Medellín is a city of stories. Sights are not the main reason you come here. No, you come to Medellín to learn more about what took place in this city. The history is what makes the city so interesting. Medellín used to be the most dangerous city in the world. Cocaine was sales product number 1 and the Medellín cartel under the leadership of Pablo Escobar had the lion share. But there was always competition: the guerilla and paramilitary group also had their own drug trade. The resulted in decades of violence. The most deadliest year for Medellín was 1991 with more than 6.000 deaths. These facts are a good match with the image that many Narcos viewers have when they think of Medellín after watching the popular series. Is the drugs history the only thing that Medellín has to offer? No, there is a lot more. In recent years Medellín completely reinvented itself and today it is the most innovative city of Colombia. In this article I am sharing my 8 tips for this upcoming destination.
1. Museo de Antioquia: meet Botero
Pablo Escobar is not the only famous resident of Medellín. Meet Fernando Botero, a world-famous artist born and raised in Medellín. His work is known all over the world and the main reason for this is his unique style. His models have unique and unflattering proportions. Everything about it is just off. This is all part of the message that Botero wants to get across: enjoy life to the fullest. I really like Botero’s work, because it is different. Most of his models are fictional figures, but there are also two paintings that refer to the last moments of drug lord Escobar. Do you recognize them below?
Entrance fee for the museum: 10.000 COP.
Public transport: use metro line A and get out at station Parque Berrio.
2. More Botero on the streets
Medellín is the city of Botero and his art does not limit itself to the walls of a museum. You can also see the works of Botero on the streets of Medellín. At the front side of Museo de Antioquia you can find Plaza Botero. This is the central square of Medellín and is home of 23 gigantic statues of Botero. An enormous head, a horse with thick legs and a lady that stands on top of a head: each and every statue has its own crazy look.
Public transport: use metro line A and get out at station Parque Berrio.
There is also another ‘Plaza’ where you can see Botero’s works. At San Antonio Plaza you can find two gigantic bird statues side by side. The story behind it is not a happy one. It used to be only bird statue. In 1995, a dynamite exploded next to the statue during a music festival at this square. The attack was never claimed, but rumor has it that it was a message of the FARC for the son of Botero, then the Minister of Defense. Thirty people died that day. Botero reacted by donating a second bird statue in the year 2000 and placing it next to the damaged one. The names of the victims are written on the base of the undamaged bird.
Public transport: use metro line A or B and get out at station San Antonio.
3. Good food in El Poblado
Looking for good food? Then head over to El Poblado. Our boutique hostel was located in this neighborhood, so it was the perfect combination of sleep, eat and repeat. We had dinner in El Poblado every night. For everyone who thinks you cannot go to Colombia when you are a vegetarian or vegan, this is absolutely not the case. El Poblado is a upcoming hipster area, so there is always a restaurant that matches your wishes. Our personal favorites were Cafe Cambria for breakfast and Pizzeria Olivia for lunch. I always use the app Happy Cow to look up the best restaurants.
Public transport: use metro line A and get out at station Poblado.
4. Sharing memories at Museo Casa de la Memoria
In my introduction I already mentioned this. Medellín is notorious for its long violent history. In Museo de la Memoria survivors share their memories of the more than 30 year long period of drugs violence. Stories about sons, brothers and friends that went missing or got killed. Very intense to listen to as a visitor, because at the same time it puts a face on this tragical period. The exhibition with the name ‘Medellín: Memorias de violencia y resistencia’ has a social purpose: starting a dialogue. Sharing stories and reflecting and learning as a society as a whole. Only then Medellín will be able to deal with the past and leave it behind. This museum uses a variety of audiovisual means which makes it very easy for visitors to follow the stories. Personally, I felt that this is the most impressive museum in Medellín. Another positive note: entrance is free.
Public transport: use metro line A or B and get out at station San Antonio. From here it is a 30-minute walk to Parque Bicentenario. The address is Calle 51 no. 36-66.
5. Hip side of Medellín: a city full of street art
If you have read my article about Comuna 13 (if not, here is the link), then you already noticed that Medellín is developing quickly into a modern and cool city. Comuna 13 was the most dangerous area of Medellín, but today tourist tours come here every day to check out the street art. Art has given this area a second life and it has resulted in the opening of small art workshops and a lot of positive energy. But also in the rest of the city you come across street art. Here are some photos of what I saw in the city center of Medellín.
6. Discover the traditional Paisa culture
Medellín has always been a quirky city. Long before the cartels became active, the city made name because of the Paisas. Traditionally this word refers to the people that lived in the northwest part of Colombia. Paisas have Basque roots, speak Spanish with a unique accent and have their own food. Today, Paisa is a symbol for the proud and hospitable residents of Medellín. To give tourists an idea of how the Paisa used to live, you can visit Pueblito Paisa. This is a fake Paisa village at the top of the Nutibara Hill. Personally it felt a bit too touristy for my taste, but you can also choose a different way to get to know the Paisas. For instance, drink a beer at Salon Malaga, one of the oldest Paisa salons of the city. This place feels like you stepped into the 1950s.
Public transport: Salon Malaga is located next to metro station San Antonio, you can go here with metro line A and B.
Want to learn more about the cultural history of Medellin region? Go to the Monumento a la Raza at La Alpujarra Administrative Center. This quirky statue tells the story of the people of Antioquia. I recommend you to come here with a guide, because only then you get to hear the stories.
Public transport: use metro line A and get out at station La Alpujarra.
7. Look over the city from the sky: de teleférico
One of the symbols of the rapid city transformation is the teleférico. This is the modern cable car that connects the areas on the hills with the city center. An initiative from the city council to turn Medellín into an accessible city for its residents. The cable car is a highly appreciated means of transport and it functions as an extension of the metro system. There are even three routes (line K, J and L). A cable car ride is a good and cheap way to see this massive city from high above. A single ticket costs 2000 COP.
How to get to the cable car: start your cable car ride at metro station San Javier, you can go there with metro line B. Are you coming here by metro, then you do not have to buy a new ticket. Your metro ticket is your cable car ticket.
8. Fly over Medellín: paragliding
This was an activity that was number 1 on the list of my boyfriend: paragliding over the city hills of Medellín. It is definitely not cheap, but it is an unforgettable experience. Personally, I decided not to do this. With my fear of heights I am not the perfect candidate for these things, and when we stood on that hill I was very happy with my decision. It was soo high! My boyfriend was still very much looking forward to it, but unfortunately the instructor had bad news. It had just started raining and all flights were cancelled for that day. So a tip for everyone: plan you flight early in the morning. Because of the Medellín hills weather can change very quickly during the day.
More useful tips:
- Use the metro: even though Medellín has only two metro lines, you can use the metro to get almost everywhere you want to as a tourist. A ticket is dirt cheap. For 2000 COP you ride from one side of the city center to the other side. Please avoid taking the metro early in the morning (8-9 am) or in the beginning of the evening (5-7 pm). Metro stations are super overcrowded, because everyone is going to work or home.
- Free city walk El Centro: to learn more about the city center I joined a tour of the Real City Tours. They run free and paid tours and they are extremely popular. Even for the free tour, you are required to book it first first through their website. Full is full. But this tour is worth your time!
- Sleeping tip: we stayed at Los Patios Boutique Hostel and I loved it. Every room refers to a different Colombian region. We stayed at the Leticia room, which is the tourist capital of the Colombia Amazon area. One negative thing: at the time there was a lot of construction going on at the building across the street. So every morning we woke up to the sound of a jackhammer. I hated myself so much for not bring my earplugs.
Would you visit Medellín?