I must admit, I was surprised at how easy Medellin was to navigate. I did go the wrong way on foot a couple of times, but just by using a metro map and my Lonely Planet Colombia guide, it was easy enough to figure out what I’d done wrong. Oh, and even though I only a few words in Spanish, I did ask for directions a few times. Basically, because Colombian’s talk with their hands, I just followed in the direction they gestured because I didn’t understand a word! But it worked.
During the two weeks I was in Medellin, I felt I really had the luxury of time to see one or two sights a day, relax at an early (or late) dinner, and I also had to work in the mornings five days a week. Most people don’t have or don’t want to stay two weeks in Medellin, so here’s a guide to what I did and how I got there using the metro and my own two feet, so you can get around quickly. I did all of this without a GPS and no data service. Wifi at my Airbnb and in many restaurants is excellent.
I stayed in a neighborhood called Florida Nuevo, in Laureles, which is the little sister to the famous neighborhood of Pablado, which is considerably more expensive. My nearest metro stop was Estadio on Line B. Mostly I used the metro, and the cable car which I knew nothing about before arriving. The cable car delivers tourists and locals alike to a couple of very special places.
Here’s my list of what to see and how to get there!
Plaza Botero and Museo de Antioquia
Plaza Botero is also known as Plazoleta de las Esculturas, but no one calls it by that name. This square is interesting because it houses 23 bronze statues by Botero that he donated to the city of Medellin. Here on the plaza you’ll find locals and tourists alike enjoying the sculptures, touching them in their “special” places for luck or prosperity, or in hopes of becoming pregnant. They also take endless photos of themselves, so if you want to do the same, expect to wait in a line at certain sculptures. Keep a close eye on your belongings as well.
Plaza Botero is the gateway to the Museo de Antioquia (18000 CP), whose entrance is actually on the opposite side of the building at the moment due to restoration work on the plaza side. The museum is four floors and houses many more works donated by Botero. My favorite is Via Crucis la Pasion de Cristo. The torture and crucifixion of Christ is depicted in a series of large oil paintings and if it doesn’t make you think about the state of society today, then nothing will. There’s also a restaurant on the ground floor and a small cafe on the first floor.
How to get here: From metro stop Parque Berrio, exit the long set of steps to the front to Parque Berrio where you’ll see a statue of Berrio (no really knows who he is) and La Candelaria church. Turn left and follow the metro tracks above your head and within 200 meters you’ll see Botero Square on the left. There’s also a checkered building to the left that is a cultural center. Botero Square is just around the corner of this very distinct building.
Medellin’s Botanical Garden (free to enter) is a peaceful, tranquil respite from the busy city. It covers over 14 hectares and has an orchid garden covered with an extraordinary wooden structure, a butterfly garden, a lake with many randy tortugas, and at least two spectacular, hungry iguanas that I couldn’t get enough of. I spent over three hours here taking photos, walking around, and having an ice cream at the cool little cafe (?) that looks like a school bus in the middle of the gardens. Entrance is free. You may want to come back and see those iguanas again!
How to get here: Take metro line A to Universidad station. As you pull into the station, you can see the entrance to Jardin Botanico. It looks like a spiral bowl. Exit the station on the pedestrian bridge going towards the large, red roofed structure that is some sort of exhibition hall, I think. There was a dinosaur exhibit for kids here when I visited. Go down the stairs and cross the street to your right where the vendors are selling their colorful wares, and walk along under the track for the metro. Check out the cool artwork on each of the concrete posts supporting the metro line. Jardin Botanico’s entrance is about 100 meters ahead on the left.
If you’re interested, the Medellin planetarium is on the left as you arrive back at the metro station. I didn’t go here, but it’s a popular attraction for the kiddos.
Comuna 13 Tour (Barrio 13 Graffiti Tour)
Comuna, or Barrio, 13 used to be the most dangerous neighborhood in Colombia. Not Medellin, Colombia! This tour shows how libraries, artists, cable cars, and paying taxes have transformed this neighborhood into a safe, community minded neighborhood where people can live, work, and play in peace. Cable cars were built to transport the people of this community and others nearby safely and cheaply into the city. Six escalators were built in the center of Barrio 13 so that people could easily get from one place to another. Local artists, like Chato, have created murals on almost every wall to show the past and present of the neighborhood and Medellin. The government brought clean water and electricity to their homes in exchange for the people agreeing to paying taxes.
You can find out about the tour here at Comuna 13 Graffiti Tour. I was going to take this opportunity to create an affiliate link to Viator for this tour, but the tours on Viator are more than twice as much as this one! So, this is a direct link to the tour that I took for 70000 CP, or about $25 USD. (I do not make a commission if you use this link.) I think the difference is that you will not be picked up at your hotel. If you book this tour, you’ll meet at Pablado metro station. All metro, cable car, and bus fees are included, as well as two yummy snacks and a top notch guide. I encourage you to also bring some change for street performers, and you will also see art that is for sale. Even though the guide makes a salary, they work hard and they deserve a tip.
How to get here: You’ll meet your guide at Pablado metro station, entrance A. Easy peazy.
Day Trip to La Piedra and Guatape
There are lots of tours offered for Guatape, but I went on my own using the metro and the bus. La Piedra and Guatape are a two hour bus ride from Medellin. I suggest getting off the bus at La Piedra and climbing the 658 steps to the top of this giant hunk of granite to check out the views before going on to Guatape town. La Piedra (18000 CP) is worth the climb just for the views of the man-made lagoon and islands below.
Guatape is a town about 4km from La Piedra that is famous for its traditional architecture and colorful buildings that still have the original plaster design work on the outside. This lovely town sits in the midst of the lagoon. You can even zipline over the lagoon if you wish! I did Guatape as a day trip, but there are some lovely hotels and even a hostel or two if you fancy staying here a night or two. It might be worth it. I loved Guatape. If you do decide to stay here, here’s a great selection of hotels from Agoda.
If you’re more comfortable taking a tour, or you’re traveling with several people and would like to book a private tour, there are some great options from Viator, and many include more activities and sights than what I experienced. Just enter Guatape in the search box in Viator.
How to get here: Take Line A to Caribe station. Exit the station and take the pedestrian walkway to the bus station. It’s huge, but very organized. Go to the ground floor where all the bus tickets are sold. Find one of several bus companies that advertises La Piedra and Guatape. Tickets are 13000 CP. There was no mention of which gate I should go to and I don’t speak Spanish. I asked security, before going out to the platforms. Outside I asked a guy working there where to go, and he took pity on me and walked me to the correct bus. Once you’re on the bus, you’ll know when you’ve arrived at La Piedra because the driver will yell out “La Piedra!” You’ll see the first set of steps, not included in the 658, to the right.
Day Trip to Santa Fe
The historic town of Santa Fe is a two hour bus ride north of Medellin. Actually, like Guatape, I think if someone is looking for a romantic getaway, Santa Fe has enormous potential given some of the beautiful hotels I saw (NOT Hotel Plaza on the square, which is more of a budget option). This colonial town is Antioquia’s oldest settlement and it has retained its beautiful, traditional architecture in the historic center. Whitewashed buildings and lush gardens make for a great place to stroll and take photos. I cannot say the same for the rest of Santa Fe that has built up around the historic center.
How to get here: Take the A line north to Caribe station and take the pedestrian walkway to Terminal del Norte. Look for bus companies traveling to Santa Fe (windows 19 and 20?). Ask outside for the correct gate because it won’t be on your ticket. Tickets are 10000 CP at the time of writing. When you arrive at the small bus station in Santa Fe, just cross the road and head up the hill. You’ll run into the city center within two blocks, and the whole atmosphere of the town will change. The entire town is walkable, but watch out for obnoxious motorbikes who speed over cobblestone streets and slow down for no one!
Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellin
Medellin’s Modern Art Museum (10000 DP) is in Ciudad del Rio neighborhood, which looked like an up-and-coming neighborhood with shopping, cafes and restaurants, and another little gem of a must-see place I’ll tell you about later. Modern art is not my thing, but I had time so I went. I was really impressed with the building and rooftop garden, and the views of this once industrial neighborhood. The building itself is a refurbished, concrete industrial building with a beautiful metal structure housing the rooftop garden. I won’t lie to you. The exhibit here did nothing for me, but like I said, I’m not a fan. There were some interesting pieces and all were explained in Spanish and English.
How to get here: Take metro line A to Industriales station. Exit to the pedestrian walkway above the street level and walk towards Avenida Las Vegas (Cra 48), which is to the right. The pedestrian walkway will take you over Avenida Las Vegas. The walkway goes directly into a shopping mall, or down to street level. Go down to street level, pass the shopping mall to your left, and continue for about .5km or a bit more, till you see Ibis Hotel on your left. Turn left, and you’ll see the industrial concrete museum with a metal rooftop on the right. There’s some cool graffiti opposite the museum that you won’t want to miss.
Mercado Del Rio
This little gem wasn’t mentioned in any guidebook, blog, or any other website I checked while researching Medellin. And I can’t believe it! It’s so awesome! Maybe the locals want to keep it a secret. Mercado Del Rio is near Medellin’s Modern Art Museum, on the opposite side of the street about halfway between the museum and the metro station. It’s a collection of small restaurants, bars, and cafes with cool tables in common seating areas. There’s music on the loudspeaker (American pop music when I was there) and the whole vibe is just cool, modern, hip, and fun. Cuisines include Colombian, Peruvian, Italian, Arabic, and The Cookie Jaar which has mind-blowing warm cookies that I actually went back for a few days later. Club Colombia has beer and Enoteca has a great selection of wines.
If you’re familiar with Time Out Market in Lisbon, Portugal, this is the same concept, but smaller and I think, even better! I bought locally roasted coffee (export quality, not the leftovers) by Al Alma roasters at Good Morning Coffee (I think that’s the cafe name). I had an amazing Sicilian pasta dish prepared by a Colombian at Carbone e Pasta, which was so authentic. Prices here might be a bit more than in other parts of Medellin, but definitely cheaper than Pablado, and without the pretentiousness too.
This 17 sq kilometer land mass in Santa Elena is a stunning example of preservation by the Colombian government. Entrance is free. The fee to ride the L line cable car is 5550 CP one way. For 11100CP you can wander to your heart’s content through the park’s trails. Guided tours are every hour (they weren’t the day I went…). Other tourists claimed the trek to the waterfall is the only one accessible without a guide. I don’t know if this is accurate. Upon arrival, visitors are met with a gorgeous little market selling fruit cups and hand made crafts and locally made food. There is also a cafe and another artisanal market about 50 meters away where the banos are. I didn’t take many pictures because it was raining. Be prepared for cooler temps and rain during your visit.
How to get there: Take the A line north, towards Niqua, and get off at Acevedo station. Transfer to the K line cable car. No need to buy a ticket as it is part of the metro system. Go to the last stop, get out and transfer to the L line cable car where you’ll need to buy a ticket for 5500 CP one way. I tried to buy round trip and was told I couldn’t. On the L line cable car, you’ll traverse the park from high above for about 2 kilometers. It’s spectacular. Even if you don’t like the outdoors, it’s worth it just for the cable car ride.
Cerro Nutibara is 2km from the city center. It’s an 80m tall hill with a touristy, kitschy, fake village at the top. Yes, I said fake. There’s a smaller version of La Candelaria church, some overpriced restaurants, and at least one ice cream/junk food vendor for every 20 visitors. The village at the top is called Pueblito Paisa. It’s meant to look like a traditional Antioquian township.
It looks like a fake village. There’s a small museum called Museo de la Ciudad, but I could not bring myself to pay the nominal fee to enter. Behind the museum is a huge area where you can see fantastic views of the city and the mountains. This is the only redeeming quality of the fake village.
However, I walked here from my Airbnb, 4.5km I think, and it took about an hour. Going up the hill via the road isn’t nearly as strenuous as you might think, and there are dirt and cobblestone paths all over the hillside that allow you to see a path of giant sculptures and some wildlife. That’s a pretty good workout if you cover the hillside paths and walk up the hill.
How to get here: Take the A line to Industriales station. Go the opposite direction of Avenida Las Vegas on the pedestrian walkway. This takes you over the tangle of highways below. When you get to the road, head to your right and go straight ahead. Look for Calle 30 to your right, turn right, and Entrance 1 to Cerro Nutibara will be on the right after about 100 meters.