4 days exploring Medellin, Colombia
We considered including Cali into our itinerary after Salento, but ultimately our journey was ending in the other direction. So instead, we headed straight to Medellin. A city that was described as up and coming, so we were looking forward to 4 days exploring Medellin.
There’s quite a history to this city, most notably the Comuna 13 development and transformation. It’s the tour that every traveller tends to join and we weren’t any different.
Not only that but Medellin benefits from a great transport system with a single, but good subway line, a cable car link into the hills and plenty of buses. So, it’s easy to get around the sites in Medellin.
The city has a calmer feel than Bogotá and it is recommended to stay in El poblado. This is where most visitors congregate and enjoy the nightlife and eateries in park lleras.
Getting from Salento to Medellin
It was time for another bus ride! This time we couldn’t book online. Instead we had to turn up to the bus station the day before and book our bus. They won’t allow you to book tickets any earlier.
The only bus which travels to Medellin is a direct bus (but does stop at Pereira) is Flora Occidental. It’s a larger version of a minibus but was very comfortable! The boys were very excited to find individual screens on the back of their chairs with games & movies!!! Needless to say, they were very happy with the journey.
The ride was very comfortable and not too windy. We had a stop at a large restaurant, 3 hours into the 7 hour journey. We left at 8am and arrived around 3pm. Very easy process.
Getting around Medellin
As I mentioned there are lots of transport methods in Medellin. If you are staying in el poblado then the best way to travel is by Metro.
If you plan to stay for a while then they have a Civics card, which is free but you need ID to get one. You can top it up at a ticket counter or at a handful of machines. The thing is most locals don’t use the card and instead queue to buy a ticket. This means that ticket queues can sometimes be quite long.
We opted not to buy the card and found it fine to just buy tickets as we went. Note: you can only buy a single ticket – they don’t do returns. Metro ticket prices are 2,255 pesos with a Civica card or 2,550 pesos without. There’s no discount for kids. (10,200 pesos for a family of 4 – £2.30)
It’s also worth noting that you can also get to the middle cable car station for free on a subway ticket. So if you don’t plan on going to Parque Arvi and NB fancy a go on the cable cars you can do this for free.
We also found it was easy to walk around this city and didn’t feel we needed to watch where we were going too much.
Where to stay in Medellin
Everyone told us to stay in El poblado. It’s the place to be and reviews suggest it’s very safe. In fact, we found that to be true and there’s lots of backpackers, eateries and supermarkets.
In fact, we opted to stay in an air BnB here to have some space and it was lovely and cheap (we even had a washing machine – woo hoo!)
The location was perfect and we were in the center of el poblado and close to a supermarket. It was a fairly quiet area, near the main street. It was nice to cook our own meals for a while!
The place was called Medellin’s Best Short Term Rental 301 on Air BnB. It cost £168 for 5 nights, which was the cheapest we could find. It had 2 bedrooms, a well equipped kitchen, a light and airy lounge, TV and fans. Perfect for our stay!
Things to do in Medellin
Comuna 13 tour with zippy tours
This was recommended by a couple we’d met in Salento and who arrived a day before us. It was a very busy tour and comes highly recommended on trip advisor. We’re not usually one for tours but the history behind this area was an essential part of the visit. Their tour guide was very passionate and gave a first hand account of her experiences growing up here.
I thought it was very informative, but Keith thought it was a bit overdone. The tour took us to different areas of Comuna 13 and we saw lots of the work & redevelopment that has taken place.
The area has lots of Street art as a way of expressing their story. The pictures are updated every year!
We also saw a group of Street dancers so they are definitely set up for tourists.
The cost of the tour is FREE, but you are encouraged to leave a tip. This can be booked online for 10am or 2pm each day, but I get the impression you can just turn up half an hour beforehand and that there’s no limit on group size. The tour is in English.
Situated high on the hills and is a natural park with lots of walks. However, it’s a tad confusing – even after being there.
The best way is to take the cable car to Parque Arvi. It’s a beautiful ride and you can get some great pictures of Medellin and the favelas.
Get off at Acevedo station on the Metro, then take the cable car towards Santo Domingo station. You get off there, then take another cable car ride (which is much longer) to Arvi station.
When you first arrive in Parque Arvi there is a local produce market first. Then we assumed after you got off the cable car that you could just do some walks. Unfortunately not it’s quite spread out. There are a couple of areas you can visit.
We decided to just walk to some of the forest areas, but the maps were very confusing. Luckily we had OSandM offline maps (I highly recommend you download this!), which helped us find a couple of routes.
But in order to reach them you had to walk along the roads first. We saw lots of other people looking confused. The information booth provided no information or help. There’s an option to pay for a guided walk – but that’s not what we wanted.
I’ll write a separate blog post on how we got around the areas we went to to try and help! When I get chance 😔
Note: on Mondays Parque Arvi is closed, and that section of the system is closed as well.
Cable car ride
If you don’t have time to get to Parque Arvi, it’s worth noting that with your Metro ticket includes cable car rides (except the one to Parque Arvi). You need to disembark at Acevedo station & head to Line K but don’t follow the crowd through the metro exit gates or you will have to buy another ticket. Instead walk to the Line K entrance & enjoy the views.
You can get off at Santo Domingo station, take a few photos (without leaving the station) then get back on the cable car and return to Acevedo station.
It’s worth noting that although many tourists use the cable car system. It has been a lifeline for communities living on the hillside. It now only takes residents 20 minutes to commute to Central medellin, whereas previously is took hours!
We’d heard this was a nice place to explore and so we decided to wander here after visiting Comuna 13. In actual fact it was just a street filled with businesses, cafes and restaurants.
We took a stroll through, what appeared to be, a main Street and thought – what now!? Its not somewhere I’d recommend. We were at a loss as to why it was even suggested as a place to visit. So, we went for a colombian coffee.
As luck would have it we stumbled on a small, new looking coffee shop called Morree cafe. There was no-one in there and so we got chatting to the owner. He was so lovely and had a good chat with him while we drank delicious coffee & the boys had tasty ice creams. He had only just opened a few days ago on Second Laureles park! We were glad to give him our custom!
After taking the metro to Parque Berrio station we headed towards the plaza. It was quite a busy area and the plaza is in the CBD. There are lots of statues around the area and a high police presence, but nothing much going on.
After this, we walked over to Carrera Junín, which is just a shopping street. It was a nice enough street, but nothing special in my view!
There were a few times we wandered down a few unsavoury streets, but were quick to get back into the busy areas.
It just didn’t appeal and if I’m honest, we could have easily skipped this area.
However, not far from here is memory museum. This was recommended to us, but after a fruitless walk around the streets on a hot day, we were too tired to continue. So I’d recommend you just head here instead of walking around Plaza Botero.
Again this was mentioned as a highlight for El Poblado. It’s basically a small concrete garden area in the middle with restaurants and bars around the outside. We were there during the afternoon and it was quiet. But I’m guessing things get livelier in the evenings. I get the impression is where the young backpackers go for a good night out? Ah… to be young again 🤣
Medellin botanical gardens
We were planning to head to the memory museum that we never made it to yesterday. But as it happens it was a cracking day. The sun was shining and we decided we would rather be outdoors. So we took the metro to see Medellín botanical gardens.
As it happens we turned up and there was a musical event going on. Lots of performances, singing, dancing, drama and musical instruments. It was quite hectic!
The gardens are free to enter so we just mingled and watched a few shows, not really knowing what was going on!! It was only centered around a certain area and so when we got further into the park it quietened down and we saw lots of huge iguanas running around!
The garden also had a small lake with ducks, birds and terrapins. We enjoyed strolling around and seeing local life happening.
We stopped for a picnic and then headed back to our apartment.
Other things to do in Medellin
Day trip to Guatape – after reading the reviews we decided that we weren’t going to visit Guatape. Namely because it sounded a lot like Salento. A quaint brightly coloured tourist town. It’s only an hour or so out of Medellín and great for a day trip but we didn’t feel it was somewhere we needed to go on this visit.
But if you know you won’t get chance to visit Salento then definitely find time to squeeze this day trip into your schedule. There’s also a beautiful viewpoint walk you can enjoy too.
Memory museum – it’s closed on a Monday but the entrance is free! It’s supposed to be a great reflection of the past and explain some of what happened in Medellin. Giving real accounts and providing clarification on myths and untruths. I’m sorry we didn’t have time to visit as I believe it would have given better insight into the atrocities here.
I think we got the most out of our stay in Medellín. It was nice to have the space of an apartment while we were there. We took full advantage of this having lived in just one bedroom for most of it travelling time!
Therefore, I can safely say we were being a bit lazy here! We could definitely have squeezed in a few more activities. But we just didn’t want to, and that’s fine!
Medellin felt like a much less edgy city and that provided more freedom to explore, especially with the metro system. You still need to be aware of your surroundings and take precautions. But for the most part it was an easy stop on our Colombia tour.