The city of Medellín played a primary role in the unfortunate stereotyping of Colombia being a dangerous destination for tourists. Once heralded as the Cocaine Capital of the World, Medellín was the home of the notorious Pablo Escobar and his famous drug cartel during the Colombian Drug Wars of the 1980s and early 90s. Nowadays, those times are ancient history. The Colombian government has done an exceptional job restoring order to the country since those dark days, and Medellín is perhaps the best example of this evolution. Long called the ‘City of Eternal Spring’ due to its year-round temperate climate, Medellín is today better known for manicured public parks, a world-class public transportation system, a thriving arts and music scene, and as the stronghold of its traditional Paisa culture.
Medellín is serviced by the José María Córdova International Airport (MDE), which is located about an hour’s bus ride outside of the city. It can be reached by both domestic as well as international flights. Medellín can also be reached by bus- check times and schedules at the local bus terminal in the city you are traveling from.
Things to do in Medellín
- Visit the Parks- Medellín is packed with open areas and greenery- perfect places to wile away an afternoon watching the busy world rush by. Check out the Parque de los Pies Descalsos for a chance to wade through shallow pools barefoot, or the Plaza Cisneros for some interesting photo ops.
- Explore Parque Arví- located at the very top of the MetroCable, Parque Arví is a massive ecotourism park filled with paths, trails, ponds, and streams. It is a perfect place to get away from the noise of the city, and hosts a great market on Sundays.
- Check out the Pablo Escobar Drug Tour- a telling tour details the dark days of Medellín’s Drug Wars. Secret hideouts, gated compounds, and morbid tales of the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar. An interesting look into the history of Medellín.
- Hit up the Zona Rosa- Medellín’s pumping party center, the Zona Rosa is packed with bars, clubs, and restaurants of all types and sizes. On Friday and Saturday nights, many people just hang out in the small park to witness the frenetic scene.
- Relax in the Botanical Gardens- Medellín’s Botanical Gardens are a perfect place to relax and unwind for an afternoon.
- If you go on the Pablo Escobar Tour, there is an option to have lunch with his brother Roberto (for an additional cost, of course). While this does provide the opportunity to hear some interesting stories from the height of the Medellín Cartel’s power- and a photo op as well- it has been reported to be a bit contrived.
- Ride the MetroCable, if only for the thrill of riding a gondola-like ski lift through Medellín’s hillside suburbs. There are great views from the top, and it is also the best way to access Parque Arví. Take care when exiting at some of the lower stations- the hillside suburbs are the rougher part of Medellín...
- Many of Medellín’s best hostels and cheap hotels are located in the Poblado neighborhood, which also happens to be the home of the Zona Rosa. Works out perfectly...
- Many of Medellín’s parks and attractions are closed on Mondays. If you have limited time in town, make sure to plan accordingly...
- If you are headed to the Sunday Market in Parque Arví, make sure to go early. They shut down the MetroCable once the maximum number of people have entered the park, and it’s a pretty big letdown if you’ve come all that way just to turn around and head home.