The road from Popayan to San Agustín climbs quite steeply to over three thousand metres and then just seems to disappear. This is one of those destinations where getting there makes it feel like an amazing adventure.
Medellin Visit | The top 5 things to see and do in the city
In this blog we will describe for you five amazing things to discover in the Colombian city of Medellin. Once notorious as being the murder capital of the world the new improved cleaned up Medellin is a delight to explore. Wonderful kind and friendly people who will go out of their way to help you make the most of your visit.
The city still has its problems and it’s not a place to be out on your own after dark and away from the main touristed areas as in the rest of Colombia the city is not safe for travellers. But be sensible take the correct precautions and the city and it’s people will soon get under your skin.
Getting to Medellin
The only thing then to think about is. Can we do fourteen hours in a semi prostrate position. Of course the answer was yes, although not the most comfortable we had ever been it wasn’t as bad as expected. We even managed to get a good number of hours sleep.
There are two choices of bus company that do the route Rapido Ochoa and Expreso Brasilia we decided to go with the latter as it seemed to offer more leg room and a slightly better recline to the seats. We wrapped up warm as we had been warned that these buses are really cold and it turned out to be true. Both buses leave from the Cartagena Bus Terminal which is about forty minutes outside the historic centre and best reached by taxi at a cost of about COP 40,000.
Getting around the city
The bus arrives into Medellin’s north bus terminal which is directly connected to the city’s main metro line. As you will find out when you visit Medellin’s public transport system is probably the best offered by any city in Colombia. To use it you need to buy a card at the counter at the station it costs COP3000 for the card and then it’s 3000 per journey which you load up in advance onto your card. It’s quite alright to share a card between groups or couples as we did.
This includes most of the cable cars but not the street trams so for us to get from the bus to the Hostel in the centro district it was two journeys each. After that first trip we usually walked from the statio, to the hostel, if it was dry as it was only about a ten minute walk.
Where to stay
Most of the popular hostels are in the main backpackers district of El Poblado this is away from the centre but is where all the bars and nightlife are so if you want a lively social experience this is the place for you. We decided against this and went for a hostel closer to the centre of the city as we wanted a less touristy experience away from the traditional backpackers getto.
We opted for the Centro Hostel which as the name suggests is in the centro district at the heart of the city close to the transport system and the main Plazas. It was a good choice for us it had a quite but friendly vibe good facilities and private rooms. The staff where great, the hostel is quite new so felt clean and looked after.
Five amazing things to do in and around the city of Medellin
Visit Communa 13 and ride the famous escalators
Throughout the 80’s and 90’s Communa 13 was thought to be one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in the world. It was ruled by violent gangs who used the streets as corridors to move their illegal products. If you take one of the Communa 13 walking tours then you’ll get the full story of the history of this notorious community. Today Communa 13 is completely different as the city has transformed this area into an attraction and welcomes tourists to see how a community can change for the better. The stories are told in the many graffiti murals which can be seen from a series of escalators which take you up and through the streets of this village. The story is also told by the street artists, dancing, singing, playing instruments who all contribute to the new and uplifting vibe this area has. There are terraces of bars, restaurants, souvenir shops and entertainment as you wind your way though the Commune. It really is a must visit place if you’re planning to spend any time in Medellin. To get to Communa 13 you take the metro to San Javier and once out of the Metro you’ll see a few buses waiting to take you to the escaleras. Take either bus 221i or 225i from the stop by the traffic lights on the right as you leave the San Javier metro. The bus will accept your Civi pass which you’ll have used for the metro and the fare is around 1500 COP (£0.31p). The bus takes you to the start of the steep climb up the hill, past some bars and restaurants to the start of the escalators.
Take a trip to Guatape and climb El Penol
Just East of Medellin is the picturesque city of Guatape which has become more famous for its large monlithic type rock known as El Penol. The rock is approx 657ft high and is made up of quartz, feldspar and granite. It takes 675 steps to reach the highest part and is a very popular tourist attraction in this area.
How did we get there?
We took a local bus from the Northern bus station in Medellin which is on the Caribe stop on the metro. Downstairs the ticket booths 9 and 11 offered bus tickets to Guatape and some offer just to the town but others offer the town and the rock so make sure the bus company you choose has a stop at the rock. The cost of the bus ticket was 17000 COP each which is around £3.55 and the journey was around 2 hours. There are a couple of vendors who get on and off the bus selling water, crisps, arepas etc but make sure you’ve got plenty snacks for the journey before you go.
When you get to El Penol.
Once the bus has dropped you off at the base of the rock you have 2 options to get you to the ticket office. You can either walk up the steps and road to the car park which will take around 20 – 30 mins and they start quite steep or you can take a Tuk Tuk. We opted for the Tuk Tuk as we knew that once we had our tickets we still had 675 steps to climb to the top of the rock. Once the Tuk Tuk drops you off you have a short walk up and round the corner to the ticket office. The tickets to climb cost 20000 COP (£4.18).
Once you have your ticket you join the queue of people ready to climb the stairs. There is a different route up for people ascending and for people coming down but when we were there, one section of the route up was being repaired so we had to take it in turns with the people coming down to get past that point. The steps are marked at each 25 step marker and the views as you ascend are just wonderful. Lakes and mountains open up before you and it really is a stunning area. Once you reach the top and see the step numbered 675 there are a few restaurants and cafe’s to get a refreshing drink or a snack. There are souvenir shops and there is a further 30 steps or so to get to the look out point. At the foot of the rock there are numerous places to get lunch and toilets and washrooms to freshen up.
Take a free walking tour
On our first day in Medellin we took a free walking tour really to familiarise ourselves with the city and perhaps see some things we wouldn’t have ordinarily seen. We were instructed to meet our guide Marcella at the Parque San Antonio where the tour would start. As this was a free walking tour there was no charge however a tip was expected. The tour started with Marcella telling us a little bit about the history of Medellin and the importance of the Parque San Antonio and the tragic event which took place there in 1995. We then moved onto area where we explored the Plazuela San Ignacio (a plazuela is a little smaller than a plaza) and Marcella explained the buildings that were there and their significance. We also saw some local men playing chess and the local people just going about their lives. From there we moved onto a commercial area where we were encouraged to try some unique flavours of Colombia at a little food hall area. Chris and I tried Lulo juice for the first time and had never heard of this fruit before, its a bit like a tomato but citrus, and we really enjoyed it. The final part of the tour took us to Plaza Botero where there are numerous statues by the artist Botero which he donated to the city. This plaza is dominated by the which is a building that Palace of Culture Rafael Uribe Uribe which hosts all things cultural in the city and is built in the gothic revival style. Here is where the tour ended and we had time to wander about the plaza looking at all the Botero sculptures before taking a group photo and heading for the metro station where Marcella gave us a little sweet treat and thanked us for coming on the tour. She handed round an envelop where we popped in our tip and thanked her for the tour. To be honest we didn’t get much out of the tour but it was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon and we did see some things we may not have spotted on our own.
Ride the cable car to Park Arvi.
Parque Arvi is a nature reserve located outside the city of Medellin and is extremely popular with both tourists and locals alike. Its a myriad of walking trails and historic sites and really is a welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
How did we get there?
To get to Parque Arvi you have to take the metro and then 2 cable cars. You take the A line metro to the stop Acevedo and from there you take your first cable car on line K at the end of this ride at the station Santo Domingo you then jump onto the line L cable car to Park Arvi. The cable car ride up through the mountain and over the nature reserve is a pleasure in itself even if you don’t do any of the hikes in the Park. You can use your Civi metro card on all the cable car segments of the journey. Just make sure you’ve enough funds on the card to get you back.
What is there to do in the park?
On arrival at the Park Arvi cable car station you can either opt for a guided tour of some of the hiking routes and areas of the park and this will cost (for a tourist) 40000 COP, alternatively you can snap a picture of the big route map with your phone and head out on your own, which is exactly what we did. The park was much bigger than I’d imagined and it took us a while to find our first route La Flora (The Floral Trail) and even then I think we did it backwards but before long we were getting the hang of it. Along this route we met Tim from Germany who was heading home the following day and it was lovely chatting with him. After the Floral route we decided to head up to another area of the forest to jump on another one of the trails when the heavens opened and the rain thundered down and it turned really chilly. We had our waterproofs with us and as the heavy rain seemed to be on for the afternoon we headed back to the main centre of the park to get a hot drink. At the centre there was also an artisan market offering everything from painted items to local foodstuffs. The park really is beautiful and you could easily spend a full day here exploring all the trails. You can also explore the park by bike and there are special activities for exploring at night. One word of caution though, if the weather is forcast to be stormy then they close the cable car. We were lucky and there was a window of about an hour when they opened it up again so we could get back down to the city. A fantastic day out by all accounts.
Take in a museum
Medellin, like most large cities, has a number of museums and attractions where you can spend a leisurely afternoon. We visited the Museo De Antioquia which houses a large collection of works by Fernando Botero a Medellin native. Fernando Botero is a figurative artist and sculptor who was born in Medellín on April 19, 1932. Most notably, his signature style, known as “Boterismo”, depicts figures in large, exaggerated volume (chubby, full-figured or fat people). His is still alive and is considered the most recognised living artist in Latin America.
The whole top floor of the museum is dedicated to this artist. The other floors housed other works by Colombian artists and a big section on modern art. This was the first museum opened in this region of Colombia and is housed in a really beautiful building. It sits on the edge of the Plaza Botero and for a tourist it costs 21000 COP (£4.39) to enter. We were recommended to start on the 3rd floor of the museum and work our way down and this seemed like a good plan as all the most interesting pieces by Botero were on the top floor. As well as the exhibits the museum also has a gift shop selling local artisan products and has a good cafe/restaurant on the mezzanine floor.
We also visited Parque Explora which is a science type park and would be excellent if you are visit with children. The park has an aquarium and different exhibits to do with music, the mind, time and senses. There are cafes and a shop and cost 32000 COP (£6.69) which was really good value for money considering the activities provided.
Both Chris and I loved Medellin. It’s a vibrant city with only a hint of its notorious past. Its not a city you should be wandering around at night but oh my goodness the people that we met were all just wonderful. Its got a fantastic public transport system which is clean, value for money and can get you to any part of the city at any time of the day. Medellin has a lot to offer and we’d definitely encourage you to visit if you’re in Colombia.
Last but not least you must try Bunuelos pictured below. These delicious savoury doughnuts are a favourite breakfast snack, make sure you get a fresh one straight out of the pan. Our favourite was the one with the cheese in the middle.
Booking resources for your trip to Medellin
Tours & Tickets
You can book your visits as you go at the entrance to your chosen attraction or site. Or you could use the following links to book in advance or just to find out what your choices are in the area. GetYourGuide and Tiqets are our go to choices you could try Viator to see how they compare.
For a full list check out our resources page. Don’t forget always shop around to find the best deal for you. What works for us should be good for you but it’s always reassuring to check.
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If you’re looking for that chilled out hippy vibe of fifteen years ago perhaps you may find Palomino disappointing. At times we found it more Benidorm than beguiling. Or maybe more Magaluf than mystic. Having said that if you take it for what it is a rustic holiday resort on the Caribbean coast of Colombia then you can still find plenty of reasons to visit.
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