Don’t be surprised when Medellin receives a massive influx of foreigners in the next decade. The city, for me, has it all: a warm moderate climate, a stunning location in the Aburra valley, amazing public transport and a lively population that loves to dance, eat and drink.
(there is also a separate article with more photos of Medellin)
If it weren’t for missing my friends and family, I would probably live in Medellin. They call it themselves the ‘city of eternal spring’. For northern Europeans it is more an eternal summer. Because of its elevation at around 1’500 metres it doesn’t get as warm as Cartagena by the seaside or cold as Bogota, which is even higher.
Daytime temperatures fluctuate between 25 and 30 degrees. ALL YEAR. And there is lots of rain to keep it fresh and fertile enough as well.
Medellin is nothing less than a minor miracle of urban regeneration. Battered by the drugs trade and the war with the FARC for decades, the city has made major steps forwards. Murder rates dropped by 80%. They might still be high, and some barrios too dangerous for visitors, but Medellin feels much safer now.
There are several upclass neighborhoods that are completely relaxed day and night (Poblado, Laureles, Envigado) and full of funky restaurants. Public transport has been the catalyst of major changes, as the central metroline (running from south to north through the valley) is connected to trams and cable cars going into the poorest barrios in the hills.
Add to that an amazing art scene and a lively street culture (street art everywhere, bars and clubs are bustling as well) and you can guess why the city is becoming popular. Endemic problems? Definitely. Safety is still an issue in some areas (most visible in the historic centre). And the favelas up in the hills with their half-finished houses are the opposite of the luxury flats of Poblado and perfectly illustrate the wealth inequality in Colombia.
Laureles and Poblado are by far the best neighborhoods to get some food. In Poblado the area around Parque Lleras is full of bars and turns into a rowdy mess in weekends. Same goes for Carrera 35.
For food there are almost too many options. Barbaro is one of the best meat places in town. Crepes & Waffles is a restaurant chain, with solid options as well. La Pampa is said to have the best burgers, though I was disappointed. Park 37 has imaginative dishes as well.
Coffeewise Pergamino and Al Alma are hard to beat. An array of amazing food, perfect coffees… these are the places to go. Velvet (opposite Pergamino) is also a good choice.
In Laureles there are two nightlife epicentres: Carrera 70 (known locally as La Setenta, the seventy) is a big street with lots of huge bars and restaurants. Refined it ain’t. Then there is the beautiful area around Primero Parque, full of nice dinner and party places in a cosy neighborhood. Opposite of the park is also the excellent Cafe Revolucion, popular amongst expats as well.
Nearby Belen was my home for more than a month. The VeGarden is highly recommendable: delicious and cheap. Civeta y Elefante is a great coffee place (cold brew!) and good sandwiches. It is located at the La Villa square (Plazoleta La Villa), which is a good area to enjoy some time outside with a beer in the weekend.
- MAMM: the Museo de Arte Moderno Medellin is already an architectural treat. The original old building was modernized into a very cool space. The extension, a stack of concrete blocks wrapped in corrugated steel, provides a perfect space for art and has excellent views over the city
- Museo de Antioquia: they could have also called this the Botero museum, as most of the top floor (and the entire Plaza Botero in front of the building) is dedicated to the wonderful art of Fernando Botero. He became famous for his paintings (and later sculptures) of people and objects with incorrect proportions. He donated between 100-200 works to the museum. The temporary exhibitions though are impressive as well
- Palacio de la Cultura Rafael Uribe Uribe: also located at the Plaza Botero, this black-and-white building has a huge permanent collection. Be careful in the area, the historic centre is dangerous
- Casa Museo Pedro Nel Gomez: the old house of this famous painter was expanded even during lis lifetime to become his workshop and the place where he created some massive murals. Pedro Nel Gomez is one of the most influential artists of Colombia. The museum is in a tricky neighborhood: if you decide to walk, do it from the Universidad metro station and not from the Caribe one
- Museo Casa de la Memoria: Colombia has been torn up by violence in the last decades. Partially fuelled by FARC and other rebel groups demanding a more equal society (especially for indigenous people), partially by the lucrative drug trade. And at some point these two converged into a seemingly never-ending spiral of violence. Though there are still conflicts, the peace treaty with the FARC has made the country safer. Especially Medellin experienced a turnaround, from being the most dangerous city on earth to being relatively safe and economically booming. The Museo Casa de la Memoria is an attempt to honour the victims of violence. It is an impressive place, with deeply personal stories, and a solemn dark memorial room with pictures of the dead and disappeared. It is also still very much a work in progress, as history is being written (and being rewritten sometimes, under political pressure). But if you want to understand Colombia, this is a must-see
- Museo Rafael Uribe: opposite of the Museo de Antioquia, this beautiful building has a not too impressive collection of older artefacts. It also has a history of the building and Rafael Uribe himself, and occasionally temporary exhibitions. Entrance is free, so a quick visit never hurts
- Cerro Nutibara: a hill in the centre, with a small Colombian traditional village and a great lookout on top of it. The hill also has a sculpture garden
- Cerro Tres Cruces: even more sweeping views of the city can be had on this hill overlooking the entire valley. It is in the Belen area, and a solid 45 minute walk upwards. Go in the morning or in the weekend when there are plenty of locals around. In the evening it’s not the wisest idea to climb up. Starting point is here
- football: fans here are loud. The stadium Girardot is on the edge of the Laureles area, in a park full of sports facilities that is a treat to visit on sundays, when locals come here to do exercises, dance, walk and cycle (sunday is cycling day, where many streets are closed for cars until 2PM). Nacional is the biggest team, though Independiente also has a strong following. Both have shops inside the stadium, ask there whether you can buy tickets. Occasionally tickets are only sold through their respective apps
- Jardin Botanico: massive garden near the Universidad metro station, with an excellent overview of Colombian flora and fauna. Entrance is free, and the diversity will continue to baffle you
- Parque Explora: also adjacent to the Universidad metro station, this massive red block is a great place for kids. It has an aquarium, planetarium and science exhibits
- Comuna 13: street art is huge in Medellin, and there is no better place than Comuna 13. This neighborhood in the northwestern hills used to be one of the most dangerous of the city, and was the location of the infamous Operation Orion where the military tried to clean up the area with the help of paramilitaries, who made an incredible mess. It is much safer now, though the best idea is to book a guided street art tour. For your safety, and to support the local community
- swimming: along the local airport is a good swimming pool, if you want to escape the heat for a bit. From the central metro line you can take a bus (Line 1 or 2) from Industriales to the Rosales stop and then walk 20 minutes. The Aeroparque Juan Pablo II can be found here
- outside Medellin:
- Parque Arvi: hard to imagine there is a huge natural park close to Medellin. But line K of the public transport takes you in a cable car into the hills of the Santo Domingo neighborhood. There you can switch to the L line, which brings you in twenty minutes to an altitude of 2’400 metres. In Parque Arvi are many trails, with or without guide. It is a perfect day away from Medellin. Take an extra jacket with you though, because it is considerably colder here. There is a short (1,5-2 hour) trek close to the cable car, and there are some guided tours. If you go out on your own on the other, longer treks, be aware that robbers are active in this area and it’s only considered safe in the weekend when many people are hiking here
- Guatape: this small colorful town two hours east of Medellin is especially famous for its rock, that can be climbed on a stairs that is almost 700 steps high and provides sweeping views of the area. You can do watersports in the nearby lakes as well
- the local airport only caters for smaller domestic flights, planes up to probably 50 people. It is Medellin’s old airport, close to Poblado in the middle of town
- the international airport is 30 kilometres away. From there you can take a bus to Medellin. More detailed information on the Medellin Guru site
- bus: the big bus terminal is in the north of Medellin, close to the Caribe metro station. Buses from the south also stop at the Terminal Sur (next to the local airport). From there it is a twenty minute walk to the central metro line, or a short cab ride
- getting around: the metro network is excellent. The central A line runs from north to south right through the valley. It connects to several lines sideways into the neighborhoods. Some are buses (Metroplus to Belen), some are trams (up into Caicedo and further), some are cable cars (Santo Domingo, San Javier (Comuna 13)). And there are integrados, buses whose numbers end with an i (example 133i and 134i in Poblado) who connect to the metro system for a very modest extra fee. All rides can only be paid by the Civica card, which can be bought and charged at almost all stations in cash only
- Weather: perfect. Daytime temperatures between 25-30 degrees, in the night ten degrees lower. You can wear shorts almost all days. There is rain all year: less from january to march
- Safety: not an issue day and night in areas like Envigado, Poblado, Belen and Laureles. The further up north, the more dangerous, especially in the barrios up the hills. And in the centro historico. Be smart, don’t flash your valuables, don’t take out your expensive phone in these areas
- this blog of course is awesome 🙂 But there are expats who have been living in Medellin for a long time and have a lot of practical info. So check out Medellin Guru if you want to know more about the city