A city once known as the most dangerous place in the world, has recently undergone an incredible transformation, and people are flocking from all over to see for themselves. I swear you could spend a year in Medellín and still not get to see, do, and experience all that this incredible city has to offer, but in my three weeks studying at Colombia Immersion, I was determined to experience as much as I possibly could. So you can have as epic of a time as I did, I came up with 12 can’t miss experiences in Medellín. Enjoy!
1. Experience a night at Salón Málaga
For 60 years, Salon Malaga has been bringing authentic and traditional music and dance to Medellín. So when my friend Marco of Land To Enjoy invited me to a tango show at this historic place, although I didn’t know what to expect, I agreed instantly. It was evident from the moment we arrived that this was going to be much more than just a dance performance! Not only did we see two world champion tango dancers perform (wow by the way) but we enjoyed live music, and salsa danced with just about every man and woman of just about every age into the wee hours of the night.
From grandmas to granddaughters, everyone was out on the dance floor having an absolute blast. Entrance is technically complimentary, you’re just required to hit a certain minimum, but our group of 6 only racked up a COP 90,000 tab and that’s with ordering many bottles of Antioquian rum (so tasty), and snacks for the table. This was by far my favorite night out in Medellín, and I can’t wait to go back to experience it all over again!
2. See the real Medellín with Real City Walking Tours
I first heard about Real City Walking Tours through a hostel roommate who swore she got chills from some of the powerful stories she learned throughout the tour. That was enough to convince me, so I went on their website and signed myself up (booking online is required). Well, my hostel roommate didn’t lie, because I found myself getting chills throughout the tour as well, as it was clear that our guide was more of a storyteller than a guide. She really made the tour come to life.
Medellín has undergone such an incredible transformation over the past ten years, and the city has so much history and culture, that it’s hard not to be completely enthralled with this tour from start to finish. I learned so much about the city and what it’s gone through, and it helped me get a better grip on their current situation as well. The tour is 4 hours long and goes through Medellín’s downtown (Also known as El Centro).I would highly suggest taking this tour early in your trip so you can start to understand the city and its people a little better. The tour is free, but tips are highly encouraged, as the guides work solely for tips.
3. Take a Comuna 13 Graffiti Tour
I took this tour through Colombia Immersion as they offer many educational field trips that take you across Medellín to highlight the most important social, cultural, and economic developments in the city. Comuna 13 is just one of the many diverse neighborhoods of Medellín with a troubled past but is moving towards a bright future. Just 15 years ago, Comuna 13 in San Javier was considered to be the most dangerous community in the most dangerous city in the world.
Through art and community events, the incredible residents of this notorious neighborhood helped transform this into the beautiful and peaceful “barrio” it is today. There’s a recurring theme of elephants throughout the neighborhood, as they represent strength and community. How beautiful is that? This tour had a great impact on me, and if you’re looking to see what everyone means by the transformation of Medellín, this is a good place to start.
4. Ride the Medellín Metrocable system
At one time, the city of Medellín was completely inaccessible for thousands of residents living up in the mountains and the outskirts of Medellín due to the complicated terrain of this area. Most people living up in these poorer neighborhoods had little to no opportunity for work or social interaction in the city. Opening back in 2004, the now famous metrocable public transportation system now transports over 30,000 people per day. One journey only costs COP 2,000 making it extremely affordable for residents to get to and from the city with ease, and is also a great way for visitors to get a bird’s-eye view and tour of the city for next to nothing. The views from the metrocable are absolutely amazing, and there are 4 different lines you can ride, including one up to the very popular Parque Arvi. It’s the most inexpensive and most epic way to see Medellín.
5. Salsa Dance the night away at Son Havana & El Tibiri
It’s basically not a visit to Medellín until you’ve gotten your salsa dance on. The city is packed with great salsa bars, but I fell in love with both Son Havana and El Tibiri in the Laureles/Estadio area. Son Havana typically charges a COP 10,000 cover, and for that you’re going to get some incredible live salsa music where you basically can’t stop moving. I loved the atmosphere at this bar and can see why it’s such a favorite of the locals. El Tibiri is located on a basement level and people go nuts in here! There were a few couples who I would have sworn were practicing for an upcoming competition or something – but then again, Colombians basically salsa dance out of the womb. Tip: Don’t wear grey – It’s actually impossible to leave El Tibiri without sweating through your shirt. Both of these salsa clubs are located on or near La Setenta which is known for its awesome nightlife, so why not make a whole night of it?
6. Enjoy the hip, bohemian local scene at Parque del Periodista
Although La Candelaria (or El Centro) has a bit of a rough reputation, it’s also full of gems like Parque Periodista. Here you’ll find an alternative, leather-jacket wearing, musician type of crowd all gathered in this square to enjoy a beautiful Medellín night, and of course a couple of cervezas. But because this areas is labeled as dangerous, me and some of my girlfriends were the only Gringas there. As a solo female traveler, I definitely wouldn’t have gone here alone, but with my four girl friends, and five guys, three of which were locals who knew the area quite well, I felt very comfortable. Many locals approached us to have a chat and I never felt like I was in an unsafe situation. I loved Parque del Periodista because it felt like an authentic night out where all the locals go to party – and who wouldn’t want that!?
7. Attend a crazy futbol match
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that Colombians are CRAZY futbol fans. So when I found out that I would be in town for one of the biggest matches of the year, I absolutely had to go. I’ve been to many professional soccer games, mostly in Europe, but I’ve never experienced anything quite like a Colombian match. These were hands down the craziest fans I’ve ever encountered, and I was loving it. For the entire 90 minutes, there wasn’t a single moment where fans weren’t chanting some sort of profanity at the other team. For 15 minutes after the game had already ended there was a back and forth chant battle between the opposing fans. It was so intense. You have to experience it for yourself!
8. Take an overnight trip to Guatapé
If you’ve been on my Instagram lately, you’d know how much I am fawning over Guatapé. As one of the most colorful towns in the entire world, this charming little town captivates just about anybody who visits. Just a two hour bus ride from Medellín (with no traffic), it’s a totally different pace than the city and offers such a relaxing environment.
If you were thinking about just going for the day, I’d reconsider and make it at least an overnight trip. You’ll want to take advantage of your time here, trust me! For more information, check out Guatape: The Perfect Weekend Getaway From Medelin.
9. Eat some amazing BBQ under the freeway on Avenida Guayabal/Calle 10
If you want to eat like a local, then you’ve got to make your way to the crossroads of Avenida Guayabal and Calle 10. What you will find there, as the title suggests, is a few guys BBQing chorizo, beef, pork and arepa on an 8-ft-long BBQ under the freeway.
There’s some mini plastic chairs and tables set up for you to enjoy this unorthodox dining experience, while listening to the cars go by above you. I must admit, if it wasn’t for a local friend I made (shoutout to Diego of Torteria Mexicana La Chilanga!) I would have never, ever known about this place. If you’re daring enough to get off the beaten path, you’ll be rewarded with some of the best Colombian BBQ of your life. Don’t miss out!
10. Stroll through the beautiful Jardín Botánico
This 40-acre outdoor space is home to 1,000 different species of plants as well iguanas, sloths (I saw two hugging way up in the trees! and other animals. The serene and natural atmosphere of these gardens draws both locals, who you will often see going for a run or a bike ride, and visitors who come to relax and enjoy this peaceful oasis. There are a few cafes located throughout the property, and this makes for a perfect place to study or enjoy a good book.
11. Go on a cafe crawl in Laureles
Since you’re in a country which produces some of the best coffee in the world, you mind as well take advantage and explore the cafe culture! Laureles is the place to go for great coffee, and there are plenty of cafes to supply it to you. Throughout my three weeks in Medellín, I made my way to as many as I could find, but came up with a top 6 list. They all have their own unique flair, but one thing they certainly share in common is their excellent coffee:
- Cafe Ondas – really chilled out cafe with a digital nomad crowd
- Uno Mas Uno – small cafe with outdoor seating that offers a killer vegetarian menu del dia for COP 12,000
- Algarabia – a fair trade coffee house with beautiful and fun details like pastel colored cinder blocks
- Cafe Zeppelin – a quirky cafe with a really cool secret courtyard in the back
- Cafe Revolucion – a buzzing cafe that’s a favorite amongst expats
- La Taza – a Mediterranean style cafe serving delicious treats like baklava
12. Head south to check out Envigado
About 45 min to an hour south of Medellín by metro (or 25-30min by cab) you can get to Envigado, a completely separate city from Medellín with it’s own identity, that is home to so many incredible things to experience: food, dance, culture, people, you name it! There’s so many things that I LOVE in Envigado, that I had to create a separate post!
***To find out where to stay during your time in Medellín check out my post on Best Places to Stay in Medellin***
Have you ever been to Medellin? What is your favorite thing to do there?