The City of Eternal Spring
One of the places I’ve most frequently visited while being here in Colombia is Medellin, the city of eternal spring. Rightly named, it’s a warm city – warm weather, and warm people! I absolutely love it.
Before learning some ideas of what to do in Medellin, here’s a short backstory.
A tough past…
You may know Medellin for its dark history – particularly the Medellín Cartel founded by Pablo Escobar which was active primarily throughout the eighties. You may have heard that as a result, Medellin was even considered the most dangerous city in the world for a time.
The history doesn’t lie. It was awful time in the history of Colombia. But that doesn’t mean that that’s today’s reality. The country has moved forward a lot in many ways. Of course there are still many things to improve upon, but it really has come very far since those days.
…but a Bright Future!
Here’s a bit of information about the modern reality of Medellin, one that’s bright and bustling.
To start: It’s the second biggest city in Colombia after Bogotá, located in the department of Antioquia, with a population of roughly 2.5 million. It’s modern, vibrant, and as I mentioned, warm – some of the many reasons that I keep heading back there!
It’s the only city in Colombia that has a metro system; not even Bogota, the capital city, has one! And the citizens take excellent care of it. It’s wide and spacious, clean, and covers an expansive part of the city with trains, trams, and cable cars.
Not only is Medellin well-connected, it also has a ton of things to do. Since I’ve only ever gone on weekend or long weekend trips, I still haven’t even done the half of it.
See for Yourself! What to Do in Medellin:
Here are some highlights of the places I have visited and the activities I have done. If you’re heading there soon, I encourage you to check them out – you’ll find a city far-removed from the one depicted on Narcos.
This plaza is located downtown Medellin and is named for the famous Colombian artist of plump characters – Fernando Botero. Many of his sculptures are on display around the plaza, so it’s fun to go around looking at them and taking pictures with them.
You can also find the Museo de Antioquia – a beautiful art museum largely featuring Botero’s work, but also the work of other Antioquian artists, traditional art and modern art alike.
It’s a beautiful space in the day, but take caution at night – downtown Medellin is a generally poor area of the city so it is best to avoid heading there unnecessarily.
El Hueco (“The Hole” in English) is another area of downtown that I find pretty fun – it’s busy and energetic, and has the cheapest shopping in the city. You can find anything and everything there. Don’t hesitate to haggle down the prices!
It can be confusing to navigate, but you can follow it along the metro line to avoid getting lost. Get off at Cisneros or San Antonio stations and you’ll be in the heart of the area.
But again, remember that this is downtown – better to avoid this zone at night.
Pueblito Paisa is an awesome place to visit. It features a replica central square of small towns in the surrounding region of Antioquia. It’s located on the top of a hill as well, so there’s an amazing view.
I went both during the day and at night, and must say that both are incredible in their own ways. During the day, you can see the spread of the city and the surrounding mountains. At night, the city lights twinkle all around you in a way that’s pretty magical.
It’s also the site where a pair of my sunglasses died. They fell off my head and took a plunge after a huge moth flew in my face and I freaked out. Please say a small prayer for them when visiting. Thank you in advance.
Poblado is one of the richest areas in Medellin. Most tourists tend to flock there – it’s a trendy and fun area with lots of restaurants and bars, but at tourist prices.
Parque Lleras within Poblado is the perfect place to spend a Friday or Saturday night – the nightlife is awesome. It’s a relatively short walk from the metro station “Poblado.”
The area around Estadio is also a pretty affluent area. All along Carrera 70 and other streets nearby (reached from metro station Estadio), there are lots of bars and restaurants like in Poblado, but with slightly lower prices. It attracts more Colombians than tourists, although there is still no shortage of the latter.
A definite highlight of my Medellin visits was the annual Feria de las Flores, the Flower Festival. It’s happened every year in early August since 1957. That means this year was the 60 year anniversary celebration!
There were a lot of things going on during the festival, such as flower sculptures displayed around the city, an antique bike parade, an antique car parade, shows and events, and just general flower fun.
The main event of the festival, though, is the ‘silleteros’ parade. Silleteros are locals from the nearby town of Santa Elena who carry ‘silletas.’ These were originally boxes carried on the farmers’ backs filled with flowers to sell in Medellin.
They’ve evolved to be large round arrangements of flowers with intricate designs – definitely very heavy! The paraders have to take frequent breaks to rest their back from the weight. It’s incredible to watch.
I’ll be sure to write another blog post specifically about the festival, along with some tips.
Not too far from Medellin is a town in the mountains called San Felix. Multiple paragliding companies operate out from here, and the views are spectacular.
I took my first tandem flight with the company Paragliding Medellin and it was amazing. My guide was very professional and fun, so I had a great 20 minutes flying high above the Aburrá valley where Medellin sits. I could take in the city, the mountains, and some lovely waterfalls all from above.
If you have the time to spare, I highly recommend it! You can get to San Felix by catching a bus from the Terminal del Norte. Buy your tickets from ticket booth #11, Expreso Belmira, and ask the driver to let you off at “el Estadero el Voladero.”
This was another highlight on one of my visits to Medellin.
It’s a neighbourhood that was devastated by violence due to gang, paramilitary, and guerilla activity in the area, but today, it’s an example of the positive changes happening in Medellin.
Numerous art projects have brightened the neighbourhood – the homes that bountifully pepper the hillside are colourful and many parts are covered in beautiful street art.
One of the most notable additions though? The orange electric escalators going up and down the hill. Their addition has better-connected many residents of the neighbourhood to the city as they no longer have to walk up and down the steep hillside to catch a bus.
It is, of course, a work in progress – not all residents can benefit from these escalators and some crime still continues in the area. However, when we visited, I never felt in danger even though we went without a guide. Rather, we found that the locals were eager to talk about their experiences in the comuna – the good and the bad.
Still a bit wary? There are a few tours that can take you to the comuna. One popular one is the Comuna 13 Graffiti Tour.
But if you’d rather venture it solo, you can take the metro to San Javier station and from there, catch a bus to the “Escaleras Electricas” – just ask the drivers outside the station and they’ll point you to the correct bus!
Cable Car & Parque Arví
Parque Arví is a nature reserve that sits high up on the mountain quite far away from Medellin. To get there, you can take the cable car system. Just take the metro to “Acevedo” station. From there you can catch a cable car to “Santo Domingo,” and then change (and pay an additional fare) to the cable car that goes up to Arví.
The ride alone is worth the trip. You go from the busy city to a completely silent and untouched natural area in a relatively short amount of time, enjoying all the while from above.
In the park, there is a lot to do depending on your interests. It’s free to enter, and there are hiking trails, ecological areas, as well as a farmer’s market. There are also attractions like ziplining at the nearby Comfama and Comfenalco Parks, for an admission fee.
Parque de los Pies Descalzos
Translated, this literally means “Barefoot Park,” and that’s exactly what it is! This is an awesome park where the whole point is to take off your shoes and relax.
It’s a peaceful and modern-looking area in the middle of the city, offering visitors a mini escape from urban life. You can walk in the sand, put your feet in the little pools, and just generally get your zen on.
If you are in Medellin for a while and want to get out of the city, you should definitely check out the small town of Guatapé, about two hours away.
It’s amazingly colourful and cute, and set along a pretty lake where you can do boat tours or rent your own boat.
There’s also the nearby Piedra del Peñol, a huge rock surrounded by picturesque lakes and islands. You can climb the 740 stairs built into a crack in the rock to get to the top. There you’ll be rewarded for your effort with an incredible view!
And that’s nearly all for now! But there’s one more site that you may consider visiting. That’s San Antonio Park.
It’s important to be cautious in this area, as we went with a free walking tour and they were insistent on us watching our belongings. That said, I think it’s still worth a daytime visit, as it’s the home of an incredibly symbolic pair of identical Botero sculptures.
Both sculptures are doves in his characteristically chubby style, but there is a difference between them. One dove has a hole through it and is very mangled – the result of a 1995 bomb that was placed by the sculpture and which exploded during a huge music festival in the square. The attack killed 23 people and injured over 200, many of them children and teenagers, and it’s attributed to violence related to the narco-trafficking trade.
The government planned to remove the mangled sculpture after the attack, but its artist, Botero, insisted it stay, calling it “a monument to imbecility.” Not only that, but he created a new identical replica. It today stands beside the first bird, and is a monument to peace.
As our walking tour guide told us, the sculptures are very representative of Medellin as a whole. From an incredibly dangerous and crime-riddled city, to a place of renovation, innovation, and hope. A city that continues to move forward, while not forgetting its history.
It’s even an idea that can be expanded to represent Colombia – a country in the process of peace and reparation.
Now, go have fun in Medellin!
I hope you enjoyed this post about what to do in Medellin, and found the ideas and information useful. If you have any more ideas that you think need to be on this list, please comment! And, of course, have an amazing time in the city of Eternal spring. 🙂