If you live in the Caribbean and can only go to one Colombian city, make it Medellín. This advice is regrettably not foolproof as I only visited three Colombian cities during my time there. Nevertheless, Medellín is a true dream. If you’re coming from chilly Bogotá you’ll almost feel as if you entered a new country as Medellín is rightly called the city of eternal spring.
All the travel blogs said I should spend the majority of my time in Cartagena but I went with the advice of a friend who lived in Colombia for a year (6 months in Cartagena and the other half in Medellín). While Cartagena was a crazy, exciting, beautiful city I loved my time in Medellín because I felt like it gave me the opportunity to experience the real Colombia. The people in Bogotá had no time for us, while we were the centre of attention in touristy Cartagena – Medellín was a lovely middle ground.
We landed in Medellín at 1am and took the long drive into Poblado where we opted to stay as it was central to mostly everything we wanted to do. The Airbnb we stayed in wasn’t the best. It was next door to a great sushi place and a walk away from other fantastic restaurants, parks and clubs but the bathroom was tiny. It was really ideal for a solo trip or a couple but we made it work because #budgettravel.
My favourite thing about Medellín was the transport system. There was very little need to depend heavily on Uber there. We were also able to explore the city using the train system on our first try without getting lost. After my New York experience, this was quite a feat. Using the train meant we could explore the different parts of the city and see quite a bit of it for less than $5 USD. All you need is a map of the metro lines and you can jump on from one end and take the train to the end of the line – making stops wherever you wish. The best part about this is that it not only includes the metro, but cable cars! Practical Wanderlust made trip planning for Medellín quite easy.
More about that in a bit!
The one thing we splurged on in Medellín was a Pablo Escobar tour. Netflix’s production of Narcos has undoubtedly increased the popularity of this tour but because Escobar and Colombia were synonymous for so long, the tour has existed for quite some time.
The locals naturally have many different feelings about this tour – some take advantage of people’s interest in Escobar and tell people what they want to hear about him and his involvement in the drug trade. Others detest the fact that someone who murdered their relatives and friends is still revered and somewhat celebrated. If you don’t have any interest in Escobar I’d suggest you pass on the tour and do a city tour of Medellín instead because it is pricey ($55 USD).
However, if you’re interested in Escobar, it’s a must do. We took the tour with Medellín City Services. We booked and paid online before the trip and our guide picked us up at our AirBnb on the day. We were able to get breakfast at this fast food type restaurant which served traditional food and then were off.
The tour took us to one of Escobar’s home in Monaco which the Cali cartel bombed in 1998, the jail he built for himself La Catedral, the cemetery where he and his family are buried, the neighbourhood where he died and finally one of the neighbourhoods he built where there’a huge shrine dedicated to him. This was of course accompanied by the inside scoop and stories about Escobar from birth to death, as well as some history about Medellín and Colombia. Our tour guide was friendly and knowledgable and I felt that it was a tour well worth its cost.
After the tour we were dropped off at the metro station and took the train up to Parque Arví, a nature preserve in the mountains. It was undoubtedly one of the most breathtaking trips I’ve taken to date. You ride the train up to a point and then leave the metro station and hop on a cable car which takes you over neighbourhoods and into the mountains to Parque Arví which is the last stop.
Quite a significant number of residents in Medellín live outside of the city on the mountains. The cable cars were built to connect them to the city. Prior to this they would have had to stop off the metro and walk up to their homes. Imagine riding a cable car everyday to your house! Maybe it’s not that glamorous or exciting when you do it often but it was quite the experience. Blogs I read before going made me feel a bit nervous about using the train system in terms of safety but we felt safe for the entire time. Definitely pass on any tour to Parque Arví and take the metro up.
Parque Arví is fascinating in itself. Steer clear of the cutely decorated crowded tent serving mushrooms – they’re delicious but ridiculously expensive. Instead, eat before you head up to Parque Arví and then sample the different foods in the crowded market. We went wild sampling the different fruits, snacks, meats and wines and buying souvenirs. I’d suggest passing on the souvenirs here unless it’s your only option and more focus on trying food from every single vendor…so delicious. For nature lovers there are trails and lots to see. Unfortunately (?) all we did was eat because there was so much to eat.
On our way back to the Airbnb from our metro adventures we bounced up what seemed to be the Colombian equivalent to Trini doubles : panzerotti. They’re essentially pastry stuffed with so many different things : from your typical chicken and ham and cheese to random fruits.
I say it’s like doubles because it seemed like the stalls which served them were liming (hanging out) spots for people who topped up their panzerotti with different sauces. We joined them and made some friends who helped us figure out the fillings in the ones we ordered without fully understanding what was in them.
On our second day there we were supposed to go Paragliding but woke up to a disappointing email from our tour guide : the weather was not good for paragliding. We decided to just wing the day. We changed money after having a ridiculously embarrasing experience in a club the night before and had breakfast at Crepes and Waffles. We then made our way to Pueblito Paisa.
Pueblito Paisa was described as the replication of an original Antioquian village, almost all the reviews I read before made it sound lame af so before paragliding got cancelled I wasn’t even thinking of going. I don’t understand how the reviews were so bleh. We had a whole time there. We opted out of an Uber because Uber in Medellín was just a whole scene and took a yellow taxi on the side of the road.
There’s so much to see and do – you should spend some time just walking around exploring the buildings – the replication of an old village is lovely to see – there are houses and a church and then head toward the food. There’s a long strip of restaurants all serving the exact same thing. We decided to ask someone who looked like they were from Colombia which restaurant had the best bandeja paisa. That someone ended up being the head chef at one of the restaurants who promptly placed us on some seats right outside his kitchen. We still don’t know if his was the best but it was really good! Pueblito Paisa is the place to get your souvenirs in Medellín. There were many stores with good variety and reasonable prices so we did most of our shopping here.
We ended our final day in Medellín at a tattoo parlour because have you seen the graffiti in Colombia? Their artwork is amazing. I’ve decided to get a tattoo in every new continent I travel to (because every country would be slight ridiculous). We were very pleased with the final product from Opio Studio.
We boarded our flight to Cartagena that night excited for what was ahead but a little down about not spending more time in Medellín – it truly is a beautiful city.