

Fruit Tour

I had no idea the variety of delicious, colorful fruit that existed on this Earth until I went to Colombia. It’s strange to realize you don’t have an “English” name for something, because you’ve never seen it before, ever. Or that you only have one, high-level name for a whole group of things – passion fruit for example – there are a ton of very different varieties of passion fruit – each with their own unique name!

Think about it like this, there is a HUGE difference between a Honey Crisp apple and a Red Delicious apple, but if all you’ve ever had is a red delicious apple, this is what you consider an apple.

I highly recommend finding a fruit tour while in Colombia. Your guide will be able to pick the fruit when it is ripe, so you get the fruit at its best! Just don’t expect to see any yellow lemons for some unknown reason.

In Medellín, I can’t say enough good things about the Exotic Fruits Tour with Real City Tours.

Communa 13

If you are at all familiar with Medellín, you’ve probably heard of Communa 13. This neighborhood, which was once one of the most dangerous in the city, has undergone an incredible transformation and the people of the city are proud to tell you all about it. Real City Tours has you covered again with their Barrio Transformation Tour.

Jardín Botánico

The Botanical Garden in Medellín is the perfect place to spend an afternoon. You can eat lunch here in the restaurant, In Situ, or bring a picnic and lay out. A must see is the Orquideorama which is a really impressive structure designed to mimic the shape of flowers.

Plaza Botero

This plaza contains 23 voluptuous bronze statues by the Colombian artist, Fernando Botero.

Pueblito Paisa on Nutíbara Hill

If you look out across the city, you’ll notice a small hill in the center. This is Cerro Nuitibara (Nutibara Hill). Located on the top of the hill is Pueblito Paisa, a small replica of a typical town of Antioquia. This popular tourist spot also offers great views of the city.

Hikes

Colombia offers tons of outdoor activities and Medellín and its surrounding area are no exception.

Cerro de las Tres Cruces

The Hill of the Three Crosses – While this hike is short, don’t be deceived, it is intense. The view from the top, makes it worth it though. It is a 1.2 kilometer trail with a 1000 foot elevation gain! The majority of the trail is unprotected from the sun, so bring sunscreen. And don’t let the children running past you on the way up get you down! You’ve got this!

Parque Arví

Located in the Santa Elena region, Parque Arví offers tons of outdoor activities. The park offers hiking, biking, bird-watching and more.

Shopping

Medellín is a big center for textiles and jewelry manufacturing and you can find some incredible pieces. People always stop me to ask about the pieces I have gotten here! These are some of my favorite Colombian brands:

  • Vélez – leather goods with a focus on women’s handbags
  • Wish – jewelry you can wear everyday
  • Mulatt Design – colorful statement jewelry
  • Malai – swimwear in fun designs and patterns
  • Eugenia Fernandez – fun, fashionable looks that will have you ready to head to the coast
  • Bakkuk – active wear (this place was a life saver when my minimalist packing style got the best of me and I left all my active wear at home.)

Ocho43

My favorite shop in Medellín is Ocho43! This is one of those shops I always look forward to visiting and they carry many of the Colombian brands mentioned above. I love, love, love this place!

Dancing

I happen to be a dancer – Salsa, Bachata, Cumbia, Kizomba, Tango – I love it all. And Medellín has it all, almost every night of the week! If you already know what you are doing, great! If you are interested in learning, there are plenty of options for you as well. Just be ready to dance the night away! Here are my 5 Must Visit Places to Dance the Night Away in Medellín!

Special Events

Medellín has some great events and no intro to planning a trip to Medellín would be complete without telling you a little about what to expect.

Semana Santa

Holy Week is a time you need to be aware of when visiting Colombia. During this time, everything will be closed, and many Colombians will be on holiday.

Feria de las Flores

The Festival of the Flowers takes place in August. It is a really important event that includes a huge parade of flowers.

El Alumbrado

The Lighting or Christmas Lights is a seasonal event with millions of lights on display.

A guide to planning a trip to Medellín: what to eat

Bandeja Paisa

Paisa is a term used for the people from the Antioquia region of Colombia. Bandeja Paisa is a traditional meal served in this region and it is quite the meal. In fact, it is an entire platter of food! It includes beans, rice, shredded ground beef, chicharron, chorizo, fried egg, plantain, avocado, and an arepa.

Menú del Día

Lunch is the time to look for this special set menu – it is often both very budget friendly and delicious. You’ll typically get a fresh juice, appetizer (often soup), main dish, and sometimes a small desert for anywhere from 7,000 COP – 15,000 COP (7-15 mil pesos). I’ll usually add a coffee on at the end of my meal and it ends up being around $5 USD.

Restaurants

There are so many options for food in Medellín. While each neighborhood has its own unique options, remember RAPPI can bring you anything!

Breakfast or Brunch

Lunch

The Menú del Día at Achiote Bistro

Afternoon Snack

Dinner

Dessert

  • Crepes and Waffles – as a popular Colombian chain restaurant, I was set on avoiding this restaurant. Luckily, a friend insisted I go, and I’ve never looked back! I can’t recommend the food, but the desert is fantastic – make sure you ask for the dessert menu – it is a book!

Coffee

Colombia is known for its coffee, but that doesn’t mean you’ll always be able to find a great cup of the stuff. In fact, a majority of the really good beans are exported. You’ll probably be surprised to see how many people use instant coffee. But don’t worry, there’s still a big coffee culture and you’ll be able to find that great cup of coffee in a coffee shops or on a coffee farm.

Juan Valdez is a well-known, Colombian, coffee shop (think Starbucks, Costa, or Tim Hortons). There’s one on almost every corner. I want to introduce Juan Valdez because it is an easy and comfortable place to start your coffee journey, but you must venture beyond Juan Valdez while in Medellín. Here are a few places you should know by neighborhood:

El Poblado

Laureles

Envigado

Chocolate

Colombia makes some incredible chocolate. You won’t want to miss trying some out while visiting. Plus, it makes for a great gift to bring back. Here are my absolute favorites:

Tilín Tilín

Tilín Tilín Chocolate is the best chocolate I’ve ever had. I fell in love with my first bar of Guandolo Limon and now when I visit, I specifically leave room in my suitcase to bring back boxes of the stuff!

Lök

Lök makes a variety of products, but my favorite is the dark chocolate bar of Sal Marina and Caremlo, Sea Salt and Fudge! It is delicious.

A guide to planning a trip to Medellín: day trips & weekend getaways

Another great thing about Medellín is that you don’t have to stay put. There are so many great day trips and weekend getaways just a short trip away. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Coffee Plantation

Visit a coffee plantation and see how coffee grows, how the beans are harvested and prepared to make coffee, and even taste fresh coffee – the good stuff. Get all the details about planning the perfect trip by checking out our blog post, Medellín Getaway: Jardín & Coffee Plantation Day Trip.

Guatapé

A trip to the colorful town of Guatapé and an excursion to climb the 700-ish steps to the top of La Piedra del Peñol, is the perfect getaway from Medellín. Read our blog, Medellín Getaway: Guatapé & La Piedra del Peñol, for all the details on planning your trip to Guatapé.

Image by USA-Reiseblogger from Pixabay

Visit the County

If Pueblito Paisa didn’t quite cut it for you and you are  ready for the real thing, venture to any of the numerous little pueblos in the surrounding country; including Jardín, Santa Fe de Antioquia, and San Rafael.

Planning your trip to Medellín

If you are a planner like me, this guide to planning a trip to Medellín has only given you enough information to get started. So, I want to recommend three really great resources for really getting all the details on this great city:

Hopefully, you now have a great start on planning your trip to the fabulous city of Medellín, Colombia! If you want more help planning your Colombian adventure, check out An intro to traveling around Colombia – the highlights. And, if you have any questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you. Don’t hesitate to reach out to the TravelHive team and Contact us.

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