10 Reasons Why Medellín is Worth Getting to Know
The "City of Eternal Spring" is worth visiting for a few weeks or more, to explore its many charms.
Photo By: Kassondra Cloos
Photo By: Tejo in Medellin
Photo By: Colombia Immersion
The Weather Is Amazing
Medellín, Colombia, isn’t the kind of place that’s easy to fall for immediately. When I first arrived in September, I felt overwhelmed. For starters, it’s not the most pedestrian-friendly of cities, with drivers who flat-out ignore crosswalks and frequently take shortcuts by going the wrong way down one-way streets. There are few tourist attractions that shout “this is why you should come to Medellín.” But here’s the thing: Once you settle in here and start to explore, it's hard not to love it. This is the kind of city that's meant to be explored slowly, meant to be appreciated and understood, not merely seen. It's full of beautiful neighborhoods and high-class yet affordable restaurants and hotels like the Click Clack, pictured here, which sports a posh lobby and eclectic decor. The weather is nearly perfect, in the 60s to 80s year-round. On top of that, it's an affordable place to settle in for a long stay, so you can stretch your budget exceptionally far.
Book Now: Booking.com, Starting around $75/night
The City and Surrounding Area Are Stunning
Medellín is absolutely beautiful. It’s in Antioquia, a mountainous region known for its coffee and chocolate. Medellín itself is home to about 2.5 million people, full of high-rise apartment buildings and neighborhoods that crawl up the sides of the Aburrá Valley. The streets of El Poblado and Laureles, the two most popular neighborhoods for tourists and foreigners, are lined with leafy trees so that in some places it feels like you’re in the forest. On Sundays and holidays, the city shuts down some of its main roads so that they turn into giant bike and walking paths. It’s an amazing time to join in for a jog or a bike ride or just to walk and people-watch.
Book a Tour of Medellin's Colorful Comuna 13: Airbnb, $19 per person
The Dollar Goes Far Here
A favorable exchange rate with the US means luxury is quite affordable here. It’s not at all uncommon to find a room in a luxury apartment with perks — like a sauna, hot tub or gym, and incredible view — for under $400 per month. The menu del día, or daily special, at good restaurants like Achiote Bistro and Café Cliché in Laureles usually costs between $3 and $5 and almost always includes a bowl of soup, a main course, juice and sometimes even dessert. Going all-out with a splurge at an upscale restaurant is relatively affordable, too: It costs about $70 per person for a 13-course tasting menu at El Poblado’s El Cielo, where the food tells a story about the creation of the Earth and multiple courses involve dramatic and delightful use of liquid nitrogen. Also worth a visit is the tucked-away Alambique, which has quite a creative menu. Rooms at the nearby Celestino Boutique Hotel, pictured here, start around $65 per night.
Medellín’s Transformation Is Impressive and Inspiring
The first thing you should do upon arriving in Medellín is take the free tour of El Centro offered by Real City Tours. Guides who grew up in the city will tell you all about the transformation it has experienced over the past several decades. They’ll also tell you that the city’s public transit system is largely to thank for the major reduction in crime. Medellín has gondolas and escalators that bring people into the city center from the mountains and also features Colombia’s only metro. The system is safe, inexpensive —about 75 cents per trip — and stunningly clean. It makes it easy for visitors to get around the city on a budget. One of the iconic things to do in Medellín these days is take a tour of Comuna 13, a once-violent neighborhood that has revitalized itself and become known for its stunning murals.
Book Now: Airbnb, $19 per person
You'll Drink the Best Coffee You've Ever Had
If you’re into coffee, it’s hard to beat spending some time in a city right in the heart of where some of the world’s best coffee is grown. Colombia used to export nearly all its good beans, but café culture there these days is worth a visit on its own. Cafes like Pergamino and Cafe Velvet, right across the street from one another in El Poblado, have large menus with incredible coffee and artisan hot chocolate and long lists of juices you won’t find outside the tropics. They’re picturesque places to work from or just enjoy talking with a friend. Café Noir, pictured here, brews coffee grown within the city limits and offers affordable tasting tours through Airbnb.
Book Now: Airbnb, $5 per person
It’s Easy to Meet People
Medellín has a thriving community of digital nomads and foreigners who’ve settled there to work remotely or start their own businesses. Because of that, it’s easy to get by with minimal Spanish, and it’s also easy to find fellow foreigners who are eager to make new friends. Medellín also has several great co-working spaces where you can settle into a solid community made up of people from all over the world. My favorite was Semilla, which has a beautiful café on the first floor open to the public and a quieter space upstairs for paying co-working members who want their own desks. I also loved working from the colorful Indie Studio, pictured here, which is part café and part apartment building.
Book Now: Airbnb, $18/night
The Shopping and Nightlife are Incredible
The El Poblado neighborhood has scores of boutique shops, clubs, rooftop bars, fancy cocktail spots and unique places to grab a drink. La Octava, for example, has a ball pit. The Old Tom Gin Bar serves sumptuous gin cocktails. And Envy Rooftop is at the top of the Charlee Hotel and offers an unparalleled view of the city. Keep an eye out for artisan markets, too, where you can find local designers like Congo Diseño, which makes beautiful sustainable handbags from scrap materials. It's common in Medellín to find designers that don't have storefronts or online sales, but which can arrange to meet you or deliver goods in person if you contact them via Instagram.
The Outdoors are Easy to Access
You can see the mountains from nearly everywhere in Medellín, and it’s surprisingly easy to get out of the city for a nature-focused retreat. The metrocable takes you right to Parque Arví, a public park where you can take guided hikes or bike rides through the forest. And if you want to get a bit more off-grid, it’s just a few hours by bus to places like Guatape, known for a massive, climbable rock called El Peñol, and the colorful, coffee-growing town of Jardín.
Book a Bike Tour in Parque Arví: Airbnb, $58 per person
There's No Shortage of Only-in-Medellín Activities
Medellín is an extremely lively city and there’s always something happening. During the holiday season, for example, many of the city’s parks explode into fabulous displays of lights called Alumbrados. The energy at futbol — soccer — games at Estadio Atanasio Girardot, the stadium in Laureles, is electric and seeing a game is a must-do activity. Also non-negotiable is playing a game of tejo. Colombia’s national sport is best described as cornhole laced with explosives. Instead of tossing sacks of corn at a hole in a board, you toss metal weights at paper triangles filled with gunpowder. They explode when you hit them, and it’s an addictive game to play. For about $10 a person, you can set up a group with Tejo in Medellín so an English-speaking guide can explain all its complexities.
Spanish Classes at Colombia Immersion
If you’re looking for a place to visit specifically to improve your Spanish, this is a great place to do it for its affordability and relatively neutral accent. Medellín has several fantastic language schools, like Colombia Immersion, where you can really dive into Spanish lessons and make fluency a realistic goal. You can take daily classes for under $100 a week, and they can also set you up to live with a local family for under $400 a month. Going to a Spanish school is also a great way to meet kindred spirits and dive deeper into the city’s history and traditions. Aside from classes, you can take field trips and attend cultural activities and language exchanges. Many bars, cafes and hostels also regularly offer language exchanges anyone can attend.