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21 Cool Things to do in Medellín, Colombia in 2023

Updated: Jan 11, 2023

I went on a solo trip to Medellín in 2016 planning to stay for 1 week. That’s how much time I thought I would need to execute the standard recommended tourist activities and visit the best places list. I ended up staying for 3 years and I go back all the time - still with outstanding items on my Medellin hit list.


I could write a novel on all the things that make this place unique - the restaurants, the culture, the history, the music, the landscape, the indigenous communities, the environmental conservation efforts, the people… but I’m going to start with a list of 21 cool things to do if you decide to visit in 2023.


Famous Medellín mural in El Poblado guy holding his shirt out that says "Calles de Medellin"
Famous "Streets of Medellín" mural in El Poblado, 2 blocks form where I lived, and that you'll see on literally every Medellín blog that exists.

*Very important edit: on the first full day you're in Medellín you should do this bike tour of the city. My Paisa friend recommended this particular one to me and I'm a firm believer that there's no better way to kick off a city than with food, beer, and bikes.

For a more encompassing itinerary to Colombia, including Cartagena and Tayrona, check out this guide, and for a Google Map of all the places mentioned in this article click here.


Table of Contents


#1 Walk around El Poblado


When you first get into Medellín, set out on foot and just wander around El Poblado. This is the main neighborhood where all the tourists (and most of the ex-pats) spend the majority of their time. It’s a self-contained square mile of swanky bars, restaurants, boutiques (like actual, ‘shop small’ boutiques), parks, fancy gyms, outdoor gyms, sidewalk markets, and outdoor eateries - everything you need to jumpstart your Medellin experience.


Orient yourself by thinking of the neighborhood as a rectangle with a top and a bottom. The ‘top’ is actually west and the bottom is actually east, but it's on a steep hill, and I find it easier to figure out whether I’m going up or down than east or west.


Google Map of el Poblado, Medellin, Colombia
Map of El Poblado area for the geographically inept

#2 Eat the Menu del Dia


When all this cruising makes you hungry, stop by one of the outdoor seating areas anywhere that you see an easel that says ‘menu del dia.’ This is the menu of the day, and it’s all I eat when I’m with my Colombian friends. It’s a very basic meal but tastes great and does the job. It’s a healthy platter - a protein, rice, plantains, salad, and fresh juice kind of deal, and it’s under $3 at the local joints.


Menu of the Day Menu del Dia Medellin Colombia
$4 Menu del Dia next to Parque Poblado

Over the last few years the market has expanded to serve tourists’ high-maintenance tastes. It's still a great deal and very good food, but now with vegetarian options - and costs more like $4 - a 25% increase!


It’s basic, healthy, filling, and a very Colombian experience. Pro tip: don’t mess around with the vegetarian options unless you’re a vegetarian - chicken is always the best-tasting option.


#3 (Respectful) Pablo Tourism


I’m going to address the Pablo tourism issue right away because it’s actually a really touchy subject.


As you probably know, Pablo Escobar was one of the richest men in the world during his time in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s. He started selling drugs at age 15 and quickly became one of the most powerful dealers in the world. At his peak, he supplied 80% of the world's cocaine, offered to pay off the county’s debt in exchange for total amnesty, and killed 3 prominent politicians and countless police officers and civilians.


Dark history is fascinating. I was fascinated and when I first got to Medellin and my first tour was the Pablo tour. I was driven around by one of Pablo’s drivers / hitmen and we went to his brother Roberto’s house, where we met him and some other old narcos that were sitting around talking and smoking like they didn't have a care in the world (they don’t, BTW).


Roberto Escobar and another Pablo Escobar Medellin cartel member
Pulling up to Roberto Escobar's house. He's on the right.

It was like being on the set of the Netflix series, but without the threat of being murdered. It felt like a really cool experience until I realized that it’s deeply offensive and definitively unethical tourism.


As I became more integrated into the culture and the history of Medellin I realized that I had paid the people who had murdered thousands of my friends’ uncles and brothers. I went to the grave site where the guy who orchestrated the whole thing was memorialized like a saint. Kind of embarrassing in retrospect.


The lesson learned is that Colombians don’t like Pablo and they don’t like it when gringos come to their country and pay narcoterrorists to glorify the war and tell it from their perspective.


That being said - it's only human to be interested in such dark tourism - so here’s what I recommend doing instead:


Hire a Local Guide


… not one of Pablo’s henchmen, to take you around for a few hours. I met an Uber driver a few years ago and he’s become my ‘driver’ - I have him pick up and drop off people who are visiting Medellin, and he also takes them around to see the Pablo sites. He has no affiliation with Pablo and is a really nice, hard-working family guy and I feel safe with my friends in his hands. I can pass on his info to anyone who is interested.


Hike to La Catedral


The ‘prison’ from where Pablo was allowed to come and go as he pleased, have parties with prostitutes, and continue the drug trade is known as La Catedral. It was the most luxurious prison imaginable, complete with a football pitch, giant doll house, bar, jacuzzi, waterfall, and all of Pablo's friends. It’s vacant now, after a short stint under the ownership of some Benedictine monks who found it a peaceful place to meditate.


You can hire a taxi to take you there, or if you want to make it a thing, hike up to it. It sits on top of a mountain and the helipad has great views of the city.


The Pablo Escobar Museum (owned by Roberto Escobar) is located inside La Catedral but was shut down in an effort to stop tourists from funding retired narco-terrorists. The museum housed photos, letters from fans, and things like the AK-47s used by his bodyguards.


Walk by Monaco and Club Campestre


The building where Pablo lived with his family toward the end of his time and that was car-bombed in ‘88 (when he and his family were home), was demolished in February 2019. It was supposed to be replaced by a memorial for the victims, but I’m not sure what is there now.



It’s located in Poblado, next to another point of interest. Club Campestre is a country club where Pablo, his cartel, and his victims all hung out. It still operates as a golf course and club, so you can either just walk by it while you’re out and about, or make a golf day out of it.


Pablo Escobar's Monaco building that he lived in with his family.
Monaco building where Pablo lived

See the House Where Pablo Was Shot (or don’t)


Also in the neighborhood, you could take a walk over to see the rooftop where Pablo was killed in 1993, disputably by Colombian police - but I recommend skipping this. I imagine that someone lives there now and it feels creepy to be a voyeur. Plus I can’t remember where it is.


Pablo’s Gravesite


I would skip this too. The simple act of people visiting the gravesite makes it a memorial.

#4 Visit the Museo Casa de la Memoria


All this talk about what not to do when learning about Colombia’s civil war is a perfect segue into the House of Memory Museum - tourism dedicated to Colombia’s dark past - told from the victims’ perspective. This museum is a great way to understand more about the country’s trouble without sensationalizing the villains.


#5 Visit Comuna 13


Another way to do dark tourism responsibly is by touring Comuna 13. Not long ago this barrio was one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the world. Now it’s a cultural epicenter of hip-hop, graffiti, and Colombian youth.


Girls walking by Comuna 13 graffiti art Medellin Colombia
The entire neighborhood is covered in this amazing street art

Just 20 years ago, however, Comuna 13 was the Colombian military's largest urban offensive against guerrilla supporters.


On October 16th, 2022, President Uribe - largely praised for his success against the FARC and other guerilla groups - launched Operation Orion. Banded as an attempt to take out left-wing guerillas using 3,000 troops backed by helicopters, it was controversial from the start, and ended with 18 dead, 34 wounded, and almost 250 arrests among the population of Comuna 13.


The event is tragic and interesting and I highly recommend touring Comuna 13 if you want to learn more. The art is really impressive, the street food is fun to try, and the whole neighbor feels oddly modern with an escalator system going through the majority of it.


It's less than $20 for a 4-hour tour of the Comuna’s history, street food, and graffiti, or I can put you in touch with a private guide.


#6 Do a Free Walking Tour Through the City Center


Real City Tours and a few other companies offer free, 4-hour walking tours of the city center at 10:00 AM everyday. This is a great way to learn about the city and get your bearings before setting out on your own.


The guides speak English and suggested tipping is $10.


#7 More of El Centro: El Hueco, Medellin Metro Cable Cars, and Plaza Botero


After the free walking tour, or in lieu of it, visit some other parts of El Centro (downtown) for some gritty, authentic Medellin culture.


El Hueco


El Hueco (literally ‘the gap,’ but more accurately ‘the giant void in the earth full of junk’) is where you can find anything and everything for super cheap. Not really the spot if it's quality you’re after but if you’re looking for a game-day jersey, stolen electronics, or other one-time-use items we got you.


Cable Cars


The cable cars are actually a pretty cool stop. They offer views of the mountains and valleys and all the lower strata neighborhoods that house Medellin Proper’s 2.5 million people.


Plaza Botero


Fernando Botero is an internationally renowned artist whose work you’ll see all over the city / country. He’s famous for his bronze sculptures of ultra-voluptuous, nude people. If you’re downtown you should stop by Plaza Botero and appreciate his work. Keep in mind that nudity or public masturbation is not allowed inside the park.


There are a lot of vendors selling street food in the plaza so take the opportunity to try out some traditional Colombian dishes such as empanadas with pique.


#8 Explore the Botanical Gardens


Something that I find incredibly boring but most people like are botanical gardens. If you’re of the latter camp, check out the Jardín Botànico.


The gardens feature over 4,000 species of plants from all over Colombia as well as other parts of Latin America. There are hiking trails through the park along with a bird aviary. The Gardens are open every day from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, except Monday. Entrance is a few dollars.


#9 Take a Day Trip to Guatapé


Just a 2-hour drive from Medellin is a cute little pueblo with one of the largest (albeit manmade) lakes in the country. It feels very different from Medellin but is a good way to get a glimpse at where many of the Paisas’ roots are from. Cruise the town, eat some traditional Colombian Street food, and check out the murals.

Girl looking at colorful Guatape murals, Colombia
This might be the most colorful city in Colombia

The main attraction in Guatapé is El Peñol - a 1,143-foot tall rock (one of the tallest in South America) that you can climb. Or walk up, because it has steps. Apparently some guys climb-climbed it using wooden planks in the ‘50s but then they decided to install a staircase in the crack that extends from the top to the bottom of the rock. So now you and I can drink mango micheladas at the top!


El Peñol rock in Guatapé, Colombia. Giant rock that you can climb stairs to the top, in the middle of a lake
El Peñol rock in Guatapé, Colombia.


The 600 stairs take about ½ hour to conquer and it's crowded during high season. But it's one of those things that you kind of have to do if you go all the way to Guatapé.


As for as making it an overnight trip - I’ve never stayed in Guatapé overnight but I’m waiting for the opportunity so that I can stay at the adults-only Bosko hotel (about $250/ night).


Bosko hotel pool with umbrellas overlooking the lake in Guatapé, Colombia
Bosko hotel in Guatapé, Colombia


#10 Visit a Finca


Fincas are to Colombians what cabins are to Americans. Originally traditional farmhouses, they’re now more like a weekend getaway / second home for wealthy Colombians. They’re also a common place for Colombians to hold weddings.


A finca in Santa Fe, Antioquia with palm trees and a pool and thatched roof
A finca in Santa Fe, Antioquia where I went to a wedding

I wouldn't necessarily recommend renting one by yourself unless you really love being alone, but if you make friends with a Colombian and you hear mention of “going to the finca,” do anything you can to subtly (or overtly) invite yourself.


If you’re my age, a weekend at the finca will be a relaxing getaway and a chance to get to know some Colombians on a more intimate level. There’s usually a full staff, and a lot of pampering.


three girls in lounge chairs in the pool in swim suits and dresses laughing
Solo trip to the finca to relax and make huge, really important business plans in the pool

If you’re younger, or if you’re doing a VIP Medellin trip or bachelor trip, you might find yourself at a really wild party, probably with some beautiful but out-of-place women, you know what I mean?


Either way you should go.


#11 Hike Cerro de las Tre Cruces


Three girls look over the mountain at the View from the top of Cerro de las Tres Cruces looking over Medellin
View from the top of Cerro de las Tres Cruces

Hill of the 3 crosses in English. This 45-minute, mile-long hike straight uphill is kind of an event in itself. If you go early enough you’ll see the creme-of-the-crop Paisas who take their appearance very seriously, and you'll take their appearance very seriously, too.


I usually go around 11, with all the other lazy people.


The surrounding area has been developed a lot since I started going on this hike. There used to be just the prison gym at the top but now there are smoothie places and drink stands at the bottom and a restaurant at the top. It's very basic but the nature and the views are what we’re here for.


2 people standing next to three 50-foot metal crosses on the top of the mountain overlooking the city in stormy weather
What the weather looks like when you should NOT be standing next to three 50-foot metal crosses

Pro tip: Don't go in bad weather. Medellin is a very electric city and if there's rain there's probably also thunder and lightning. Lighting struck the crosses when I was up there one time and the ground was so slippery from the rain that it looks us 3 hours to get down and we had to basically slide down on our butts.


#12 Pueblito Paisa


If Tres Cruces is too much exertion for your vacation style and you don't have time to do the day trip to Guatapé, head over to Pueblito Paisa. This little prefab Antioquian town is kind of touristy and not really authentic but you’ll get a bit of exercise walking up the hill, and it will give you an idea of what the real countryside would look like if you had made the time to visit. Plus it has views of the city, and food.


#13 Paragliding


Medellin is located in a valley in between 3 mountain ranges, so jumping off of mountains is basically a national sport there. Mount Felix is the main jumping-off point but there are a few. It costs about $50, plus the shot of Aguardiente that you’ll need to take to get yourself to take the leap of faith


#14 Skate parks


If you’re a skater boy or girl, you’re never going to get bored in Medellin. There are skate parks everywhere. I can’t skate so I don’t have any recommendations but Google Maps will help you.


#15 Play an Impromptu Chess Game with the Pros


 Tower of the Antioquia Chess League in Medellin with palm trees
Antioquia Chess League Tower

Another reco that I haven’t actually done - the Antioquia Chess League holds games and tournaments in a tower next to the Atanasio Girardot Stadium, and I always wanted to go over and play with one of the old men that’s always there but I was too scared.


Now, after watching Queen’s Gambit I want to do it even more but still probably won’t.


If you want to check out the action but in a more voyeuristic kind of way, grab a beer and head over when there's a tournament, or just anytime and watch them do their thing.


There’s is women’s roller derby there sometimes which is another thing I’m too scared to do.


Chess players playing chess at the Antioquia Chess League Tower
Chess players playin' chess

#16 Ciclovia


Okay, Ciclovia I have done (many times), and it’s awesome. If you’ve spent time in any Latin American country you’ve experienced some version of Medellin’s Ciclovia. And if you haven't check out this TikTok for a visual.


Every Tuesday and Thursday night from 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM and Sunday AM, city officials close down the freeway for pedestrians. You can walk, run, bike, rollerblade, skateboard, cartwheel, or whatever sets your heart on fire. This activity is one of my favorites but there are a few pain points:


  1. It’s hard to rent bikes, rollerblades, and skateboards. I ended up buying the former 2 when I lived there. I think now there may be more options for renting though, so don't give up too easily.


  1. Crossing the frontage road between El Poblado and the freeway is a little dicey. I’ve definitely almost gotten hit by multiple cars. The Sunday ride is much more accessible.


I recommend at least walking it, if you don't feel like doing the work to get wheels. It's a vibe, and it's exercise that you’ll need if you’re doing Medellin the right way.


#17 Catch a Soccer Game


One of the most Colombian experiences I’ve ever had was going to a soccer match between rival teams Colombia Nacional and Atlético. I wasn’t aware when I bought the tickets that there are ‘safer areas’ and ‘you might die’ areas. I accidentally bought it in the ‘you might die’ area and it was wild.


Colombia Nacional versus Atlético soccer futbol game at the El Estadio Atanasio Girardot stadium with green smoke bombs
Colombia Nacional versus Atlético

It was pouring rain and the fans were jumping up and down on 3-inch wide handrails, 30 feet up. At one point a guy fell off and had to be carried out by his friends. He didn't seem okay - it was kind of disturbing.


Colombian soccer fans standing on ledge holding a giant flag
Soccer fans willing to risk it all for their team

They don’t serve alcohol inside the stadium and I was upset when I arrived but I understood why by the time I left.


Overall, I would say go at your own risk. I would go again but I’m stupid.


It’s an amazing experience but if you’re not super comfortable in those environments you might not like it. And make sure you choose your seats wisely.


Related media recommendation: ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary Two Escobars.


#18 Medellin Nightlife


The nightlife in this city is thriving and many people come for the sole purpose of doing the things that night owls do. I can speak more to the evening life - dinners and earlier visits to the bars around El Poblado, but there are plenty of options for younger, spicier people.


In the El Poblado area you can’t walk more than a few feet without running into a bar or club, and they’re always changing hands, so the hot spots move on a monthly basis. I would ask a local or the Medellin Expat group on Facebook - or just Google "Medellin Colombia travel Reddit" if you want the most up-to-date information on how to get into some after-hours trouble in Medellin.


Two low-hanging fruit options to start your night out - the parks:


  1. Parque Lleras: This is an actual park. It's really tiny, but what you’re going to see is the surrounding area - tons of bars, restaurants, and clubs. You basically use the park as a landmark to have your cab drop you off, and as a spot to chill out for a minute and drink your beer between clubs. Be advised, however, that open containers are illegal now and that, because Parque Lleras is such a tourist hotspot, it's naturally the target of bad actors. Watch your pockets and be aware of your surroundings.

  1. Parque Poblado: This is the more local version of Lleras, although they’re both in Poblado, so you’ll find tourists in both parks.


Two things you should be aware of before going out in Medellin:


  1. You should go to a Fonda: A fonda is basically a bar / hotel you would find in the countryside, where people traveling would stay to rest between days. In Medellin, there has been a renaissance of these traditional watering holes. Last time I went to one there were 10 women ages 65+ dancing on the stage with the stripper pole. It was wild in the most wholesome way possible.


If you’re looking you’ll definitely notice the fondas because they’re super colorful and you’ll see a lot of flashing lights and hear traditional music like guasca coming from inside. The one I know of in El Poblado is Fonda La Chismosa La 10 but others are popping up, just keep your eye out.


  1. Escopolamina (scopolamine): If you Google “travel warning Medellin Colombia” you’ll find sensationalized, often outdated warnings of murders and kidnappings. I’m not saying that those don’t happen, it's just that they don’t happen as often as your Uncle Jim from Ohio thinks they do.

Medellin has always felt very safe to me, even as a woman. However, the most common thing that I hear about from people I know, or friends of friends, is Colombian women drugging male tourists and bringing in their teams to rob them. Sometimes it's a sedative and sometimes its Escopolamina, which basically hypnotizes you and you'll do whatever people tell you to do. I can’t tell you how often I hear about this happening and in fact, at my first day of Spanish class at Nueva Lengua (recommended), the first thing the director told us at orientation is that if a woman who is out of your league is talking to you, it’s not because you look really good that day. My enthusiastic personal recommendation is for men to steer clear, as hard as this may be. If you know you're going to risk it, only take out a credit card with a low credit limit, or just cash.


#19 Treat Yourself to a 4-star Dinner at a 1-star Price Point


Before you head out and try your luck at the club do 2 things:


  1. Practice your pickup lines in Spanish (they just don't have the same ring when you stutter), and


  1. Treat yourself to a really nice dinner. You want to pad that stomach lining, and also the food is a thing here because the restaurants are really fancy, and really cheap. In other words, you can’t afford not to go to the top spots in Medellin. El Cielo, OCI, and Carmen’s are at the top of my list, but there are so many.


#20 Salsa or Spanish lessons


If you’re into learning vacations, Spanish and salsa are the best disciplines to spend your time and money on in terms of ROI; particularly if you’re looking to engage with the opposite sex. (There’s nothing like being a non-Spanish-speaking gringo who can’t dance to kill your vibe.)


Toucan and Nueva Lengua are the top two schools in Medellin. They're about $200/ week, but they have a lot of events and they incorporate learning other things, like dancing, cooking, and Colombian history and culture into the Spanish lessons.


The only downside is that you’re positioning yourself to spend your time in Medellin with other tourists. In the ideal world you would take classes while you get some basics down and orient yourself in the city, and then go off and make some Colombian friends that don’t speak English. But not everyone has time for that.


#21 Play Tejo


two girls playing Colombian sport tejo and drinking beer wearing boots
Daytime tejo session

Tejo is basically Colombian horseshoes, but it’s played with explosives. Rumor has it, it used to be played with gold, but the Spanish came and took all the gold and left gunpowder so that’s how it's played now.



My friend owns the Tejo in Medellin, which is the main company for tejo tourism. He’s pretty fun, and the only gringo that plays in competitive leagues. He'll tell you about the history and teach you how to pay. It costs $7 to play for like 3 hours and I considered it a must-do in Medellín.


man in yellow Colombian soccer jersey and woman with blonde hair and boots playing Colombian sport tejo and holding up the tejo
Chris Cajoleas (El Gringo), owner of Tejo in Medellin

 

My recommendation for Medellín tourist activities is to start with this list, and then go meet locals and see what happens. Medellin is a city of magic and possibilities, so keep an open mind and schedule.


Link into my Medellin, Colombia points-of-interest map here so you can open it up as you meander and check out the places as you’re near them.


If you have any questions about Medellin or Colombia, or want a specific recommendation, leave a comment and I’ll help as much as I can.


You can also check out the other Colombia blogs here.



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